Having smelly shoes can be an embarrassing and unpleasant problem. The odor is often caused by bacteria that thrive in the warm, damp environment inside shoes. Using disinfectants is an effective way to kill odor-causing bacteria and make your shoes smell fresh again.
When choosing a disinfectant for smelly shoes, you’ll want one that is specifically formulated for use on shoes. Regular household cleaners may be too harsh on shoe materials. Look for products that say they are safe for use on leather, canvas, mesh and other shoe fabrics.
Bleach is one disinfectant that can work well for disinfecting and deodorizing shoes. Make sure to use bleach that is suitable for disinfection, such as concentrated sodium hypochlorite bleach solutions. Do not use bleach that contains detergents or other additives. Mix a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Use a cloth dampened with the solution to wipe the insides of the shoes. Allow the shoes to air dry completely before wearing. Bleach can discolor or damage some shoe materials, so test it in an inconspicuous area first.
Rubbing alcohol is another disinfectant option. It kills bacteria and helps dry out shoe interiors. Combine equal parts 91% isopropyl alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Spray or wipe the solution inside and outside your shoes and let them fully air dry before wearing again. Rubbing alcohol is generally safe for most shoe materials, but test on a small area first to be sure.
Specialized shoe disinfectant sprays are also available. These products are designed to penetrate shoe materials and kill odor-causing bacteria and fungi. Popular brands include Lysol Disinfectant Spray, Rug Doctor Odor Remover Spray and Gear Aid ReviveX Shoe Odor Eliminator Spray. Follow the product instructions closely. Spray the disinfectant liberally inside and outside the shoes, allowing time for it to soak in and work. Let the shoes dry completely before wearing.
In addition to disinfecting, using a shoe deodorizer can help remove unpleasant shoe odors. Look for deodorizers made specifically for shoes and formulated to neutralize odors safely on shoe materials. Baking soda is an effective DIY deodorizer. Simply sprinkle baking soda liberally inside the shoes, let it sit overnight, then shake it out. The baking soda will absorb odors instead of just masking them. Activated charcoal shoe inserts can also absorb odors. Commercial shoe deodorizer sprays and powders are available that you spray or shake into smelly shoes to attack odors. Odor-eliminating insoles and inserts can provide ongoing odor absorption too.
To help prevent shoe odors in the first place, rotate pairs of shoes so you aren’t wearing the same ones two days in a row. Take steps to keep your feet clean and dry: change your socks daily, use foot powder or antiperspirant and treat any foot fungus infections. Remove shoe insoles and laces and wash them regularly. Use cedar shoe trees to help shoes retain their shape and absorb moisture. Always allow shoes time to fully air dry between wears.
Certain types of shoes are more prone to developing odors:
Athletic shoes and sneakers: Made of non-breathable materials, they easily trap sweat and bacteria. Disinfect, deodorize and rotate these shoes regularly.
Boots: Bacteria and moisture can become trapped inside boots, especially if you wear them with thick socks. Allow boots to dry thoroughly between wears and use shoe trees.
Loafers and ballet flats: Your feet sweat directly into these shoes. Disinfect the interiors frequently to prevent odor buildup. Alternate between different pairs.
Heels and dress shoes: Non-breathable materials and excessive sweating from feet being squeezed into small shapes makes these shoes odor prone. Disinfect and deodorize them often.
Canvas shoes: These shoes absorb sweat and bacteria easily. Use disinfectants safe for canvas materials and allow shoes to air dry fully between wears.
Here are some step-by-step instructions for disinfecting and deodorizing smelly shoes:
- Shoe disinfectant spray or solution
- Deodorizing shoe powder or baking soda
- Old toothbrush or cleaning cloth
- Washing machine (for removable inserts and laces)
- Remove laces and insoles from the shoes if possible. Wash removable insoles and shoelaces in your washing machine to disinfect and deodorize them. Air dry them completely before putting back in the shoes.
- Mix a disinfecting solution appropriate for your shoe material. For canvas, use a mixture of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 1 part water. For leather, use a specialized shoe disinfectant.
- Use a cloth to apply the disinfecting solution liberally inside and outside the shoes. Make sure to rub it into crevices and seams. Let the solution soak in for 5-10 minutes.
- Use an old toothbrush to scrub the soles and any especially dirty areas. This helps remove embedded bacteria and dirt.
- Rinse the shoes with clean water on a cloth if needed, making sure to wipe away excess disinfectant solution.
- Allow shoes to completely air dry. Place near a fan or in sunlight to accelerate drying. Make sure they are fully dry before wearing again.
- Once dry, spray a shoe deodorizer or sprinkle baking soda or deodorizing powder liberally inside each shoe. Shake powder around to coat all interior surfaces.
- Let the deodorizer sit overnight so it can fully absorb odors. Shake or brush out excess powder in the morning.
- Optional: Place cedar shoe trees inside the shoes while storing them to help absorb moisture and prevent future odors.
- Repeat disinfecting and deodorizing steps weekly or whenever shoes become smelly again. Consistent maintenance is key to keeping shoes odor-free.
With the right disinfecting and deodorizing products and techniques, you can banish unpleasant shoe odors for good. Be diligent and don’t let the bacteria get a foothold again. Your shoes—and your feet—will smell fresh, clean and odor-free.