What Causes Horrible Foot Odor?

While some foot odor is normal, excessive smelly feet can negatively impact your confidence and comfort. Understanding what causes this condition and how to treat it properly is key to getting back to happy, healthy feet.

What Causes Smelly Feet?

There are a few key culprits behind severe foot odor:

Excessive Sweating

One of the most common causes of smelly feet is excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis. Sweat itself is odorless, but when your feet sweat more than normal, that moisture creates the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive and produce foul odors.

The sweat glands in our feet have the highest concentration compared to anywhere else on the body. When feet sweat excessively, socks and shoes absorb all that moisture. This leads to the growth of bacteria and fungi which feed on the sweat, producing pungent foot odors.

Certain conditions like overactive thyroid, infections, and obesity can cause excessive sweating. Wearing unbreathable materials like rubber boots or polyester socks can also trap sweat and exacerbate odor.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Infections on the feet can also lead to increased odor. Bacteria like staphylococcus and pseudomonas can cause infections when they overgrow. Fungal infections like athlete’s foot are another common culprit.

When the skin is infected, it becomes inflamed. This causes an increase in sweat production and cell breakdown. The debris from dead skin cells and optimal moist conditions create an environment where the bacteria and fungi can thrive, producing unpleasant smells.

Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails are another common cause of foot odor. When the edges of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin instead of rising above it, it digs into the skin.

This creates a breeding ground for bacteria as moisture, dead skin, and debris gather in the pocket of the ingrown nail. As bacteria multiply, they produce foul-smelling metabolic waste.

Poor Hygiene

Lack of proper foot hygiene can naturally lead to a buildup of sweat, bacteria, and dead skin cells – ingredients for smelly feet! If feet are not washed regularly, the sweat, dirt, and debris remains on the skin and can create optimal conditions for bacterial overgrowth.

Dead skin cells can also accumulate, trapping bacteria underneath. Not properly drying between the toes after bathing can keep feet damp and prone to infections. Wearing the same socks and shoes over and over breeds bacteria inside them.

How to Treat and Prevent Smelly Feet

Managing smelly feet requires a multi-step approach focused on cleanliness, prevention, and care. Here are some of the most effective remedies and prevention tips:

Wash and Dry Properly

Wash your feet daily with antibacterial soap, cleaning between the toes where moisture and bacteria collect. Dry feet thoroughly afterward, especially between the toes where it’s easy for dampness to linger.

Use Antiperspirant and Antibacterial Powder

Applying over-the-counter antiperspirants made specifically for feet can help reduce sweating. Look for ingredients like aluminum chloride. Antibacterial powders can also help absorb moisture and treat foul odors.

Wear Clean, Breathable Socks

Choose moisture-wicking socks made of natural materials like cotton or wool. Avoid synthetic fabrics that don’t breathe. Change your socks at least once a day, or more often if your feet are heavily sweating.

Use Antifungal Treatments

Over-the-counter antifungal sprays, powders and creams can help treat athlete’s foot and control odor-causing fungi. Look for ingredients like miconazole, clotrimazole, or tolnaftate. Keep applying daily for at least two weeks after symptoms resolve.

Practice Proper Foot Care

Trim nails straight across to prevent ingrown toenails. Exfoliate dead skin with a foot scrubber or pumice stone. See a podiatrist for proper treatment of ingrown nails, excessive calluses, warts, or conditions causing excessive sweating.

Disinfect Shoes

Rotate your shoes daily and don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. This allows them to dry out fully between uses. Remove shoe insoles to dry out. Disinfect shoes periodically with antibacterial spray or UV light.

Avoid Trapping Moisture

Go barefoot when possible to air out your feet. Opt for open sandals over sneakers when the weather allows. Avoid wearing plastic, rubber and vinyl shoes that trap sweat.

Change Socks and Shoes After Exercise

Always put on a fresh pair of socks and shoes after working out or getting sweaty. Don’t put sweaty feet back into shoes and socks because they’ll breed more bacteria. Bring extra socks when exercising to change halfway through.

Use Odor-Absorbing Insoles

Insoles infused with charcoal, vinegar or baking soda can help absorb foot odors inside shoes. Change them out regularly or clean between uses. You can also stuff shoes with antibiotic insole powder when not wearing.


Smelly feet can be caused by several underlying factors that create optimal conditions for bacteria and fungi to thrive. While some odor is normal, excessive smell can usually be managed with proper hygiene, breathable footwear and anti-bacterial treatments. See a podiatrist if severe foot odor persists despite diligent care at home. With the right combination of prevention and treatment, you can get back to happy feet and stay confident and comfortable.