How Can You Prevent Blisters on Feet?

Blister prevention

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Blisters are a common complaint of walkers and runners. If you have just started walking or running, switched to a different walking or running shoe, or have increased the duration of your workouts, you may get blisters on your feet.

A blister is a fluid-filled sac caused by friction (or heat from a burn). Walkers and runners dread them, but there are ways to prevent most foot blisters. You can eliminate sources of rubbing in your shoes, toughen and protect your skin, keep your feet cool and dry, and be alert for hot spots that will turn into blisters if not treated.

Blisters are small bubbles of skin filled with clear fluid that most commonly appear on areas where friction occurs, such as the toes, heel, ball of the foot, or sole.

How to Prevent Blisters

You can prevent blisters by addressing the likely culprit. Causes of blisters include:

  • Friction: Friction between your skin and your sock, shoe, or insole can cause pockets of plasma-filled fluid to form when the top skin layers begin to separate.
  • Moisture: Moisture from sweat or rainy, soggy conditions makes the skin more likely to feel friction and develop blisters.
  • Ill-fitting shoes: Shoes that don't fit properly (too loose or too tight) can cause friction, pinching, and irritation to the skin.

Get the Right Shoes

Shoes are often the source of blisters. Regardless of whether you have regular walking shoes or motion control shoes, you may get blisters.

Blisters are due to friction where your toes, heels, and the sole of your foot rub against the shoe. Everyone's feet are different shapes and sizes, and there is no single shoe that will be right for every foot. Finding the size and shape of shoe that works for you can help prevent blisters.

New shoes: If you take your new walking shoes out for a long walk, you may get a blister as you experience friction in new and different areas. Any shoe can give you a blister in their first few outings, before your feet have grown accustomed to them.

  • Solution: Get a shoe that fits well so your heel isn't slipping and your toes are not rubbing against the front of the shoe. Take it slow and only go on short walks or runs with new pairs of shoes, even if they are the same brand and model you have been wearing. Build up your mileage and speed in each pair of shoes.

Cramped shoes: With a cramped toe box, your toes rub against sides or end of shoes. This can even lead to blackened toenails or losing the toenails after a long walk or run.

  • Solution: Your shoes should have a finger's width of space between the end of your toe and the end of your shoes to allow your feet to expand while exercising. Select shoes of the proper width for your foot so that toes have enough room.

Feet sliding: If your shoes are too loose and your feet slide forward and back within the shoe with each step, you are adding extra blister-causing friction. You may also get a black toenail in this scenario.

  • Solution: You want your feet to have enough room to expand when you walk, but not enough to slide around. Wear a thicker sock to take up some of the extra space. Learn how to lace your shoes to keep your heel in the heel cup with each step rather than sliding forward. If you still seem to have too much space, buy shoes that fit better.

Rough edges: The seams and the edge of the insole can rub against your foot or toes.

  • Solution: Change styles of shoes or insoles. Some shoes are designed to be seamless inside. You can also try heat-molded insoles (available at some running stores) that will cradle your feet just right. If you can't avoid rough spots, lubricate or cover the skin next to the rough edge.

Toughen Your Feet

A newbie is called a tenderfoot for good reason. Your soft feet will have fewer blisters when your skin gets a little tougher.

  • Add distance gradually. Help your feet develop protective calluses instead of blisters by gradually building up your walking or running time.
  • Moisturize away heel cracks. To keep your calluses from drying out too much and developing painful cracks, moisturize your feet after each bath or shower with good foot cream or hand cream.
  • Toughen with tannins. Some marathoners and long-distance walkers toughen their feet with 10% tannic acid or a tea soak (tea contains tannins).

Wear the Right Socks

Forget cotton socks—stick with synthetics. Cotton retains sweat, which then softens your skin and leaves it more prone to breaking and blistering with friction.

  • Avoid seams that rub. Check where the sock seams are hitting your toes. Is that where you are getting blisters? Some running socks are specially designed to keep the seams away from the feet. Tube socks are not recommended as your feet are not tube-shaped, and these socks simply won't fit right.
  • Change your socks en route. Many marathoners recommend changing your socks whenever your feet get wet due to rain, or at the halfway point of a marathon.
  • Get the right thickness. Experiment with the thickness of your socks. If your socks are so thick that your toes have no room in the shoe, you need bigger shoes or thinner socks. To ensure a correct fit when buying shoes, bring along the thickness of sock you plan to wear for your workouts and activities.
  • Invest in good socks. With some athletic socks running from $7 to $20 a pair, it can be painful to stock up. But good socks can last much longer than the cheap ones and save you money in the long run.
  • Wear double layers. Double-layer socks can prevent blisters by reducing friction and wicking away moisture. Some double layer socks, such as WrightSocks, even come with a no-blister guarantee. You can also wear two pairs of socks, which is a common tactic for hikers. The inner sock or inner layer of the sock should be of sweat-wicking fabric.
  • Wick away moisture. Synthetic socks made of acrylic, polypropylene, or CoolMax fabric wick moisture away from the foot, keeping it dry. These are available at sports stores. Some socks incorporate Teflon to prevent friction.

Lubricate Your Feet Often

Friction—the rubbing motion between the foot, sock, and shoe—creates heat and tearing forces, making the skin prone to blisters. If you reduce the friction, you reduce the blisters. One way to reduce friction is by lubricating your feet, so they slide rather than rub. Experiment with different products to find which ones work best for you.

  • Petroleum jelly: Vaseline or petroleum jelly is an inexpensive lubricant often recommended for marathon runners and walkers. Note that it won't easily wash out of your socks, and it makes dirt cling to your socks. That can mean there is more grit in your shoe to irritate your foot, which could, in turn, cause more blisters.
  • A&D Ointment: This preparation is thicker than petroleum jelly and available wherever baby diapers are sold. It's another inexpensive way to lubricate your feet.
  • Sports lubricants: Found at running stores, products such as Body Glide, RunGoo, Sportslick, and SportShield may roll on like deodorant or come in a handy tube. They vary in formulation; some are petroleum-free and use plant waxes, liquid silicone, or powdered silicone. Use these products to prevent chafing in other areas as well.

Keep Your Feet Dry

Keeping your feet dry starts with wicking socks, but you can also use other strategies. A military study showed that using a special heavy-duty antiperspirant on the feet reduced the incidence of blisters. While regular antiperspirant is less concentrated, some runners use it for the same purpose.

Or, sprinkle plain cornstarch (just like you use in cooking) in your socks and shoes to help keep your feet dry. Reapply it at least once in a long-distance event. Baby powder and talcum powder also act to keep the feet dry, and they smell good too.

Cover Problem Spots

If you have a spot that is prone to blistering or have developed a hot spot, cover it to help protect it. There are several options, including sports tape, moleskin, gel bandages, paper tape, and special patches. In a pinch, you might even put duct tape to work.

The drawback of covering the area is that often these bandages and pads don't stay where you've put them, especially as you continue walking or running. You may have to try various kinds to find the one that sticks best for you. As always, prevention is the best solution for a blister.

If you feel a hot spot developing while you are walking or running, it's best to stop immediately and try to treat it. It's unlikely that it will get better if you keep going (and likely that it will get worse).

If you are carrying a blister kit, place a blister bandage or other cover over the spot, or create a protective doughnut around it. You can find take-along kits online or at sports stores. Or, make up your own with the cover-ups you prefer (such as gel bandages or moleskin), antiseptic wipes, athletic tape, small scissors, and a miniature container of lubricant.

Readjust your socks and shoes to try to eliminate places where your socks may have become bunched up. If your socks are damp, change to a dry pair if you can. While it's best to end your walk or run when you get a hot spot, these tactics might keep a blister from developing if you have to keep going. If a blister has formed, cover it rather than drain it unless it is at risk of rupture.

Keep Your Calluses

Calluses are toughened areas of skin that can develop over a blister-prone area. They are your body's way of preventing further damage to the skin. They are a natural protective reaction your skin has to increased friction. Do not pick them or file them off, as you'll be risking further blistering.

Wear Cushioned Insoles

Research shows that cushioned insoles may reduce the risk of getting a blister by 25%. Cushioned insoles might make running more comfortable as well, so try them out if you are blister-prone.

How to Treat Blisters on Feet

If you get a blister, treat it immediately, if possible, or as soon as you can after your training session. The best method of treatment depends on when you can treat a blister.

  • Stop and cover: If you need to continue your session (such as a race or competition, or a blister that develops far from home), it is wise to stop and cover the blister with a bandage to provide more protection. Keep supplies in your running belt.
  • Seek medical care: Some longer races have medical stations. Here you can get treatment for your blister to return to the race. If the blister is painful or at risk of bursting, it might be drained.
  • Let it be: The first choice for treating foot blisters after training is to let them be. The skin provides protection from infection. Small blisters may break and drain on their own, or reabsorb within a couple of days. Cover the area to protect it and keep it clean.
  • Watch for infection: Change the bandage daily and check the blister for signs of infection, such as redness and pus. See a doctor if you see any of these signs, or if you have excessive pain. If you have diabetes, you are more at risk of an infection in your feet, so take extra care.

When to Pop a Blister

If you have a blister that is very large or very painful, you may need to drain it. Start by sterilizing a small needle with rubbing alcohol. Carefully poke the needle into the the blister at the edge. Remove the needle and gently press on the blister to expel the fluid. Then wash the area with soap and water. Don't try to remove the skin that blistered. It can protect the raw skin under it. You can also cover the area with a bandage.

A Word From Verywell

Don't let blisters stop you in your tracks. Take the time before your long workouts to lubricate and protect your feet. Wear the shoes and socks that will best help you stay blister-free. Monitor how your feet feel and don't ignore any signs of hot spots; carry blister supplies with you to treat them right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does a blister from running take to heal?

    How long a blister takes to heal depends on how big it is, where it is, and whether it has the opportunity to heal without being irritated. It could take days or even weeks, depending on the severity of the blister.

  • Does petroleum jelly help prevent blisters on feet?

    You can use petroleum jelly to help prevent blisters on your feet. Petroleum jelly is a lubricant that can reduce friction on the skin, which helps prevent blisters from forming.

  • Does covering your feet with duct tape prevent blisters?

    Duct tape is not recommended to prevent blisters. Instead, use products dedicated to blister prevention that will not damage your skin. These might include bandages, moleskin, lubricants, and powders (along with good socks and shoes).

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11 Sources
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