You slide your feet into your favorite shoes, catch a whiff of something unpleasant, and think “Ugh, my insoles smell terrible!” Shoe odor can be embarrassing and off-putting, but what causes that stench, and what can you do to get rid of it?
What Causes Insole Odor
Several factors contribute to foul-smelling insoles, including your environment, foot hygiene, and the materials that make up your shoes and insoles.
Sweat and Bacteria
One of the main culprits behind stinky insoles is sweat. As you walk around throughout the day, your feet sweat. The dark, damp environment inside your shoes makes an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to multiply and cause unpleasant odors.
The bacteria feast on the sweat and dead skin cells shed by your feet, producing smelly substances such as isovaleric acid. Certain feet may also harbor fungi like athlete’s foot, contributing to the problem.
Lack of breathability is another reason for smell in insoles. Nonbreathable materials prevent sweat evaporation and airflow, allowing moisture to accumulate. Dampness helps bacteria thrive and produce odorous metabolic waste.
Tight-fitting shoes that compress feet can also lead to excessive moisture and odor issues over time as sweat struggles to evaporate.
What your insoles are made from also influences odor potential. Common insole materials like EVA foam or plastic tend to absorb sweat more readily than leather or wool. Without proper drying, trapped moisture in absorbent insoles provides an environment suitable for microbes to grow.
Some insoles also incorporate antimicrobial substances like activated charcoal or silver particles. These ingredients inhibit bacterial growth and odor. However, their effects wear off over time as particles get rubbed off or overwhelmed.
Preventing Insole Odors
Now that you know why your insoles may smell bad, here are some tips to help prevent and eliminate shoe odor.
- Allow shoes to air and dry out completely between wears. Rotating between different pairs of shoes can help shoes dry more thoroughly.
- Wash or replace insoles regularly. Removable insoles can be laundered.
- Try moisture-wicking insoles to cut down on sweat buildup.
- Use shoe deodorizing balls or UV sterilizers to help eliminate bacteria.
- Remove insoles and loosen laces or straps when not wearing shoes so air can circulate inside them.
- Sprinkle antibacterial foot powder or spray anti-fungal spray inside shoes and on feet.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks to absorb sweat. Change socks halfway through the day if necessary.
- Consider replacing old, worn out insoles.
If foot hygiene is contributing to the problem, be sure to wash feet daily, exfoliate to remove dead skin cells where bacteria can thrive, and clip toenails straight across to prevent ingrown nails. See a podiatrist if you suspect athlete’s foot or overly sweaty feet. Addressing excessive foot sweat can curb insole odor issues.
Dealing With Smelly Insoles
If you’re already dealing with malodorous insoles, remove them and wash according to manufacturer recommendations. Allow insoles to air dry fully before placing back in shoes.
Baking soda can help neutralize tough odors in between washes. Lightly sprinkle baking soda directly onto the insoles, let sit for several hours to absorb odors, then vacuum or brush away.
For removable insoles with more stubborn smells, soak them for 30 minutes in a mixture of warm water, vinegar, and a drop of tea tree oil. Rinse thoroughly afterward.
Deep clean the shoes themselves with disinfecting wipes or sprays designed for shoes. These products kill bacteria and help freshen shoes. Stuff with newspaper overnight to absorb lingering moisture and odors.
Replace Insoles If Needed
Sometimes insoles become too overtaken by bacteria no matter what cleaning methods you try. Signs it’s time to replace smelly insoles include visible mold or mildew, ripped or worn material, misshapen shape, and long-term retention of odors even after washing.
Consider switching to moisture-wicking, antimicrobial, or copper-infused insoles for sweat and odor control. Always make sure to give new insoles and shoes adequate time to dry between wears. Proper foot hygiene and regular cleaning habits will also help prevent unpleasant smells from returning quickly.
With some diligent foot care, odor-fighting products, and consistent maintenance, you can keep your insoles fresh. Don’t let smelly insoles come between you and your favorite kicks! Address the issue promptly, and your shoes will thank you.