Everyday Habits That Are Making Your Shoes Smell Bad & How To Keep Them Fresh

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Picture this: You take off your shoes at the door, walk through the house, sit down in your favorite chair, and start smelling something off-putting. You sniff around the chair, trying to figure out what the smell is. Then, you realize it's your feet. You remove your socks in hopes that the stink will go away, but it doesn't. That stinky smell isn't just your shoes or your socks — it's your feet, too! In fact, you go back to take a sniff at your shoes, and, whew, your nose is permeated with stink. Why do they smell like that?


When it comes to smelly shoes, your feet (and even your socks) could be to blame. According to The Foot & Ankle Specialists, our feet have around 250,000 sweat glands. That's a lot of stinky sweat coming from your feet into your socks and shoes each day. While sweat itself isn't stinky, bacteria, your diet, and more can affect what smells come from your body and your sweat. Plus, if your shoes get wet with sweat, smelly or not, and sit wet for hours, they can develop smells of their own. "Most of the odors that we make are due to microbes that grow on our skin," Gavin Thomas, a biologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom, explained to The Washington Post

Before you throw out your socks and shoes and start going barefoot everywhere, let's look at some things you can do to combat stinky shoes.


Not wearing socks with your shoes

Stop not wearing socks when you're wearing shoes. If you're not wearing socks each time you put on your shoes, your sweat is getting all over the inside of those shoes. Socks come in handy for many reasons. Not only do they offer a barrier that keeps sweat from seeping into the material of your shoes, but they also offer more comfort to help you keep from getting blisters. They keep your feet toasty when it's chilly out, but socks can also make your feet sweat more. The key is picking the right socks.


Consider socks that absorb sweat to help keep the stink down. Moisture-wicking socks not only help reduce the amount of sweat getting to your shoes, but they also help curb smells. Board-certified podiatrist Suzanna Fuchs told Glamour that merino wool is one good choice, saying, "The socks are known for their breathability, odor resistance, and comfort." Podiatrist Adrienne M. Estes told Health, "The most common consequences of sweaty feet are risk for skin or nail infection, blisters, fungus, and bacterial infections." For dryer socks, aside from wool, opt for bamboo or hemp socks, which are both breathable fibers.

Wearing dirty socks

How often are you changing your socks? If your shoes and feet are smelly, you're probably not changing them often enough. Dirty socks harbor bacteria that, when mixed with your sweat, make your shoes and feet stinkier. "These conditions will increase bacterial growth since the shoe maintains a nice humid environment for organisms to proliferate," Philip Tierno, a professor of microbiology and pathology, told Vice. That itself should be enough to remind you to put on a fresh pair of clean socks every morning. Tierno added, "If you're stuck on a deserted island, that's a different story. Under normal conditions, rewearing is not a good idea." 


Now, there's also the dilemma of dirtying your socks throughout the day. If you tend to walk around in socked feet all day, might we suggest changing into a clean pair when you do have to put your shoes on and head out the door? It may seem silly to wear multiple pairs of socks throughout the day, but if it helps make your shoes and feet smell better, what's the harm?

Wearing socks that haven't been washed properly

Washing our clothes isn't always enough to get them smelling clean. Some odors stay in clothing, and washing them normally isn't always enough to remove stinky residue. The fibers your socks are woven together with trap in bacteria and moisture, causing that nasty odor that isn't so easy to come out in the wash. What you need is something that can get deep into the fabric to get all the bacteria and other stinky stuff out. That doesn't mean using more laundry detergent, which can cause a slew of other unwanted issues. When you go overboard with the detergent, the suds tend to get in the way of clothes getting clean. The sudsy buildup can actually prevent your clothing from rubbing together and scrubbing off the pesky dirt (and smell). 


There are different additives you can put in the wash to help absorb odors and remove stains, like baking soda or white vinegar. Before you do this, soak your socks in some hot water for a couple of hours to let the water get deep into the fibers where the most smelly bacteria are hiding. Dry them in the dryer for the quickest and most thorough dry job, which will help keep bacteria at bay.

Not cleaning your shoes often enough

Clean feet and clean socks aren't going to help much when your shoes still stink. When was the last time you washed your shoes? While shoes you don't wear often don't need to be washed as much, the ones you wear daily or to the gym need to be cleaned more frequently. Nike suggests washing your shoes every couple of weeks or when they look and smell dirty. Cleaning the outside of your shoes is easy — just wipe them down with a Magic Eraser. But it's the inside that's harboring the smells, and that takes a little more work. Work shoes and workout shoes that you sweat in regularly may need to be washed even more often than every other week.


Hand washing shoes is best, so you'll want a scrub brush you can get inside them with. You can use dish soap, laundry detergent, or a water and white vinegar mixture. For particularly stenchy shoes, a sprinkle of baking soda should do the trick — just let it do its magic overnight. Once you've scrubbed them well on the inside, use a damp rag to get all the cleaning product out. If you have canvas slide-ons or slippers that need to be cleaned, those can often get tossed right in the washing machine (check the labels).

Stinky inserts

If you have inserts in your shoes, whether they're to add a little extra cushioning or for arch support, make sure you're removing them when it is time to wash your shoes. They should be washed separately so that you can get them and your shoes as clean as possible. Insoles can sometimes be machine washed, but you may need to hand wash them much the same as you handwash your shoes.


You may have seen some tips on freezing your shoes and insoles — but know that, according to Consumer Reports, this is only a temporary answer to smells. It does not clean your shoes or kill the bacteria, which means that the smell will come back. They point out that many of the tricks people use, like putting dryer sheets in their shoes, don't really work. The best thing to use for actually absorbing those smells is baking soda. You can use it straight from the kitchen or find a shoe powder or spray that contains baking soda. If you're using dry baking soda, simply shake some in your shoes and let it sit for a bit before you dump it out and go on your merry way. This can help keep your shoes and insoles smelling better between washings.


Not drying shoes properly

Another reason your shoes could be stinky is that they're wet. There are a few reasons your shoes get wet: Perhaps you didn't dry them well enough after washing them, or you sweat in them a lot on a hike or during a workout, or you got stuck in the rain. No matter how they got wet, always be sure your shoes dry completely before you wear them again, or they're going to continue to get even smellier because that moist atmosphere is giving the bacteria in your shoes a boost, and it's growing stinkier.


So, how can you thoroughly dry your wet shoes? According to Nike, you want to avoid drying your shoes with heat, so steer clear of the dryer. While the natural heat and rays of the sun offer fresh smells to clothing, they also damage the fabric and can fade your shoes. What Nike suggests is putting your shoes on a fan in your home to let them air dry — the air circulation will help them dry faster, just like it does after shampooing your carpet. If you have a blow dryer with a cool/cold setting, you could also use that.

Wearing dirty socks to bed

While this is more about your stinky feet, those gross feet will be planted in your shoes in the morning — and, if you didn't take a shower first, you're putting all of your sleep sweat into those shoes. Ick. Anna Chacon, Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, told House Beautiful, "Wearing socks around the house and then getting into bed is generally not a health concern. It can provide comfort and warmth. However, if your socks are dirty or sweaty, it's a good practice to change into clean ones before getting into bed to maintain good hygiene." 


If you like your feet toasty warm at night, we suggest investing in some bed socks that are strictly for wearing when you're lounging around the house and going to bed. These socks, which you sometimes get at hospital visits, can also be found at stores and come in all sorts of styles and colors. What makes them stand out from your usual socks is that they have little no-slip dots on the bottom so you're safer walking around home in your socked feet.

Wearing the same socks you worked out in

You just got done with a long workout at the gym, and you have errands to run. You don't feel too sweaty, so you skip the showers and head right out to the myriad of stores on your to-do list. You get home, and your feet feel like prunes, and, oof, the smell when you remove your socks! You should have at least changed your socks and shoes after your workout. Then again, if you are showering at the gym, be sure to wear flip-flops at all times. While your stinky, sweaty feet may just be plain old stinky and sweaty, they could also be alerting you to something bigger: Athlete's Foot.


Podiatrist Yolanda Ragland told Well + Good, "If you suffer from fungal infection of the foot, chances are you also suffer from sweaty feet." She added, "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." Athlete's Foot or not, changing your socks after working out will help keep your feet dry, and that will help keep the stinky feet syndrome down some.

Wearing tight shoes

Oh, the things we do for fashion. Pointy-toed shoes look great on the dance floor and in the office, but they smash your feet, making your toes hurt and causing ingrown toenails, and even corns and bunions. Because your poor feet have no room to breathe in those tight shoes, they're also causing your stinky feet. Yep, tight shoes make your feet sweat more, which equals more stink as well. Plus, the bacteria that are growing in that nice moist environment could cause fungal infections, like Athlete's Foot. There you have it — you don't have to be an athlete to get Athlete's Foot. 


If you want to wear fancy shoes, that's perfectly fine. Make sure you're buying the right size for your feet, testing out the comfort, and doing what you can to keep your feet cool and protected. That could mean investing in some gel inserts that help keep your feet cool and give them a more cushiony bed for walking. It could also mean it's time to put the pointy shoes to bed and invest in more comfortable footwear. If you have to wear fancy shoes, give your feet a break as often as you can.

Not allowing your feet time to breathe

Speaking of letting your feet breathe, are you the type of person who has to have socks, slippers, or shoes on at all times? If you are, you're doing a disservice to your feet. Your skin, including that on your feet, would love some time to breathe, dry out, and enjoy the fresh air. While we're not saying you need to go for a walk barefoot, although that has a plethora of health benefits, we are suggesting that if it's safe for you to go barefoot around your home, and you should ... at least sometimes. 


Yes, your feet can get dirty if you're walking around barefoot, even indoors, but the sweat is not getting trapped there to add to the stink. Your feet are getting some time to dry out and to move freely without the confines of shoes. Feet that get a chance to breathe may be a little less stinky, and that will help keep your shoes from getting too stinky. The Foot & Ankle Specialists even said that sleeping sockless and spending time barefoot at home reduces your chance of developing foot odors. If your feet don't stink, your shoes are less likely to get smelly as well.

Not loving your feet enough

Unless you're wearing your shoes through manure or traipsing through puddles of water all day, your feet are the biggest culprit when it comes to stinky shoes. If you give your feet a little more love and affection, you could cut down on those bacteria smells, which means better-smelling shoes in the long run. We already covered letting your feet have a chance to breathe, which is one important step in loving your feet, but there are some other things you can do to keep your feet fresh.


Soaking your feet in a foot bath after a long day feels glorious, so you should give it a try. Add some of your favorite relaxing essential oils, like lavender, or put in some Epsom salts, which will help ease tired muscles. You could get a foot massage, even if it's from your significant other or a plug-in foot massager. Pedicures are a nice way to pamper your feet while keeping your feet fresh and are especially great during the warm months when your feet are seen more often. If you regularly battle smelly feet, invest in a moisturizer like those from Lume that helps banish stink. Happy, clean feet will help you keep from having to wash your shoes as often.

Improper shoe storage

Where are you storing your shoes when you're not wearing them? Putting dirty shoes back in a shoe box is a bad idea — it doesn't allow enough air to move around the shoe and keep the stink down. New or clean shoes are fine in their box, but the rest of your shoes need some space where they can air out and not combine their smells either, meaning you don't want them all stacked on top of each other by the front door or in the bottom of your closet. Giving your shoes their own home will also help organize your closet.


While there are all sorts of shoe storage options out there that are meant to help keep your shoes in tip-top shape so they don't end up smooshed or dented, these gadgets also give your shoes space to dry out and breathe. Whether you put your shoes neatly on a hanging shoe rack or side by side on a shelf, be sure to leave space between each shoe. If your shoes are smelly, don't put them away with your fresh-smelling shoes until you've cleaned them.