Does Listerine Kill Foot Fungus?

Foot fungus, also known as athlete’s foot, is an extremely common fungal infection that affects the skin on the feet. The fungus thrives in warm, moist environments like showers, locker rooms and swimming pools. Symptoms include itchy, red, cracked or peeling skin between the toes or on the soles of the feet. Left untreated, the fungus can spread to the toenails causing thickening, discoloration, crumbling and detachment from the nail bed in severe cases.

While there are many over-the-counter antifungal creams, sprays and powders specifically formulated to treat athlete’s foot, some people claim that simple mouthwash containing essential oils can also be an effective home remedy. Listerine, in particular, is purported to have antifungal properties that can kill the dermatophytes and yeasts responsible for fungal infections on the feet and nails. But is there any truth to this? Can gargling and soaking your feet in Listerine really cure foot fungus?

Listerine Original mouthwash contains essential oils like eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate and thymol, which give it antiseptic qualities. In lab tests, Listerine has been shown to be effective against certain strains of bacteria that cause gingivitis, bad breath and some respiratory infections. Early formulas were even marketed as surgical antiseptics. Therefore, it makes sense intuitively that Listerine could have some antifungal action too.

Several small studies provide evidence that Listerine may be helpful in managing mild to moderate cases of foot fungus:

  • A 2002 study published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry compared the antifungal effects of Listerine versus the prescription antifungal medication chlorhexidine gluconate oral rinse in 98 adults with athlete’s foot. Nearly 80% of subjects using Listerine twice daily reported improvements in symptoms like scaling, itching and inflammation within 2 weeks. Improvements were comparable to the medication rinse.
  • A study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association in 2008 found that daily application of different Listerine formulations reduced fungal colonization on the toenails and improved nail appearance in patients with distal subungual onychomycosis, a fungal infection of the nails.
  • Recent research in 2015 demonstrated that certain Listerine products were able to inhibit the growth of 12 strains of Candida albicans, one of the most common causes of fungal nail and skin infections, under laboratory conditions. The original formula performed best.

While these studies show promise, there are some important caveats to consider:

  • Existing studies are small with varying methodologies. More extensive clinical trials are needed to definitively prove Listerine’s efficacy.
  • Research has focused on the original Listerine formula. Newer formulations with reduced concentrations of essential oils may be less effective.
  • Listerine is not as potent as prescription antifungal medications, so it may only be helpful for mild infections or as an adjunct treatment. It is not a substitute for medical care.
  • Improving the appearance of fungus is not the same as eradicating the infection. Fungal spores may still remain dormant and reactivate once treatment stops.
  • Listerine is not meant for use on the skin and can cause irritation, redness or dryness with overuse. Always dilute with water and limit soaking to 5-10 minutes daily.

While current evidence shows promise for Listerine as a supplementary treatment, using it alone is unlikely to completely cure a moderate to severe fungal infection. Seeking evaluation and proper treatment from a podiatrist is important, especially for persistent or recurring cases. Prescription oral antifungals, medicated nail lacquers or professional debridement are sometimes necessary to fully eliminate fungal infections on the feet and nails. But incorporating diluted Listerine foot soaks into your athlete’s foot regimen certainly can’t hurt and may help reduce symptoms and improve the appearance of affected skin and nails. Just don’t expect miracles from a bottle of mouthwash.