Having stinky feet can be an embarrassing and frustrating problem. Strong foot odor, also called bromodosis, is very common and can happen to anyone. The smelly odor is usually caused by bacteria on the skin breaking down sweat and dead skin cells. Fortunately, there are many effective remedies and treatments to help get rid of very strong foot odor.
Causes of Strong Foot Odor
There are a few key causes of strong foot odor:
- Sweat – Sweat provides moisture that bacteria thrive on. Feet contain a high concentration of sweat glands and tend to sweat more than other areas of the body. This makes them prone to odor.
- Bacteria – There are over 250,000 sweat glands in the feet that produce sweat daily. Bacteria such as Bacillus, Micrococcus and Staphylococcus feed on this sweat and dead skin cells on the feet producing odor as a byproduct.
- Fungal infections – Fungal infections like athlete’s foot can also contribute to foot odor by allowing more bacteria to grow.
- Poor hygiene – Not washing and drying feet properly or wearing the same shoes and socks without washing can compound foot odor issues.
- Hyperhidrosis – A condition characterized by excessive sweating which can make foot odor worse.
- Medical conditions – Certain conditions like diabetes or thyroid disease can increase sweating and bacteria growth leading to increased odor.
Home Remedies and Treatments
Fortunately, there are many simple home remedies and over-the-counter treatments that can help tackle very strong foot odor:
- Wash feet daily – Make sure to wash feet thoroughly with soap and water, especially between the toes where bacteria accumulates.
- Soak feet – Soak feet for 15-20 minutes in a basin with warm water and an antibacterial solution like tea tree oil to kill odor-causing bacteria.
- Exfoliate – Use a foot scrub or pumice stone to slough off dead skin cells where bacteria can thrive.
- Dry thoroughly – Dry feet completely after washing, even between the toes. Dampness encourages bacteria growth.
- Rotate shoes – Allow shoes a day to fully dry out before wearing again to prevent bacterial buildup inside.
- Wear breathable socks – Choose moisture-wicking socks made of wool or cotton rather than synthetics.
- Apply antiperspirant – Applying an antiperspirant to clean feet at bedtime can reduce sweating.
Foot Soaks and Scrubs
- Baking soda – Soak feet in a baking soda bath to neutralize foot odor due to its alkaline properties.
- Vinegar – The acidic nature of white vinegar creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria growth. Add to foot bath water.
- Epsom salts – Epsom salt foot soaks reduce foot odor by drawing out toxins and absorbing foot sweat.
- Essential oils – Oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, and lavender have antimicrobial properties to fight odor-causing bacteria.
- Lemon – Lemon juice’s acidic pH helps kill bacteria. Add to foot soak water or use cut lemons to scrub feet.
- Apple cider vinegar – Contains antibacterial and antifungal acetic acid. Mix with water for a foot soak or scrub.
Foot Powders and Deodorants
- Baking soda – Sprinkling baking soda directly on feet and in shoes absorbs moisture and neutralizes odors.
- Activated charcoal – The porous texture of activated charcoal absorbs foul odors. Use powders or inserts in shoes.
- Zeolite – This mineral also has odor-absorbing properties and can be found in powder form to sprinkle on feet or shoes.
- Medicated antiperspirant – Over-the-counter medicated antiperspirants for feet can reduce sweating for up to a week.
- Odor-eating insoles – These insoles contain charcoal or zeolite to absorb foot odor inside shoes.
Oral Antibiotics and Antifungals
For very stubborn foot odor, visiting a doctor may be recommended. Oral antibiotics or antifungal medications can be prescribed to treat underlying bacterial infections or fungal causes of excessive foot odor.
- Oral antibiotics – Antibiotics like erythromycin are used for short term treatment of foot odor caused by bacteria.
- Oral antifungals – Antifungal tablets like terbinafine are prescribed to eliminate stubborn fungal infections contributing to odor.
- Combination treatment – Your doctor may recommend using topical and oral medications together to most effectively treat foot odor.
Certain lifestyle adjustments can also help minimize very strong foot odor:
- Wear natural fiber socks – Go for cotton, wool or bamboo over polyester or nylon.
- Change socks daily – Bacteria and fungi thrive in damp socks so change them at least once a day.
- Alternate shoes – Rotating shoes prevents any one pair from retaining too much sweat and bacteria.
- Go barefoot – Allowing feet to air out without shoes periodically deprives bacteria of the warm, damp environment they love.
- Quit smoking – Smoking restricts blood flow which can increase sweating and bacteria growth causing odor.
- Control sweat – Treat excessive sweating conditions like hyperhidrosis if present.
When to See a Doctor
You should see a podiatrist or dermatologist if very strong foot odor persists despite home treatments or if accompanied by:
- Discolored nails
- Scaly skin
- Itching or burning
- Visible wounds
These symptoms may indicate a nail fungus, athlete’s foot, diabetes, or other underlying medical conditions requiring prescription medications. A doctor can identify the exact cause and provide specialized treatment.
In most cases, very strong foot odor can be reduced and controlled with consistent foot hygiene and moisture-absorbing foot powders and sprays. But stubborn, long-lasting foot odor may need antimicrobial soaks, oral medications, or antiperspirants prescribed by a podiatrist. Seeking treatment can bring relief from embarrassing foot odor. With some persistence and foot care vigilance, you can show off your feet odor-free.