Smelly feet are not only uncomfortable for you. Everyone around you suffers, too! Whether your shoes are on or off, that foot odor just seems to follow you everywhere!
So, you start to wonder… Why do your feet smell so much worse than everyone else’s? Perhaps your shoes are to blame?
Well, though that can play a factor, it really comes down to one major issue – sweat.
Foot odor always starts with sweat. However, sweat doesn’t actually smell. It’s the bacteria that feast upon your sweat, to break it down, that creates the stench.1
Now, everyone sweats. So, why are some feet smellier than others? Some people certainly do sweat more. And, you’re also more likely to suffer from sweaty feet if you work in an occupation where you’re on your feet all day, if you play a lot of high-intensity sports, or if you’re an hormonal teen. The more you sweat, the more bacteria is needed to break down that sweat. And more bacteria can definitely translate to more odor.
But it’s how you handle those sweaty feet that really counts. And this includes the kinds of shoes and socks you wear – it’s the only place for all that sweat and bacteria to go to. If your shoes are wet with sweat after you wear them, and they don’t dry completely, then all that sweat and bacteria continue to build up in your shoes. Bacteria just love to multiply in damp, dark places.
The aim here is to keep your feet dry – no matter how sweaty they get. And, the key to that lies in the socks that you wear.
First, let’s look at…
Socks To Avoid
Sadly, these are probably the worst socks you can wear if you suffer from sweaty, smelly feet. What makes them such a problem is that everyone knows that cotton breathes – so they assume it makes logical sense to wear 100 percent cotton socks.
Not so. Although cotton breathes and absorbs sweat like a sponge, it can’t wick it away. It also retains the heat and moisture around your feet, and it dries slowly… both things bacteria adore.
Nylon, plastic, polyester, and various other blends traditionally don’t breathe much at all, and they aren’t absorbent, either… which means that your feet just stay wet.
And yes, some synthetic fibers have been reworked with new technology to help wick away moisture and prevent wet feet (more on this shortly). But unless your synthetic socks are preaching this new technology, steer clear. Old-school synthetic socks won’t keep you dry.
The BEST Socks For Sweaty Feet
The key to finding a good sock for sweaty, smelly feet is by judging their “moisture-wicking” prowess. They need to be able to draw away moisture from your feet and shoes.
Wool socks are some of the best moisture-wicking socks you’ll find, and there’s no technology here – it’s just wool’s natural ability. Don’t be scared off by the thought of woolen socks. Many of you might be picturing the scratchy, thick, woolen socks of your childhood. But wool socks have come such a long way, it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re actually made of wool.
Merino wool is a popular choice because it’s finer and softer than other sheep’s wool. Merino wool can hold up to 30 percent of its weight in moisture, without feeling damp, because it absorbs the moisture into the inside of the fiber itself.2
Wool, in general, is a great insulating fiber, which is why it can keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It’s a multi-seasonal resource, which is why wool socks are a year-round favorite with hikers and athletes. Wool also has the ability to provide great insulation when wet – just ask a sheep!
Liner socks are exactly what they sound like – you wear them as a liner under another pair of socks. Though two pairs of socks sound like a disastrous recipe for sweat, here’s the secret – liner socks are extra thin and, most importantly, they’re made from a special fiber.
Most liner socks are made from a new type of polyester fiber designed to draw sweat away from your feet and into the outer sock – where it can evaporate. Another favorite of die-hard hikers, liner socks can be washed easily, and they help provide extra protection against blisters.
The New Synthetics
Technology has developed a new age of synthetic socks aimed specifically at keeping your feet dry while providing greater comfort. The key fibers you’ll want to look out for include CoolMax polyesters, Wickspun acrylics, and Isolfil polypropylenes.
But even with all that fancy wicking technology, many still find good old-fashioned wool more comfortable in hot or wet conditions, due to wool’s natural insulating ability.
Copper Fiber Socks
As bacteria plays such a huge role in smelly feet, companies are now making moisture-wicking socks embedded with copper fibers.
What makes copper-infused socks a popular choice for sweaty, smelly feet? Copper is a natural antibacterial and antifungal. In fact, in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially recognized copper as the first metallic antimicrobial agent.3,4
A trial of 53 soldiers saw them wear copper oxide socks daily for three weeks, during intensive training. The results of this were rather impressive, with a clear reduction in skin irritation, itchiness, and foot odor. These results were seen to have an even better effect as they improved the soldiers’ physical and mental health and increased their productivity.5
Bamboo is another new fiber in the sock department. Not only is bamboo biodegradable, it also offers an extra silky feel (bamboo fibers have a round surface). And bamboo fabric has shown moisture-wicking effectiveness.6
The downside is that bamboo socks might not be quite as durable as wool socks, or some of the new breed of synthetics, so they may not last as long.
Put a Sock In It
What about those hot summer days – when you don’t want to wear socks at all?
Wearing no socks – especially in summer – is a huge no-no. Without socks, there is no protection from sweat and bacteria for your shoes at all. If you want to prevent smelly feet, you need to put a sock in that shoe!
Even when you do wear socks, wet shoes need to be dried properly to ensure that bacteria doesn’t continue to grow – and increase foot odor – even after you’ve removed them. So, after you’ve pulled your slippers on for the night, it’s a good idea to leave your shoes in a warm, dry, place. If they’re still wet the next day, give them the day off, and pick another pair of shoes.
If you suffer from incredibly sweaty feet, try carrying a spare pair of socks with you. Changing socks in the middle of the day can be a great trick for combating wet feet.
Finally, beyond the smell, it’s important to keep your feet dry, because fungus also loves damp, moist conditions. If your feet are always wet, a fungal infection (like athlete’s foot) is only a matter of time.
2. Vonhof, J., Fixing Your Feet: Injury Prevention and Treatments for Athletes, pg. 96, Wilderness Press, Jul 18, 2016.