Showers, swimming pools, saunas, hot tubs — all these are places where you can pick foot fungus from. You can also get foot fungus from someone who is already infected, either by coming into contact with them or sharing items like towels and shoes.
Does that mean you can get foot fungus from used shoes? I did tons of research on this and the answer is yes, you can certainly get foot fungus from used shoes. But there are things you can do to protect yourself.
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What’s Foot Fungus?
Foot fungus refers to any fungal infection on the foot. There are two common types of foot fungus: athlete’s foot and toenail fungus.
They are both caused by dermatophyte fungi. These are fungi that feed on keratin found on nails and skin. That’s why foot fungus occurs only on the surface and doesn’t penetrate deep into the skin.
Foot fungus thrives in warm and humid or moist environments. Think gym showers, around the swimming pool, in saunas and so on. All these are high-risk areas where you can contract foot fungus.
Moisture in your shoes also increases the risk of getting foot fungus. Your feet already make your shoes warm and toasty. Add moisture from water or sweat and you have the perfect environment for fungi to thrive.
Fortunately, foot fungus is fairly easy to treat using over the counter topical drugs or prescription medication.
Can You Get Foot Fungus from Used Shoes?
Foot fungus is highly contagious. You can get it by coming into contact with someone who has it or using an item they’ve used like a towel, a pair of sandals or shoes.
That’s why many people are concerned that wearing second hand shoes could give them foot fungus. That concern is warranted.
Afterall, the fungi can remain in the shoes for months. So just because a pair of shoes have not been worn for some time it doesn’t mean you can’t get infected. It’s one of the reasons why in some people, foot fungus keeps returning. They wear shoes and socks that still contain the fungus.
Generally, it is uncommon to get foot fungus from used shoes. You are more liekly to pick up foot fungus from a gym shower than a pair of second hand shoes. But it is possible to get athlete’s foot or toenail fungus from used shoes.
You are at a higher risk of getting foot fungus from used shoes if:
- You sweat a lot. The moisture can activate dormant fungi spores, causing an infection.
- You keep your feet or shoes wet for a long time.
- The shoes are closed and tight. This reduces breathability, making the shoes warmer and more moist, this increasing the risk of infection.
- You have an injury on your foot or toenail. This increases infection risk.
Heavily worn shoes are also more likely to contain foot fungus simply because they’ve been worn for a long time. So it’s a good idea to stick to gently used shoes when buying secondhand.
How To Disinfect Used Shoes
The best way to protect yourself from getting foot fungus from used shoes is by disinfecting the shoes. This kills any fungus in the shoes and drastically reduces your risk of getting a fungal infection. Here are some effective ways to sterilise used shoes.
- Clean the shoes then spray the inside with a disinfectact. 70% isopropyl alcohol works great at killing fungi.
- Sterilize them with wormal saline solution (10% formaldehyde solution), which you can order at a pharmacy, is also a highly effective disinfectant that kills fungus in used shoes. Soak cotton balls in the solution that put two of them inside each shoe. Place the shoes inside a plastic bag and tie the bag tightly. Leave the shoes in the bag for 24 hours. Formaldehyde fumes will kill any fungus in the shoes.
- Other disinfectants you can use include white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, 3% hydrogen peroxide and bleach.
- If you prefer a non-chemical option, get a UV shoe sterilizer. It quickly kills any germs, bacteria or fungi inside the shoes. As a bonus, a UV sterilizer can also help with stinky or musty used shoes. The UV radiation kills odor-causing bacteria. Here’s a video on how to use a UV shoe sanitizer.
Whichever sterilization method you choose, we recommend repeating it several times to make sure there’s no fungus remaining.
Should You Buy Used Shoes?
If you are on a budget or have found a good bargain on a pair of used shoes, go ahead and buy them. The risk of getting foot fungus is fairly low and you can further lower it by disinfecting the shoes before you wear them.
You can further protect yourself by keeping your feet dry, wearing moisture-wicking socks especially if you have sweaty feet and occasionally sterilising your shoes.
Try to keep the shoes dry most of the time. If they get damp from rain, sweat, or washing, leave them in an airy place to dry.
It’s a good idea to have multiple pair of shoes so you don’t wear the same pair daily. This gives it time to breathe and dry out, thus reducing the risk of a fungal infection.
Who Should Not Wear Used Shoes?
While used shoes are safe for most people to wear, be extra-careful if you have diabetes or compromised immunity.
Diabetic people are already at a higher risk of athlete’s foot. That’s because their sweat contains higher levels of sugars like glucose. Fungi thrives in areas with sugar. So wearing used shoes greatly increases your risk of getting foot fungus.
Furthermore, getting foot fungus is a much more serious issue for diabetics. Athlete’s foot often doesn’t cause any complications in most healthy people. But if you have diabetis it can lead to serious bacterial infection, diabetic foot ulcer and other complications.
Immunocompromised people are also at a higher risk of getting foot fungus from used shoes. And getting a fungal infection can lead to serious complications.
If you have diabetis or a disease that weakens the immune systems, it’s best if you don’t buy used shoes. The risk of foot fungus and resulting complications is too great.
Only wear new shoes, and even then, make sure you sterilise them regularly to kill any fungus that you might pick up from somewhere.
Also be careful if you have any wounds, injuries or cuts on your feet or toenails. These make it easier to pick up foot fungus from used shoes. Either wait until you are healed or disinfect the shoes before you wear them.
Bottom Line: Are Used Shoes Worth The Risk?
For most people, the risk of getting a fungal infection from used shoes is low. As long as you disinfect the shoes and practice proper prevention, you’ll likely be okay.
But for diabetics and people with compromised immune systems, used shoes are not worth the risk. If you have to buy used shoes, make sure they are thoroughly disinfected and watch out for any signs of a fungal infection.