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Why Does My Toenail Smell?

Bare feet resting on top of white sneakers

A lot of people struggle with smelly feet, but you might be surprised to learn that toenails can smell bad, too. Encased in shoes, they are often trapped in a dark, moist environment that can promote bacterial and fungal growth.

Toenails are quite susceptible to infections and injuries. However, differentiating between toenail infections, bacterial growth, and simple odor can be challenging. It’s especially difficult to tell the difference between foot odor and smelly toenails.

Before you fill your shoes with baking powder, examine your feet carefully. Signs like changes in toenail color or texture can indicate the bad smell might be coming from your nails. For instance, if your toenails become unusually thick or misshapen while the rest of your foot looks healthy, it’s likely your nails are causing the foul odor.

Causes of Toenail Odor

If you’re noticing that your feet smell, particularly your toenails, continue reading to learn about common causes of toenail odor and their symptoms.

1. Toenail Trimming

Toenails that are too long or too-short can cause a number of problems. When you clip toenails too short it can lead to ingrown toenails, making you more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections. In contrast, long toenails can scrape against shoes, leading to injuries and cracking.

Additionally, overly rounded or V-shaped toenails are more likely to become ingrown and infected.

Regardless of how toenails become injured, once they are, the risk of developing an infection increases. It’s important to trim your toenails in a straight line, ensuring the corners align comfortably with the skin. If you have thickened nails that are hard to cut, consider seeing a podiatrist for professional foot care.

2. Fungal Nail Infections

Fungi can thrive deep beneath the nail plate, particularly around and behind the cuticle. If your toenails are discolored, usually a yellow, green, brown, or white shade, this can signify a fungal infection. They might also appear to be spreading, thickened, or lift away from the nail bed. Pain and debris accumulation under the nail can also be an indication of fungal growth.

Infected nails are notoriously difficult to treat, especially if you struggle to keep your feet clean and dry. There are over-the-counter topical medicines you can use to treat fungal infections. However, sometimes professional intervention is required.

3. Smelly Footwear

Believe it or not, shoes and socks can transfer strong odors to your nails. To combat shoe odor, consider using a foot antiperspirant to keep feet dry or apply an odor-neutralizing shoe spray.

As for socks, the type you wear matters. Opt for moisture-wicking materials like wool and avoid re-wearing dirty socks. Furthermore, be cautious with highly dyed or patterned socks, as the dyes can reduce breathability, leading to increased odor.

4. Accumulation of Debris

If you notice grime near the cuticle, around nail corners, or smelly stuff under your toenails, this could be a result of fungus, bacteria, or merely debris accumulation. Usually, it’s a mix of infected and/or dead skin, sock lint, and soap remnants. A thorough cleaning can typically address the problem if no infection is present.

If you’re dealing with persistent toenail issues or are concerned about the health of your feet, consult our podiatrists in Hyde Park today.

Experienced Podiatrists in Chicago, IL

If you’re looking for a reliable, experienced podiatrist in Chicago, look no further than Mitchell Foot & Ankle, P.C. Our highly skilled professionals are here to help you address all your foot care needs. Whether you’re struggling with foul smelling feet, toenail fungus, or foot injuries, you can depend on us.

Contact us now to schedule an appointment.


Mitchell Foot & Ankle

1338 E 47th St.
Chicago, IL 60653

Fax: 773-433-8108

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