Tips For Keeping Your Feet Fresh So You Don't Have To Worry About Odor


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Jun 05, 2024

Tips For Keeping Your Feet Fresh So You Don't Have To Worry About Odor

Pretty much all of us will deal with a bout of sweaty (and therefore, stinky) feet every now and then — but some of us will find ourselves just unable to get rid of that bug once it catches us. Angela

Pretty much all of us will deal with a bout of sweaty (and therefore, stinky) feet every now and then — but some of us will find ourselves just unable to get rid of that bug once it catches us. Angela Ballard, a registered nurse and advocate with the International Hyperhidrosis Society, tells The Strategist that our feet have an average of 125,000 sweat glands on each sole — which is "even more than in your armpits" — so it's no wonder you can get to slipping and sliding after a particularly sweaty round of exercise or hot day.

Sweaty, smelly feet are common — and although it may be uncomfortable, it "isn't a sign of underlying illness," according to The Foot and Ankle Specialists. However, a constantly moist environment can lead to foot fungus and bacterial overgrowth, which can just exasperate the stinky problem. It might seem like an easy fix to keep your feet smelling fresh, but there are just enough extras thrown into the equation to make it complicated. And if that wasn't enough, the market is just loaded with commercial products that promise to keep your feet fresh. But which one should you use? To solve your foot odor woes, you should understand why it's occurring and what you can do to keep your feet fresh all year round.

Remember all 125,000 of those sweat glands? Well, sometimes they just seem to work overtime. While most of us will sweat to some extent — and even when we know that sweating is good for us — most will try to avoid it because of the aftermath. Sweating seems to make us all stink and stick, and nobody likes that.

That stink is associated with the bacteria that helps "break down sweat on the feet as it's released," says Healthline. If you don't allow your shoes to dry out completely between uses or wash them after a particularly sweating session, then "extra bacteria" will form and compound your sweaty and stinky feet problem.

Stinky feet can also occur due to the improper washing of the feet, as it allows bacteria that your feet have gathered to sit and multiply, making the odor worse over time. Following proper hygiene and changing out your socks and shoes every day — to give you time to wash or dry them out — may resolve a stinky foot problem.

If you're following proper hygiene for your feet and still can't seem to keep up with the excessive sweating and stink of your feet, you might have hyperhidrosis. The Institute for Preventative Foot Health says that hyperhidrosis is a condition that causes "excessive sweating" on the feet, palms of the hands, or underarms.

Apparently, it's quite a common condition, with the American Academy of Dermatology estimating that 3% of the United States population "have excessive sweating." A doctor can diagnose your hyperhidrosis and work with you to find different ways of treating it, depending on the severity of your condition.

Another cause of stinky feet could be pitted keratolysis, "a bacterial infection that affects the skin on your feet," according to the Cleveland Clinic. The infection is also accompanied by itchiness of the feet and is characterized by small pits on the soles of your feet. This infection may require the use of antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing it.

One of the easiest ways to keep your feet smelling fresh is to just wash them on a regular basis — and yes, you do need to wash them. Cleaning your feet with mild soap and intentionally washing them is important to keep them clean (via GoodRX). Once a day is usually enough for most people, although you can wash twice if you sweat more after you wash. Make sure you're drying your feet thoroughly after you wash them, especially between your toes, so that you don't create any kind of hospitable environment for bacteria to thrive.

Teri Greiling, an assistant professor of dermatology and associate program director of research at Oregon Health and Science University, tells SELF, "Feet are just really good at growing all kinds of bacteria and fungus, so lots of soap and water are great for your hands and feet." So, instead of just letting the water run over them from the rest of your shower, you'll want to ensure you reach for the soap to give them the thorough scrubbing they deserve.

We all loathe to see a layer of dirt or grime forming under our fingernails, but you should be just as vigilant about your toenails, too. A large portion of the year has many people hiding their toenails inside their shoes, so toenails become an "out of sight, out of mind" situation.

Unfortunately, just because you can't see the buildup of dirt or other gunk under your toenails doesn't mean that it's not affecting your foot health. According to UPMC HealthBeat, trimming toenails regularly can help "reduce odor." (Plus, clean and well-trimmed nails will be the perfect canvas for all the colors you'll want for your 2023 pedicures, which is a win-win).

You should also be filing away any dead skin buildup on your feet and getting rid of calluses if they've developed already. "Hard skin can get soggy when soft, creating a place for bacteria and fungi to thrive," board-certified dermatologist Aanand Geria tells Byrdie. Not exfoliating your feet is basically leaving the bacteria a buffet to snack on throughout the day. You can rub down your feet daily and even apply exfoliating products to make sure that they're baby smooth.

"Often" seems like such a subjective word, but in this case, changing your socks "at least once a day" is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keeping your feet clean is important, but that accomplishes nothing if you stick them right back into dirty socks that have bacteria just waiting to get started again. And it should also go without saying that if you've exercised or sweated in your shoes for any reason that you can absolutely change your socks more than once a day.

"If you suffer from fungal infection of the foot, chances are you also suffer from sweaty feet," Yolanda Ragland, a New York City-based podiatrist, foot surgeon, and founder of, tells Well + Good. "Changing your socks twice daily is recommended. However, simply changing your socks will not prevent Athlete's Foot because the fungal organism is extremely hardy." Therefore, don't forget to thoroughly wash and dry your feet before putting on a new pair.

Whenever possible, letting your feet breathe by going sock-free and barefoot might just be what is needed for you to keep the funky smell at bay. If your feet are particularly prone to sweating it out when confined to socks and closed-toe shoes, try to give them the freedom they need by wearing open-toed shoes and not wearing socks during the warmer months of the year. According to the Cleveland Clinic, "Closed-toe shoes plus hot weather or sweating equals foot odor."

Of course, you'll have to keep your feet clean, as open-toed shoes are more likely to let all kinds of stuff gunk up your feet and toes, but you should be doing that anyway. Also, don't go sock-free with closed-toe shoes. "Wearing sneakers without socks make them smell bad because of increased perspiration," podiatrist Suzanne Fuchs tells Well + Good.

It's important to note that while walking barefoot occasionally can keep stinky feet at bay, it can also have some dangers, especially when taking those bare feet outdoors. "Without appropriate strength in the foot, you are at risk of having poor mechanics of walking, thereby increasing your risk for injury," foot and ankle specialist Dr. Jonathan Kaplan tells Healthline. Additionally, those with diabetes who wish to go barefoot often should speak to their doctor since the condition can cause nerve damage, so any wounds may go unnoticed.

The kind of material that our shoes are made of plays a bigger part in the sweatiness of our feet than we think. Medical News Today says shoes "made from a breathable fabric such as canvas or leather" are good picks. Shoes made from non-breathable fabrics such as polyester (or any other plastic-based material) can make your feet hold on to sweat and moisture and thus induce odor on your feet and in your shoes. Even opting for shoes with mesh panels built in, like running shoes, will give your feet an extra source of fresh air and keep smelly feet at bay.

You should also be double-checking that the shoes you wear are the right size for your feet. Shoes that are too big might not be an odor-causing problem, but tight shoes can crowd your feet and not allow for any airflow around your foot or in between your toes. Healthily says that too-tight shoes are one of the main causes of smelly feet as they exasperate the problem of sweat not being able to evaporate as it's trapped between your toes or between your foot and the shoe. Even in "breathable" shoes, a crowded foot may not be able to expel the moisture that it builds up as efficiently as it should and can still cause bacterial buildup, which (let's say it all together now) can cause your feet to stink.

Okay, so we've all heard the hype that socks are an unexpectedly big summer trend, but you can't just go around wearing any kind of socks if you're prone to stinky feet. Cotton is usually lauded as the king of comfort for socks, but you might have better luck with keeping your feet dry if you opt for synthetic fibers.

Synthetic materials "have a wicking quality that will move the moisture from the foot to the sock, keeping the foot relatively dry," Bruce Pinker, a board-certified foot and ankle surgeon, tells Health. But some natural fibers, like silk and wool, are great options, as Health notes they are "good at keeping feet dry in wet conditions" and even have "antibacterial properties."

Wool might sound like a counterintuitive choice for socks, but you can easily find lightweight wool socks today that are not only moisture-blocking but also light enough to wear even during summer months.

If you're having serious problems with your foot odor, consider trying the same solution you employ for another part of your body that's usually stinky — antiperspirant. "The same reason we use an antiperspirant on our underarms would be why someone with overactive glands on their feet might use a foot deodorant as an extra layer of protection," Marcela Correa, a licensed medical pedicurist at Medi Pedi NYC, tells Byrdie.

The majority of them come in the form of a powder or spray that you apply either on your feet on inside your shoes before or after you wear them. The Cleveland Clinic also says that an at-home remedy of corn starch will usually work just as well since its main mechanism is to absorb the moisture that your feet give off. Deodorant seems to work just as well for feet, too — yes, the deodorant that you usually swipe on your underarms.

After you've cleaned your feet in the morning or night, swipe some deodorant on the top and bottom of your feet to keep them fresh longer and keep the funk at bay. Of course, you might want to use a different stick than the one you use on your underarms to avoid transferring bacteria back and forth. To make the process even quicker, opt for spray-on deodorants that will make it easy to apply.

When your feet have an already-developed stink, a foot soak is one of the best solutions to get rid of it. You can go many routes with this — there are many pre-mixed foot soaks on the market — but some of the easiest ones are doing a vinegar soak or an Epsom salt soak.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends mixing two parts water and one part vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar both work) to create a basic vinegar soak, but you can also add essential oils to give your soak a pleasant smell. Soak your feet in the vinegar mixture once a week for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Don't do the vinegar soak if your feet have open sores or wounds, as it can be quite irritating.

To make an Epsom salt soak, mix 1/2 cup of salts with warm water in a large bowl or tub and soak your feet for 10 to 20 minutes. One thing to take note of: Epsom salt "pulls moisture out of your skin," per the Cleveland Clinic, so don't soak your feet too often, and be sure to moisturize with a lotion afterward.

Just as you wouldn't wear stinky, crusty, dirty socks the next day again (at least, we hope!), you shouldn't be wearing stinky, crusty, dirty shoes again the next day. If you're trying to get rid of a foot odor, consider taking a few hours of your day every now and then and giving your shoes a good deep cleaning. There's a whole slew of products on the market that can help you with your deep clean session, including stain and odor removers, sprays, and powders.

Of course, you can always just throw your shoes in the wash (as long as it's appropriate for them), but that doesn't always guarantee that your shoes will come out smelling perfectly fresh. Do a deep cleaning on your shoes by completely cleaning them inside and out with soap and water, then scrubbing them down with an odor-killing solution; let them dry completely before using them again, and then add a freshly-scented patch or satchel to each shoe after each use to prolong the fresh scent of your shoes.

There are a few natural remedies that you can employ to rid your feet of any odor. There is, as mentioned earlier, the well-known vinegar soak, but soaking your feet in black tea might be another great natural remedy.

Black tea foot soaks can be used daily for a week and then once a week to keep the benefits going. Podiatrist Jackie Sutera tells The Strategist that she recommends black tea because it "has astringent properties that draw out moisture and dry out your feet."

The Healthy also lists other remedies that have been used by people for banishing foot odors, including lavender oil, peppermint sugar scrubs, and making a refreshing deodorizing spray with dried sage. While not all of these are as well documented to help as vinegar or black tea soaks, they can be another natural avenue of help if other methods are not working for you.

We could probably debate for hours about the best product out there for keeping shoes and feet fresh because there are just that many. Unfortunately, that also means that what works for someone might not be as convenient or even work at all for you. It might come down to a trial-and-error run between deodorizing patches, moisture-absorbing balls, charcoal bags, scented sprays, fresh insoles, and even "odor-eater" gel (that last one's a new one for us, too).

Whatever you decide to use to keep your feet fresh, keep in mind that it's always better to get rid of a smell than just cover it up. Besides, you might end up mixing smells instead of covering the bad ones up, which doesn't help anyone. If you've already got foot odor to deal with, start with a detoxing and cleaning routine for your feet and continue with commercial products such as foot sprays and scented insoles to keep your feet fresh through the cold and the heat.