You slide your feet into your favorite sneakers to head out for a jog and instantly get hit with an eye-watering stench wafting up from your shoes. No matter how many times you wash them or leave them outside to air out, your shoes continue reeking of unpleasant foot odor within minutes of putting them on. So what causes stinky feet that seem to permeate every pair of shoes you own? And what can you do to get rid of the noxious smell for good?
What Leads to Stinky Feet
The main culprit behind smelly feet is sweat. Your feet contain more sweat glands per square inch than any other part of your body. When your feet sweat, this moisture gets absorbed by your shoes and socks, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.
The bacteria that live naturally on your skin feast on the sweat, dead skin cells, and oils on your feet. As they feed, they release isovaleric acid as a byproduct, which produces the signature cheesy scent associated with foot odor. Certain feet also contain bacteria that release other smelly compounds like propionic acid and sulfur, amping up the overall stink.
While anyone can suffer from foot odor, some people are more prone to it than others. Contributing factors include:
- Wearing tight, non-breathable shoes that trap sweat
- Not changing socks regularly throughout the day
- Having hyperhidrosis and excessively sweaty feet
- Battling foot fungus like athlete’s foot
- Dealing with health conditions like diabetes that can lead to increased sweating
The Wrong Ways to Handle Foot Odor
With stinky feet leading to smelly shoes no matter what you try, you might be tempted to just mask the odor with creative tactics. But many common methods people attempt can make the problem worse or pose other health risks:
Spraying feet and shoes with heavy perfumes or deodorants only temporarily covers up the smell, which will continue festering beneath the surface. The chemicals can also further throw off your feet’s natural bacterial balance.
Using too many harsh foot scrubs or soaps removes protective dead skin cells and healthy skin bacteria that help combat odor-causing microbes. This gives the bad bacteria even more free rein.
Wearing the same sweaty shoes over and over without washing promotes overgrowth of bacteria and allows smells to build up within fabric.
Going barefoot or wearing sandals without washing feet frequently enough means sweat and dead skin cells remain on your feet’s surface and between your toes, fueling smelly bacteria. This also transfers to shoes the next time you put them on.
Effective & Healthy Ways to Reduce Foot Odor
While stinky feet leading to foul-smelling shoes can seem impossible to tackle, there are several effective and healthy practices you can adopt to get odor under control:
- Wash feet daily: Use a mild, antimicrobial soap and scrub feet thoroughly when you bathe or shower. Make sure to get between the toes where sweat and bacteria accumulate. Rinse your feet thoroughly afterward as leftover soap residue can also cause foot odor.
- Dry properly: After washing feet, dry thoroughly with a clean towel, especially between the toes. Remaining moisture encourages the growth of bacteria. You can also use a hair dryer on a cool setting to fully dry your feet and shoes after use.
- Rotate shoes: If possible, alternate between different pairs of shoes on different days so you aren’t wearing the same sweaty pair day after day without drying out. Letting shoes fully air out between wears helps diminish bacteria buildup. You can stuff shoes with newspaper or buy special shoe dryers to help pull moisture after wearing.
- Choose breathable shoes and socks: Opt for shoes and socks made of natural, breathable materials like leather, canvas, wool, and bamboo rayon. Avoid shoes made of synthetic materials that lock in heat and moisture.
- Apply foot powder: Dust your feet and the insides of your shoes with antifungal and antibacterial foot powder containing ingredients like zinc oxide, arrowroot, and tea tree oil. These can help control odor-causing bacteria and fungi.
- Disinfect shoes: Using products containing odor-eliminating compounds like charcoal, citrus oil, baking soda, vinegar or ozone gas can help remove smells and disinfect the inside of smelly shoes between wears. Just avoid harsh chemical cleaners.
- See a podiatrist: If you deal with especially severe foot odor and excessive foot sweating that doesn’t get better with at-home measures, you may have a underlying medical condition contributing to it. See a podiatrist who can evaluate your feet, diagnose potential causes, and discuss advanced treatment options to curb excessive sweating like prescription-strength antiperspirants or minimally invasive procedures.
By understanding the science behind what causes shoes and feet to smell, avoiding common mistakes, employing daily cleaning habits, using moisture-absorbing aids, and choosing proper footwear, you can gain control over even severe foot odor. With diligence and consistency addressing the root causes of smelly feet bacteria buildup, you can toss out that air freshener spray for good and enjoy stink-free shoes once more.