If your shoe insoles have developed an unpleasant foot odor, you’re not alone. Many active people struggle with smelly insoles caused by a buildup of bacteria and sweat. The odor can be difficult to remove and often persists even after cleaning your shoes. Fortunately, there are several effective methods you can use to banish foot odor from your insoles for good.
Understand What Causes Insole Odor
The main culprit behind foot odor in any type of shoe is bacteria. Our feet contain over 250,000 sweat glands, producing significant moisture during activity or in warm weather. Bacteria called micrococci thrive in this damp, acidic environment created inside the shoes. As they rapidly multiply, the bacteria breakdown sweat into isovaleric acid, which produces a strong cheesy smell. Fungal infections between the toes may also contribute to unpleasant foot smells.
Insoles easily absorb all this moisture and bacteria growth over time, developing stubborn odors that linger even after the removable insoles are taken out of shoes. Knowing what causes the smell in the first place will help you better tackle eliminating it.
Remove Insoles and Allow to Fully Air Dry
The first step is to take out your smelly insoles so you can work on clearing the odor. Don’t put them directly back into your shoes after cleaning until they are completely dry. Leaving moisture trapped against insoles is just inviting odor to return very quickly. Set insoles in a dry, well-ventilated area and allow 12 hours or overnight drying before using again.
Sunlight helps kill bacteria still present and speeds up drying time. Rotate between a few pairs of insoles so one has time to fully air out before going back into rotation. Allowing your shoes themselves to thoroughly dry between wearings also helps prevent fast odor buildup when putting cleaned insoles back in.
Wash Removable Insoles by Hand
If your shoe insoles are removable and labeled machine washable, the laundry is the most thorough cleaning solution. Use hot water and add a disinfecting detergent that kills odor-causing bacteria or a sports wash formulated especially for sweaty, bacteria-laden sports gear and clothing. Avoid fabric softener, as this can leave a coating that traps new odors rather than repelling them.
Gently scrub the insoles during washing using a soft brush paying special attention to nooks and crannies where odor concentrates. Rinse thoroughly in hot water. Disinfectant spray can be used in lieu of detergent for insoles clearly marked non-machine washable. Scrub vigorously by hand then rinse.
Non-Removable Insoles Require Special Products
If your shoes have glued-down insoles that can’t be removed for washing, special sprays and powders work well for cleaning and deodorizing them. Look for products formulated not just for regular surfaces but specifically for eliminating odor from shoes and athletic equipment.
Baking soda and medicated foot powder contain ingredients that kill fungus and absorb moisture that spurs bacteria growth. Liberally sprinkle powder across the full surface of non-removable insoles. Leave overnight before shaking or vacuuming up the next day. Spray shoe deodorizers and disinfectants approved for use on fabrics are also extremely effective. Apply to completely coat insoles then allow them to fully dry.
Prevent the Return of Foot Odor
Getting rid of embarrassing foot odor means implementing prevention steps in addition to addressing the smell in existing insoles. Alternate between different pairs of shoes and insoles so they have proper time to dry out instead of trapping moisture against your feet day after day. Socks with copper fibers or made of moisture wicking fabric help prevent excessive sweating directly against the insoles.
Use a foot powder or spray with anti-fungal, moisture absorbing ingredients inside all your shoes when not being worn. Shake out any dirt or debris trapped down in the toe areas before inserting cleaned insoles back into rested shoes. With some periodic maintenance cleaning and attention to keeping feet drier, you can avoid foul odors taking over your shoes and replace that unpleasant stench with freshness instead.