The foot has more than 250,000 sweat glands. It's the mixture of sweat and bacteria in our shoes and socks that makes feet smelly. "Clean, dry feet can lower the risk of both foot odor and fungus infections," says Kaye.
Feet should be washed every day with soap and lukewarm water, especially between the toes, and then dried completely with a soft towel. Any mild soap or antibacterial hand soap works fine.
"People spend a lot of time shampooing and conditioning their hair and applying soaps and lotions to their body, but then probably don't spend 10 seconds washing their feet," Kaye says. "Washing the feet with a wash cloth or similarly abrasive product is important because it helps remove the dead skin, bacteria, and fungus." For patients who can't reach their feet during a shower because of obesity, arthritis, or instability, Kaye recommends using a long-handle brush like a shower back brush.
People who want to soak their feet should use warm, soapy water, Kaye says. "Soaking feet in Epsom salt can cause excessive drying of skin," he says. "This is an important consideration for diabetics or with those who have existing dry or fragile skin. Consider soaking feet in warm water with a small amount of liquid dishwashing solution that has skin softeners. There is no benefit in soaking feet in Epsom salt compared to regular table salt."
Some people tell Kaye they soaked their feet in very hot water because they were trying to kill bacteria. He says, "Unfortunately, that type of home treatment often results in skin burns. If someone is diabetic or has poor circulation, hot water bottles or heating pads also shouldn't be used on the feet."
Applying moisturizing lotion on the feet after bathing can alleviate dry skin. "During dry winter months, apply a small amount of lotion a few times per day," Kaye says. "Inexpensive generic creams are usually equally effective as expensive brand-name products."
Kaye estimates that half of the ingrown toenails he treats are due to improper nail clipping. "Toenails should be trimmed straight across and not too short," he says. "Many people incorrectly cut the corners, leaving a small point of nail that then grows into the skin or they accidentally cut the skin."
People who pamper themselves with a salon pedicure also need to make sure that proper cutting and safety measures are followed. In the last few years, there have been reports of infections linked to nail salon whirlpool footbaths that hadn't been properly cleaned or disinfected.
Andersen suggests that people check to see that salons and their employees are licensed. "You could ask how they clean their tubs and instruments and how often," she says. "Some people bring their own instruments." People with diabetes should exercise caution when having salon treatments, and may be advised by their physicians to avoid treatments by anyone other than a trained podiatric or medical specialist.