It can be embarrassing and frustrating when your feet start smelling bad, even if they haven’t given you problems before. Smelly feet often seem to come out of nowhere, leaving you wondering what changed.
There are a few common culprits behind sudden foot odor. Understanding what’s causing that smell can help you find the right solutions to freshen up your feet.
Common Causes of Sudden Smelly Feet
Sweat itself is odorless. But when your feet sweat more than usual, that moisture creates the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply and produce foul-smelling substances.
Excessive foot sweating (hyperhidrosis) could be due to:
- Hot weather or intense exercise
- Wearing non-breathable shoes and socks
- Hormonal changes
- Stress and anxiety
- Some medications
Athlete’s foot and other fungal infections thrive in the warm, damp environment inside shoes and socks. The infection causes smelly feet due to:
- Itching and peeling skin that creates debris for bacteria
- Discharge that contains microbial waste products
- Inflammation and additional sweat production
There are thousands of bacteria naturally living on the skin. When the environment changes, certain bacteria can rapidly multiply and cause odor:
- Wearing the same shoes daily doesn’t allow them to fully dry out between uses
- Not washing and fully drying feet daily
- Walking barefoot in public showers or pools
Improper foot hygiene can allow odor to build up:
- Not scrubbing properly while bathing
- Forgetting to wash feet or change socks daily
- Wearing damp socks or pantyhose repeatedly
- Using moisturizers between the toes that block airflow
Some underlying medical issues can cause foot odor:
- Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
- Peripheral artery disease
- Peripheral neuropathy
Talk to your doctor if lifestyle changes don’t improve foot odor. Treatment for the underlying condition may help.
6 Ways to Treat and Prevent Smelly Feet
Here are some simple and effective home remedies that can help eliminate foot odor and prevent it from returning:
1. Wash and Dry Feet Thoroughly
Wash your feet with antibacterial soap and dry carefully between the toes every day. Change into clean, dry socks daily.
2. Rotate Your Shoes
Give shoes at least 24 hours to fully dry out before wearing again. Alternate pairs so you’re not wearing the same shoes two days in a row.
3. Apply Antiperspirant or Baking Soda
Applying an antiperspirant or baking soda-based powder can help soak up sweat and deodorize. Change socks halfway through the day if needed.
4. Use Antifungal Spray or Powder
If a fungal infection is the cause, over-the-counter antifungal sprays and powders can help treat athlete’s foot and related fungi. Keep feet dry.
5. Use Odor-Absorbing Insoles
Insoles infused with activated charcoal or baking soda can absorb foot odor inside shoes. Remove insoles regularly to dry out.
6. Disinfect Shoes
Use UV shoe sanitizers or disinfectant sprays designed for shoes to kill bacteria and fungus lingering inside. Remove insoles and wash regularly.
While no foot type is immune to odor, taking proactive steps can reduce excessive sweat, bacterial growth, and fungal infections. Keep feet clean and dry, and avoid wearing damp socks or shoes. See a podiatrist if odor persists despite home treatment. They can identify any underlying problems and provide prescription-strength products for lasting relief.
With some minor foot care adjustments, you can stop smelly feet in their tracks. Your feet will smell fresh, so you can walk with confidence again.