Why Do Toenails Smell Like Parmesan Cheese?

If you’ve ever eaten cheese, you must have noticed that there seems to be a world of difference between the taste and the smell of most cheeses. Going by the smell, you may not want to taste it, but when you taste it, you can find that you like it.

With time, the smell stops being distasteful to you because it has psychologically become associated with the taste you enjoy. However, what does it mean when your toenails start to give off that same scent you have come to associate with cheese? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Why do toenails smell like Parmesan Cheese?

Your toenails smell because a harmless bacteria called brevibacteria are behind the cheesy smell. This bacteria stays between the feet, making the toes produce a cheese-like smell.

In this article, we will also learn other reasons why your toenails can smell like parmesan cheese.

Reasons Your Toenails Smell Like Parmesan Cheese

1. Brevibacterium Linens

This type of bacteria lives harmlessly on human skin, feeding on dead cells. It makes its home in moist and salty places, so the area around sweaty toes is a perfect habitat.

Every living thing feeds and then passes out waste; Brevibacteria is not left out in these life processes.

They feed on skin cells that have died and pass out S-methyl thioesters. This produces the odor you are getting from your toes and toenails.

“What does this have to do with cheese?” Interestingly, Brevibacterium Linens are also used in the cheese-making industry to make the surface of certain cheeses ripe. This is seen in Limburger Cheese, Entrammes Cheese, Port-du-Salut Cheese, and other kinds of cheese.

This means that it is the brevibacteria present in both toenails and cheese that makes them smell alike. As a matter of fact, while you are asking why your toenails smell like cheese, some other people are wondering why the cheese in front of them has a smell that reminds them of smelly feet.

2. Isovaleric acid

This is a by-product of another kind of bacteria that dwells between the toes. This acid is also found in parmesan cheese that has been tinned or canned. Hence it can make the similarity in smell between parmesan cheese and toenails even more obvious.

All these mean that you have nothing to worry about if your toenails smell like cheese. Well, nothing to worry about except the odor itself. Luckily for you, you can get rid of the odor if you are not comfortable with it. Read on as I explain how you can do this.

Other Reasons Why Toenails Smell Weird?

Cheesiness is not the only weird thing that toenails can smell. People have complained about smells of poop, vomit, onions, rotten eggs, and the like coming from their toenails. As strange as they all seem, the smell is easily linked to what kind of germs are flourishing the most underneath the person’s nails.

The germs or microorganisms could be fungi or bacteria. Each of these has so many different kinds that affect the toenails in so many different ways. Besides Brevibacterium, which produces a cheese-like stink, below are the other conditions or germs that could lead to smelly toenails.

1. Nail Keratin

Keratin is a protein found naturally in nails, hair, and skin. The good news is that it keeps the nails healthy and strong.

The bad news is that it contains molecules of sulfur that can stink like garlic or onions when you cut your nails. Fortunately, the smell goes away all by itself within minutes. There is nothing much you can do but wait it out.

2. Nail Fungus

Medically, nail fungus is known as onychomycosis. As the name implies, it is caused by fungi that feed on the nails. This deforms the nails and changes the color along with the texture.

The fungi behind onychomycosis thrive in dark and damp places. This explains why they easily infest toes that are squeezed into tightly closed shoes all day long without air. You can treat nail fungus with antifungal creams.

3. Paronychia

This is another nail infection that can be caused both by bacteria and fungi. It usually results from an opening in the skin around the toenails.

Germs that normally live on the surface take advantage of this opening to get in and cause an infection. Paronychia can be really painful, with pus gathering under the skin and red streaks leading to the affected part. Treat this infection with antibiotics.

4. Toe Injury

An injury to the toe is quite dangerous due to the multitude of microorganisms that make their home around the toes.

Anyone can get into the bloodstream through the injury. This can lead to various foul-smelling infections. Ensure that toe wounds are treated promptly and kept disinfected.

5. Hyperhidrosis

This condition causes the sufferer to sweat in excess, whether there’s heat or not. As you know by now, toe germs love the sweat around your toes.

Hence, Hyperhidrosis creates a friendly environment for a host of germs to grow and multiply. Seek medical attention if you suspect that you are suffering from Hyperhidrosis.

In all cases of bacteria or fungi infections of the nails, seek out a podiatrist (doctor specializing in nail conditions) if self-care, antibiotics, or antifungal treatments don’t seem to be helping the situation.

How To Get Rid Of Toenails Smelling Like Cheese

Having your toenails smell of cheese can be embarrassing if someone else is close enough to catch the whiff. Follow the steps below to ensure that your toenails or fingernails lose such a cheesy smell. 

  • Soak your feet at least twice a day for about ten minutes in a salt and warm water solution.
  • Wash your toenails every day. Use antibacterial soap. Try as much as you can to scrub the underside of the nails and between the toes, where microorganisms mostly clutter.
  • Ensure your feet, toes, and toenails are dry before wearing shoes or socks. Dry toes will discourage brevibacteria from trying to live there.
  • Antiperspirants can help prevent excessive sweating around your toenails. You can also use powder to maintain a dry environment around the nails.
  • Socks made of cotton are also useful in soaking up any sweat on the feet, helping to keep them dry. Use them whenever you have to wear shoes with closed toes. However, you don’t need them with flip-flops, sandals, or open-toed shoes.
  • Do not wear a pair of socks two days in a row without washing them. Wash after each wear. If possible, change your socks during the day.
  • Alternate your shoes. After each wear, give your shoes enough time to air out and dry. This will kill off most of the bacteria that may have gathered.
  • It is also a good idea to disinfect the inside of your shoes at regular intervals.

How Do I Prevent My Toenails From Smelling Bad?

To prevent all kinds of smells from the toenails:

  • Keep the toenails clean by washing them thoroughly whenever you have a bath.
  • Dry them just as carefully. Air them out for as long as possible before putting on shoes or socks.
  • Use cotton socks.
  • Wash socks after each wear, do not repeat used socks.
  • Change your socks frequently.
  • Wear shoes that allow airflow to the toes.
  • Air and disinfect your shoes regularly.
  • Keep your toenails short.
  • Treat injuries promptly and adequately.
  • If you’re prone to sweating, use antiperspirants on your whole feet.

Tips For Cleaning Toenails

1. Trimming

Your toenails should not be longer than the tip of your toes. If you have hard toenails, it’s a good idea to give them a soak in warm water before you start trimming.

This will make them more manageable. Use toenail clippers to cut the nails from one side to the other. Smoothen with a nail file. Whatever you do, don’t cut your cuticles. Clean and disinfect your nail clipper.

2. Washing

Either devote some time to your toenails or give them their special soak during your daily shower. During the shower, take time to scrub off dead skin under the toenails and whatever debris may have accumulated there.

Also, wash between the toes thoroughly. If you prefer to soak your feet, this is even better. Soak in soapy warm water for up to ten minutes and then rinse.

3. Extra Care

Apply foot lotion and keep the toenails dry. Foot powder and antiperspirants are viable options for maintaining dry toenails. Remember also to take proper care of your footwear, especially socks and shoes. Keep them clean and dry.


In this article, toenails that smell like cheese have been linked to the brevibacteria in cheese and around toenails.

They are mostly harmless, but you can still eliminate the stink by following my steps. Other kinds of toenail odor, their causes, and what you can do about them were also tackled.

Finally, I shared a detailed list of preventive measures and tips to help you keep your toenails clean.


1. How to Get Rid of Smelly Feet (Bromodosis)


2. How to Actually Clean Those Dirty Toenails