Foot Detox: What Is It and Does It Work?

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Woman with feet in bin with rust-colored water

Soaking your feet in a spa tub can feel good. But are there proven health benefits? Some spas offer “ionic” foot baths in which an electrical current passes into the tub water and interacts with salts or other chemicals to create an ionizing effect. Sellers of this service claim the process removes toxins from your body, which they say can relieve stress, among other supposed health benefits. You can also buy your own tubs if you want to try such a foot bath at home. So, do such foot baths work? Is it possible to detox your body through your feet?

“Detox” foot baths are money down the drain.

Picture a pedicure tub filled with clear water, churning away. A few minutes after you slip your feet in, the water turns an alarming shade of orange-brown. Not long after that, weird and mysterious chunks of who-knows-what start floating in the now-murky footbath’s depths. This, proponents claim, is evidence of metallic toxins being removed from your body via your feet.

However, investigators have shown that the water actually turns brown due to a chemical reaction with the metals in the tub as they interact with saltwater; that what you are seeing is rust. And you don’t even have to put your feet in the water to make the “detox” effect appear. The TV show “Inside Edition” tested such foot baths a few years ago, showing that the supposed detoxing occurred even when no feet entered the tubs–in other words, without a source of toxins.

Researchers at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine also tested ionic footbaths in 2012. They had six participants take four footbaths in an “IonCleanse” machine over the course of a month. The urine and hair of the research subjects was tested before and after the series of baths. “There does not appear to be any specific induction of toxic element release through the feet when running the machine according to specifications," the researchers concluded.

This isn’t surprising when you consider there is no medical reason such a device would work. Your body is well designed to filter out impurities through your liver and kidneys. Most “toxins” would be forced from your body via your urine or waste, not somehow managing to escape from your bloodstream through the bottom of your feet.

One type of foot toxin pad has been ruled a scam.

Another method of supposedly detoxing via your feet involves sticking foot toxin pads on your soles before bed. When you get up the next morning and remove them, you’ll see that the pads are “ew”-inducing: dark and gunky-looking. This, the sellers will tell you, is evidence the pads have been sucking toxins out of you all night. However, critics say the pads, which contain tourmaline crystals and wood vinegar, emit the same dark color whether they're sprayed with foot perspiration or plain old tap water.

In 2010, the United States Federal Trade Commission banned the sale of Kinoki “Detox” Foot Pads due to false advertising, saying the company falsely claimed the pads could treat such conditions as headaches, depression, diabetes, arthritis and obesity. The company, Xacta 3000, Inc., was fined $14.5 million, the total amount it had made on sales of the foot pads (price per each set: $19.95, plus $9.95 for shipping). The fine wasn’t paid because the company couldn’t afford to pay it.

Still, other foot pad manufacturers continue to sell foot detox pads online, touting health benefits such as a stronger immune system, greater vitality and energy, healthy circulation, and a positive mental state—even though no scientific evidence from reputable medical journals supports these claims.

If you suspect you’ve ingested actual toxic chemicals, contact the national poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. If you generally feel like you lack vitality, energy, healthy circulation, and positive mood, see your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and effective, proven treatment options.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. The dubious practice of detox. Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
  2. Do detox foot pads really work? Mayo Clinic.
  3. At FTC's Request, Judge Imposes Ban on Marketers of Detox Foot Pads.  Federal Trade Commission (press release).
  4. Kennedy DA, Cooley K, Einarson TR, et al, “Objective Assessment of an Ionic Footbath (IonCleanse): Testing Its Ability to Remove Potentially Toxic Elements from the Body,” Journal of Environmental and Public Health, vol. 2012, Article ID 258968, 13 pages, 2012.
  5. Detox scams are worthless and potentially dangerous. Science-based Medicine.
  6. Could Detox Foot Baths Actually Remove Toxins From Your Body? Inside Edition.