10 Ways to Prevent Stinky Shoes and Smelly Feet

Do you have smelly walking shoes and sandals? The foot and 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 for keeping your shoes and sandals odor-free.


Wash Your Shoes and Insoles

Shoes Drying on Clothesline

Datacraft / imagenavi / Getty Images

Washing and drying your shoes and insoles can keep them fresh. However, detergent and heat can degrade the materials in them. 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 solution, such as Lysol or Pine Sol. If you use a washing machine, remove the shoelaces and use the Handwash setting or the Gentle setting. It's best to air dry them as any heat in the clothes dryer will be bad for the shoes.


Wear Sweat-Wicking Socks to Keep Feet and Shoes Drier

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 Your Shoes Between Wearings

Don't keep your shoes in your gym bag where they will stay damp longer and provide a happy home for the 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. They work for dress shoes as well as athletic shoes.


Copper Sole Socks Inhibit Smelly Microbes

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


Medicated Foot Powder

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


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 2Toms Stink Free Shoe Spray. It uses benzalkonium chloride, a disinfectant found in many household products.


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. Replace your shoe's insole or place them over it. They grip well enough to stay in place and provide moisture-absorption and cushioning. Wash them every three to six uses to keep them fresh.


Antiperspirant 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. This should be done with 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.


Deodorant on Your Feet

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.


Store Shoes in a Cool, Dry Place or Even Freeze Them

The cold will also inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. If you store your shoes in a cool, dry room that has lots of airflows, that will help keep growth at bay. Or you may want to take the drastic tactic of freezing your shoes. However, that may degrade the glues and adhesives and shorten the life of your shoes.

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2 Sources
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  2. 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