Truth: Anyone who has feet has had to deal with smelly, stinky feet at some point. But as common as smelly feet are, you can’t help but want to cower in the corner anytime your feet have to make a public appearance. Your shoes are your sanctuary, and being asked to take them off (especially if you’re worried about foot odor) is your worst nightmare.
According to the foot doctors HealthiNation interviewed, smelly feet don’t have to be your lot in life. A few quick tricks can prevent your feet from taking on that cheesy, musty stank that you’ve come to know so well.
First things first: you need to understand what’s causing that dreadful foot odor. “Smelly feet start with sweat, and then the sweat basically ferments,” says podiatrist and Vionic Innovation member Jackie Sutera, DPM. Bacteria form when the sweat is exposed to the air, leaving you with a pungent pair of feet.
Since sweat creates smelly feet, remedies for foot odor often revolve around preventing or reducing moisture. Here are podiatrist-approved home remedies for smelly, stinky feet.
Treat your tootsies to tea. Grab some simple, caffeinated black tea, make a super concentrated batch, let it cool, and soak your feet for half an hour. "There’s a compound in tea called tannin that temporarily shrinks the sweat cells so you don’t produce as much sweat," says Dr. Sutera. "It also helps neutralize the odor.”
Alternate. Give your shoes a chance to air out for at least 24 hours between wears. This gives the shoe a chance to dry out so there will be less moisture to ferment on the foot.
Tea—again. While you air out those shoes, stick a couple (unused) tea bags in each shoe. Again, this helps sponge up foot odor and leaves a fresh, pleasant scent.
Get sock savvy. The right sock can soak up all that odor-causing moisture and keep your feet clean, dry, and stink-free. Dr. Sutera suggests a moisture-wicking sock made from natural cotton in a white or light color. Why? Some dyes are of a lower quality and can make your feet sweat even more. If your colorful polka dot socks leave a stain on your feet when you take them off, that’s a sign of a low-quality fabric or dye that will not keep your feet clean as well as a natural fabric.
Deodorize. Spray the bottom of your feet (and even inside the shoe) with antiperspirant to reduce sweat. Remember, less sweat = no foot odor. Your armpits aren’t the only place that could benefit from a little antiperspirant.
Try a powder. You can grab an antifungal or talcum powder specifically meant for shoes at the department store or drugstore, but baby powder or cornstarch work as well. These powders absorb moisture, preventing the stinky bacteria from forming on the feet.
Toss ‘em. If your shoes are ripe with smell, even after letting them air out for a week, we hate to break it to you, but they are probably a lost cause. This is a common problem with shoes made from a soft fabric. Shoes in this condition will envelop your tootsies with their stubborn scent and continue to get worse. (Plus, if it’s the type of shoe causing a lot of moisture, it might be giving you other problems, too, like blisters. Check out these tips on choosing shoes to keep your feet happy all day.)
FYI, you may need to return to these tips halfway through the day. Consider changing into a fresh pair of socks during your lunch break, for example.
With these foot odor remedies, you’ll be fine—dare we say eager?—to ditch those shoes the next time you step into yoga class.