The most noticeable symptom of toenail fungus is discoloration of the toenails. They typically become brownish or whitish-yellow. This change of color can spread to other toenails as the fungal infection progresses. Eventually, if the fungus isn’t treated, it can cause your toenails to thicken and sometimes crack.

Your doctor might prescribe an antifungal medication to treat toenail fungus, such as:

  • fluconazole (Diflucan)
  • terbinafine (Lamisil)
  • itraconazole (Sporanox)

However, these medications can come with side effects. An alternative to prescription drugs may be essential oils.

Although many essential oils have antifungal properties, one of the most popular and widely recommended is clove essential oil (Syzygium aromaticum). A 2007 study found that clove essential oil has antifungal properties and can destroy fungus.


Essential oils must be diluted in a carrier oil before they touch the skin. Essential oils are not meant to be swallowed. Proponents suggest diluting clove oil with a carrier oil, such as:

Once you have blended the clove essential oil with the carrier oil, follow this routine:

  1. Clean your feet, toes, and toenails with soap and water.
  2. Dry thoroughly with a soft towel.
  3. Apply a drop or two of the oil blend onto the infected nail.
  4. Let the oil soak in for about 10 minutes.
  5. Scrub the nail with a soft toothbrush.
  6. Repeat daily until the infected nail has been replaced with a new, healthy one. This will take months.

Other essential oils that may eliminate toenail fungus and prevent its return include:

  • cinnamon essential oil (Cinnamomum verum)
  • eucalyptus essential oil (Eucalyptus globulus)
  • lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • lemon essential oil (Citrus limon)
  • lemongrass essential oil (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • manuka essential oil (Leptospermum scoparium)
  • Ocotea essential oil (Ocotea bullata)
  • oregano essential oil (Origanum vulgare)
  • peppermint essential oil (Mentha piperita)
  • tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
  • thyme essential oil (Thymus vulgaris)

One of the more popular blends supported by the natural healing community for treating toenail fungus is known as “thieves oil.”

The colorful story of its origin changes a bit depending on who’s telling it, as does the exact recipe. The basic gist of the story is that grave robbers in the Middle Ages rubbed it on their hands so they wouldn’t contract bubonic plague.

Thieves oil recipe

Blend the following essential oils:

  • 20 drops of cinnamon
  • 40 drops of clove
  • 15 drops of eucalyptus
  • 35 drops of lemon
  • 10 drops of rosemary

Many suggest the blend is effective when mixed with carrier oil — one drop of thieves oil to four drops of carrier oil — and used daily on toenails with a fungal infection.

During treatment and following recovery, follow these best practices:

  • Wash your feet regularly.
  • Dry your feet thoroughly after washing.
  • Moisturize your nails after washing and drying.
  • Trim nails straight across. File down any areas that have thickened.
  • Disinfect nail clippers after each use.
  • Don’t use nail polish.
  • Choose shoes made of breathable materials.
  • Treat old shoes with antifungal powder or sprays (or throw them out).
  • Wear flip-flops or slides in locker rooms and pool areas.
  • Wear sweat-absorbing socks made of natural fibers.
  • Consider changing your socks once or twice each day.

Although there’s some clinical research indicating that essential oils can be relatively effective in the treatment of toenail fungus, it’s always a good idea to review any treatment with your doctor before trying it out. Your doctor can offer input to minimize potential complications. They can also help you best address your particular case of toenail fungus.