We’ve all been there – you open up your closet or gym bag only to be hit with an offensive odor coming from your shoes. No matter how much you love that pair, smelly shoes can really put a damper on your day. But before you toss them out or resign yourself to wearing stinky kicks, know that there are ways to get rid of shoe odor and save your smelly shoes.
What Causes Shoe Odor?
There are a few main culprits when it comes to smelly shoe syndrome:
Sweat – Feet contain over 250,000 sweat glands, producing nearly a pint of sweat per day. When feet sweat excessively in shoes, the sweat soaks into the material and causes bacteria and fungus to grow, resulting in unpleasant odors.
Bacteria – There are over 300 types of bacteria that live and feed on feet. In the warm, dark interior of shoes these bacteria thrive, digesting dead skin cells and producing isovaleric acid, which gives sweat its characteristic odor.
Fungus – Fungal infections like athlete’s foot can also lead to increased bacteria growth and cause shoes to smell. Fungi such as yeast and mold may feed on dirt, sweat and skin cells inside the shoe.
Poor hygiene – Not washing feet or shoes frequently enough allows odor-causing germs to proliferate. Dirt, debris and skin cells can build up inside shoes over time.
Heat – When feet overheat in shoes it accelerates sweat production and bacteria growth. The hot interior of shoes creates the perfect environment for odor-causing microbes to multiply.
How To Get Rid of Stinky Shoe Smell
The good news is you don’t necessarily have to throw away your smelly shoes. There are many DIY methods and products available to help eliminate shoe odor and keep your shoes fresh. Here are some tips:
Clean regularly – Make sure to wash or wipe out the insides of your shoes frequently to remove dirt, sweat and bacteria buildup. Use mild soap and water or a shoe cleaning wipe. Allow shoes to fully dry between uses.
Rotate shoes – Give shoes a day or two rest between wears, so they have time to fully dry out and prevent bacteria overgrowth. Having multiple pairs to rotate is ideal.
Absorb sweat – Apply a thin layer of baking soda or cornstarch inside shoes and shake it around to absorb excess moisture. The baking soda will also help neutralize odors.
Disinfect – Use a disinfecting spray made for shoes or a solution of equal parts water and distilled white vinegar. Mist the interior and let shoes dry completely before wearing again.
Deodorize – Stuff shoes with newspaper, dryer sheets or charcoal bags when not being worn. These materials help absorb smells and moisture.
Air them out – Let shoes air out in a breezy spot after each use. You can also remove shoe inserts and wash or replace them regularly.
Freeze them – Place shoes in a sealed plastic bag and put in the freezer overnight. Freezing helps kill bacteria and fungus that causes odors.
Use sun power – Set shoes in direct sunlight for several hours, which can help kill bacteria with UV rays and dry out the interior.
Replace insoles – Insoles hold onto odor-causing sweat and germs. Swap out for a fresh pair of insoles.
Clean laces – Don’t neglect those stinky laces! Wash laces occasionally by hand or in the washing machine.
Consider professional cleaning – For very smelly shoes, take them to a shoe repair shop for deep cleaning services that can sanitize and deodorize.
Preventing Future Shoe Smells
Once you’ve eliminated the stench from your kicks, you’ll want to take proactive steps to prevent shoe odor from returning:
- Wear breathable shoes and socks to allow sweat to evaporate
- Use antifungal shoe sprays or foot powder
- Apply cedar shoe tree inserts to absorb moisture when storing shoes
- Wear moisture-wicking socks to keep feet dry
- Allow shoes a full 24 hours to dry between wears
- Alternate pairs of shoes from day to day
- Remove shoes immediately after exercising or getting feet wet
- Avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row
With some consistent TLC for your shoes, you can keep them smelling fresh for a long time. While it may take some trial and error, finding the right combination of cleaning methods, storage solutions and preventive care will help you say goodbye to stinky shoe smells for good.