How To Get Rid of Shoe Odors for Good

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Follow these steps to get bad smells out of your shoes and keep them from stinking again with homemade shoe deodorizers and proper foot care.

A pair of black lace-up running shoes on a yellow background

Have you ever slipped off your shoes and noticed an embarrassing, bad 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.

Why Do Your Shoes Smell Bad?

The reason your shoes stink is that your feet contain 250,000 sweat glands. When those glands get confined in a shoe, the sweat and warmth create a breeding ground for bacteria. To get rid of the smell in your shoes, you need to destroy the bacteria causing the stink. You can do this by cleaning them properly. Using homemade shoe deodorizing sprays or powders also helps. Then follow good shoe and foot care to help keep feet from stinking.

Steps to Clean Your Stinky Shoes

The best way to get rid of shoe odors depends on whether your shoes are washable or not. If they’re leather or have non-washable accents, your shoe deodorizing efforts will focus on cleaning the interior. In between cleanings, use homemade shoe deodorizers to keep them smelling fresh.

Step 1: Washing Shoes

This step is for canvas and fabric shoes that do not have non-washable elements like leather, sequins, or lights. It also works well for plastic or rubber shoes, like Crocs or flip-flops. To keep your shoes fresh, wash them every couple of months or any time they start to look or smell dirty.

To wash: Add your shoes to the machine and use your normal amount of laundry detergent. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle, or pour it into your machine’s empty fabric softener dispenser. Use a long, warm wash and rinse cycle. (Hot water will shrink your shoes.)

To dry: Remove your shoes from the machine after the cycle is complete. Then, stuff a couple of dry cloths into each shoe to absorb excess moisture. Pull the damp cloths out and repeat with fresh, dry cloths. Then put your shoes in a sunny spot to dry. Sunlight will also help deodorize your shoes by killing any lingering bacteria.

Step 2: Washing Inserts and Insoles

This step also works for non-washable shoes. Even shoes that can’t go in the washing machine may have removable insoles that you can wash to get rid of shoe odors. If you have orthotic inserts, you should wash them, too.

All you need to do is fill a sink with 2 cups water and 1 cup white vinegar then let your inserts soak for 5-10 minutes. Rinse them well then press the inserts between dry towels to blot excess moisture. Let your inserts fully air dry before putting them back in your shoes. Do this once a month to keep your inserts and insoles fresh.

Step 3: Use Homemade Shoe Deodorizers

Use one or both of the homemade shoe deodorizers to control odors between washings. Apply deodorizers immediately after you remove your shoes, then give them at least overnight to work. A full day is even better.

Homemade Foot and Shoe Deodorizers

Once you make these shoe odor removers, you can store them indefinitely. Stash a bottle of the spray or powder in your closet, and maybe another in your gym bag. Then use it immediately after you slip off your shoes. If foot odor is a severe problem, you might also want to go soak your feet as soon as you’re done.

White vinegar is a natural disinfectant. Tea tree oil kills bacteria. This effective shoe spray uses both to get rid of odors and the bacteria that cause them.

Baking soda is a natural deodorizer, and tea tree oil kills bacteria. Using cornstarch helps keep this shoe powder from clumping. Store it in an air-tight container so it remains effective.

To get rid of the bacteria that cause very stubborn shoe odors, soak your feet at least twice a week in this soothing, deodorizing foot bath. Discard the mixture after use.

More Ways to Keep Your Shoes from Smelling Bad

If you need extra help getting rid of shoe odors, combine the steps above with these tips to keep your feet and shoes from stinking.

Hand holds a smelly canvas lace-up sneaker

Make Good Footwear Choices

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 since they allow air to circulate, so your feet stay drier. Plus, shoes made from natural materials are usually washable, so they’re easier to clean.

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, though. And always change your socks when they start to feel damp. If you’re working out, on your feet a lot, or if the weather is hot, you may need to change socks more than once a day.

After Wear Care

Help your shoes dry faster after wearing them. The faster your shoes dry out after you take them off, the less smell they’ll develop. Stuffing shoes with newspaper or dry rags helps to absorb sweat, but be sure to remove them after a few hours. For added odor control, tuck a tea bag or dryer sheet in the shoe of your toes before adding the paper. Also, alternate your shoes. Shoes need time to dry out fully after you’ve worn them. So, avoid wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row.

Try the Freezer Trick

You can freeze smelly shoes to kill odors. The bacteria that cause shoe odor need a warm, dark place to breed. Freezing your shoes stops that process. All you need to do is tuck them in a freezer overnight. You should probably put them in a bag first, though, so the dirty soles of your shoes don’t come into contact with your frozen foods.

Practice Good Foot Care

Taking good care of your feet also takes care of the rough, cracked spots where odor-causing bacteria thrive. So, keep your toenails trimmed and any calluses filed. If cracking or rough feet are ongoing problems, get in the habit of applying a thick layer of foot lotion or petroleum jelly to your feet before bed, then sleep in a pair of socks to lock in the moisture.

Wash Them Well

Make a point of actually washing your feet. Don’t just assume the soapy runoff in your shower is enough to get your feet clean. You need to wash them, too, ideally with an antibacterial soap. Use a washcloth or soft brush to get between your toes and under your nails.

Where to Next?

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

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

  3. 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.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      The rubbing alcohol probably did break down some of the inner sole. That’s why I don’t recommend it. The shoe powder I mentioned works very well, and hasn’t harmed my Keds or any other shoes I love.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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

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