10 Ways to Stop Shoes From Smelling

How to Remove Old Odors and Prevent New Ones

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Do you have smelly walking shoes and sandals? Shoe odor comes from bacteria and fungi that grow happily where it is warm and damp. Your sweaty shoes are just the place they love. Here are a few tactics to stop your shoes from smelling and keep your shoes and sandals odor-free.

What Causes Smelly Shoes?

Body odors on the feet come from microbes on the skin metabolizing compounds in your sweat, producing unfavorable odors. When your sweat is left behind in your shoes, it can also leave an unpleasant smell.

Feet, in particular, can smell due to a bacteria called Staphylococcus epidermis, which breaks down an amino acid in sweat called leucine. The result is an undesirable cheese-like smell that permeates shoes and can be difficult to get rid of.

How to Remove Shoe Odors

There are ways to reduce and eliminate the smell your shoes have taken on. Use some of these tips and tricks to see which work for you.

Wash Shoes and Insoles

Washing and drying your shoes and insoles can keep them fresh. However, detergent and heat can degrade the materials. Glue and adhesives may give way and you may have to replace your shoes sooner.

Handwashing with cool water is best for shoes. You may add a little disinfectant to the washing liquid, such as Lysol or Pine Sol.

If you use a washing machine, remove shoelaces and use the hand-wash or gentle setting. Then air-dry.

Sprinkle Shoes With Odor-Absorbing Powders

Medicated foot powders have talc to absorb moisture and often have scent and deodorant properties to mask smell. A sprinkle of medicated foot powder before and after wearing can help keep shoes dry and inhibit fungal growth.

Another option is baking soda. Fill your shoes with enough baking soda to cover the soles, then stuff them with newspaper, which will also help absorb wetness and odors. After several hours or overnight, shake out the excess powder, then vacuum your shoes. Baking soda helps absorb and remove odors.

Use Shoe and Sandal Disinfectant

It's a real problem when you have foot odor problems with sandals. You won't be wearing socks, and a medicated powder would be visible. One solution is a disinfecting spray, such as 2Toms Stink Free Shoe Spray. It uses benzalkonium chloride, a disinfectant found in many household products.

You may also be able to use a light bleach and water spray or vinegar to spray and wipe down your sandals. Just be sure the material can withstand it.

Store Shoes in a Cool, Dry Place

Cold will inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. If you store your shoes in a cool, dry room that has good air flow, that will help keep growth at bay.

Or you may want to take the drastic tactic of freezing your shoes. However, that may degrade glues and adhesives and shorten the life of your shoes.

How to Keep Shoes From Smelling

The best course of action is to keep shoes from smelling in the first place. Try these strategies to keep bacteria from accumulating and smelling up your shoes.

Wear Sweat-Wicking Socks

Wearing socks made of technical sweat-wicking material such as Cool-Max instead of cotton can keep your feet and shoes drier. These fibers move sweat away from the foot so it can evaporate. Cotton retains more of the sweat, setting up a swampy incubator in your shoes for bacteria.

Dry Shoes Between Wearings

Don't keep your shoes in your gym bag where they will stay damp longer and provide a happy home for smelly microbes. Give them lots of air between wearings.

Remove the insoles and stuff the shoes with dry paper towels to help speed drying. Another option is Stuffits Shoe Savers, a foot-shaped insert with cedar shavings. Put them in your shoes to dry them out quickly after wearing them. These work for dress shoes as well as athletic shoes.

Use Copper Sole Socks

Simply wicking away sweat may not be enough, especially if you wear less-breathable shoes. Inhibit bacteria and fungi by using socks woven with metal fibers, such as silver or copper. They are available from athletic sock companies such as Aetrex.

Wear Sole Socks or Washable Insoles

If you find you get foot odor when wearing shoes without socks, you might try washable insoles such as Sole Socks. They have a cotton terry cloth top and a latex rubber sole. Use to replace your shoe's insole, or place over it. These grip well enough to stay in place and provide moisture-absorption and cushioning. Wash them every three to six uses to keep them fresh.

Apply Antiperspirant or Deodorant on Your Feet

This is a tactic used by marathon walkers to help prevent blisters. Most of the moisture in your shoes come from the sweat from your feet. If you prevent foot sweat, you keep your shoes dry and don't provide a damp place for the bacteria and fungus to grow.

Use caution to ensure you don't have a bad reaction to the spray. Test it on one toe or a small patch on one foot to see if there is any redness or rash after a day.

Using deodorant on your feet won't keep them dry, but it will inhibit odor-producing bacteria and fungi. As with antiperspirant, do this with caution to see whether it produces any bad reaction.

A Word From Verywell

Smelly shoes are a common problem which can be embarrassing. Preventing odors is best, but there are also ways to get rid of smells once they occur. Experiment with these strategies to see which works best for you. If all else fails, it may be time to treat yourself to a new pair of shoes.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Ara K, Hama M, Akiba S, et al. Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its controlCan J Microbiol. 2006;52(4):357-364. doi:10.1139/w05-130

  3. Qamaruz-Zaman N, Kun Y, Rosli RN. Preliminary observation on the effect of baking soda volume on controlling odour from discarded organic wasteWaste Manag. 2015;35:187-190. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2014.09.017

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  5. Hoffman MD. Etiological foundation for practical strategies to prevent exercise-related foot blisters. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2016;15(5):330-5. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000297

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.