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What Works Best for Stinky Shoes?

We’ve all been there – you take off your shoes after a long day and get hit with an overwhelming stench. Shoe odor can be caused by sweat, bacteria, and wearing shoes without socks. Once shoes start to smell, it can be difficult to get rid of the odor. Fortunately, there are several methods you can try to banish stinky shoe smells for good.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to remove odors from shoes. It absorbs moisture and neutralizes odors. Start by removing the shoe insoles if they can be taken out. Liberally sprinkle baking soda directly into the shoes. You can focus on the toe area and insoles if removable. Let the baking soda sit in shoes for 24 hours to absorb odors. After 24 hours, dump out the baking soda. You can use a vacuum with a hose attachment to get into all the nooks and crannies. Put fresh baking soda into the shoes and leave for another 24 hours before shaking it out. The baking soda will pull odor from the material of the shoes leaving them fresh smelling.

Freeze Shoes

Put stinky shoes in the freezer to kill odor-causing bacteria. Place shoes in a plastic bag before putting in the freezer to protect them and prevent odors from spreading. Leave shoes in the freezer overnight or for 12-24 hours. The cold temperatures will reduce bacteria buildup and associated smells. This method works best on canvas or cloth shoes. Leather shoes can become damaged in the freezer. Make sure shoes are completely dry before freezing. Also, remove insoles if possible and freeze separately. Freeze shoes regularly, like once a month, to prevent future odors.

Disinfect with Vinegar

White vinegar is an all-natural disinfectant that sanitizes shoes and removes odors. Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Lightly mist the vinegar solution inside and outside of smelly shoes. Let the shoes air dry completely. The acetic acid in vinegar kills odor-causing bacteria and helps remove stains. After drying, sprinkle some baking soda in shoes to absorb any lingering dampness and odors. The vinegar neutralizes odors while the baking soda absorbs them. For tougher odors, do a full vinegar soak by filling shoes with vinegar and letting soak for 1-2 hours.

Odor Absorbing Insoles

Replace old insoles with a pair specifically designed to absorb foot odors. Look for insoles containing activated charcoal, which is highly porous and absorbs odors. Charcoal-infused insoles capture sweat and odors so they can’t spread back into shoes. Bamboo is naturally antimicrobial and options containing bamboo charcoal are ideal for odor prevention. Replace insoles every 4-6 months or when they start to smell. Odor absorbing insoles work best when combined with other methods like freezing or using baking soda.

Disinfect with Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol kills bacteria and dries quickly without leaving a residue. Wipe the inside of smelly shoes with a cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol to sanitize them. It will disinfect shoes and remove odors in the process. Allow shoes to completely dry after cleaning. Place paper towels inside shoes while drying to help absorb moisture and prevent bacteria growth. The alcohol evaporates rapidly minimizing any damage to the shoes. Regular disinfecting after wear will prevent the bacteria that causes odors from growing out of control.

Tea Bags

The tannins in black tea can help absorb sweat and odor molecules from shoes. Place 2-3 used tea bags inside each shoe overnight or up to 24 hours. The tea leaves will help draw odors and moisture out. Tea bags are safe for all shoe materials. For added effectiveness, put used tea bags in the freezer for an hour before putting in shoes. The chilled tea bags help draw odors out even more. Change out the tea bags daily until shoe odor improves.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal binds to odor molecules through a process called adsorption. Charcoal is full of tiny pores that capture odorous compounds and prevent them from escaping back into the air. You can buy activated charcoal bags designed to hang inside shoes and absorb odors. Replace the bags every three months or when they stop working as well. Another option is to put charcoal pellets into a pair of old socks and tie off the end. Place one sock filled with charcoal into each smelly shoe. Let the charcoal sit and deodorize shoes for 12-24 hours. For shoes that don’t get frequent use, leave charcoal socks in while storing to prevent odors.

UV Light

Using UV light is an effective way to kill bacteria that grows inside shoes from sweat. Special UV shoe sanitizer devices are available that you put shoes inside to destroy odor-causing germs. The UV light damages the bacteria’s DNA structure rendering them inactive. Look for a sanitizer that emits at least 1,200 mJ/CM2 ultraviolet-C radiation for maximum effectiveness. UV sanitizers provide a deep clean by killing 99% of bacteria. However, they do not remove stains or deposit odorous compounds like baking soda does. So you may need to use UV treatment along with other odor removers for the best results.

Essential Oils

Essential oils both cover up shoe odors with their fragrance and have antibacterial properties. Tea tree, eucalyptus, lemon, lavender and peppermint oil work well for shoe deodorizing. Put a few drops on a cotton ball and place inside shoes while not wearing them. Combine different oils to create a custom scent. You can also mix oils in a carrier oil like olive or coconut oil and apply directly to shoe insoles. The oil soak helps break down the bacteria and leaves shoes smelling fresh. Essential oils should not be applied directly to leather shoes, so use cotton balls instead. Oils will need to be reapplied to maintain their aroma.

Air Out

Allowing shoes time to thoroughly air out helps eliminate odors and prevents them from worsening. Take out shoe insoles and open shoes as wide as possible after each wear. Place shoes near a window or outside if the weather permits. Direct air flow will let moist air escape and help dry shoes. Using a fan blows air directly into shoes to speed up drying. Avoid putting shoes away or wearing again until completely dry. Drying shoes out deprives bacteria of the moist environment they need to multiply and create smells. Alternating pairs of shoes gives each a chance to fully dry before wearing again.


Exposing shoes to sunlight is an easy odor remover. The UV rays in sunlight act as a natural disinfectant and bactericide. Place shoes outside in direct sun for 6-8 hours. The sunlight kills bacteria responsible for odors. Flip shoes over halfway through to expose all sides. Sunlight also dries out damp shoes eliminating the moisture bacteria relies on. For shoes that can’t be placed outside, put by a closed window in sunlight. The light coming through the glass still provides some sanitizing benefits. Do this daily to prevent odor buildup. Just be cautious with leather shoes in sunlight as it can cause fading.

Clean Regularly

Make shoe cleaning a regular habit. Wiping dirt and sweat from shoes before it’s allowed to set in prevents odors. Use mild soap and water to scrub the insides and outsides of shoes. Remove insoles and clean separately. A toothbrush is handy for scrubbing shoe crevices. Rinse away all soap residue and allow to air dry completely. After washing, sprinkle baking soda or charcoal into shoes to keep them smelling fresh. Cleaning shoes routinely eliminates bacteria before it gets out of control.

Sanitize with Steam

Steam cleaners provide a chemical-free way to sanitize shoes and remove odors. The heat of the steam kills odor-causing germs and bacteria. Steam loosens dried sweat and dirt so it can be wiped away easier. Insert the steamer attachment into the shoe and rub along insoles and interior surfaces. Focus on any visibly dirty areas to clean them. Scrub shoes with a cloth and wipe out any dirt and moisture after steaming. Let shoes dry completely before wearing. Steam cleaning footwear regularly keeps odors from building up over time.

Rotate Shoes

Have multiple pairs of shoes you rotate wearing to lengthen the time between wears. Giving shoes 48 hours between wear allows them to fully dry and prevents buildup of bacteria and odor. Keep shoes dry and stuff with cotton balls when not being worn. Stuffing helps shoes maintain their shape and absorb moisture. Using cedar shoe trees also helps absorb odor and wick away moisture. Cedar’s natural aroma repels moths that can damage shoes when stored. Having a shoe rotation extends their lifespan and keeps them smelling fresh.

Shoe odor is an annoying and common issue. But there are many strategies you can try to banish stinky smells for good. Keeping shoes clean, dry and bacteria-free are keys to preventing odor. Using absorbent materials like charcoal and baking soda help eliminate odors that do develop. Find the right combination of methods and be consistent applying them. With some determination, you can have fresh smelling footwear ready for any activity.