We’ve all experienced it – you take off your shoes after a long day and get a whiff of something unpleasant. Smelly socks seem inevitable, especially if you’re active or have sweaty feet. The odor comes from bacteria feeding on your foot sweat and dead skin cells. While washing socks regularly helps, sometimes that stench just won’t go away completely. Fortunately, there are some simple yet effective ways to disinfect your socks and get them fresh again.
Figure Out The Cause
First, inspect your socks and try to determine what’s causing the smell. Check if there are any visible dark stains as that likely indicates accumulated sweat and bacteria. Also, take note if the smell remains after machine washing or if it comes back quickly. This will give you an idea if it’s a hygiene issue or the material of the socks itself trapping odor. Natural fabrics like cotton tend to hold more moisture and odor than moisture-wicking synthetic blends.
Clean & Disinfect With Vinegar
One of the most powerful homemade disinfectants is plain white vinegar. It’s acidic nature helps kill bacteria and fight odors. Fill a bucket or sink with warm water and 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Let your smelly socks soak for at least an hour, longer for stronger odors. Agitate and squeeze the socks occasionally to let the vinegar solution penetrate the fabric. After soaking, rinse the socks thoroughly because residual vinegar can cause skin irritation.
Vinegar disinfecting works great, but the smell comes back quickly if your feet continue sweating in the socks. However, you can add vinegar to your wash cycle too. Just add 1⁄2 cup of vinegar with the laundry detergent to help remove odors and disinfect. The vinegar smell dissipates once the socks are dry.
Disinfect With Hydrogen Peroxide
Like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide is another powerful disinfectant and deodorizer for smelly socks. Being bleach-free, it also won’t fade colors. Mix a solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 4 parts water. Soak socks for 8-10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with clean water.
Hydrogen peroxide not only kills germs and bacteria on the sock fabric but can also help neutralize foot odors. It reacts with the sweat to naturally break down the enzymatic compounds that cause unpleasant foot odor. Just don’t overdo the soaking time, as too much hydrogen peroxide can damage fabrics.
Sanitize With Baking Soda
Baking soda is mild enough for most fabric but effectively neutralizes odors and absorbs moisture. Make a thick baking soda paste by mixing 3 parts baking soda with 1 part water. Rub the paste thoroughly onto the smelly socks. Let the socks sit for 30 minutes before rinsing clean. The baking soda paste pulls double-duty by gently lifting dirt from the fabric too.
For extra disinfecting power, do a baking soda soak. Fill a bucket with warm water and 1⁄2 cup of baking soda. Let socks soak overnight, then rinse in the morning. The baking soda soak will deodorize and sanitize the socks while softening the fabric too. This works great for gym socks that get especially foul.
Disinfect With Borax
Similar to baking soda, Borax has natural antibacterial properties to both clean and deodorize laundry. For smelly socks, make a Borax solution by dissolving 1⁄2 cup Borax powder into 2 liters of warm water. For severe foot odor, double the concentration. Soak socks for 30 minutes, rinse thoroughly and air dry. The Borax solution leaves socks fresh by killing odor-causing germs.
Boost With Essential Oils
You can add cleansing essential oils to any of the above sock disinfecting methods too. Great options include lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, and lavender oil. Just add 15 drops of your chosen antimicrobial essential oil to the soaking solution. However, avoid soaking more than 30 minutes as extended soaking with oils can damage elasticity. The natural disinfecting and soothing properties of the oils leave socks refreshed.
Dry In Sunlight
One of the simplest ways to disinfect and deodorize socks is to dry them in direct sunlight. Simply wash socks as normal using hot water, then thoroughly wring them out. Hang them outside to dry for 6-8 hours in bright sunlight. The UV radiation from sunlight naturally sanitizes and breaks down stubborn odors. Also, the sun’s heat completely dries out the fabric to prevent recurrent smells.
Replace Old Socks
Sometimes no matter what you do, the stench just won’t budge. This likely means the socks have reached retirement. When socks get too old and worn, they hold onto odor that can’t be remedied. Ink stains, holes in the heels and toes, and thinning fabric are all signs to toss them out. This is especially prudent for sweaty athletic socks you wear often.
Also, pay attention to sock material. Synthetic fibers like polyester hold less moisture and odor, while natural fibers like cotton trap smell easier after months of wear. Considering swapping really old cotton socks for moisture wicking athletic socks or antimicrobial copper-infused socks. Though pricier, they stay fresher longer.
Follow Proper Sock Hygiene
Prevention is the best defense against smelly sock syndrome. Help your socks stay fresher longer by:
- Changing socks daily
- Washing after every 1-2 wears
- Rotate between multiple pairs of socks
- Wear moisture wicking socks
- Allowing socks to dry fully between wears
- Using antifungal shoe powder
- Treating athlete’s foot if necessary
If you take proper sock hygiene measures, you’ll have to disinfect them less often. But when odors inevitably strike, turn to these easy home remedies. With some vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and sunlight, you’ll have fresh, sanitized socks again.