How to Get Rid of Smelly Feet

Why Do My Feet Smell So Bad?

Foot odor doesn't come from feet, but from the bacteria that live on them.
Foot odor doesn’t come from feet, but from the bacteria that live on them.

If you, your kids, or anyone else in your household has smelly feet, the stench can cause the whole family to raise a stink. But, why do some feet smell so much worse than others? 

It turns out that foot odor doesn’t come from the feet. The smell comes from the bacteria that live on those feet and in the dirty socks and shoes that cover them. Those bacteria get rid of waste just like people do. And it’s the waste that smells so rotten. When feet sweat a lot, they can play host to some extra-stinky bacteria. 

It may not be any consolation, but foot odor is rarely a sign of a health problem. It’s still unpleasant and embarrassing. Thankfully, there are ways to get rid of the germs and that awful smell. In fact, anything that stops your feet and shoes from becoming breeding grounds for bacteria will help.

How Do I Get My Feet to Stop Stinking?

There are a variety of things you can do to help keep your feet clean, dry, and odor-free. Here are six tips for smelly feet.

  1. Keep them clean. Scrub your feet each day. Simply use a washcloth, soap, and water. Be sure to get between your toes and dry your feet well before putting on your socks and shoes. If your shoes are washable, toss them into the washer.
  2. Have a soak. If soap and water just aren’t enough, try soaking your feet once a week for up to 20 minutes. Experts recommend a solution of warm water and either vinegar or Epsom salt.
  3. Stay dry. The bacteria that make their home on your feet and in your shoes thrive in moist places. So if you keep your feet dry, bacteria won’t feel welcome there. 
    • Try these tips:
      • Change your socks if they get wet or sweaty.
      • Wear socks and shoes that let your feet breathe. Use athletic socks with moisture-wicking technology. As for shoes, mesh athletic shoes or real leather are safe bets. Avoid shoes made of synthetic materials.
      • Use powder or cornstarch in your shoes. Some foot-odor powders are deodorants; others absorb sweat.
  4. Air them out. This goes for your shoes and your feet. Spend time barefoot to let your feet air out. Alternate which shoes you wear so that they have a chance to dry completely between uses.
  5. Use disinfectant. Spray a general household disinfectant in your shoes and on the insoles and then let them dry. It might also help to let them dry in the sun.
  6. Try essential oils. One study found that a 1:1 ratio of juniper oil and benzoin applied to the feet helped get rid of odor-causing bacteria. Other essential oils with antimicrobial activity also may help.

Essential oils can be quite strong and may irritate the skin. Even so, the skin on your feet is thick. Test the oil on a small patch of skin first. If it stings, dilute it in water before rubbing it on your feet.

Is It Healthy to Have Smelly Feet?

Foot odor is rarely a sign of a health problem, but sometimes an infection can cause it. See a doctor if you see any signs of infection or if the smell just doesn’t get better.

If your feet are also unusually sweaty, it may be plantar hyperhidrosis. This excessive foot sweating may interfere with daily activities.  

There are tests to determine how severe the problem is. If you or a family member has hyperhidrosis, a doctor may prescribe a prescription antiperspirant, prescription cream, or nerve-blocking medication to reduce sweating. If that doesn’t work, Botox injections may help. 

Even if you have a condition that leaves you prone to foot odor, taking steps to keep your feet clean and dry will help with the smell.

What medical conditions cause stinky feet?

The body causes unpleasing and uncomfortable symptoms such as pain or fatigue to signal that something may be wrong with it. Smelly feet, at times, can be a warning sign for some underlying health conditions as well. 

For some people, smelly feet may be primarily due to excess sweat production in the absence of any underlying cause called primary hyperhidrosis. For others, excessive sweating may be caused by some underlying medical condition called secondary hyperhidrosis.

Some of the medical conditions that may cause stinky feet can include:

Non-medical conditions that cause smelly foot include:

  • Wearing closed footwear for long hours
  • Wearing the same socks for two days in a row
  • Working in places with high heat

Certain conditions such as diabetes and chemotherapy for cancer can weaken your immunity and make you more likely to get infections including foot infections. These can manifest as stinky feet and may later evolve to cause more serious symptoms. Thus, it is advisable to consult your doctor if you have smelly feet so that the underlying reason may be identified and treated.

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Canadian Journal of Microbiology: “Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control.”

Institute for Preventive Foot Health: “Foot Odor.”

Cleveland Clinic: “4 Ways You Can Avoid Stinky Feet.”

Planta Medica: “Antimicrobial Essential Oil Combinations to Combat Foot Odour.”

Journal of Ethnopharmacology: “Antimicrobial activity of Elytropappus rhinocerotis (Asteraceae) against micro-organisms associated with foot odour and skin ailments.”

UCSF Health: “Hyperhidrosis Signs and Symptoms.”

Mayo Clinic: “Hyperhidrosis.” “Sweaty feet.”