Foot odor or smelly feet usually occurs when your feet sweat and the sweat does not evaporate because you are wearing shoes or socks. Bacteria naturally present on your skin grow as they feed on the sweat and dead skin cells, producing the foul smell. This can be really embarrassing for those suffering from this problem. Read on to learn how to get rid of foot odor.
Clean Your Feet
Keep your feet totally clean, especially the toe nails. The nails should be trimmed on a regular basis and scrubbed with a brush to remove all dead skin cells around and under the nail. Wearing long polished toe nails allows odors to breed beneath that long nail, unless you are diligent about cleaning them.
Scrub your feet. It sounds obvious, but a quick rub with soapy water in the shower isn’t enough. The objective here is to get rid of any bacteria and dead skin cells that bacteria like to feed on. So when you wash your feet, exfoliate the entire surface of your foot with a washcloth, brush, or any other abrasive mechanism and use anti-bacterial soap. Don’t forget to scrub between your toes, either.
Dry your feet. When you dry your feet, dry them completely. Moisture, whether it’s water or sweat, is what creates a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, Take the time to dry your feet thoroughly and don’t neglect the space between your toes.
Use antiperspirant. The same type of antiperspirant you apply under your arms could also be used for your feet. Just make sure to get a separate stick for each area. Apply it to clean, dry feet at night, then put your socks and shoes on as usual in the morning. It will help keep your feet dry and fresh during the day.
- Antiperspirant actually reacts with the electrolytes in sweat to form “gel plugs” that block off your sweat ducts. Since each one of your feet has over 250,000 sweat glands (more sweat glands per inch than any other part of your body) a little antiperspirant can go a long way.
- Don’t apply it right before going out, or you’ll be slipping and sliding in your shoes.
Use hand sanitizer. It may sound weird, but a good scented (or unscented) hand sanitizer can kill germs on your feet and inhibit bacterial growth.
Rub your feet with one or more of the following powders. Do this between your toes as well. This is what most foot powders and sprays contain to combat foot odor:
- Talcum powder. It’s an astringent, so it’ll dry out your feet.
- Baking soda. This creates an alkaline environment that’s not bacteria-friendly.
- Corn starch. This helps absorb sweat.
Keep a mixture of 1/2 regular vinegar and 1/2 isopropyl alcohol. Dribble this daily (use a medicine dropper) over and between your toes and irritated skin on the feet and spread it. Both products are harmless to your skin, but the vinegar kills fungus and the alcohol inhibits or kills bacteria. It also helps get rid of toe fungus on contact.
- You can soak your feet in a solution of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water as a way to stave off bad odors. Add a few scoops of baking soda and thyme oil drops, both of which also help get rid of stinky smells.
Listerine mouthwash. Add a few drops of Listerine mouthwash in lukewarm water and soak your feet in it. Listerine works as a bacteria killer. This will freshen out your feet.
Freshen Your Footwear
Buy shoes for their purpose. For example, use running shoes for running, Chuck Taylors or sneakers for walking. The shoes are designed to absorb more sweat and odor if they’re sporting shoes, while work-style shoes can take into account sitting or not working out as hard.
- Wearing the wrong shoes can also have negative effects on your body in terms of posture or cushioning.
Change your socks daily. Socks absorb your sweat when you wear them, and it dries when you take them off. Putting on a dirty pair of socks for a second day in a row is essentially going to reheat that sweat, leading to a foul smell. Change your socks every day, especially if your feet tend to get sweaty.
- Unless you’re wearing open shoes, you should always wear socks. Try two pair of socks to help with the wicking of moisture away from the foot.
- When you wash your socks, turn them inside out in the washer so the dead flakes of skin have a better chance of being washed away.
- Go for absorbent socks made of cotton or wool. Non-absorbent socks (like nylon) trap moisture around your foot, making a cozy little nook for bacteria.
Wear sandals or open-toed shoes. Wearing open shoes lets the air flow around your feet, keeping them cool and keeping you from producing as much sweat. When you do sweat, it will evaporate quickly due to air circulation.
- During colder months, wear leather or canvas shoes which allow your feet to “breathe.” Steer clear of rubber and plastic shoes.
Buy Cotton Socks. They are natural, not man-made. Cotton Socks feel better too! They are so soft and cuddly!
Use cedar wood or cloves to freshen shoes. Put cedar wood shavings or whole cloves inside your shoes for a few days when you don’t need to wear them. The odor will disappear after a few days.
Lightly powder shoes and socks daily with baking soda. Dust out yesterday’s baking soda before adding in the fresh amount. Baking soda absorbs moisture and odors.
Wash your shoes regularly. Many shoes can be thrown in the washing machine. Just make sure they dry thoroughly before you put them on.
Rotate your shoes. Let your shoes dry out completely so that bacteria don’t set up camp in there. It takes at least 24 hours for a shoe to dry out completely.
- Take out the insoles to help the drying process along. Otherwise, wearing the same pair day after day is a recipe for stinky feet. Crumpled newspaper inside wet shoes will dry them overnight.
Remove your shoes often. Whenever you are able to take a break, remove your shoes. This helps the shoes and your feet stay drier.
Use a shoe dryer. There are several great, low-wattage shoe and boot dryers that use convection air currents to slowly and completely dry wet, sweaty shoes. Place your footwear on them at the end of the day or work out and put on dry, warm and comfortable shoes about eight hours later. Dryers eliminate the moisture that odor-causing bacteria need to grow and help your shoes to last longer.
Avoid wearing socks at night. Let your feet be free during the night and let them have some air during the night too. If it’s a cold night, then you can wear socks to bed, but if it’s not necessary, then try not to.
Home Remedies for Foot Odor
Use bleach. Add about two tablespoons (1 ounce) of bleach to a gallon of warm water. Soak your feet in this solution for 5 to 10 minutes a day for a week. If you find this soak to be drying to your skin, you may apply a little baby oil.
- Bleach your white socks in the laundry. If your shoes can withstand it, add the same solution to the insides of your shoes and soak them down. Wait 1/2 hour and then just rinse them out in the sink. Dry them thoroughly before wearing them again.
Use salt water. Apply half a cup of kosher salt for every quart of water. After soaking, don’t rinse your feet and just dry thoroughly.
Use sugar. Mix together isopropyl alcohol, sugar and water. Make sure, you have sand like thick consistency. Soak your feet for 10 minutes in lukewarm water. Then, apply the sugar scrub on your feet and rub roughly. Sugar scrub will remove the dead skin and alcohol will destroy the bacteria.
Do a black tea foot soak. Common folklore often tells of soaking feet in black tea to remove foot odor-thought to be effective because of the high levels of tannins, or tannic acid, in the tea. The acid would create an unfriendly environment for bacteria, while it also possibly acted as an astringent (contracts body tissues therefore sweat glands.) It’s hard to find scientific evidence of this, but it might be worth a try as many people swear by it!
- Pour 4 cups of very hot or boiling water into your foot basin, and add 5 bags of black tea. Allow them to steep for 10 minutes, and then soak your feet for 20. Do this once a day, drying your feet thoroughly afterwards.
Do an epsom salt foot soak. Epsom salt neutralizes odor, and as a bonus, it also happens to be very soothing on aching feet. Dissolve ½ cup of Epsom salt in 8 cups of warm water and soak your feet for 30 minutes 1-2 times daily. Dry thoroughly afterwards.
Do a sage and rosemary soak. Sage has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, and is also an astringent. Rosemary is antibacterial/antifungal, and is an astringent as well-which means that both help minimize the production of sweat from the sweat glands. Less sweat means a less ideal environment for bacteria to harbor in. Fill a foot basin with boiling water and add the herbs to it. Let it steep until it is cool enough to put your feet in, but still warm. Soak for 30 minutes 1-2 times daily.
Try lavender oil. Lavender oil not only smells good but also helps kill bacteria. Plus, it has antifungal properties that are effective in treating foot odor.
- Put a few drops of lavender essential oil in warm water.
- Soak your feet in it for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Repeat twice daily for a few days.
Try alum powder. Alum powder has astringent and antiseptic properties. Thus, it inhibits the growth of bacteria.
- Mix one teaspoon of alum powder in one cup of warm water.
- Wash your feet with this solution.
- After 15 to 20 minutes, dry your feet thoroughly and then sprinkle some alum powder on them.
- Do this once daily.
Make a baking soda mixture. Apply 1 tablespoon baking soda for every quart of water. This makes skin more alkaline, which inhibits bacterial growth.
Apply aluminum acetate. This will dry out your feet. Mix 1 packet Domeboro powder or 2 tablespoons Burow’s Solution (both available over-the-counter) in 1 pint of water. Soak for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
Put baby powder in your shoes. Applying baby powder or baking soda in your shoes and socks will help dry out any future odors.
Crumble sage leaves into your shoes to control the odor. This is an age-old remedy.
Mix vinegar in water. This makes skin more acidic. Add a 1/2 cup vinegar for every 1 quart of water.
- Keep in mind that some people’s foot odor can be described as “vinegary” so if this is you, this soak might make things worse.
Clean your feet with a pumice stone on daily basis. This will remove the dead skin and prevent the bacteria to form.
Head to the liquor cabinet. If your feet end up smelling less than swell no matter what, wipe them down with a vodka-soaked washcloth to get rid of the stench. It’s the same principle as rubbing alcohol (which works equally well if you’d rather drink your Grey Goose). Vodka contains alcohol, which is antiseptic and drying, so it destroys odor-causing fungus and bacteria and dries out the moisture that lets these organisms grow.
- Foot odor is just that–foot odor. If there are any other symptoms, it could be athlete’s foot or ringworm or an infection. Get it checked out by a doctor. Look out for pus, recurring blisters persistent dry and flaky skin, itchiness or signs of skin cancer.
- Shake the foot powder container gently and directly into your shoes to avoid producing a cloud of foot powder.
- Talc, a common additive in foot powders, can cause lung damage if inhaled often.
- Avoid shaking up foot powder in your bedroom or car to reduce chances of inhalation.
- Consult with your podiatrist or physician if you have diabetes, peripheral vascular disease (PVD), peripheral artery disease (PAD), peripheral neuropathy, or peripheral edema (i.e. venous insufficiency). The soaking treatments described may be ill advised and needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Play it safe and consult with your podiatrist or physician.
- If you wash your feet while in the shower, be careful because your feet will be more slippery with soap on them.
- Never dry your shoes with a hair dryer, in an oven, or in the rear window of a hot vehicle. Excessive heat ruins leather, loosens glue and melts plastic. Shoes should be dried slowly and gently to retain shape, suppleness and strength.
- If you’re in a pinch, you can scrub your feet with an anti-bacterial wipe or a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol.
- Powder your shoes outside, where there is good ventilation, e.g., on the porch.
- Make sure you are getting the USDA recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc. A zinc deficiency can lead to foot odor, as well as general body odor AND bad breath. Make sure zinc is included in your multi- vitamin or get a separate zinc supplement.
- Try a natural deodorant that is crystal based. These sprays work by making the skin inhospitable for bacteria
- Use foot powders that are mostly made of cornstarch or other non-talc ingredients.
- Clipping and brushing your toe nails will probably help as well.
- Do not walk with only your socks on. They pick up lots of bacteria this way. Then, when you put your shoes back on, the bacteria population explodes in the moist, warm environment.
- Stress can stimulate sweating. That’s why you might notice that your life and your feet stink at the same time.
- Wash your feet at least once a day.