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Seeking Solutions and Home Remedies for Smelly Feet

Smelly feet can make life hard on those around you. Readers delight in sharing their favorite remedies for smelly feet, such as alcohol.
Seeking Solutions and Home Remedies for Smelly Feet
Beautiful vintage housekeeper holding a smelly shoes with facial expression on white

Sometimes we get a question that is so short and to the point that it requires a long answer. Today’s example is: “Are there any home remedies for smelly feet?”

A lot of conditions can contribute to foot odor. However, readers have also come up with quite a few effective solutions. Basically, smelly feet start out as sweaty feet. The sweat itself and the changes it triggers in skin on the soles of the feet create a friendly environment for bacteria and fungi that produce stinky compounds. Consequently, it makes sense that home remedies for foot odor address the sweat or the microbes or both.

Change Your Shoes:

One of the first approaches is to wear your shoes in some kind of rotation so that you are not putting the same pair on day after day. They need to dry out completely between wearings. Some readers douse paper towels in rubbing alcohol and stuff them in their shoes to discourage microbial overgrowth. Applying rubbing alcohol directly to the soles of the feet may also help control fungi or bacteria on the skin.

Hand Sanitizer to Banish Smelly Feet:

A reader offered an adaptation of this approach: 

“After months of smelly feet when I finished a run, I read about a trick to eliminate the odors. Just put a little hand sanitizer on the bottom of your feet before you put on your sneakers. No more odors!”

Another reader has a dramatic tale of her search for an end to smelly feet:

“For most of my adult life I suffered the embarrassment of smelly feet, and as a result, smelly shoes and closet! My feet perspired even wearing ski boots in the cold.

“A desperate visit to a podiatrist resulted in a diagnosis, AKA smelly feet. The doctor recommended good hygiene (insulting), use of foot powder (a foul-smelling paste formed), rotation of shoes and wool socks (not very fashionable with women’s business suits).

“In fact, wearing pantyhose seemed to exacerbate the situation. I began to hate travel, going to the gym, trying on new shoes, even having annual doctor exams. My normal life was seriously impacted.

“Fortunately, several months ago my husband read a suggestion to apply a small amount of hand sanitizer to my feet after bathing. EUREKA! Almost immediately, my feet stopped sweating and smelling.

“Now my shoes no longer smell, and neither does my closet. I no longer have to fear clearing the ski lodge when I remove my ski boots. I want all healthcare providers to recommend this easy solution. Thank you for this opportunity to share my new-found freedom!”

Rubbing Alcohol for Smelly Feet:

Hand sanitizer is certainly a simple, inexpensive approach to a tough problem, but it is not the only one. A number of foot soaks can reduce sweating. For example, tannin has astringent effects, so soaking the feet in a strong tea solution for 20 or 30 minutes a day can help eliminate unpleasant aromas.

Another Rubbing Alcohol Story:

Q. About two months ago, after getting my sneakers wet during a rainstorm, I developed seriously stinky feet. It was super embarrassing.

I tried new shoes and tried every anti-odor spray and powder, but nothing worked.

This just about sent me to my breaking point until I tried rubbing alcohol. I put it on my feet after a shower and use it as disinfectant on my leather shoes. My feet have been odor free ever since.

A. Some readers have used rubbing alcohol to disinfect their shoes and reduce foot odor. It makes sense that it might help to apply alcohol to the feet as well. Other favorite soaks include Epsom salts or baking soda dissolved in warm water. In addition, many readers have suggested soaking the feet in old-fashioned amber Listerine. This mouthwash contains 26.9 percent alcohol.

One wrote:

“Fill a small spray bottle with Listerine and spray your feet after every shower or bath. It helps to run the Listerine between your toes and let it dry before putting your socks and shoes on.”

Speaking of socks: wear them. Feet without socks sweat more in leather shoes or even sneakers. As a consequence, they are more likely to stink. Make sure to change the socks at least once a day.

In fact, we heard from an Australian podiatrist:

“My best advice for recurring fungal infections is to burn all your socks every six months, even every three months, and buy new ones. In between, wash them in hot water, at least 70 C/158 F to kill fungi in socks.”

Young Men with Stinky Feet:

Q. My sons and their friends think it is cool to wear loafers and sneakers without socks. When they hang out at our house and watch TV, they like to take their shoes off. Does the room smell!

I doubt that you or anyone could convince these guys to wear socks. I’ve given up trying. But maybe you could tell us how to control the unbelievable foot odor.

A. You’re not the only one trying to cope with this problem. 

A grandmother asked this question:

“What can you recommend for smelly feet? My teenage grandson has discovered girls and is very concerned about his problem.”

Another reader wrote:

“My sons had the worst problem with stinky feet when they wore shoes without socks. We fought the shoe odor by sloshing rubbing alcohol around in the shoes and dumping it out. We rotated the shoes every-which-a-way. Then after we dumped the alcohol, we set the shoes in front of the refrigerator exhaust (where the warm air blows) to dry. The alcohol dried faster than water and didn’t damage any shoes we used it in.”

We can’t promise that alcohol won’t damage shoes, but it is one approach we hear frequently. You can learn more about home remedies for foot odor in our free Guide to Solutions for Smelly Feet.

Another mother had a question about super smelly feet:

Q. My son has really smelly feet. He can’t take off his shoes when we’re in the car or the house, or he stinks us all out. His feet must be covered. (Fresh socks, a blanket or a hazmat response suit all work equally well.)

Even though he’s a teenager, he bathes every day so this is not due to bad hygiene. No one else in the family suffers from this ailment. (We suffer enough just from his.) He wears a variety of shoes, but they all smell bad. The ones that he wears more often just smell worse.

We’ve heard of home remedies that involve soaking in a weak tea or boric acid solution. We have not tried either of these. It is tempting to consider something strong like boric acid. Could you recommend a more measured response to this problem?

A. First, throw out the nastiest smelling shoes. Once they have fungus or bacteria, it can be hard to decontaminate them. Nonetheless, one reader recommends soaking paper towels in rubbing alcohol and placing them in the shoes overnight.

Strong tea soaks (30 minutes daily) can be helpful, if he is patient enough. Five tea bags steeped in a quart of boiling water for 10 minutes and allowed to cool can be used for this foot bath. Skip the boric acid because it is too toxic, especially if he has athlete’s foot.

Miss Hill from Madeira Beach, Florida, found alcohol helpful:

“I had the very same problem with foot odor and had gone to various podiatrists. Finally one told me tennis shoes are the worst type of shoes you can wear. Stick with leather. He also suggested to spray my feet and inside all my shoes before and after wearing them with rubbing alcohol. It works wonders.”

Readers Offer Other Solutions for Smelly Feet:

Baking Soda

“When I was a kid my feet smelled and sweat something awful. I confided to my barber and he gave me a solution for them. I’d love to pass it on as this is one of the worst odors I have ever smelled.

“Take a pan big enough for your feet and fill it with water as hot as you can stand. Put two tablespoons of plain old baking soda in the water and soak the feet for 30 minutes for 30 nights.

“Throw away those tennis shoes as they hold in the moisture. Leather shoes with a clean pair of socks each day will breathe better. I’m 72 and my feet don’t sweat and I feel at ease if I have to take my shoes off for any reason.”

We can’t promise that 30 days of baking soda soaks will last a lifetime, but it does seem safe and inexpensive.

Tea Bag Soak

A dermatologist once suggested steeping five tea bags in a quart of hot water. Let it cool, then soak for 30 minutes.

We passed along a similar solution:

Q. My 17-year-old granddaughter has a problem with smelly feet. My son uses strong medicine from a podiatrist, which is probably inappropriate for her. Any home remedies?

A. An 89-year-old woman shared a remedy her aunt taught her when she was young. She soaked her feet in warm water to which tannic acid had been added. The same effect can be accomplished with tea soaks, since tea is high in tannic acid.

Other readers swear by an old Army trick: Urinate on your feet.

One mom shared,

“My 17-year-old daughter has very smelly feet and I convinced her to try the urine trick. IT WORKED! Her foot odor is completely gone!”

Take Zinc for Smelly Feet

We have also heard that taking oral chlorophyll or zinc supplements can eliminate odor. A mother related that her son also had severely smelly feet. She solved the problem by buying a chlorophyll drink at a health food store:

“Within 24 hours he was scent free.”

Lemon Juice

One of the strangest smelly foot remedies came from a woman who encouraged her boyfriend to try lemon juice:

“He cut the lemon in half and rubbed it on his feet. The results were amazing! It really helped get rid of the odor and made his skin feel good as well.”

Lemon juice could hurt like the dickens if there are any cracks or sores (such as occur with athlete’s foot). Consider this one only if others have failed.

Essential Oils

Scientists have investigated the potential for essential oils to combat foot odor (Planta Medica, July 2018). Specifically, they looked for plant compounds that could fight Brevibacterium, which they think are the biggest culprits when it comes to smelly feet. They found that juniper (Juniperus virginiana) was especially helpful against these types of bacteria. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether juniper oil is readily available or how irritating it might be to the skin. 

Want to learn more about other remedies for stinky feet? We offer our loyal visitors a FREE Guide to Smelly Feet at this link.

Share your own success stories below in the comment section and please vote on this article at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Citations
  • Orchard A et al, "Antimicrobial essential oil combinations to combat foot odour." Planta Medica, July 2018. DOI: 10.1055/a-0592-8022
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