The People's Perspective on Medicine

Foot Odor

Some people really suffer with smelly feet. Any time they take their shoes off, family and friends complain. Sometimes, they complain a lot. This makes the tiresome routine of removing one’s shoes to go through an airport security check even worse for these folks…and everyone else around them.
We don’t know why some people have little or no problem with foot odor their entire lives while others are constantly fighting against it. Foot odor is probably linked to another problem, sweaty feet. Most likely the folks who are suffering with stinky toes are playing unwilling host to bacteria and possibly some fungi that feast on sweat and dead skin cells, producing a horrific aroma.
Most foot odor is probably due to bacteria producing stinky stuff like isovaleric acid and volatile sulfur compounds as they digest sweat and proteins from dead skin cells. To control the smell, reduce the sweat or kill off the bacteria.

  • Go barefoot, or choose shoes that breathe and let them air out for at least a day between wearings. Treating them with rubbing alcohol may be helpful. Wear socks designed to wick moisture away from the feet.
  • Soak feet in a solution of Epsom salts, baking soda, alum, or regular table salt. The soaks may need to be repeated until the feet stop sweating and smelling bad.
  • Brew a strong tea solution to use as a footbath, or treat feet with a tannic acid gel.
  • Control sweating with an aluminum chloride antiperspirant such as Certain Dri, Xerac AC, or Drysol. Apply to dry skin at bedtime.
  • Sprinkle powdered alum, baking soda, or Zeasorb powder in socks and shoes to absorb sweat and minimize smell.
  • Urinate on feet in the shower to control odor.
  • Take a zinc supplement for a few weeks or a month to see if it helps.
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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    toe nail fungi how much vinegar to how much water..soak how long? to often?

    My situation may sound bizarre, but I think the fungal aspect was the culprit for me.
    I lived in a house with mold in it for a handful of years. I produced a bad odor, not only on my feet, but in my armpits, too.
    Now that the mold has been discovered and removed, my feet and armpits smell like a summer day. Well, close enough anyway. :)

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^