I've got athlete's foot after having my feet in the same boots for extended periods of time.

How can I disinfect my wool hiking socks to prevent this from spreading and reinfecting my feet?

  • you might be able to microwave them
    – tomfumb
    Jan 11, 2016 at 17:43
  • 2
  • Hiking boots make you sweat. Wearing sweaty socks all day can cause athlete's foot. You may want to consider trying some of the following ideas, because a gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure. Apr 25, 2017 at 21:25
  • ❧ Maybe wear something lighter: maybe a pair of trail runners or approach shoes. If you want help deciding what to wear, post a separate question. ❧ Consider changing your socks twice daily. ❧ If you fall into water and your boots get soaked, change into other shoes. If you can't, maybe put waterproof glossy plastic shopping bags between your boots and socks. Apr 25, 2017 at 21:25
  • 1
    I added protection to this question, it is collecting lots of low quality opinions. Mar 11, 2020 at 14:23

10 Answers 10


Simply throwing them in the wash should suffice, but if you want to be extra sure the fungus dies, you could soak your socks in a 1 part bleach to 10 parts water mixture for ten minutes. Keep in mind that it's not your socks you need to worry about so much as your shoes, they're a little more difficult to clean. Try changing your insoles out, they make special ones which help prevent athletes foot.

  • 1
    It's not so much your pair of socks, being several pair. There are more than one kind of athletes foot, and the worst kind you really never get rid of. You manage it by assuring you can let your feet (excuse me, and crotch) breath. You do this by having many changes of socks and underwear. I am sorry but no matter what anyone here says, that's really the best response. That worst kind is called tinea cruris. Hope you don't get it, because it really is a chronic infection.
    – Escoce
    Jan 10, 2016 at 23:22
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    washing your socks does not really disinfect them. neither the soap nor the temperature are sufficient to get rid of it
    – njzk2
    Jan 10, 2016 at 23:42
  • My pharmacy recommended soaking in this product which is 2.4g/100g dialkyl dimethyl ammonium chlorid, benzyl alkyl-dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorid, unnamed disinfectant and butylphenyl methylpropional, hexyl cinnamal, citronellol for the smell. Didn't help, first time I put them on - wham. Or maybe it was the shoes but I nuked those with Daktarin powder. I got rid of the socks ... Now I preventively apply some isobetadine on the critical places before setting off. Jan 11, 2016 at 1:04
  • @DavidTonhofer If it's a serious problem then you may be wise to replace your socks, perhaps even your boots... Something else you can try to aid in your foot treatment is the old army remedy of peeing on your feet in the shower. It's not a miracle cure, but it does help sometimes. Worst case scenario you'll save some dollars on your water bill.
    – ShemSeger
    Jan 11, 2016 at 1:52
  • I'm afraid soaking your (as I assume, expensive, because otherwise the question wouldn't have arisen) wool socks in chlorine bleach ruins them, as would boiling them. I'm afraid that it's probably hard to disinfect wool. Perhaps you can use hard UV? There are special hard UV lamps available used to disinfect hard-to-clean places. Edit: Reading the specs it looks as if (logically) UV disinfection woks best/only on non-porous surfaces. Jan 11, 2016 at 4:39

Hot Water - needs to be very hot - 140 F (60C) - reported to kill all, but is not good for wool.

UV Light - hang out to dry in direct sunshine. Products exist that claim to sterilize shoes using UV light and can be used for socks.

Chemicals - Anti fungal Laundry rinse (e.g. Canestan) is effective, Borax etc. Bleach alone does not kill fungus spores.

Your shoes and feet need treatment as much as your socks.

  • 1
    FWIW. Canestan is not regularly available in the US.
    – Benzo
    Jan 12, 2016 at 16:30
  • Canesten Hygiene Laundry Rinse is 7% benzalkonium chloride. (Source.) Wow; that's an intense concentration of benzalkonium chloride. How safe is it? I dunno; I'm not a toxicologist. Apr 25, 2017 at 22:11
  • Borax does have anti-fungal effects. (Source.) But athlete's foot fungi are difficult to kill. Do you know of any evidence that shows that borax is strong enough to kill these specific fungi? Apr 25, 2017 at 22:15

(Late answer here.)

A scholarly report discusses fungus and laundry

Several years ago, a scholarly report was published. The report's "Appendix A" discusses, among other things, how you should do laundry if someone in the home has a fungal infection.

The advice given

The report advises:

  • Whenever you do laundry, add some activated oxygen bleach (AOB).
    • Notes: You can use standalone AOB, or a detergent with AOB included. This is available in most supermarkets, but you have to know what to look for. See this link.
  • If possible, also do laundry at 140 °F (60 °C).
    • Note: This may shrink and/or destroy certain items. (Source.) Read their care labels.
  • Use the regular cycle. Don't enable "quick wash", "water saving", or any other environmentally-friendly options.
  • Make sure each item goes through the rinse and spin cycles at least twice. Preferably three times.
  • It's best to wash items belonging to the infected family member in separate loads from everyone else's laundry.
  • If you can also dry the items in sunlight, this is an extra bonus.

Water temperature

In some countries (including the US and certain others), if you want to wash clothing at 140 °F (60 °C), there's a problem.

An article on the Bottom Line Inc. website states that, in these countries,

household water heaters typically are set to 120 °F [50 °C] to minimize the risk of scalding.

The article suggests three possible workarounds.

  • One (dangerous) workaround would be to raise your water heater's temperature to 140 °F (60 °C). But this is a dangerously-high setting. (Source.) It may also be illegal in your jurisdiction. (Source.) Water at 120 °F (50 °C) takes 5-10 minutes to cause a third-degree burn; but water at 140 °F (60 °C) takes just 3-5 seconds. (Source.) Third-degree burns sometimes kill people. (Source.) Maybe I should email the Bottom Line Inc. and suggest that they revise their article.

  • Another workaround might be to pour a kettleful of boiling water into your top-loading washer shortly before it's finished filling.

  • A third workaround is to use a washing machine with a water-temperature-boosting feature, "such as the Whirlpool Front-Load Washer with Deep-Clean Steam, model #WFW86HEBW, which can get the water up to 150 °F [65 °C]".

  • You could wash them in the washing machine to get them clean, then stretch them out in the dishwasher for the sanitization cycle. Apr 16, 2017 at 2:54
  • @SherwoodBotsford: I theorize that putting socks in the dishwasher may be a bad idea, even if the socks just came out of the washing machine. The washing machine may have spread E. coli bacteria from underwear to the socks; washing machines ordinarily don't kill such bacteria. See here. Apr 20, 2017 at 0:24
  • You could be correct. But given that a dishwasher by design has to deal with salmonella, botulism, staphylococcus, I woudn't get too upset about the odd E. coli. If you are getting enough E. coli off your underwear to be a concern then all of your clothes are contaminated. This level of concern requires that you open doors with your bum or feet and not touch anything between washing your hands and sitting down to eat. From the numbers of people who routinely don't wash their hands after dumping in the woods, I don't think that common E. coli is that big a risk. Apr 21, 2017 at 2:26

Going along the "homebrew supply" route, peracetic acid AKA PAA/peroxyacetic acid is a reasonably safe and very effective sanitizer. It's used in hospitals and by veterinarians, as well as in the brewing industry. I've splashed it on myself and my partly wool socks (and shoes) enough times that I'm confident it won't hurt your socks.

Use suggestions:

  • Dilute 1:200.

  • Don't get the undiluted stuff on your skin or in your eyes!

  • Don't try to smell it! (I've been there and done that.)

Diluted, it is still a bit of a skin irritant, so rinse immediately. Even diluted it will react with metals, except for stainless steel.

Recommended exposure time is usually 10 minutes, but I'd probably use it longer on cloth.

  • Peracetic acid is one of the ingredients in Dettol Laundry Cleanser Powder. (Source.) This product is sold in Britain and certain other countries; it's marketed as an anti-bacterial powder. Apr 20, 2017 at 2:30

Chlorine Bleach is not good for wool. Found a solution that worked for me - phenolic disinfectant (Lysol) the web site also suggested Pine Oil (Pine Sol or Lysol Pine Action) http://laundry.about.com/od/handwashing/fl/How-to-Wash-Wool-Socks.htm Remember to also disinfect towels, shower shoes/sandals, etc as the athlete's foot fungus can spread via laundry basket contact (or gym bag / backpack) http://laundry.about.com/od/laundrybasics/a/athletesfootlaundry.htm also (same address as prior ending with) /disinfectlaundr.htm Best of luck


I have dealt with this myself. I use wool socks almost exclusively and sometimes a tech liner underneath.

Cheap White Vinegar. Buy by the gallon and keep on hand and foot. Use undiluted or 50/50 lowest.

10% bleach solution is what I use INSIDE my shoes and fan dry thoroughly at least once a season for any shoes I sweat in.

Good luck. Foot AIDS sucks.


Rubbing alchohol is also an effective disinfectant.

However, the problem is more general: Wearing socks inside foot boxes on a day in, day out basis is the root.

Recommendations to prevent a recurrence:

  1. Go barefoot more of the time.

  2. When you do get an infection, rub your feet with rubbing alcohol at the end of the day.

  3. Do not sleep in socks. If the weather is cold enough, keep separate day socks and sleeping socks.

On canoe trips I wear 'reef boots' (footwear with rubber soles and neoprene sides) on several week trips. During the day my feet were constantly wet. Once in camp, I changed to dry socks and lightweight runners or sandals. No problems.


I have found that using a mixture of a cap full of bleach with the detergent and adding a cup of pine sol helps. As well as turning your water heater up a small amount. I would also highly recommend using anti fungal powder in between your toes after showering and throughout the day as needed, as a preventative.

  • could vinegar be substituted for bleach? or is a capful of bleach not a sufficient amount to cause color bleaching in the clothes? i suppose another alternative would be to only purchase white wool socks so that bleach can be used without regard to colorfastness. Mar 12, 2020 at 15:04

Potassium Sorbate. You may be able to find it at a homebrewing (beer/wine) supply store.

It will work. You'll need to do your research and be careful, though.

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    Hi Greg and thx for the idea. Could you please improve your answer a bit? So that not every reader has to google around you could share some more information please.
    – Wills
    Feb 5, 2016 at 12:14

Merino wool is self-cleaning. Carry as many pairs you need to keep your feet always dry as fungi thrives in moist and dark places. Dry your socks in direct sunlight. Do not wash them too often as wool contains lanolin (aka. wool wax) which has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that protect the sheep's skin from infection. Of course you need to wash them sometimes but following each wash, lanolize the wool in a tub containing lanolin. Some people skip this step if using a wool wash that contains lanolin.

If you feel 100% merino won't cut it, try to find some 100% merino socks with silver-based treatment. Then add the lanolin treatment and you'll have socks you don't want to part from.

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