Have you ever made up an excuse to keep your shoes on at a friend’s house, or refused to wear sandals even to the beach? If you suffer from chronic foot odor, you know how this seemingly simple problem can have negative effects on your everyday life. Stressful as it may be, we have good news: foot odor is completely treatable, often without specialty products or extensive effort. A simple understanding of why it happens and some basic strategies is all most people need to combat your smelly feet and have you confident enough to go shoeless wherever life takes you.
Why Do My Feet Smell?
The vast majority of smelly feet are caused by one very basic culprit- your own sweat. More specifically, the recognizably sour aroma of foot odor is a byproduct of common bacteria that live on top of your skin, and feed on sweat and moisture. This can occur even on completely healthy feet, or it can also happen in conjunction with fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. Luckily, this basic problem has two similarly basic solutions- kill the bacteria, and control your sweat to keep new bacteria from growing.
Step One: Kill the Bacteria
Before even getting dressed for the day, you have your strongest opportunity to kill odor-causing bacteria on your feet- that’s during your morning shower. It may surprise you to hear this, but in a recent Twitter poll with over 600,000 respondents, 20% of all repliers indicated that they don’t wash their legs or feet in the shower, but merely scrub their upper body and rely on the soapy runoff to cleanse their legs.
While it’s true that overscrubbing any part of your body can strip away healthy oils along with dirt and grime, anyone suffering from noticeable foot odor should be scrubbing their feet with an antibacterial soap on a daily basis. While bacteria will still accumulate over the course of a day, starting with a blank bacterial slate should help stop odor before it starts. If your odor problem is severe, consider soaking your feet in distilled vinegar (1 part vinegar + 2 parts water) for 10 to 15 minutes before showering. Also always make sure to thoroughly dry your feet, including between your toes, immediately after showering. As we’ll address next, moisture in any form is not your friend when dealing with odor.
Step Two: Stay Dry
No matter how well you wash, the world isn’t sterile, and some odor-causing bacteria will return to your feet. However, you can control how much they have to eat by keeping your feet as sweat-free and generally dry as possible. As described above, this starts with completely drying your feet after you bathe or shower, but once that’s done, we’d highly recommend applying a layer of body or foot powder before you put on your socks and shoes. This will absorb moisture throughout the day to prevent bacteria from developing. Many foot powders also contain additional materials to fight odor and cover it with a fresher scent.
Step Three: Treat Fungus (If Necessary)
If you’re finding that your foot odor is accompanied with a rash, irritation, or itch, you may have already developed a case of athlete’s foot or a related fungal infection. If this happens, you’ll want to treat this immediately, as fungus can encourage odors of its own. Consider using a body powder on your feet that also contains antifungal medication, such as Bozak, which features miconazole nitrate. This will both kill the fungus on your feet and, with regular use, protect against future fungal outbreaks.
Step Four: Keep Clean Shoes
We’ve covered this more comprehensively elsewhere, but sweaty, wet shoes (or socks) can breed bacteria as easily as your feet can. Keep your shoes clean and dry, using the same care as you would for your feet. Change your socks at least once a day, or more than once if you exercise or sweat heavily in them, and never re-wear socks before washing them.