It can happen when you’re getting ready in the morning or catch you off guard in the middle of the day. Those who are especially unlucky might not realize the smell is coming from their feet until someone else says something. Once you notice, you can’t ignore it. If you find your self asking, “Why do my shoes always stink,” you’re in the right place.
I’ll help you get to the root of the problem and find solutions. You can save your shoes and your social life from ending up in a funk. Soon you’ll be smelling like a rose or at least something sweeter than shoe stench. Everything you need to knock out the bad odor is right here.
What Causes Stinky Shoes
There are plenty of reasons why shoes smell bad. Sometimes new shoes stink because of the factory environment where they’re made. Old shoes can stink because of how they were stored. After all, mothballs might keep bugs from chewing on your winter clothes, but lots of people dislike the smell too.
Unfortunately, some smells are a result of what you do or even your body. Guys who work in industrial environments or other smelly locations can end up with funky shoes. Sweat and body odor can also contribute to shoe odors.
Worse still, sometimes your favorite foods can make shoe-stink worse. Plus, in rare cases, it can be a sign that something is wrong with your body. However, there’s light at the end of this stench filled tunnel. There are plenty of ways to handle shoe odors.
Stinky Shoes Where You Live and Work: Environmental Odors
The material your shoes are made from matters a great deal when it comes to avoiding odor absorption. *Suede shoes are the wrong choice for odiferous work environments. They may look spectacular, but the material is especially porous. For all other shoes, you can quickly help prevent bad smells by keeping the outside clean.
Likewise, canvas shoes may be breathable, but the material can hold in odors. Woven fabrics don’t work the way leather and plastic do to create a barrier. When the problem is outside the shoe instead of inside it, the solution is necessarily different.
Skip the fabric and suede shoes if you’re stuck in a job or home that has odor issues. If you can’t replace your canvas shoes, then I suggest you keep inexpensive footwear saving TriNova Shoe Cleaner Kit on hand for your cloth and canvas shoes. Check prices and availability here.
*Suede shoes require special care. I have a whole article on the subject right here.
Plastic & Rubber Shoe Cleaning to Prevent Odor Accumulation
To avoid extra stinky shoes, always wipe off anything you spill right away. There are a handful of simple methods for wiping spills off of non-leather shoes. Baby wipes can handle most fresh messes. Sadly, when the ‘stuff’ on your shoe is dried on because you didn’t notice or couldn’t stop to clean up, then you need a more robust solution.
First, take a plastic cup, or cut the bottom off an old drinking water bottle or soda bottle if you’re worried about messing up your dishes. Next, mix a half and half paste of vinegar and baking soda. The chemical reaction will cause fizzing, so mix it slowly. Lastly, use an old toothbrush to scrub your shoes with the paste.
It may take a little elbow grease, but this will handle most messes. If necessary, apply the paste and wait a few minutes if the mess on your plastic or rubber shes is especially stuck on.
Cleaning Smells & Messes Off White Rubber & Plastics
Regardless of whether it’s stinky or ‘regular’ messes, white is harder to clean than any darker colors. Fortunately, I have a super simple solution. Get a pack of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. You can order them from Amazon by clicking here. It’s that easy. Dampen the ‘eraser’ and wipe out messes on your white shoes.
Leather Shoe Cleaning to Prevent Odor Buildup
Leather shoes don’t absorb odors as quickly as porous fabrics. Unfortunately, once a smell gets into your leather, it can be difficult to remove. Treat the leather right as a preventative, and you might not have to worry about it in the first place.
You can wipe a spill off of your leather with a soft damp cloth. Make sure that you aren’t using a drippy wet material. Always wring it out the best you can. If that fails, then a good leather cleaner should do the job.
My favorite leather cleaner is Leather Honey because it will take care of messes on both leather and vinyl. If you happen to have any vinyl shoes, you can use this cleaner to do double duty. Get your own bottle by clicking here.
Leather needs lipids to protect their grain structure. Properly treated leather will also help keep the shoes from drying out and cracking. After you clean your leather shoes, it’s an excellent idea to re-condition them.
A good quality leather conditioner will also help keep your shoes from getting damp. That will help avoid the conditions that promote bacterial growth. However, you should be aware that leather conditioners can also darken the material of the shoe.
Stinky Feet Can Wreck Your Shoes
Everyone’s feet smell occasionally. Some of us have more than average smelly feet, and they can wreck our shoes. If your feet are causing your shoe odor, then you need to start there to solve the problem.
Don’t feel too bad, though. Most feet have over two-hundred thousand sweat glands and can produce an astonishing pint of sweat per foot per day. That’s bound to make any shoe smell less than it’s best.
Foot fungus can undoubtedly make your shoes stink. If you have athletes foot, ringworm, or even toenail fungus, make sure you start treating it right away. It can take a little while to clear up a fungal infection in your feet. Make sure you wear breathable shoes and follow the directions on your fungicide exactly.
Most stinky shoes are a result of bacteria building up inside. When we wear them, our feet sweat and produce heat. Your footwear holds that heat and moisture inside, and that makes a perfect humid breeding ground for bacteria to multiply.
A Quick Guide to Un-Stink Your Feet
If you want to save your shoes, you have to first get in the habit of taking care of your feet. After all, you’ll be walking on them for the rest of your life. Take a load off and follow this step-by-step guide to help keep your feet funk-free.
This may seem obvious to some, but you should always wash your feet before you put them in your shoes. Use a good antibacterial soap. If you plan to moisturize your feet, do that at night instead of early in the day before you put your shoes on.
When you have extra foot stench, you need to wash your feet more often. For exceptionally sweaty feet, such as you might get in summer, take time to clean them on your lunch break. You may feel silly washing your feet in a bathroom sink. However, you’ll feel a lot better doing that than you would if your boss or a date asks if that smell is coming from your shoes.
Another simple way to help prevent bacteria and fungus is to keep your feet dry. Take the time to towel them off thoroughly. Dry the spaces between all your toes and the areas around the edges of your toenails that collect water. There’s no real secret to dry feet. You can add talcum powder when you’re done for comfort.
If you think deodorant is just for your armpits, you’re wrong. Get a good can of spray-on deodorant for your feet and one for your shoes. It never hurts to make extra sure your feet aren’t making your first impression for you.
I love Lumi Outdoors Natural Shoe Deodorizer Spray in the citrus and tea tree scent for my shoes. Check it out here.
For my feet, I prefer Dr. Scholl’s Odor Destroyer Deodorant Spray is available from Amazon. Click here to get some for your feet. I use the Lumi Outdoors in my shoes at the end of the day, and Dr. Scholl’s on my feet in the mornings.
Change Your Socks More
Obviously, you need to change your socks daily, but when you have shoes that stink, changing out your socks more often can help keep the problem from getting worse. Multipacks of socks are relatively inexpensive. Stick a couple of extra pairs in your glove box or work attache.
When you have a moment, change your socks. Mid-morning and late afternoon are ideal times to do this. If you plan to have dinner or drinks after work, change your socks again before you head out.
Changing your diet can help keep your feet and shoes from stinking all the time. Refined carbs from ‘white’ grains like pasta, bread, and pastries can make your sweat smell worse. High protein diets can make your sweat smell almost ‘fishy.’
Additionally, anything that speeds up your metabolism or contains a lot of sulfur can make foot odor worse. Foods like beer, garlic, broccoli, spicy peppers, and even hot soups all feed foot odor.
The flip side of that coin is that there are some tasty things to help reduce foot funk. Add more herbs, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate to your diet. More chocolate may seem like an oxymoron where health is concerned, but it’s just the sugar and milk in lighter chocolates that make it bad for you.
Also, try adding more dark leafy greens like fresh (uncooked) spinach. It makes a tasty replacement for lettuce on burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and salads. You don’t have to go extreme to improve. Swap out one meal a day for the more foot-odor friendly alternative, and you should see some improvement over time.
See A Doctor
Bromodosis, aka foot odor, is typically caused by excess foot sweat that causes bacteria to build up. Fungal infections can also lead to funky feet. If you try everything else and your feet are still making your shoes ripe, then please talk to your doctor about your stinky feet and shoes. I’m not a medical professional, and nothing I say is ever meant to treat or cure a medical malady.
Preventing Stinky Shoes
Now that you know how to keep your foot odor down, it’s time to look at what else you can do for the insides of your shoes. Keeping bacteria, and other odor-causing problems down isn’t as difficult as it seems at first. You can use every trick and tip on this list to make your shoes as fresh as daisies.
Odor Eating Shoes
When you’re buying new shoes, read the packaging and tags. Some sneakers now come with odor absorbing liners. If you aren’t lucky enough to find odor-absorbing footwear, you can always use a pair of PURGGO Bamboo Charcoal Shoe Deodorizer Air Purifying Bags inside your favorite kicks. They’re all-natural, and you can check them out right here.
Proper Rotation & Storage
If you’re a one-pair-at-a-time kind of guy, I have bad news. You need to stop wearing the same shoes every day. Trading off between two or more pair allows the bacteria that has built up inside to die off between uses.
If you’ve ever seen rental bowling shoes, there’s a reason they have to spray them with chemicals before each use. I wouldn’t suggest treating your footwear or your feet like that. Remember to rotate out your shoes.
The other easy way to make sure bacteria isn’t thriving inside your shoes while you sleep is to store them right. Don’t toss them in your closet or leave them lying around. First, untie, and, if necessary, unlace your shoes. Next, pull the tongues out to let the shoe breathe. Last, store them on a real shoe rack.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s hanging or standing, storing your shoes open where plenty of air can circulate around them is your best bet for odorless shoes. Any leftover bacteria should die after about a day.
When you’re looking for your next pair of shoes, check to see how well ventilated they are. If your shoes can breathe, then neither can your feet. That’s bad news for your nose, but fantastic for bacteria. Look for details that breathe, like small decorative cutouts in leather, and mesh on summertime sneakers.
This may seem strange, but regular baking soda will absorb odors too. There are no tricks or special features. It’s just baking soda. Sprinkle it in, then shake the shoe around, so it gets coated.
Odor Absorbing Socks
What will they think of next? If you haven’t heard of odor absorbing socks, then it’s time for a wardrobe upgrade. Cost-effective and useful, my favorite anti-odor socks use titanium (yes, the metal) blended into the cotton to help with everything from odor to athletes’ foot. It may sound uncomfortable, but nothing could be further from the truth. To try Toes&Feet Men’s Anti-Odor Deodorant Quick-Dry, Low-Cut Sports Running Socks for yourself, click here.
Finally, you can always go with the most well known of all shoe deodorizers. Odor-Eaters is still going strong after forty-five years. You can get a pair of the iconic insoles latest and most durable offerings on Amazon. Check prices and availability here.
Deodorizing Your Shoes: Bonus Tips for Powerful Odors
Prevention is fantastic, but what can you do about the stinky shoes you already have? Is there a way to get that nasty smell out of them? Usually, the answer is yes. If none of the other suggestions here are working, there are a couple of bonus tricks you can use to help pull the stench out of your cross-trainers.
Mix up a spray bottle of vinegar water. Don’t use pure vinegar. A fifty-fifty blend or even a thirty-sixty blend of two-thirds water to one-third vinegar should help. Set your nozzle to the finest mist you can make and give your shoes a couple of quick squirts.
Make sure you leave them open, somewhere with moving air to help them dry. If you have a small wall fan, turn it on and point it into your shoes. Some guys swear by used tea bags (the kind that makes regular black tea), but vinegar is much stronger.
The other surprising trick to kill off bacteria is your freezer. Sweat and bacteria cause most shoe stink, and bacteria like hot, humid environments. Naturally, your freezer is the worst place for bacteria to survive. Stick your shes in a couple of plastic freezer bags and put them on ice overnight. The bags should help keep your ice cubes from smelling like feet.
Vinegar and freezing have always been a last-resort solution for me since most odor responds to the less extreme tricks and tips. Regardless, don’t hesitate to try it if your shoes are getting bad enough to clear the room.
Getting Animal Smells Out of Stinky Shoes
Animal odors are a completely different issue for your stinky shoes than other types of stench. Regardless of what animal and how you got it on your shoes, they might not be salvageable. Try vinegar and baking soda first.
If that fails, you can always pick up some Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Pet Stain & Odor Eliminator by clicking here. However, you’ll have to do this at your own risk. Pet stain removers are not made for shoes, and it may damage the material.
Should you be so unfortunate as to step in something that died, I have no solution at all. Not only will your shoes smell awful, but it’s highly unsanitary and could be dangerous to your health. In cases like this, please refer to the final section below.
Worst Case Scenario for Stinky Shoes
Let’s talk about the bad news. The worst thing that can happen to shoes is a smell that you just can’t get rid of. I strongly suggest that you try everything to save your shoes before you throw them out. Mainly if you have expensive shoes or a favorite pair that you love, it can be hard to replace them.
Men who wear specialty shoes, for health, work, or simply because you have an unusual pair of feet have to be extra careful. Prevention is always the best choice. However, there are times when you won’t be able to save the shoes. In that case, you’ll have to bite the bullet and let them go. It’s not worth being ‘the stinky guy’ just to save some money.
That said, if your shoes get stinky more often than average and prevention doesn’t work, you should consider investing in less expensive shoes. Trading out your shoes regularly can help with the odor problem. Unless you’re wealthy, find an inexpensive, but comfortable brand of shoes and budget for new pairs frequently.
You can also opt to pick up several pairs at once when there’s a good deal. Check clearance sales, like those that happen around Black Friday. My favorite cost-effective work shoes come from Amazon. Walkchic Men’s Lightweight Breathable Steel Toed Tennis Shoes are ideal for getting the tough jobs done safely. Plus, they have an anti-odor lining. You can grab a pair or two for yourself by clicking here.
Salt will kill bacteria and help eliminate odors in your shoes as well as anything. I left it out of the main part of the article because it will also dry your feet out fast. Salt was and still is used as a preservative for meat. You don’t want to do that to your feet. I suggest you skip that piece of advice if anyone ever suggests salting your shoes.
Realistically, I’ve never met a stinky shoe that couldn’t be cured with judicious application of the techniques I outlined here. The best part is that you can always use more than one or two of these techniques together if necessary. If you have to buy new shoes, at least you can prevent the problem, and never have stinky shoes in the first place.
Whether it’s your feet, your health, your job, or your pet, almost every odor is removable. If not, don’t be afraid to let go of your stinky shoes and start fresh.