Antimicrobial Socks: What Exactly Are You Putting On Your Feet?

If you want to treat toenail fungus, one of the most important aspects of recovery is limiting contact with harmful microbes and bacteria that builds up in the shoe. People who have paid to undergo laser treatment for fungal nails are especially concerned about making the most of their investment and preventing a recurrence. Can antimicrobial socks help?

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Silicone Quaternary Amine Polymer Socks

According to, Bioguard antimicrobial socks are  “treated with a potent antimicrobial agent made by Dow Corning, a sister company of the firm that once manufactured napalm.” (Yikes!) The article goes on to say that the socks use a polymer called  silicone quaternary amine, which has been shown in one study to decrease bacteria by 27 to 36%. Of course, that’s just one type of antimicrobial sock. There are, of course, many different patented formulas besides this one.

Silver Nanoparticle Socks

Another type of germicidal sock is made with silver nanoparticles. It’s hard to believe these socks are still on the market after a 2009 study, where Swiss scientists proved that the silver nonparticles were, in fact, coming off the socks in the wash.

A 2012 follow-up study by Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden discovered that these leeched nanoparticles were causing harm to wildlife. “If the negative environmental impact is to be avoided, either the silver concentration in clothing or consumption of silver nanoparticle-treated clothing must be limited,” said lead researcher Rickard Arvidsson.

Benjamin Colman, a chemist at Duke University, took a closer look at how antimicrobial nanosilver worked. He found that, while the product in germicidal socks did decrease the enzyme activity of microbial populations by 34%, ” the tub containing silver nanoparticles also produced four times more nitrous oxide than the control tub.” Mother Nature News explains, “Since nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas, this means contaminated wastewater could increase the effects of global warming if nanoparticles are used on a large scale.”

Just this month, researchers at the University of New South Wales discovered that bacteria is adapting to evade being killed by nanosilver particles. “We found an important natural ability of a widely occurring bacteria to adapt quite rapidly to the antimicrobial action of nanosilver. This is the first unambiguous evidence of this induced adaptation,” said co-author Dr Cindy Gunawan.

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Socks Made With Triclosan

A third type of antibacterial sock is made with triclosan — which can also be found as the active ingredient in certain medications, as well as pesticides, deodorants and household cleaning products. According to the Eco-Centric blog, Biofresh socks are made with triclosan, for example.

“But it was recently found somewhere less welcome: In the urine of 75 percent of us, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” NPR reports. “The urine study, plus recent research showing potential hormone disruption in animals, has regulators reevaluating triclosan’s presence in so many products.” While the FDA has been hesitant to act, Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey called for an outright ban.

Antimicrobial Socks Made With Copper Fibers

In 2008, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that manufacturers were making false claims about copper socks and their supposed “antimicrobial” properties. Some sock makers claimed “99.9% of the germs on your feet would be killed in two hours” of wearing the socks. It’s important to note that the EPA has not approved antimicrobial copper for use in clothing, since there are no studies demonstrating its efficacy.

Furthermore, lab tests only show that copper has some antimicrobial property against five types of bacteria — Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VRE), Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus(MRSA), E.coli , and Staphylococcus aureus. However, there are at least seven main types of bacteria… and there is no evidence to suggest that copper can kill germs on a person’s feet.

antimicrobial copper

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Antimicrobial Socks — The Bottom Line:

The rise of poorly-tested antimicrobial clothing disturbs us. The potential for harming our bodies and environment in such an unregulated niche is alarming, at best. Much of this technology is fairly new — developed over the last 30 years or so — and regulatory bodies like the FDA and EPA have been slow to tell manufacturers which materials they can or can’t use. They say it’s up to the consumers to tell the difference, but we think that’s unfair. Antimicrobials are so pervasive in our society now, it’s hard to get away from them. Instead of treating toenail fungus with products like antimicrobial socks — which are not proven and may actually be harmful — we would rather use doctor-approved natural UV light to kill off the harmful microbes in our shoes.


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