Get rid of your shoe odor with these natural homemade shoe deodorizer recipes that neutralize the stink and target the germs that cause it.
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 deodorize shoes depends on whether your shoes are washable or not. If they’re leather or suede shoes 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. If they’re canvas shoes or made from fabric, wash them using the steps below.
Step 1: Washing
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 canvas and fabric shoes: 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 shoes: 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 insert 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
Even shoes that can’t go in the washing machine, like leather shoes, may have removable insoles that you can wash to get rid of shoe odors. If you have orthotic inserts, you should wash them, too.
To wash shoe insoles, 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 monthly to keep your inserts and insoles fresh. Replace inserts every 6 months, especially in running shoes.
Step 3: Use Homemade Shoe Deodorizers
Use 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 Shoe Spray
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.
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. Once you’ve sprayed them, let your shoes air dry before wearing them.
Homemade Shoe Powder
Baking soda is a natural shoe deodorizer, and tea tree oil kills bacteria. Using cornstarch helps keep this shoe powder from clumping. Do not use tea tree oil if you have a pet that likes to chew your shoes. Tea tree is among the essential oils that are not safe for pets.
To make a DIY 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 deodorizing powder inside your shoes after you take them off. Let it sit overnight to absorb sweat and kill odors, then shake the excess out of your shoes before wearing them.
Antibacterial Foot Soak
To get rid of the bacteria that cause very stubborn shoe odors, soak your feet at least twice a week in a DIY deodorizing foot bath made from 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar and 2 quarts of warm water in a deep bowl or basin. Add a drop or two of tea tree oil and, optionally, up to 1/4 cup of Epsom salts. Soak your feet for 15-20 minutes. Once you’re done, pat them dry — including between your toes — and moisturize them well. Discard the mixture.
Absorbing sweat quickly is the key to deodorizing your shoes. A homemade shoe deodorizing sachet is easy to make and use for stinky shoes, especially those made from leather and suede or some other unwashable material. Keep a few in your gym bag to stuff in your sneakers after a workout.
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.
More Ways to Keep 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.
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.
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. Always change your socks when 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.
After Wear Care
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:
- Stuffing shoes with newspaper or dry rags help absorb sweat.
- For added odor control, tuck a scented dryer sheet in the toe of your shoes before adding the paper, or add a black teabag. Tea bags have tannins that eliminate odor-causing germs.
- 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 odors 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. Put them in a bag first, so your shoes don’t come into contact with your frozen foods.
Wash Your Feet 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 bar of soap. Use a washcloth or soft brush to get between your toes and under your nails.
Practice Good Foot Care
Taking good care of your feet reduces rough, cracked spots where odor-causing bacteria thrive. So, keep your toenails trimmed and clean under them with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball to kill germs. 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. Or treat yourself to pedicures bi-weekly. They’re a wonderful way to relax.