How to clean smelly shoes

Last updated July 7, 2017

smelly feetWe all have encountered the problem with smelly shoes and feet. Most shoes we wear a lot doesn’t show any signs of smell. Others start to stink so bad we have to throw them away. In this article we will talk about what causes smelly feet and how to clean the shoes with bad odor.

Smelly feet causes

There are two main reasons for smelly feet: bacteria and sweat.


Bacteria is a natural part of our body and skin. There are situations when the number of bacteria on our feet exceeds the healthy level. If your feet are dirty, sweaty or have an infection, the bacteria will grow exponentially. The smell is caused by organic acid, which is the waste product from bacteria.

Some shoe materials absorb dirt, sweat and dead skin from your feet better than others. If the waste isn’t cleaned and the shoe is not dried properly it will cause the bacteria to feast. Generally, mold likes warm moist environment around our body temperature to grow fastest.


The sweat itself doesn’t usually smell. The smell from sweat can come from spicy food, but the stink is not as bad by itself. Sweaty feet stink mainly because of bacteria. They love to eat your oily sweat and multiply very fast.

Stinky shoes remedies

In order to get rid of foot odor you need to clean the shoes both inside and outside. It is important to clean and dry your shoes regularly.

If you do everything to prevent feet odor, but your shoes still stink you can try several smelly shoe remedies:

Baking soda

Fill your shoes with baking soda, flour or any other fine dry powder (baby powder works as well). Leave it for a night and then empty your shoes with a vacuum cleaner. Dry powders are natural deodorizers that kill germs as they can’t multiply in a dry environment.

The effect of baking soda (or Sodium Bicarbonate) is disputed. It has been reported to cure athlete’s foot – an infectious disease with itching between and around toes.

The bad side of this method is that soda can damage leather and suede shoes. The leather can become brittle, while suede surface can get discolored.


Make a mixture of 50% vinegar and 50% water and wet or spray your shoes with it. Let it air dry or use a shoe or hair dryer to make it dry fast.

The downside of using vinegar is smell. The shoes will smell of vinegar for one or two days after the procedure.

Tea bags

Black tea is a natural bacteria killer as it contains tannins. The growth of many fungi, yeasts, bacteria and viruses are inhibited by tannins according to many studies.

To activate the substance, place several teabags into boiling water. Calculate one to two teabags per shoe. Let the bag cool and put them inside your problematic shoes for an hour. The bags should be wet and moist the insoles that produce bad odor.

After an hour remove the teabags and wipe the soles. Leave them to dry.

Be warned to use this method on light textile or suede materials. The black tea will discolor the shoes. For example tea bags shouldn’t be used in light trainers.

As an alternative to leaving teabags in your shoes, you can make a cup of very strong tea with many teabags, and use a cloth to wipe the inside of the shoes. Repeat if necessary.


An effective method to fight smelly shoes is to freeze them overnight. Place your shoes in a plastic bag and put them into freezer. After 24 hours take the shoes out and let them dry. We have found that heating the inside of a shoe with a shoe dryer works best as it treats the inside of the shoe with high temperature for a longer period of time. Not many bacteria can survive the process of first freezing and then heating up.


Mix water with rubbing alcohol and spray inside of your shoes with the mixture. Or just spray a pure solution of rubbing alcohol. The soles should be soaked in it. Wait for the shoes to dry out.

The shoes may smell of alcohol after the procedure so be warned. Beware of the fire hazard. Alcohol is very flammable, and an alcohol mist is explosive. Smoking is not recommended while spraying alcohol.

Professional shoe odor products

There are many products on the market that you can use in your shoes to get rid of smelly feet and shoes:

  1. Shoe deodorizer spray.
  2. Air purifying bags
  3. Ultraviolet (UV) shoe sanitizers
  4. Sole sneaker balls
  5. Deodorizer insoles and inserts


Some cloth and plastic footwear can be washed in a washing machine. Read carefully manufacturers instructions and reviews from other people about your shoes. It may or may not be suited for machine-washing.

Almost all sneakers can be washed. Remember to remove the laces and put shoes in a washing bag. Wash the shoes along with some old towels to prevent footwear from damaging or dying off of new towels.

Use liquid detergent as the powder may set itself inside the shoe material.

Wash with cold temperatures and without spin or drying. Warm temperatures may damage the color of your shoes and centrifugation will damage the shape of your shoes.

How to treat smelly feet

Many persons do not like to sweat around their feet, as it is quite unpleasant and sometimes smelly! Aside the production of an offensive odor, excessive sweaty feet can ruin shoes, decreasing their durability. The story of a man was recorded in an online journal, who visited someone and immediately after taking off his shoes and stepping into the apartment, the air around them turned foul and smelly. To say he was embarrassed was an understatement! He kept rubbing his feet against the Persian rug in the living room where he was seated, hoping, wishing and praying that the offensive smell would go away. Unfortunately, the smell refused to go away and the man was highly ashamed of himself. What was the cause of this? Sweaty feet combining with socks and leather inside boots.

Sweaty feet poses not just a concern, but also a challenge to you. Apart from the health implications of smelly feet, you wouldn’t want to visit that lady that has gotten you “love-struck”, and be embarrassed after taking off your shoes!

If your feet sweat a lot, try wеаring ореn shoes, the ѕwееt is аblе to еvароrаtе from the ѕurfасе оf your feet thus eliminating the рrоblеm of ѕmеllу fееt.

Our feet аrе likely tо sweat when еxроѕеd tо rеlаtivеlу high temperatures. Check if you have boots that are too warm, too tight or you wear socks that don’t take moisture out.

Wash your feet several times a day. Dry them afterwards and use odor powders, alcohol, foot deodorant, essential oils or special creams.

Spray with alcohol before putting on socks. Do it every time to prevent bacteria colonies.

Prevent smelly feet in shoes

Prevention is always better than cure. The same applies to smelly feet and shoes. There are several things you can do in order to make sure your shoes does not get bad odor:

  • Hold your shoes dry. The worst thing you can do is to wear wet shoes barefoot. When slightly wet shoes get warm the bacterial will get direct access to food on your feet and grow extra fast.
  • Wear socks and change them as often as possible. At least once a day is a good start.
  • Have several shoes for each season. Use different shoes every day in order to give the other pair a possibility to dry properly.
  • Try using shoe deodorant every evening. This will freshen your shoes and kill a lot of bacteria.
  • Wash your shoes regularly. Some textile footwear like TOMS Classics Loafer can be washed in a washing machine. remember to dry them afterwards.
  • Take off your shoes during the day. If it’s warm or wet, change or leave the sneakers under your chair and give them a break.
  • Change the inserts regularly. Many insoles are made of special material that absorb moisture and wear our pretty fast. It will also make your foot healthier, especially if you choose massaging inserts with good arch and heel support.
  • Pay attention to the footwear you are buying. Padded leather without ventilation is your enemy.
  • Wash your feet after wearing shoes. Bacterial colonies will prosper on your carpet and sofa and will infect your feet again and again.
  • Keep your nails short and clean. Reduce all bacteria hiding places.