How Can I Soften Thick Toenails?

Daniel Grizelj/Stone/Getty Images

Softening thick toenails begins with determining why they are thick in order to rule out serious health conditions that should be addressed before treating the thick toenails directly. Nails can be softened by applying an oil mixture to the nails twice a day, by soaking in a foot bath with vinegar for 20 minutes a day, through doctor-recommended topical or ingestible medications or by surgical removal of significantly thick nails in extreme cases.

  1. Determine the root cause of thick toenails

    Before you begin to address the problem of thick toenails, it is important to make sure the issue is not a symptom of a larger health condition such as psoriasis, diabetes or a fungal infection that should be treated first before tending to the thick nails.

  2. Trim the nails carefully

    Once you’ve determined it is safe to soften your toenails at home, trim the nails carefully. This decreases the nail surface while also giving easier access to the thickened nails that need to be treated.

  3. Apply tea tree oil mixed with olive oil

    Mix equal amounts of tea tree oil and olive oil, and apply to the toenails with a cotton ball two times a day until the thickening is significantly reduced.

  4. Soak feet in a vinegar bath

    Fill a foot bath container or a simple basin with hot water and 3 or 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and allow feet to soak in the bath for approximately 20 minutes a day for optimal results. Remove from the water, and dry well. Use a buffer or pumice stone to remove the top layer of the toenails that loosens while soaking.

  5. Seek medical treatment

    If natural remedies are not softening your thick toenails sufficiently, you may need prescription medication to resolve the problem. Your health care provider can recommend topical or ingested medication.

  6. Consider surgery as a last resort

    Sometimes thickened nails cannot be softened by natural remedies or prescription medications, and surgery is the only solution left to try. Surgeons can remove thick toenails completely, allowing new, healthy toenails to replace the problematic, untreatable thick ones.