Why Your Shoes Smell And What You Can Do About It

Fun fact: Madeline Albrecht from Ohio is the record holder of the most number of feet smelled. Shocking right? I mean, how does someone smell so many feet? Well, Madeline worked at a testing center for 15 years. Part of her job description at the testing center was to sniff armpits and feet. Her record stands at 5,600 feet.

Sure this is not one of those jobs kids will dream about having when growing up. But the fact that she held the position and was paid for it for 15 years paints a clear picture of how serious foot and shoe odour is.

Reading this piece, you are probably wondering why your shoes and feet are smelly. And why the smell gets way worse in winter. Well, there is a simple answer to that – sweat. You have sweat glands all over your body. Any vigorous activity will cause sweat to bead on your skin. But despite profuse sweating, the rest of your body never smells a bad as your feet. Why is that?

Here’s the thing: First, each foot contains 250,000 sweat glands. This is more than any other body part. And second, they are almost always covered with shoes.

Unlike your arms and your face, your feet are covered for the most part of the day. As such, they lack proper aeration. Consequently, the warmth and contained sweat create a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The bacteria thrive in your socks, feet, and favorite shoes. And the reason the smell is worse in winter is because you wear closed shoes more than sandals to keep you warm. Over time, your shoes absorb the odor.

It’s also worth noting that while your feet will sweat in all kinds of shoes, it gets worse while in synthetic shoes. Additionally, hormonal changes during pregnancy or teenage life can spike sweating. Hyperhidrosis is a condition that causes one to sweat a little more than usual. It contributes greatly to smelly feet and shoes.

Now that you know why your feet and shoes smell, let’s have a look at some ways you can solve the problem.

Maintain clean feet

This is a must. After all, shoes are not inherently smelly. They absorb the bad odour from your feet. So the first line of defense is keeping your feet clean. Wash your feet on a daily basis with soap. This will help destroy bacteria and weaken the odour. If you are up to it, you can soak your feet in a solution of Epsom salt and warm water. This solution will not only destroy the bacteria and get rid of the odour but also relax the feet muscles.

Keep your feet dry

Before putting on your shoes and socks, ensure your feet are dry. Water has a bad habit of getting stuck between the toes. Like sweat, water also contributes to the creation of a bacteria-friendly environment.

Choose ventilated shoes

There is a reason why shoe companies boast of using natural leather on their shoe. Natural leather is not only durable but more breathable in comparison to rubber plastic and ‘pleather’. Additionally, you should choose shoes designed with perforations to increase breathability. Ventilation helps to reduce warmth and dries the sweat.

Give your favourite shoes a break

I get it. You love your shoes and feel like they make all your outfits pop. The pair boosts your confidence and you feel like you cannot leave the house without them. Well, for the sake of your feet and the shoes, you will have to give them a break. A 24-hour break will air out the shoes and kill a lot of the bacteria.

Wear Wicking Socks

You probably are not a fan of wearing socks. But believe it or not, wearing socks (especially the kind made from wicking fabric) will help to evaporate the sweat provided your shoes are ventilated. Great wicking materials include olefin, merino wool and microfiber blends. Remember to clean and change your shoes often.

Mask the smell

If you want an instant solution, you can try masking the foul smell with a pleasant one. Try adding citrus peels, tea bags, lavender or dryer sheets into your shoes (especially around the toe and ball area) and let them sit for about 12 hours. However, note that this solution fights the symptoms and not the cause of the foul smell.


And there you have it. The answer to ‘why do shoes smell?’ I’ve also thrown in a couple of solutions to kill the odor. Note that the above solutions are not exhaustive. As such, feel free to add to the list with suitable natural solutions.

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