How To Deodorize Smelly Shoes

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Clean your shoes to eliminate bacteria, then keep them smelling fresh with DIY sweat absorbers and good foot care.

Male wearing blue jeans and a knit shirt stands holding a pair of blue slip-on canvas shoes

Have you ever slipped off your shoes and noticed an embarrassing smell? Or maybe you’ve been about to put on a pair of your favorite shoes but were almost bowled over by the stink? It can happen to anyone, though some types of shoes are more likely to stink than others.

Understand Why Your Shoes Smell Bad

The reason your shoes stink is that each foot has 125,000 sweat glands and makes half a pint of sweat each day. The warm environment of a sweaty shoe creates a breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria. To eliminate shoe odors, you need to eliminate the bacteria, dry your shoes between wearings, and control how much your foot sweats.

Deodorize Smelly Shoes by Washing Them

You can remove most odors by washing fabric or canvas shoes by hand in a basin of cool, soapy water and then air-drying them in a sunny spot for added disinfection. To deodorize leather or suede shoes, which are not washable, wipe the insole with a damp cloth or disinfecting wipe. Then ensure shoes dry out between wearing by using sweat absorbers and homemade deodorizers that target the odor-causing bacteria.

Absorb Sweat to Eliminate Shoe Odors

The faster your shoes dry out after you take them off, the less smell they’ll develop. Some easy home remedies for foot and shoe odor include:

  • Blot sweat after wearing your shoes. Stuff newspaper, paper towels, or dry rags inside your shoes after removing them to help absorb excess moisture. Remove the material and let your shoes air dry.
  • Tuck tea bags inside your shoes. Tea bags have tannins that eliminate odor-causing germs, so they’ll eliminate odors while your shoes air out.
  • Never wear the same shoe two days in a row. Shoes need time to dry fully after you’ve worn them.

Use DIY Shoe Deodorizers After Wearing

You can make antibacterial shoe spray, shoe powder, or odor-eliminating sachets with ingredients from your kitchen. Using these between washing will keep bacteria under control and stop your shoes from smelling bad.

1. DIY Shoe Spray

To make homemade shoe deodorizing spray, combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar and 5 drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle. Shake well. Mist the inside of your shoes, or apply the spray to a cloth and wipe the shoe interior. Avoid getting the spray on the outside, visible part of your shoes. Let your shoes air dry before wearing them.

2. DIY Shoe Powder

To make homemade shoe deodorizing powder, combine 3 tablespoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon corn starch, and 5 drops of tea tree oil in a small container. Lightly sprinkle this inside your shoes after wearing and let it sit overnight, absorbing sweat and eliminating odors. Shake out powder before wearing them.

3. Homemade Shoe Sachets

To make a shoe deodorizing sachet, put 4 tablespoons of unscented clay kitty litter on a coffee filter. Add a few drops of antifungal, antibacterial essential oils such as tea tree lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, or cedar. Tie it closed with a rubber band and tuck the sachet into your shoes after removing them. Dispose of sachets after 2 or 3 uses when the essential oil scent fades, or the cat litter feels damp. Keep the shoe deodorizing sachets away from children and pets.

4. the Freezer Trick

The bacteria that cause shoe odors need a warm, dark place to breed, and freezing your shoes stops that process. To deodorize shoes in the freezer, wrap them in a plastic bag or clean towel to keep them from coming in contact with other items, then place them in your freezer for at least an hour, up to overnight. Remove shoes from the freezer an hour before you need them, so they have time to reach room temperature. Do not wear shoes directly out of the freezer.

Keep Your Feet Fresh and Dry

Sweaty feet make shoes smell bad. Just as some people sweat more than others, some are more prone to foot odor than others. If sweaty feet or smelly shoes are an ongoing problem, try a nightly deodorizing footbath, and choose footwear that does not trap moisture inside to help reduce bacterial growth.

Antibacterial Foot Soak

To get rid of stubborn foot odors, make a deodorizing footbath by combining 1/2 cup of white vinegar, 1/4 cup of Epsom salts, 2 drops of tea tree oil, and 2 quarts of warm water in a deep bowl or basin. Soak your feet in this for 15-20 minutes, then rinse and pat them dry. Discard the mixture.

Choose “Breathable” Shoes

Since shoe odor starts with sweaty feet, an easy way to reduce it is by choosing shoes made of natural materials and open weaves. Hemp, fabric, and canvas are all good choices because they allow air to circulate, so your feet stay drier. Avoid plastic, pleather, vinyl, and rubber shoes such as Crocs.

Wear the Right Socks

Look for socks that wick moisture away from your feet while allowing air to circulate. Wool is a fantastic choice, but so is cotton. Avoid nylon socks if foot odor is a problem since synthetic fabrics trap air. Change your socks immediately if they start to feel damp. You may need to change them repeatedly if you’re working out, on your feet a lot, or if the weather is hot.

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  1. Abbie Clark says:

    Wow, I never would have thought to use clay kitty litter as a shoe deodorizer! Thanks for the hack!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You bet!

  2. Your statement about synthetic fabrics isn’t true. Synthetic fabrics are lighter and much more breathable than cotton and other heavy fabrics.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi! It does seem confusing, doesn’t it? But it’s true: synthetic fabrics are not breathable. Synthetic fabrics are lighter but their fibers are much smoother so the fabric’s weave is far tighter, which is why it doesn’t allow air flow the way natural fabrics do — and that airflow is what makes a fabric “breathable.” On top of it, synthetics don’t absorb moisture the way natural fabrics do, so they are not only not as breathable as natural fabrics but they’ll leave your body — or feet in this case — swimming in sweat.

  3. Could I substitute another oil, rather than tea tree oil? I have some peppermint oil.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Yes, peppermint oil has antibacterial properties, too, which helps it kill odors.

    2. Christine Childers says:

      Great question, I had the same one! We don’t care for tea tree oil much in our house. Although I do put 2 drops in each 13.5 fl oz & larger bottle shampoo to keep lice away. Maybe my brain subconsciously connects my kid’s traumatic lice episodes and tea tree oil….? Anyways, glad you asked. Are there any other oils other than the 2 mentioned that have antibacterial properties for stinky shoe treatment? Ty

  4. We are not sure what has happened to my sons work boots. They have a smell that we can not get rid of. To me, it smells almost like cat urine. He was wearing them out in one of our fields after it rained and yes they got a little wet but good grief, how do we get that smell out? They are leather so we can’t just throw them in the wash so does anybody have any suggestions? Thank you, Kari

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Kari,
      That sounds like an awful odor! I’d suggest removing and replacing the insoles if that’s possible, as well as the laces. Use some soapy water and a washcloth on the outer sole in case it’s something he stepped in. Then try sprinkling the shoe deodorizing powder inside his boots and let that sit for an evening before dumping it out. Hope that helps!

  5. Katie,
    Can I machine wash a cloth walking shoe that has a leather trim? If not, suggestions?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I have and I didn’t have a problem, but that doesn’t mean you should. When I did, I washed them in cold water on a short cycle and then blotted out as much water as I could with a towel. Figuring the dryer heat wouldn’t be good for the leather, I let them air dry in a shady spot on my porch.

      If you’ve still got concerns, though, I’d suggest using a toothbrush and soapy water on the canvas parts. Wipe them with a clean, damp cloth after scrubbing then blot them and let them air dry.

  6. I remember dryer sheets working, but my wife just tried and said that didn’t help. Thanks for the plans B-F!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re welcome!

  7. I wonder if Ozium spray might work. The “original’ scent actually gets rid of smell of tobacco. I was looking everywhere for it, and discovered it is so great at ridding airborne odors, it’s a big hit with marijuana smokers to deodorize their vehicles in case stopped by cops, or sniffed by parents.
    You can find it in auto motive section of hardware stores, Walmart type places with car deodorizers

    It isn’t like Glade or other perfumy covers. It’s used in ICUs in gets rid of allergens in air.
    So somebody, go forth and experiment with this for smelly feet and shoes.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I don’t know that I’d be comfortable using a spray meant for air freshening since it’s really not meant to come into prolonged contact with skin.

  8. Madolyn K Mallory says:

    I. bought a pair of shoes and they smell from the leather or whatever they are made from. It smells like the Polish they used, but really strong. I left them outside all night, but didn’the help. Still smell………….,HELP

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hm. I haven’t encountered that problem before but think I’d try putting them into a large plastic bag and sprinkling them inside and out with baking powder to absorb the odor, then closing the bag and letting them sit overnight. Shake the powder out, wipe the shoes off, and hopefully, the smell will be gone. Good luck!

  9. Annabelle says:

    Nearly 40 years ago I got rid of my husband’s odor in his cowboy boots and his feet! I just kept an solution of baking soda (about 1/2 cup) and water (about a quart) on top of the dryer. When I was throwing his socks into the dryer I put them into the solution, wrung them out, and then tossed into the dryer with the rest of the clothes. I did this for about a month, and he still does not have stinky feet! (His socks were black, and they came out with a salt and pepper look, but it worked).

    1. I just *have* to try this baking soda & water trick! Especially for my dear, stinky J who leaves work with wet feet every day.

  10. I tried alcohol on a pair of Keds…it did rid them of “foot odor” but now they smell strong of rubber/chemical as if the alcohol broke down the inner sole. I’ll try some of these suggestions.

  11. you totally saved me with this article!! tried everything under the sun – how did I not think of white vinegar!!

  12. Thanks a lot! This really helped my shoes that literally could not be worn because they smelled so bad… It was embarrassing…