Why Do Shoes Smell, and What Can You Do About It?

Why Do Shoes Smell, and What Can You Do About It?

Did you know that Madeline Albrecht from Cincinnati, Ohio holds the world record for the most feet sniffed? Madeline worked for 15 years at a testing center for Dr. Scholl's and it was part of her job to sniff feet and armpits. Her record: 5,600 feet!

That may not sound like a dream job, but the fact that she was paid to do it for 15 years shows just how serious of a problem foot odor can be. How do feet and shoes get so smelly, anyway?

The short answer: sweat. Of course, you sweat all over your body, but the rest of you (hopefully) doesn't smell as bad as your feet. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Each foot contains a whopping 250,000 sweat glands.
  2. Shoes.

Unlike faces and arms, most feet are covered in shoes all day. When that happens, feet are not ventilated and the contained sweat and warmth become a breeding ground for bacteria—very smelly bacteria. This bacteria lives on your feet, in your socks and all over your favorite shoes.

Have you ever noticed that some people's feet have almost no odor while others could kill a canary? The reason is simply that some people sweat more and provide conditions that encourage for bacteria to breed (warm and humid). Whatever the case, foot odor is a common nuisance in most households.

 Why Do Shoes Smell, and What Can You Do About It?

Natural Solutions for Foot and Shoe Odor

So what can you do about smelly feet and smelly shoes? This is a popular question for our shoemakers, and we have a few natural solutions. The great news is that you can combine these for maximum aroma control:

  • Keep Feet Clean: Washing daily with soap will do a lot to rid your feet of bacteria and their odor. And soaking your feet in a hot epsom salt bath will not only kill bacteria, but will also help relax your muscles.
  • Stay Dry: Make sure your feet are dry before putting on socks or shoes, especially if you just took a shower. Water stuck between toes is a common culprit.
  • Choose Well-Ventilated Shoes: Natural leather is much more breathable than plastic, rubber or "pleather." Shoes with perforations or materials designed to be breathable are even better (such as—just off the tops of our heads—a Dash LITE or a Moc3 lined with Breathe-O-Prene).
  • Give Your Shoes a Break: If you let your shoes rest for 24 hours after wearing them, they will air out and much of the festering bacteria will die.
  • Wicking Socks: Not everyone is a fan of wearing socks with their shoes, but socks made from wicking fabric will push away sweat so it can evaporate—as long as your shoes are well-ventilated. Good wicking materials are merino wool, olefin or microfiber blends. Remember to change your socks regularly.
  • Baking Soda: Sprinkling a couple teaspoons of baking soda into your shoes overnight will help reduce the smell. Using deodorant with a baking soda base and applying it to your feet and/or shoes can also be very effective.
  • Vinegar Spray: Mix equal parts water and vinegar, spray it into your shoes to kill bacteria. Let them dry for at least 30 minutes before wearing them. Note: this could discolor some shoe dye, so be careful not to spray the outside.
  • Mask the Smell: Although it does more to fight the symptoms than solve the problem, sometimes adding a more pleasant odor will be enough. You can try using citrus peel, dryer sheets, tea bags, lavender or other herbs. Just place them in your shoes, especially around the ball and toe areas, and let them sit overnight.

There you have it, everything you never wanted to know about foot odor. If you have any other natural solutions, we'd love to hear them!

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19 Comments

  1. Chris Nordyke
    My 3 pairs of Soft Star RunAmok's with boar-skin insoles have never been washed and DON'T SMELL at all! And I've almost exclusively worn them barefoot. Amazing- highly recommend paying the bit extra for boar-skin insoles.
    Reply
    1. Elf Martin
      Glad to hear it Chris!
      Reply
  2. Tutugirl
    I use DryPointe Shoe Inserts in my shoes, they work great!
    Reply
    1. Elf Martin
      Thanks for the tip!
      Reply
  3. Dave
    Hey, I use Lavilin foot cream. It's actually amazing. I only have to apply it to the balls of my feet 1-2 times a week and it destroys my foot odor. My shoes smell fine now. Love the product, would recommend it to anyone looking for a foot odor solution.
    Reply
    1. Elf Martin
      Thanks for the tip Dave!
      Reply
  4. Putri Zachira
    great post
    Reply
  5. FORM Insole
    Very good advice as always, I would also add that the best thing to do is to go barefoot whenever possible (especially at home).
    Reply
  6. dhyan samdhya
    sosk your feet or whole body in apple cider vinegar and water for 20 minutes. naturally kills bacteria and takes off dead slin cells as well as eases inflamation and makes skin better. wash shoes in bio clean or add grape seed extract to your wash or vinegar.before putting your clean feet back in the shoes to kill bacteria there.
    Reply
  7. Elf Martin
    Thanks for the tips, Dhyan!
    Reply
  8. jacob mandelblum
    jacob mandelblum
    wear sandals most of the time, change sandals at noon, wash my feet at least once a day AND THE SMELL IS STILL THERE.....
    Reply
  9. Emergency flats
    Good work done ..nice post
    Reply
  10. Gary Graff
    I've tried a lot of things to remove the smell from shoes, but they do not work very well. I finally tried using a pet odor remover and that does work! These products use enzymes which actually "eat up" the organic matter that is causing the smells. They are sold at hardware or pet stores. One is called "Out! Stain & Odor Remover." I just spray the inside of the shoes once a day and soon they take on a sort-of sweet smell. After a while, it is not necessary to spray them every day.
    Reply
    1. Elf Martin
      Thanks for the tip, Gary!
      Reply
  11. Emma McSorley
    I have saddle shoes for my catholic school uniform so i don't have a choice for what i wear on my feet and when i take them off after school them smell bad and my room gets filled with the stick. How can I prevent my room from smelling like my shoes and socks?
    Reply
    1. Elf Martin
      Sorry to hear about your dilemma, Emma. You may want to try the baking soda or vinegar tips in this post. They will hopefully help neutralize the smell. If there's any way to can store the shoes someplace other than your room, or near an open window, then that might help, too.
      Reply
  12. Cullen
    Thanks so much, I'm having problems with odor in my shoes , I am trying to smell better do I am going to try some ov these tips hope it works
    Reply
  13. Braden
    My shoes only smell on the outside by the top of the toe part. Why
    Reply
    1. Elf Martin
      Sorry Braden, but we haven't heard of this before. Does anybody else reading this have any ideas?
      Reply
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