foot bath at a day spa in a bowl

Americans are quite concerned about body odor. We complain bitterly about people in other countries who are not as compulsive about applying deodorants and antiperspirants as we are. But perhaps we should pay more attention to bad foot odor.

When Do You Think About Smelly Feet?

Although we go to great lengths to avoid armpit odor, we rarely think twice about stinky feet. We assume that no one can smell our tootsies as long as they are covered up, but if we take off our shoes, watch out! We even heard from one reader whose wife barred him from the bedroom because of his bad foot odor.

Other readers have related serious foot odor problems, like this woman:

“Years ago my stepson (age 15) had such stinky feet even he couldn’t stand them. I had seen him so exasperated he poured diluted bleach on them to try to get rid of the odor–to no avail.

“His aunt came to visit her sister and they were talking when the boy came home. His mom said, ‘Don’t take those shoes off in here!’ To which his aunt said, ‘What’s the matter?’ His mom explained we couldn’t stand the odor.

“His aunt said, ‘Don’t you remember the old rhyme: zinc for stink? That will do it.”

“We bought a small bottle of zinc. A whole tablet made him sick to his stomach, so we cut them in half. He took half a tablet a day, and in a month there was no more stink.”

Home Remedies for Bad Foot Odor:

Rubbing Alcohol:

Some readers have shared their own favorite remedies. One woman wrote:

“I spray 91 percent [isopropyl] alcohol on my feet every morning before I put on my shoes. It took several weeks for the odor to be completely eliminated but I have used it for years to keep odor away. My husband sprays his underarms, lets the alcohol dry and then applies deodorant.”

Milk of Magnesia:

Another woman tried a different solution:

“I have found using milk of magnesia on the feet works wonders on foot odor. I have eaten a whole-food plant-based vegan diet for decades with wonderful benefits for my health and appearance. But wearing shoes made of ‘pleather’ caused a problem I had never experienced before-foot odor!

“Nothing I tried helped the situation. When I first heard of using milk of magnesia as a deodorant, I thought it might also help with the foot odor. It did! I have been using it for years.”

Using an antiperspirant on the feet can reduce the sweat that feeds the odor-causing bacteria. (You can read comments on that here and here.)

Foot Soaks:

We don’t like the idea of putting strong aluminum salts on porous skin like the soles of the feet, though. Foot soaks to discourage athlete’s foot fungi such as water with vinegar, baking soda, Epsom salts, hydrogen peroxide or Listerine often seem to diminish unpleasant foot odor as well. Here’s one reader’s testimony about using Listerine to combat their smelly feet:

“I’ve had success with Listerine for smelly feet. If it kills germs that cause bad breath, it might k.o. germs that cause stinky feet. I applied Listerine to clean feet and wiped out the insides of my shoes as well. At the end of the day, both feet and shoes are odor free.”

The herbal extracts and alcohol in Listerine are versatile for battling fungi and bacteria that can cause odor or itch.

Another possible remedy to consider is tannic acid. Fluffy tannic acid is an old-fashioned remedy that can be dissolved in water to be used as a foot soak.

If tannic acid is unavailable, people could soak their smelly feet in very strong black tea. Tea, after all, is rich in tannic acid. Using such a soak several times may get rid of the odor, possibly because it reduces sweating.

Allowing shoes and feet to dry out can help control bad foot odor. Alternating shoes daily and wearing absorbent cotton socks may also work. So can sandals that allow the feet to air out.

We have several other recommendations in our free Guide to Solutions for Smelly Feet. If you choose to try milk of magnesia for bad foot odor, you might want to take advantage of our special limited-time sale for first-time buyers of our unscented aluminum-free MoM deodorant.

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  1. JB
    South Texas

    Our family is now odor-free, thanks to zinc oxide. This worked like a charm for us and it was fast! We treated ALL our shoes, including some we thought we’d have to trash, for about 2 days and are still fresh smelling 2 months later. We used an inexpensive zinc blend but zinc was the first ingredient. We avoided talc preparations.

  2. Carey

    Why do you recommend cotton socks? They stay wet and don’t wick moisture away from the feet.

  3. Larry

    Milk of Magnesia:
    I get Milk of Magnesia from the Dollar Store for use as a deodorant. I saw a People’s Pharmacy article in the newspaper 6-8 years ago about using MOM as a deodorant.

    I shake it up and dip a finger and apply it as an underarm deodorant. I am an old guy who was getting to have an odor problem. The MOM works great.

    • Joe Graedon

      Thanks for sharing your experience with milk of magnesia (MoM). The only problem with the liquid drugstore laxatives from our perspective is the sodium hypochlorite preservative that is permitted, if not required, by the FDA. If you don’t recognize the chemical name you will probably recognize the common household name, bleach. Our roll-on MoM products do not contain this preservative. They are also a lot less messy, though admittedly more expensive.

  4. Larry

    I have been using a light dusting of Body Powder from the Dollar Store on my socks and in my shoes for 15 – 20 years. Many years ago I had foot odor problems. There has been no odor for years.

    The powder contains Menthol .15% and Zinc Oxide 1.0%.

    The 10 oz. container lasts me from 4 to 6 months, so you can see how little I am using.

  5. Vi
    North Carolina

    We realized any shoe of man-made material developed terrible foot odor.
    Shoes of leather or canvas worn with socks that were washed in very hot
    water and bleached when needed solved the problem. This wasn’t easy since the more affordable shoes are not made of leather and canvas shoes aren’t suitably stylish for some and sandals don’t work well in the snow. Sigh….Mother of Seven.

  6. Patsy
    Kilsyth, Australia

    Try using boracic acid powder sprinkled on feet. This is a forgotten remedy that is worth a try.

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