Why Do My Feet Still Smell After I Wash Them?

It’s frustrating when you thoroughly wash your feet but soon after they start to smell again. Smelly feet can be embarrassing and make you feel self-conscious. There are several reasons why your feet might still smell after washing them.

Sweat and Bacteria

One of the main causes of foot odor is sweat mixing with bacteria on your skin. There are over 250,000 sweat glands in each foot, producing approximately half a pint of sweat per day. When your feet sweat, the sweat gets trapped in your shoes and socks, creating a warm, moist environment. Bacteria thrive in this type of environment and start breaking down the sweat, producing odor.

Simply washing your feet does not get rid of all the bacteria. Some bacteria remain deep in the layers of skin on your soles and toes. As soon as your feet start sweating again, the bacteria multiply rapidly and the smell returns. The bacteria also produce a cheesy substance called biofilm that adheres to the skin and can cause persistent odors.

Dead Skin Cells

Dead skin cells on the soles of your feet can also contribute to foot odor. As skin cells die, they can accumulate between your toes and on the bottom of your feet. Bacteria will feed on these dead cells, creating a foul smell. Washing alone often does not remove all the dead skin buildup. Exfoliating your feet regularly can help slough off dead skin and reduce odor.

Foot Fungus

A fungal infection on the feet, such as athlete’s foot, can be another cause of persistent foot odor. The fungi that cause these infections live in the top layers of skin and generate smelly metabolic byproducts. Fungi thrive in the moist, warm environment inside shoes and socks. Washing alone will not eliminate a fungal infection. An antifungal medication specifically targeted to the type of fungus on your feet is needed.

Poor Foot Hygiene

Poor hygiene habits can also lead to lingering foot odor despite washing. Not scrubbing properly while bathing, wearing the same shoes daily without socks, or wearing damp socks or shoes can allow bacteria to proliferate. Infrequent washing of socks, shoes, and bath towels you use on your feet enables odor-causing bacteria to grow. A daily foot washing regimen is recommended, including carefully scrubbing between the toes.

Remedies for Smelly Feet After Washing

If you continue having smelly feet even after washing thoroughly, there are some remedies you can try:

  • Soak your feet in a solution of vinegar and water to kill bacteria and control odor. Tea tree oil is also a natural antibacterial.
  • Sprinkle antibacterial foot powder inside your shoes and socks to help absorb moisture and odor. Change your socks at least once a day.
  • Use an exfoliating scrub or pumice stone on your feet in the shower to remove dead skin buildup.
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks and alternate pairs of shoes daily to allow them to dry out fully.
  • Apply an over-the-counter antifungal cream if you suspect athlete’s foot or another fungal infection.
  • See your doctor if foot odor persists despite good hygiene. You may need a prescription antibiotic or antifungal medication.

Smelly feet can be difficult to avoid entirely, but good foot hygiene habits along with frequent washing can help control odor. Pay close attention to washing between your toes and exfoliating regularly. Letting your shoes and socks dry fully between uses is also key. Persistent or worsening foot odor may require seeing a podiatrist or dermatologist to treat an underlying bacterial, fungal or skin condition.