Smelly shoes are an inevitable part of any active lifestyle. Whether you’re intentionally exercising or just in a rush during your commute, those odor-causing bacteria are bound to cause stinky shoes and sweaty feet at some point.
The soles of our feet are one of the places on our body with the most sweat glands, so it’s no surprise our socks and the insoles of our shoes end up sweaty. Unfortunately, sweat and excess moisture also lead to an unpleasant odor wafting out of your favorite pair of shoes.
If you’re struggling to get rid of the odors on the inside of your shoes or simply can’t ignore them any longer, you’ve come to the right place! Today’s Kizik guide is all about odor removal from shoes of all kinds: athletic, casual, formal, or anything in between.
Let’s jump right in!
You probably know that even the best shoes become smelly. Have you ever wondered why that is? It isn’t actually the sweat that smells, but bacteria that cause those smelly feet and stinky tennis shoes.
Bacteria are everywhere. These tiny microorganisms live in our running shoes and on our skin in numbers that are hard to fathom. Like most organisms, they need to eat to survive, and they also produce waste.
Basically, bacteria can feed on certain chemicals (which don’t smell on their own) that are present in our sweat. After eating, the bacteria release their waste: organic acids such as methanethiol, isovaleric acid, and propanoic acid. These acids are what create the bad odors we all know and despise.
Unfortunately, all the conditions are right for bacteria to thrive and create plenty of odor around our feet. Our feet are more densely packed with sweat glands than any other part of our body. Further, most shoes and socks easily get hot (causing you to sweat), then trap the sweat inside. It can be a vicious cycle!
There can be other causes of odor, such as urea, ammonia, or even fatty acids. Nonetheless, sweat is the most common.
There are dozens of tips, tricks, and remedies for removing stench from your shoes. Some work better than others, with some being more science-backed than others.
Below, we’re going to go over our favorite methods. These are tried and true, backed by science, but depending on the underlying causes of shoe odor, may not work perfectly every time. You might have to try multiple methods or a certain method multiple times.
The simplest method for removing shoe stench is probably the most popular, and one of the easiest and cheapest too. Baking soda may seem like a magic medicine when it comes to shoe odor, but it’s all down to a science.
Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a powdery white substance we likely all know from the kitchen. Did you know that it also neutralizes acids and even has some antibacterial properties?
Baking soda not only neutralizes odorous acids in our shoes, but it also absorbs moisture from the air itself to stop more bacteria from growing. It’s a double-edged sword that eliminates odor and helps prevent further odor.
Baking soda has no real smell of its own, so it leaves your shoes in a clean, neutral state after use. It’s also great for sensitive feet, compared to other cleaning chemicals that might sometimes be recommended.
There are two main ways to apply baking soda to your shoes to rid them of odor.
You can directly sprinkle baking soda into your shoes to get rid of odors. A pinch or two is plenty. Once sprinkled in, just shake your shoe around lightly to mix the baking soda throughout all parts of the shoe’s interior, where most stench originates.
Leave the baking soda in your shoe for about a day, if possible. This gives the baking soda plenty of time to do its work.
Before wearing your shoes again, be sure to shake out any excess baking soda. You don’t want to be walking around leaving a snowy trail behind you! If you have a vacuum cleaner with a small enough hose, you can suck out any remaining baking soda for a spotless shoe interior.
Some materials shouldn’t be cleaned via direct application of baking soda. Baking soda works fine with synthetic materials as found in the Limas, but can be harsh on leather and suede, such as the premium leather used in our Vegas shoes.
Baking soda can cause brittleness, discoloration, and more in leather and similar materials. For leather shoes, stick to the next method, which keeps the material out of direct contact with the baking soda.
Pack a few spoonfuls of baking soda into a coffee filter or some cotton socks, then tie the package closed.
You can add a few drops of essential oil as well to add a nice fragrance and enhance the odor-killing powers of the pack. Lavender oils are a favorite for their smell, while clove and cedarwood essential oils are renowned for their antifungal properties.
With your packs ready, simply place them inside your shoe overnight or for a full 24 hours. The baking soda and oils will do their work, killing bacteria, absorbing moisture, and neutralizing acids. Soon you’re going to have fresh shoes again!
Your anti-odor packs can even be reused. One strategy for consistently fresh feet is to place these packs into your shoes each day when you get home and take off your shoes.
While vinegar has a potent and sometimes unpleasant smell of its own, it is a great way to fight against lingering odors in shoes. People have used vinegar for cleaning for centuries.
Vinegar contains acetic acid (about 5% of its composition) that can break down bacteria, as well as dirt, and other unwanted compounds. That’s why vinegar has been so common in cleaning and works so well in shoes.
With a simple spray bottle, mix equal parts vinegar and water. You can use white vinegar or cleaning vinegar. Apple cider vinegar generally isn’t recommended.
Spray a bit of the solution into your shoes and let it sit for a while — up to 24 hours for maximum odor removal. The smell of the vinegar should be gone once the vinegar evaporates, as should any formerly lingering stench from your shoe itself.
Like baking soda, vinegar can react harshly to leather, suede, and other materials. Consult the care instructions for your shoes and any instructions on cleaning vinegar you buy before use.
Essential oils can be mixed with a number of home remedies, as exemplified above. If you’re fond of essential oils but prefer not to get involved with baking soda or vinegar, you can use the oils on their own too!
Look for essential oils that have antifungal properties, antibacterial properties, and a scent you’re fond of. A drop or two of essential oil in your sneakers could potentially kill bacteria and provide a nice fragrance to linger afterward.
Another popular home remedy for removing shoe odor is to freeze shoes in a plastic bag. Doing so can kill bacteria in the shoes since they can’t survive such cold air, but there are some other considerations to keep in mind.
The main problem with freezing shoes surrounds any lingering moisture. If you freeze your shoes while moisture is present, such as sweat, that moisture may simply freeze and then thaw out when you remove the shoe. When the moisture thaws it will go right back into the shoe and foster more bacterial growth.
Simply air-drying your shoes before freezing them should prevent any issues.
For a thorough process, you can use baking soda or vinegar mixed with essential oils like tea tree oil, then freeze your shoes after the initial process and dry them (if needed).
Unless you combine these techniques with odor prevention efforts, you’re just going to get stuck repeating the same cleaning processes over and over!
To minimize odors in the future, there are certain practices that can reduce sweat and odor buildup, although none are perfect.
The socks you wear can make a big difference. Breathable, moisture-wicking socks reduce sweat and odor buildup by keeping your feet cool and dry. Going sockless may seem nice and stylish in the summer, but it’s also guaranteed to greatly increase sweat and odor risk.
You should also avoid re-wearing socks between washes if you don’t already. Wearing socks multiple times can release sweat that was trapped in the socks, compounding any additional sweat you produce throughout your day.
Cleaning your feet frequently and drying them completely after cleaning can minimize bacterial buildup on your feet, even while you aren’t wearing shoes. Remember, any bacteria on your feet go with them when you put on your shoes! This can give odor a head start, which is the last thing we want.
For a deep clean, wipe down your feet with something that has disinfectant properties. A cotton ball with some rubbing alcohol on it or a medicated cornstarch-based foot powder can be incredibly helpful here. As a finishing touch, spray your feet (and the inserts in your shoes) with some deodorizing spray.
The more your shoes trap heat, the more your feet are likely to sweat. Shoes with a breathable material such as the Athens allow airflow, which can minimize sweat throughout your day, which is especially useful during exercise. Plus, it will keep you feeling more comfortable and performing at the top level, without overheated feet and excessive sweating.
Whether you’re working to rid stench from your workout shoes, or just looking to freshen up your favorite casual kicks, we hope today’s guide helps you achieve the stench-less future you’re looking for.