Synthetic shoes have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their versatility, durability, and typically lower cost compared to leather shoes. However, some wearers have complained that synthetic shoes make their feet excessively smelly. This article will examine the evidence behind the claim that synthetic shoes cause foot odor.
What Makes Feet Smell?
Foot odor is caused by bacteria consuming sweat and dead skin cells on the feet. This process produces isovaleric acid, which is responsible for the characteristic unpleasant smell. Several factors can contribute to increased foot perspiration and odor:
- Closed-toe shoes – Feet sweat more when enclosed versus open-toed shoes.
- Heat – Hot weather and strenuous activity cause more sweating.
- Sock material – Non-breathable socks trap moisture and promote bacterial growth.
- Hygiene – Infrequent washing allows odor-causing bacteria to proliferate.
Do Synthetic Shoes Promote Foot Odor?
Synthetic shoe materials like polyester and nylon are not inherently more likely to cause foot odor than natural materials. However, some features of synthetic shoes may exacerbate odor issues:
Lack of breathability – Synthetic materials tend to be less porous than leather, preventing air circulation around the feet. Trapped sweat and heat create an ideal environment for bacteria.
Heat retention – The insulating properties of synthetics means feet stay warmer in these shoes. More heat leads to more sweating.
Inability to stretch – The inflexibility of synthetic uppers can create friction, pressure points, and excessive heat spots on the feet. This further increases perspiration.
Harsher detergents – Some synthetics require stronger cleaners that may degrade moisture-wicking treatments over time. This reduces breathability.
Static buildup – Synthetic materials are prone to static electricity, which can attract more dirt and bacteria.
What Makes Some Synthetic Shoes Worse Than Others?
Not all synthetic shoes are equal when it comes to odor potential. Some features and materials exacerbate the issues more than others:
- Nylon and polyester are less breathable than newer synthetic blends incorporating spandex or other fabrics.
- Solid plastic and rubber soles prevent air circulation out the bottom of shoes.
- Dark colors absorb more heat. Lighter shades stay cooler.
- Closed toes prevent air flow in and out of shoes.
- Insulation intended for warmth also raises in-shoe temperatures.
- Thick, cushioned soles and insoles trap sweat and odors. Thinner materials allow more breathing.
- Poorly contoured interiors put uneven pressure on feet, creating sweatier hot spots.
- Inferior adhesives and lamination allow bacteria to accumulate in hidden crevices.
- Cheaper manufacturing leads to less durable coatings designed to control moisture and odor.
Do Other Factors Contribute to Smelly Synthetic Shoes?
Yes, certain wearer behaviors and sock choices can make the odor issues of synthetic shoes worse:
- Infrequent washing of shoes allows smells to build up over time.
- Wearing the same shoes day after day gives insufficient time for them to dry out and air out.
- Going sockless, or wearing low-quality socks that absorb sweat, enables direct bacteria contact with shoes.
- High-intensity athletic activity produces copious sweat, exceeding moisture handling capabilities.
- Feet that tend to sweat excessively are more likely to overpower shoe odor technologies.
- Not allowing shoes fully dry between wears provides the ideal damp environment for bacteria.
- Foot diseases like hyperhidrosis and athlete’s foot increase perspiration and infection.
Tips for Dealing with Smelly Synthetic Shoes
If you find your synthetic shoes are smellier than expected, there are a few remedies to try:
- Wash shoes regularly using antibacterial cleaners and a targeted odor eliminator. Allow to air dry completely.
- Rotate between different pairs of shoes so each has a chance to dry out before the next wear.
- Spray shoes with an anti-microbial spray designed to inhibit bacteria growth.
- Place moisture-absorbing shoe trees, balls, or powder inside shoes when not being worn.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks made of wool, bamboo rayon, or other breathable fibers.
- Apply foot powder inside shoes and on feet to absorb excess moisture.
- Disinfect insoles and replace regularly to prevent odor buildup.
- Use shoe dryers to facilitate moisture evaporation after wear.
Synthetic shoes are not inherently smelly. However, some of their structural properties can exacerbate foot odor issues compared to natural materials. Paying attention to design features, sock choice, foot hygiene, and shoe care practices can help control and prevent unpleasant synthetic shoe odors. The combination of feet, footwear, and activity levels contribute to finding the optimal mix for you.