You know the scenario well. You’re walking through your home, minding your own business when – wham! – you’re hit in the nostrils by an abominable stench. You follow your nose and discover that your significant other/son/daughter has left some very ripe shoes lying about. But the problem doesn’t stop there. The smell continues to follow them around the house, still attached to their socks, or their bare feet.
So, what do you do?
You probably heave the stinky shoes out the back door as quickly as possible and politely suggest that they wash their feet. Surely a little fresh air will cure those smelly shoes, right?
Well, not exactly. Let’s start at the beginning…
What Causes Smelly Feet?
Foot odor is not so different from any other body odor. It all starts with sweat. But sweat itself doesn’t smell. It’s the bacteria that feed on it that creates those sinus-clearing odors.1
Everyone sweats, but you’re more likely to get excessively sweaty feet if you’re:
- On your feet all day
- Overly stressed
- Playing high-intensity sports
- Going through hormonal changes (like pregnancy, or if you’re a teenager)
The more you sweat, the more bacteria is needed to break down that sweat. As that bacteria breaks down, it releases a “cheesy” odor.2
Now, all that excess sweat and bacteria seeps into your shoes. And if your shoes aren’t given a chance to dry properly, that bacteria continue to grow – even after you’ve taken your shoes off.
Few people ever truly let their shoes dry properly.
Shoes get jammed into dark closets, or shoved under the couch – and bacteria do cartwheels in those damp, dark conditions. That’s where bacteria thrive! Then, you put your feet back into those still-damp shoes the next day, and the bacteria feast up on some fresh sweat.
It’s a vicious – and icky – cycle, especially in summer, when you may not wear socks with your shoes.
Is there any way to break the cycle?
How To De-Foul Your Footwear
Smelly shoes and feet can be incredibly embarrassing, especially if you don’t know how to end the stench cycle. The smell seems to travel with you everywhere, and it will only get worse. But there are steps you can take to save yourself the shame and, perhaps even more importantly, your foot health. Fungal infections, like athlete’s foot, also love to thrive in the dark, moist environments of your shoes.
Let’s attack those foul shoes in two major steps:
1. Kill the bacteria
The best way to do this is to stop wearing the offensive shoes immediately – just for a day or two. Then, try one (or more) of these ideas:
- Put smelly shoes outside on a nice sunny day, taking care to pull out the insoles, so they can get a good sunlight hit too. UV light has disinfecting properties that can help to kill bacteria.3,4
- Pop stinky shoes into the freezer overnight in a ziplock bag. The freezing temperature will help kill bacteria. Make sure to let them defrost and dry well in the sun the next day.
- Run them through the washing machine and then use the high-heat dryer to kill off bacteria –depending on the type of shoe and if it can be washed.
- Spritz rubbing alcohol through your shoes to disinfect. This will also help to wipe out the smell. You don’t want the alcohol to create too much moisture, so pop your shoes in the sun afterward to dry. You can likewise use vinegar – or even vodka!
- Purchase a good antibacterial foot powder, which can kill bacteria and help to prevent further occurrences if you use it daily.
2. Deodorize the offending shoes
Deodorizing can only happen once you’ve removed the offending bacteria, otherwise, you’re just disguising the smell but continuing to breed the problem.
- Use a dryer sheet to absorb excess odors by placing one into each shoe and leaving them in overnight.
- Kitty litter ain’t just for cats! It contains a myriad of deodorizers, and it famously absorbs liquids. If you don’t feel like putting kitty litter in your smelly shoes, pop some in an old pair of tights, tie it off, and place in your shoes.
- Baking soda is great at absorbing smells. Many people use it in their fridge for this reason. Sprinkle the soda on the inside of your shoes and leave it in overnight. Then, shake out your shoes in the morning.
- Purchase some new inner soles to refresh the insides if it’s possible for that type of shoe.
How To Prevent Smelly Feet In The First Place
So, you’ve conquered your smelly shoes… congratulations! Here’s how to prevent smelly shoes in the future:
- Don’t forget your feet in the shower: lather up the soap between your toes and under your feet, and then, make sure to actually dry them properly. Never put on shoes when your feet are damp.
- Purchase some charcoal inner soles or inserts. You can wear inner soles during the day; the inserts are used to stuff your shoe overnight. Both will absorb moisture and odors.
- Try to always wear socks with your shoes. One-hundred percent cotton socks are the best for absorbing sweat, oils, and moisture. This will help prevent bacterial overgrowth.
- Never wear a pair of socks twice… always give them a good washing after one wear.
- If you’ve been sweating a lot in one particular pair of shoes, give them a day off and wear others. Then leave your sweaty shoes in a nice sunny spot to dry.
- Try to buy shoes and socks made from breathable fibers, including cotton (as mentioned before), but also hemp or wool.
- If you’re prone to sweaty feet, consider taking a spare pair of socks and changing halfway through the day. This will help to keep your feet drier.
- Buy a powder that you can sprinkle on your feet each day before you pull on your socks. This should help keep your feet dry, therefore preventing bacteria and odors.
- Tea tree oil is a renowned natural antibacterial and antifungal.5 Apply a few drops to your feet every few days, as well as to the insides of your shoes.
Redeem Your Soles
We all have a favorite pair of shoes which we can’t bear the thought of ditching. But it’s wise to know when it’s just too late for a pair of rancid, smelly shoes. Sometimes they just need to be tossed.
Once you have a fresh, odorless pair of shoes, you can start with a clean slate and follow the above suggestions to stay odor-free!