a pair of canvas sneakers, borax

Smelly feet are embarrassing, although the problem is quite common. Doctors rarely become concerned about foot odor, but it can be quite a social liability. What remedies really work to get rid of the smell? One reader is enthusiastic about sprinkling borax powder in shoes.

A Home Remedy for Foot Odor:

Q. You have sometimes answered questions about foot odor, but I’ve never seen the remedy that worked for us. Years ago, my husband had this problem. It was hard to be in the same room with him after he removed his shoes.

A friend had grown up in Arkansas with lots of home remedies. She told us to put two tablespoons of 20 Mule Team Borax in each shoe overnight. It worked like magic.

Borax in Shoes:

A. Borax (sodium borate) has long been used as a laundry additive, water softener and deodorizer. This mineral is toxic to pets, however, so shoes with this powder should be kept away from cats and dogs.

Remove the powder carefully before wearing the shoes again. It should not be inhaled, as it can cause lung irritation.

Another reader suggests spraying the interior of smelly shoes with vodka and allowing that to dry overnight. In addition, some people like to treat the feet rather than the shoes. Soak them in a solution of baking soda. Learn how in our free Guide to Smelly Feet, which also contains other simple suggestions. Here is a question from the perspective of a husband who has stinky feet:

Smelly Feet Squelch Sex Life:

Q. My wife has complained that I have very stinky feet. It’s putting her off sex and upsetting the children. What can I do?

A. Smelly feet often start out as sweaty feet. Then bacteria that live on skin get a foothold and create unpleasant odors.

Strategies to dry out feet or discourage bacterial growth can be helpful. Tips we have received include  taking zinc or chlorophyll supplements as well as using a foot powder containing fluffy tannic acid, talc and bentonite. Many readers of this column recommend foot soaks of Epsom salts or a strong tea solution. The tannin in the tea discourages excess sweating.

Doug G suggests a different foot soak solution:

“Solution for smelly feet: soak feet in betadine/water mixture, at least 1/4 cup betadine to enough water in small plastic tub to cover bottom of feet an toes. Soak for 15- 20 min. Get a pedicure at least once a month, man or woman, or use pumice stone in shower or bath to remove dead skin.”

RL reports:

“Eating too much salt from processed foods causes my feet to sweat so much sometimes it ruins my shoes. When I lower my salt intake, all is well with my feet.”

Another reader recalls:

“My brother used to take off his shoes and we would all about die because his feet smelled so bad. We found out that it was athlete’s foot and he treated his feet with athlete’s foot creams and sprays and the smell was gone. My brother had no lesions or redness—just the smell. So treat smelly feet for athlete’s foot.”

Bianca recommends breathable shoes and socks:

“Another factor may be the socks and shoes one wears. My husband complained of stinky feet when we met, but after switching to (albeit somewhat more expensive) leather shoes and cotton or wool socks, the odor problem evaporated. Just another variable to factor in.”

And finally, DWD has expanded his shoe wardrobe:

“I wonder if these folk with smelly feet rotate their shoes? Some guys wear one pair all the time so the never really dry out. I have 3 pairs of sneakers, 4 pairs of casual shoes (two black, two brown), one pair of dressier “Sunday” shoes. I place them on shelves and rotate them pretty consistently so I never wear the same pair of shoes more than one day in a row. Even traveling I try to carry 2 pair if luggage is an issue or preferably 3 if by car.

“Also make sure your closet is not too air tight by leaving the door ajar when possible and there is room around the shoes for them to air out.”

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  1. Leslie
    San Antonio, TX

    Although all of the above suggestions are helpful it is the use of Dr. Scholls Foot Powder every single time I put on socks or shoes, even without socks, that eliminated the problem once and for all!

  2. ray

    never used borax,but have used baking soda in the shoes.i will try the borax. same as baking soda has many uses

  3. Jane

    I routinely apply deodorant to my feet as well as armpits. This has eliminated odor problems for me.

    Thanks for your columns filled with easy-to-apply information.

  4. Sandy
    Olympia, WA

    I agree with never wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Also, regular, professional pedicures help, as well.

  5. Larry T

    I had problems with foot odor years ago. I started using Gold Bond Powder (Menthol .15% and Zinc 1%). I found the same formula at the dollar store. I sprinkle a bit on my socks and in my shoes. It doesn’t seem to take much. It has a talc base, so avoid creating a dust cloud and breathing it in. I also wear white cotton socks which are very absorbent.

    My shoes and feet have no odor.

    I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years.

  6. Antoon
    New Zld

    Smelly feet can be reduced, control your glucose intake. I used to have smelly feet since I stopped eating sugary things and grains my feet are no longer an embarrassment.
    Your over-al health will also improve.

  7. Maryel S

    After I wash my socks I soak them in 1/4 cup baking soda dissolved in about 1 gallon of water for 30 minutes. I then spin out the socks in the washer (do not rinse ) This has solved the stinky feet problem .At first you will notice no difference . It will take a while for the socks to absorb the odor from the footwear.

  8. Joe

    I use rubbing alcohol. I have a sprayer on the top of the bottle and I spray it into my armpits and on my feet. Has been very effective for me.

  9. Dori A

    Alternate soaking your feet a couple times a week with diluted white vinegar, sometimes alcohol, epsom salts, all about a cup per gallon and periodically a 1/4 cup of bleach per gallon for a short period of time as this will burn if left too long. My feet never smell.

  10. Kristina

    Adding: When suggesting Borax in shoes, remember that boron (an ingredient) seriously depletes B2, riboflavin. So make SURE to get it out of the shoes before wearing.

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