What Bacteria Makes Feet Smell Like Vinegar?

It’s no secret that feet can develop some pretty unpleasant odors, especially after a long day spent sweating in shoes and socks. But perhaps the most infamous foot stench is the vinegary smell that some people’s feet give off. What causes this sharp, pungent odor that reminds you of vinegar? There’s actually a specific type of bacteria to blame.

The main culprit behind that vinegary foot smell is a bacterium called brevibacterium. This microbe lives naturally on the skin of humans, particularly in moist areas like between the toes and on the soles of feet. In fact, brevibacterium makes up a significant part of the microbiome on feet.

When brevibacterium breaks down sweat, dead skin cells, and other debris on the feet, it produces acidic metabolic byproducts. One of these byproducts is isovaleric acid, which has a very strong, vinegar-like smell. So when brevibacterium starts rapidly multiplying in the warm, damp environment of feet and shoes, it churns out isovaleric acid that makes your feet reek of vinegar.

Along with brevibacterium, another bacterial genus called micrococcus can also play a role in causing vinegary foot odor. The acids secreted by micrococcus species as they feed on foot sweat and dead skin can similarly smell like vinegar. So both brevibacterium and micrococcus working together can really make feet stink even more intensely of vinegar.

The growth of these bacteria gets worse in certain conditions. Sweaty feet, not drying properly after showering, not changing socks frequently, wearing tight shoes with poor ventilation, and going barefoot in public areas can all enable brevibacterium and micrococcus to thrive. This leads to an overabundance of their vinegary metabolic waste.

Luckily, there are ways to control the smell:

With proper foot hygiene, you can create an environment less suitable for those pesky vinegary-smelling bacteria. Stop them from multiplying too much, and you can say goodbye to that unwanted scent of fermented foot vinegar! Keep your feet fresh and odor-free by being proactive against brevibacterium.