Sweaty, smelly feet is a problem that many people have to deal with on a daily basis. Often described as a cheesy or vinegary smell, it can be an embarrassing issue with no quick or easy solution. The primary source of foot odour is sweat. Each foot has more than 250,000 sweat glands, producing more than a pint of sweat every day. Ironically, sweat in itself has no smell. It is the excessive perspiration combined with bacteria that causes offensive foot odour.
What causes sweaty smelly feet and foot odour
The primary causes of sweaty and smelly feet are:
These tiny microbes normally inhabit feet and thrive in dark, damp places like the inside of shoes. There are several types of bacteria – the most common ones being brevibacterium and propionibacterium. In the right conditions, these micro-organisms feed on dead skin cells and oils from the skin. As they feed, their colonies grow and start getting rid of organic waste in the form of acids such as methanethiol and propionic acid. It is these organic acids that smell bad.
The food we eat can play a major role in not only foot odour but also body odour and bad breath. Food contains nutrients which are essential for healthy living; however some nutrients, especially in excess can be counter-productive and cause body odour. It all begins when food is broken down in the body releasing organic compounds and sulphides. They are then absorbed by the body and released through sweating. As such, they cause not only feet to smell but the entire body too.
Keratolysis is a skin disorder characterised by shallow pitting that primarily affects the soles of feet due to pressure bearing aspects. According to various studies, the manifestations of this condition are as a result of a superficial cutaneous bacterial infection. Under appropriate conditions, the bacteria proliferates producing proteinases that destroy skin stratum causing pits. This skin infection is common among people who wear restrictive footwear under excessive sweating conditions, especially in the military. Gradually, their feet begin to produce a foul odour.
Hyperhidrosis is yet another condition characterised by excessive sweating on the under arms or soles of feet. Even though it is often associated with neurological, systemic and metabolic diseases, most cases occur in perfectly healthy people. It is speculated that excessive heat and emotions may trigger hyperhidrosis in some people, but most individuals who suffer from it sweat endlessly, making it hard to grip a pen or even a steering wheel. This excessive sweating provides the perfect conditions for multiplication of bacteria gradually leading to foot odour.
Poor hygiene is one of the top causes of foot odour since shoes and socks provide an ideal environment for sweat and bacteria to mingle. Although this may not be noticeable at first, as the odour may only be in the shoes, it becomes harder to be ignored as time goes by. Similarly, people with athlete’s foot can have smelly feet if they do not stick to a holistic maintenance routine.
Other common causes:
- Alcohol and drugs
- Hormonal changes brought about by puberty, pregnancy or menopause
How to treat sweaty smelly feet and foot odour
Through a methodical evaluation of causes and triggers of foot odour, followed by a sensible, stepwise approach to treatment, many people with this condition can achieve good results and have improved quality of life.
The approach to treating sweaty, smelly feet is generally as follows:
Wear proper footwear
Open toed footwear or sandals is a good way of remedying sweaty or smelly feet since they allow free circulation of air thereby reducing perspiration and limiting the growth of bacteria. However, since they cannot be worn at all times, it is recommended that you wear shoes made of quality breathable materials such as leather or mesh.
Additionally, wearing socks that absorb moisture away from the skin can help reduce odour by limiting the amount of sweat. Socks made of nylon, wool, silk and acrylic are the best bets. If you tend to sweat more, it is advisable to carry an extra pair of socks to change halfway through the day.
Maintain good hygiene
Since bacteria is one of the major factors in the cause of foot odour, it is important to properly wash and clean your feet on a daily basis. Using an antibacterial soap will kill most bacteria thus minimising their presence on the feet. Additionally, using a foot file or pumice stone will help remove dead skin thereby reducing food for bacteria.
Eat a balanced diet
Sticking to a balanced diet can help reduce foot odour as this limits the amount of organic compounds and sulphides that are released in the form of sweat. A meal containing protein, carbohydrates and vitamins is recommended for the reduction of foot odour as well as maintaining overall health.
Use powder or deodorant
Powders and deodorants are one of the most effective ways of reducing sweaty and smelly feet disorders, as they double up as sweat absorbents and bacteria inhibitors. By controlling these two conditions, you create an environment that prevents sweaty, smelly feet and foot odour in general.
- Keep your toenails trimmed
- Do not wear the same type of shoes on a daily basis
- Sprinkle baking soda inside closed shoes to eliminate bacteria
- When washing socks, turn them inside out so that dead skin flakes can be washed off
Best foot deodorant and antiperspirant – Our Top picks
Do you dread the thought of removing your shoes when people are around? Does foot odour put you in embarrassing situations?
We sampled the best products to help you control odours and promote healthier skin. Say goodbye to sweaty, smelly and dry cracked feet with the best foot deodorants, antiperspirants, and moisturisers. Delve in:
Elite Sportz is an innovative multi-functional moisturiser that contains a special blend of seven essential oil formulas and eleven botanicals that help with the healing of dry, rough and callused feet.
Apart from eliminating bacteria that causes foot odour, it helps relieve itchiness and also hydrates the skin.
It can be sprayed on feet daily or when needed. Additionally, it can be used as a freshener in sports bags or cars.
A single application of the cream lasts for about 3 to 7 days inhibiting the development of bad smell thus giving you healthy confident feet.
Say goodbye to foot odours with consistent and regular application of the ultimate foot odour prevention cream.
It works by catalysing the bacteria present in the skin thus quickly and efficiently reducing odour.
This product works only when bacteria are present. This means the more the bacteria, the harder they are attacked by the catalyst.
For best results, it should be applied between toes after and on the sides of feet after showering.
Being all natural and packed with essential ingredients, it works not only as an odour inhibitor but also as a sore and ache reliever.
Additionally, it is known to prevent athlete’s foot, itching and formation of blisters.
In addition, it contains active ingredients that naturally prevent the growth of bacteria thus cutting off foot odour.
Each spray stops sweating for 10 to 14 days leaving the skin soft and moisturised. For maximum results, it should be applied once every week on an individual scheme after washing and drying of feet.
It is important to remember not to use it if you have any fungal or inflammatory conditions.
Bottom Line: Foot odour is a common problem that affects many people. Luckily, it can be easily overcome by using any of the above treatment options or foot deodorants. Wishing you happy feet and healthy skin!
Frequently asked questions
Q: Are foot deodorants any good?
A good quality food deodorant will reduce the odor coming from your feet and footwear.
Some deodorants work by attacking the bacteria that cause smelly feet while others reduce how sweaty your feet get.
Others mask the smell with refreshing aromas such as those from essential oils.
Q: Which is the best foot deodorant?
It depends on your particular situation.
If the smell is causes by too much sweat, look for a deodorant that reduces sweating.
If your feet are really smelly and nothing you do helps, look for those deodorants or creams that kill odor-cause bacteria.
Q: How do I apply foot deodorant?
Depends on what type of deodorant it is.
Some are creams that you apply all over your feet, others are sprays that you apply on your feet and shoes and others are powders that you apply in specific areas such as between your toes.
The frequency of applications also varies with each type of deodorant. With some, you apply daily. With others, you apply daily at first then once a week after the first one or two weeks.
Check the label for specific application instructions.