If you’ve got teens, you need to know how to deodorize smelly shoes. It’s that, or learn to love opening windows even in the dead of winter. These tips, plus the homemade shoe deodorizing powder and spray for smelly shoes below, will get that awful foot odor out of your home.
Teens aren’t the only ones whose shoes stink, though. People who are on their feet all day, or who work out hard, get smelly shoes, too. Even slippers and house-shoes begin to stink after a while.
Below are ways to stop shoe odor, clean smelly shoes, and make homemade shoe deodorizers to keep your shoes from stinking.
How to Stop Shoe Odor
Why Shoes Smell Bad
The reason your shoes stink is that your feet contain 250,000 sweat glands. When those glands are confined in a shoe, the sweat and warmth create a breeding ground for bacteria.
The cause of shoe odor is all that resulting bacteria multiplying in the damp environment of your shoe. To get rid of smelly shoes, you need to destroy the bacteria.
Why Some People’s Feet Smell Worse
Although we all have the same number of sweat glands on our feet, some people’s feet smell worse than others. Medically, this is known as bromodosis.
While anyone can get stinky feet, certain hormones can make foot odor even worse. In particular, teenagers and pregnant women may have smellier feet due to the high number of hormones coursing in their systems.
How to Keep Your Feet From Stinking
Even knowing how to clean smelly shoes, or using the homemade shoe deodorizing powder or spray below, can only do so much. You also need to tackle the source of the odors: your feet.
Here are some tips to reduce foot odor:
- Wash your feet with an anti-bacterial soap (like Dial) daily, taking care to get between toes and under the nails.
- Dry feet well after washing, or any time they feel sweaty.
- Don’t wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row — they need a chance to dry, too.
- Wear socks with your shoes and change them at least once a day. Socks help absorb foot sweat before it soaks your shoes, so swapping for fresh ones when your feet feel hot or sweaty will reduce odor-causing bacteria in your shoes.
- Keep toenails trimmed and calluses filed — both provide places for smell-causing bacteria to grow and breed.
- Opt for shoes made of natural materials like canvas or leather, since these materials allow ventilation to help keep your feet cool.
- Swipe the soles of your feet with an antiperspirant — you can use the same type you’d put under your arms — to cut back on sweat production.
- Clean your shoes at least once per season using the appropriate method below.
- Let your shoes air outside or stuff them with newspaper to absorb sweat after each wearing.
- Some people report that freezing shoes overnight (wrapped in a plastic bag) is a great way to eliminate shoe odor.
Taking proper care of your feet will significantly reduce the odor in your shoes. You’ll still want to clean smelly shoes regularly, though, and perhaps use a shoe deodorizing powder or deodorizing spray after wearing them.
How to Clean Smelly Shoes
Not all shoes are washable, so the first thing you need to know about how to deodorize smelly shoes is the type of materials used in your shoes’ construction. If in doubt, or if they’re made of several materials, treat them as you would leather shoes.
Deodorizing Canvas or Fabric Shoes
Wash them. Shoes made of fabric can be tossed in the washer and laundered in a warm (not hot!) cycle using your regular laundry detergent.
- Skip the fabric softener since its surfactants can trap bacteria.
- Instead, add 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle (or pour it into your fabric softener’s dispenser) to kill any remaining odors.
Dry them well. To dry your deodorized canvas or fabric shoes, two options exist:
- Tumble them in a dryer with an old towel or two. If you can’t stand that banging sound, slip them into a bag that fits over your dryer’s door.
- Or place them outdoors in a sunny spot to air-dry — sunlight is a natural disinfectant, making it a great way to get rid of shoe odors.
Deodorizing Leather or Suede Shoes
Leather and suede shoes will get ruined if you put them in the washer. If your shoes are made of mixed materials (they have leather piping, for instance), or if you’re uncertain about the materials used, follow these steps.
- Spritz the Homemade Shoe Deodorizing Spray (below) onto a clean, dry cloth and wipe the shoe interior.
- Use a different clean cloth to wipe away any remaining spray, so your shoe does not stay damp.
Alternatively, you can deodorize smelly leather shoes using a disinfecting wipe. Be sure to follow with a damp and then a dry cloth to remove residue since the disinfectant may irritate your skin.
Deodorizing Cork Insoles
Shoes like Birkenstocks and others featuring a cork insole require a different approach. For these, the trick is removing skin oils and the accompanying bacteria from the cork without damaging it. Here’s how.
- Make a paste using a few drops of water and the Homemade Shoe Deodorizing Powder (below).
- Dip an old toothbrush into this paste and rub it over the cork insole. Wait 5 minutes, then wipe the paste away using a clean, damp cloth.
- Once all the paste is gone, press a dry cloth onto the insole to remove any moisture.
After deodorizing cork-insole shoes, let them air dry for a full day before wearing them again.
Deodorizing Smelly Shoe Inserts
People who spend a lot of time on their feet often find that an orthotic insert helps reduce foot and back pain. (I love these supports the most out of all the ones I’ve tried.) Shoe inserts do get smelly, though.
Here’s how to deodorize shoe inserts:
- Slip them out of the shoes and wash them in a sink full of warm, soapy water. Use your fingertips to massage both sides of the insert to release built-up skin oils and grime.
- Drain and refill the basin with 2 cups water and 1 cup white vinegar. Let the inserts soak for 5-10 minutes then rinse with fresh water.
- Gently press the insole on both sides with a clean towel to remove as much water as possible.
After cleaning and deodorizing your shoe inserts, let them air-dry away from direct sunlight for a full day before putting them back in your shoe.
Homemade Shoe Deodorizing Powder
The dry ingredients in this homemade deodorizing powder are odor absorbing, and the tea tree oil’s antiseptic properties help the kill bacteria that cause smelly shoes.
- 3 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 5 drops of tea tree oil
- Shake or stir the ingredients together until thoroughly mixed.
- Sprinkle the shoe deodorizing powder liberally into your shoes after each wearing and let it sit overnight. (You might want to keep a shaker can of this mixture in the laundry room for regular use.)
- Dump the powder out before wearing your shoes again.
Homemade Shoe Deodorizing Spray
Some people swear by deodorizing smelly shoes with Febreze after each wear. If you don’t have skin allergies or sensitivities to corn, that’s worth a try.
Here’s a homemade, all-natural shoe deodorizing spray if you would like to make your own.
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 5 drops of tea tree oil
- Lightly mist the inside of your shoes after each wearing.
- Let the mist air dry before wearing your shoes again.
How Often Should You Deodorize Smelly Shoes?
As for how often you need to clean and deodorize your shoes, it all depends on how sweaty and smelly your feet get.
In my house, applying the homemade shoe deodorizing powder or using the spray after each wearing, combined with monthly laundering of gym shoes and house slippers, has worked wonderfully to get rid of foot odor in both the shoes and our closets. Thank goodness!