Soaking Smelly Feet in Vinegar: The Good and The Bad

If you suffer from perpetually smelly feet, you’ve likely tried many remedies aiming to reduce and remove the odor. One popular home remedy is to soak feet in undiluted white vinegar, with many people swearing by its deodorizing effects. But is dunking your dogs in vinegar really an effective solution or even a good idea? Let’s take a balanced look at the possible benefits and drawbacks.

Why Vinegar?

Before diving in too deep, it helps to understand why people think soaking in vinegar could help with smelly feet. Most foot odor is caused by bacteria and fungus thriving in the warm, dark confines of shoes and producing sulfur compounds and other fragrant byproducts in the process.

Vinegar has antimicrobial properties, meaning it can kill bacteria and fungus. Its acidic nature also helps break down dead skin cells and calluses where additional microbes can lurk. So using an antimicrobial soak seems like it could reduce the critters causing stink and thereby reduce odor. Many people report great success with vinegar foot baths. But could there be downsides?

The Good

There does seem to be some solid scientific evidence supporting vinegar’s bacteria-busting ability when soaking feet. One small study had participants with particularly smelly feet soak their feet daily in a vinegar solution. The vinegar foot baths were much more effective at reducing odor compared to regular water foot baths.

Additionally, vinegar alters the skin’s pH, making it harder for odor-causing bacteria and fungi to thrive. The acidic shift won’t last forever once feet are dried off, but it could provide temporary relief. The vinegar may also help break up thick calluses that trap microorganisms. Thinner calluses mean fewer places for bacteria to multiply unchecked.

Finally, vinegar has been shown to neutralize odor compounds rather than just masking smells. So unlike perfumey foot sprays, vinegar can deactivate the smelly chemical compounds themselves, at least for a little while. Between killing microbes, altering pH, and neutralizing odors, vinegar seems to attack foot funk from multiple angles.

The Bad

However, vinegar does have some significant drawbacks when used as a foot soak. Full strength vinegar is quite acidic and can irritate skin, especially with prolonged exposure. Sensitive skin may become red, dry and cracked. Any openings in the skin raise infection risks from opportunistic bacteria and fungi. Damaged skin also won’t absorb moisture properly, worsening issues like cracked heels and calluses.

There are also concerns over risks that come with killing too much bacteria on skin surfaces. Our bodies host thriving communities of microorganisms living harmoniously on and in us that benefit our health in many ways. Recklessly nuking these complex ecosystems through overuse of antibacterial products like vinegar can do more harm than good.

And while the antimicrobial and pH shifting effects of vinegar have some temporary benefits, the results are fleeting. Feet eventually revert back to normal pH levels, bacteria bounce back, and odors return. Without addressing root causes, vinegar foot soaks provide only a quick fix. You may be back sniffing smelly shoes before too long.

Finally, while vinegar can neutralize some odor compounds, it has its own distinct and rather strong smell. Trading one bothersome odor for another isn’t necessarily an improvement. And vinegar’s scent can linger for a while on feet and shoes. You may find the vinegar smell even more unpleasant over time compared to the usual foot funk.

Based on available evidence, soaking your smelly feet in vinegar seems to provide some real albeit short-term odor-fighting benefits. However, caution is warranted. Full strength vinegar carries skin irritation and infection risks with excessive use. And other root causes of smells may be left unaddressed.

If you want to test out a vinegar foot bath, dilute the vinegar first with water. White vinegar diluted to between 1-3% acidity seems optimal for safety and effectiveness. Limit soaks to no more than 30 minutes at a time, a few times per week at most. Make sure to thoroughly dry feet afterwards, apply moisturizer, and consider applying antifungal powder.

Combine vinegar soaks with other proven odor prevention best practices like rotating shoes, wearing moisture wicking socks, going barefoot when home, trimming toenails, and seeing a podiatrist if underlying conditions could be causing excess sweating or skin troubles.

With some smart precautions, using vinegar as part of your smelly feet relief regimen could provide a helpful boost. But vinegar should complement, not replace, broader hygiene and health strategies to banish whiffy feet once and for all.