Ways To Get the Smell Out of Shoes

Prevent smelly shoes and eliminate foul odors with these easy tricks.

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When temperatures rise, wearing shoes without socks feels like freedom after months of having our feet weighed down with boots. But with this freedom comes a problem we all dread: the smell from your sweating feet.

Smelly feet, technically known as "bromhidrosis," are a fact of life, especially in warmer weather. According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS), smelly feet are a common condition. The 2012 National Foot Health Assessment conducted for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health found that 16 percent of adults age 21 and older (about 36 million people) have experienced foot odor.

People with smelly feet may also get sweaty feet. They often experience both problems year-round, not just in the hot summer months.

The ACFAS explains that the odor is produced by bacteria and/or fungus that grows in the shoes and attaches to the skin—until you do something about it. Some bacteria eat away the top layer of the skin, producing a foul odor.

Simply washing and drying your feet won't take care of the problem, according to the Institute for Preventative Foot Health (IPFH). That's because the bacteria breeds in wet or moist environments on and around the feet. So once your feet start to sweat again, the odor may reappear—especially if you slip your feet back into the same footwear that contributed to the smell, to begin with.

For this reason, it is important to pay attention to hygiene to prevent smelly feet. In addition, keep in mind that some synthetic materials used in shoes, when mixed with sweat and bacteria, can produce smelly feet.

So whether you're rocking boat shoes, flats, or sneakers without socks, here are some clever, inexpensive tips to keep your shoes smelling fresh all season long.

Wash Your Feet and Wear Clean Socks

The bacteria on your feet just keep multiplying, so your feet should be washed daily with soap and water, says the ACFAS. When you're in the shower or bath, lather with soap on your soles, and don’t forget between your toes.

Rinse and completely dry your feet when you get out of the shower (don’t forget the toes again!). You can also give them a blast with the hairdryer for extra dryness. Add clean, dry socks before slipping on shoes. The Institute for Preventative Foot Health (IPFH) suggests padded socks for their moisture-wicking properties for people with very sweaty feet.

Lemon Juice Mixed With Water

The IPFH says that lemon juice has antibacterial properties. It is also an astringent that can help to remove dead skin from the feet. Though no studies specifically show that rinsing your feet in a lemon juice/water solution prevents foot odor, many people find it helpful.

Alternate Your Footwear

We all have a favorite pair of perfectly broken-in flats that we want to wear every day, but wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row is a recipe for stink. The IPFH advises avoiding wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row so that shoes can dry out between wearings.

The IPFH also recommends removing the insoles to help shoes dry faster. So be sure to rotate your collection so as not to repeat it day after day.

Apply a Foot Powder

Prevention is key if your feet tend to get sweaty no matter what the weather's doing outside. A foot powder can help absorb extra moisture and keep your feet dry. If you use foot powder frequently, the IPFH recommends that you wipe between the toes to remove excess moisture and eliminate the "caking" of powder.

Try a foot powder like Squeaky Cheeks before you put on your shoes so your feet (and shoes) stay dry throughout the day.

Use Powders With Odor Absorption

If your shoes are the problem and not your feet, try adding odor-absorbing powders to the inside of your shoes. You might consider using baking soda or brand-name powders designed especially for footwear.

Baking Soda + Coffee Filter

Baking soda is a powerhouse at home and can be used to deodorize your shoes. According to the IPFH, baking soda will reduce foot odor for many people. Although the IPFH points out, there is no research to support their efficacy.

You can apply the baking soda directly to your feet after washing and drying them. Remember to change your socks and shoes after applying them.

Adding either to your shoes may help absorb additional moisture where germs can breed. To try this home remedy, all you need to do is fill an unused coffee filter with baking soda and secure it at the end with tape, staples, or a rubber band. Place the package in each shoe at the end of the day, and the baking soda or cornstarch will go to work overnight.

You can also try this with cornstarch or talcum powder instead of baking soda.

Resealable Bag + Freezer

Place your shoes into a large resealable bag and place it in the freezer overnight. The arctic temperatures zap bacteria and leave you with a scent-free pair in the AM.

Kitty Litter + Panty Hose

Cat litter absorbs moisture and odors to prevent your home from smelling. The same can be applied to your shoes. Take worn-out stockings or mismatched socks and fill them with kitty litter. Secure with a rubber band and place in shoes at night to soak up offending smells and lingering moisture.

Disinfecting Sprays

Because bacteria are responsible for making your feet smell, the use of disinfectant sprays can help by killing the odor-causing bacteria, per Nemours KidsHealth.

Rubbing Alcohol + Spray Bottle

Fill a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol and spritz your shoes. The alcohol will kill any bacteria in sight. Just be sure not to over-saturate your shoes—a light mist will do.

Charcoal Insoles

We all know the major powers of charcoal for your beauty routine, but charcoal also helps deodorize, so slipping a pair of these Dr. Scholl's Odor-X Odor Fighting Insoles into your favorite boat shoes will help the shoe breathe and eliminate any odors.

A Quick Review

Give any of these strategies a try, but remember that the best year-round strategy for preventing foot odor and other foot conditions is to keep your feet and footwear clean. Make sure to:

  • Change socks daily or more often if you're active
  • Rotate shoes every few days
  • Inspect your feet daily for signs of sores, cuts, cracks, and itchiness between the toes

And if your foot conditions don't clear up or if you have diabetes or another condition that affects blood flow to the feet, see a foot health professional.

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