How to Get Rid of Stinky Feet, According to Doctor (with Photos)

13 min read

To get rid of stinky feet, change your socks often; dry your shoes well; consider a foot deodorant. If your foot odour is so strong it bothers you, see a doctor. You may have a medical condition.

Hi! I’m Dr. Karim Maghraby. As a physician scientist and avid runner, I can tell you most people get foot odor at one point or another. The problem is that stinky feet (bromodosis) can interfere with your daily life.

That’s why I wrote this article to share some effective home remedies for foot smell. Please bear in mind this is not medical advice. I cannot diagnose nor treat bromodosis remotely; all I can do is share some information.

Having said that, let’s go over how to get rid of stinky feet and shoes!

Disclaimer: This guide was created for educational purposes. It neither offers nor replaces medical advice. Learn more here.

Table of Contents

1

An epsom salt foot bath

Explanation

Bacteria that make feet smelly need moisture to survive. Epsom salts drains excess moisture from your skin. As a result, it becomes hard for those smell-producing bacteria to survive.

Some people on Reddit seem to think epsom salt can kill a fungal infection (e.g. athlete’s foot). It does not do this. If this is what you’re going for, read Tip #2 and use it together with epsom salt.

Instructions

1. Get a tub of warm water.

2. Dissolve a half-cup of epsom salt in the water.

3. Take a 10-20 minute foot soak, then dry. 

Tips

If necessary, use a pumice stone or exfoliator to remove dead skin cells afterwards. Bacteria feed on these. Good foot hygiene will reduce foot smell further.

Add vinegar or hydrogen peroxide to your foot bath for even more odor relief. 

2

A vinegar and/or hydrogen peroxide foot bath

Explanation

Vinegar kills the fungi and bacteria that give your feet an unpleasant odor. Hydrogen peroxide does the same. Personally, I like hydrogen peroxide and raw apple cider vinegar.

Note that a bath like this only kills microbes on the surface of your skin. To make the bath more effective, massage the water into your feet, toes and nails. Get the area between the toes too.

Instructions

1. Get a tub.

2. Mix three parts warm water to one part hydrogen peroxide or vinegar.

2. Take a 10-20 minute foot soak in the tub.

Tip

Avoid vinegar baths if your foot skin is weak or damaged. Vinegar can irritate cuts, sore spots, scratches, etc. If this is your situation, use hydrogen peroxide only.

3

Antibacterial soap

Washing your feet with a good antibacterial soap will kill early-stage foot fungus. It also gets rid of many other odor causing bacteria. You can use the soap in the shower or in a foot bath.

Make sure to dry your feet well afterwards. By removing excess moisture, you’ll leave nothing for bacteria and fungus to feed on.

Tip

For the best effect, exfoliate your feet and then use antibacterial soap. Make sure to dry your feet well

4

Rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol can help kill off foot and toe fungus. I suggest 70% rubbing alcohol or weaker; stronger solutions will irritate your skin. There are a few ways to use it.

1. Make a 1-to-1 foot bath with rubbing alcohol and warm water. Soak your feet for 20 minutes.

2. Apply a moderate or weak isopropyl solution to the affected area. Stronger concentrations (80%+) are to be avoided.

3. If you have foot and shoe odor, treat the inside of your shoe with a weak isopropyl solution. Test in a spot area first to make sure it won’t ruin the material.

5

The right socks

Wearing the right socks helps reduce foot odor. Look for:

1. Moisture-wicking socks

These will usually use cotton and a man-made material like nylon. These absorb sweat and have good breathability.

2. Moderately thick socks 

These can hold a little moisture when you sweat. Avoid thick cotton socks, though. These can run hot.

3. Merino wool socks

These wick moisture away and can hold up to 3 times their weight in water. They’re also highly breathable.

Tip

Keep a pair of clean socks on you at all times, especially when doing sports. This way you can keep your feet dry, preventing foot odor from getting out of control.

6

Antiperspirant spray or powder

Foot sweat can make shoes and feet stinky. A quality antiperspirant can help.

Do not use regular products meant to control body odor and sweating. Feet sweat a lot more than any other body part; even the armpits. You need a foot-specific product.

People with medical conditions will need doctor-prescribed products. Most people, though, will do well with over-the-counter stuff.

Foot spray products reduce sweating. Foot powder products soak up water – and can also reduce sweating. Look for ingredients like tea tree oil, lavender oil and aluminum chloride.

To see our top antiperspirant picks, read our guide on best foot and shoe deodorizers. The page also includes a DIY recipe. It also explains how baking soda, talcum powder and essential oil can help beat foot odor.

7

Diet changes

Leafy greens, seaweed, and zinc-rich foods (e.g. peanuts, dark chocolate) help our feet sweat less. Eating foods high in water, such as grapes, watermelon, and cantaloupes, helps as well. 

Other foods and drinks, including alcohol, spices, and caffeine, can make us sweaty

To reduce foot sweat and odor, eat more sweat-reducing and less sweat-inducing food.

8

Stinky shoe care

Stinky shoes can carry microbes that cause foot odor. They can also carry dead skin cells these microbes feed on – though this is more rare. Either way, shoes can be a major reason for foot odor.

To fix this, use a quality shoe deodorizer. That way, your shoes will smell good even if you have sweaty feet.

You could also us a weak rubbing alcohol solution, but we don’t recommend it. Rubbing alcohol can ruin smooth surfaces like leather, and it doesn’t work well on padded shoes.

Tip

Don’t wear the same pairs of shoes two days in a row. This will let shoes dry out and prevent odor-causing bacteria from building up on them. Same for insoles.

9

Special insoles

Two types of insole can help with smelly shoes and feet.

1. Ventilated models prevent or reduce sweaty feet. These are pictured above.

2. Medicated insoles treated with microbe-resistant molecules stop bacteria and fungus from spreading.

To see our top insole choices, check out our article on the best socks and insoles for sweaty feet.

10

Medical help

In some cases, even doctor-prescribed medicated insoles and antiperspirants won’t help.

If this is your situation, you may need one of the following to deal with your problem.

10a. Botox

A plantar injection of Botox into the skin of your feet can reduce foot sweating. The con is that these injections only last 3-4 months and can feel uncomfortable. 

10b. Iontophoresis

This medical treatment applies sweat gland-blocking medication using a small electrical current. It reduces bad smell caused by excessive sweating.  

Each iontophoresis session lasts 20-40 minutes. Expect to get one per week until excessive sweating stops. 

10c. Prescription medication

This category includes heavy-duty ointments, soaps, and antiperspirants. If you sweat excessively all over with resulting body odor, injections and systemic medication could also be an option.

Is Foot Odor Bad?

Bad foot odor, known as bromodosis (1) in medicine, is both common and natural. Our feet have more sweat glands than any other body part; even the armpits. That’s why it’s normal for our feet to produce a lot of perspiration (i.e. sweat). 

This sweat contains nutritious elements: sugars, salts, and amino acids. Bacteria and fungi that produce a bad smell feed on them. Some well-known examples are staphylococcus epidermidis and bacillus subtilis (2)

FAQ

These bacteria love wet, warm environments. Since our feet have so many sweat glands, they’re the perfect home for them. Therefore, the more we sweat, the more our feet smell

Are foot bacteria bad?

Bacteria like Bacillus subtilis and staphylococcus epidermidis aren’t bad. In fact, they increase our body’s immunity and contribute to healthhy skin (3). They produce a strong odor but they’re not bad. 

Is foot odor normal?

According to the Institute of Preventive Foot Health, one in six adults complain of foot odor. This makes stinky feet one of the most natural health problems out there. 

With good foot hygiene, most people’s foot odour is very manageable.

In Conclusion

Most of the time, stinky feet are normal and easy to deal with. Have clean socks on hand; reduce perspiration (sweat); keep your shoes clean and bacteria-free.

For a light microbial or fungal infection, use antibacterial soap or take a foot bath. For the foot bath, mix warm water with rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and/or epsom salt.

If the problem persists, see a doctor. In some cases, you’ll need medical help for your smelly feet.

Want to see good over-the-counter products for foot and shoe smell? Here are our favorite deodorizers and socks for sweaty, stinky feet.

References

1. NHS. Bromodosis (smelly feet). (2020). Available at: https://111.wales.nhs.uk/Bromodosis(smellyfeet)/. 

2. Ara, K. et al. Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control. Can. J. Microbiol. 52, 357-364 (2006).

3. Chiller, K., Selkin, B. A. & Murakawa, G. J. Skin Microflora and Bacterial Infections of the Skin. J. Investig. Dermatology Symp. Proc. 6, 170-174 (2001).

4. Semkova, K., Gergovska, M., Kazandjieva, J. & Tsankov, N. Hyperhidrosis, bromhidrosis, and chromhidrosis: Fold (intertriginous) dermatoses. Clin. Dermatol. 33, 483-491 (2015).

Writer:

Dr. Karim Maghraby

Proofreader:

Dr. Holly Hanson

Last Updated:

July 6, 2022

DR. KARIM MAGHRABY

Dr. Maghraby is a medical doctor and published physician scientist. He’s an avid runner and a user of sports compression gear.

DR. HOLLY HANSON

Dr. Hanson is a doctor of physical therapy. She’s a practicing PT and clinic supervisor with 8 years’ experience.