How do I clean my stinky shoes?
August 25, 2005 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Smelly Shoes: I wore my favorite pair of shoes to one of the hottest, most humid 7 weeks of Vermont summer in recorded history this year, and my shoes stink. I've tried spraying them full of Odor-Eaters spray powder (With Zorbitex™!) and leaving them alone for a while, and while they smell fine when left alone, they reek after an hour or so of use. Can I exorcise these shoes, or do I need to dump them? How do you tell if a pair of shoes is OK to wash in a washing machine?

They are a pair of Merrill Vigors. To quote,
"A multi-sport contender with an evocative oxford look. Full-function design throughout, from double-stitched rand to injection-molded struts for lacing lockdown. Aggressive Glacier™ Sole has centrally deployed malleable wing treads for secure hold on a variety of demanding terrain. Water resistant full grain/pigskin leather uppers, micro injection external heel counter, 4.5mm anatomical footbed, Q-Form™ compression molded EVA footframe, Air Cushion® midsole, Merrell Glacier™ sole/sticky rubber. "

There are a bunch of symbols on the inside of the tongue of the shoe, but I have no idea what they mean. 3 pictures of a shoe outline with arrows in different places (one outline is bold), a box made out of dots, a diamond, and a crazy deformed 6-pointed shape.
posted by sirion to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This might sound odd, but have you tried rubbing alcohol? With my lab experiences, it seems to work well at killing things, and I've applied it to many things at home and it works just as well as bleach (without the damaging side effects) with various applications.

Make sure it doesn't damage your shoes before putting a lot of it on, though. I'd suggest a test patch on the inside of the shoe.
posted by Moral Animal at 2:54 PM on August 25, 2005

Do they have removable insoles? If so, that's likely to be the stinkiest part -- replace them with new Spenco insoles.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:57 PM on August 25, 2005

Response by poster: Insoles are removable, but as far as I can tell, they're actually not as stinky as the rest of the shoe.

Also, for what it's worth, the Odor-Eaters stuff is full of Tolnaftate antifungal stuff.
posted by sirion at 3:00 PM on August 25, 2005

Well, I know some of my local dry cleaners offer to de-stink shoes. Maybe take them into a few places and ask if they can do em?
posted by cm at 3:07 PM on August 25, 2005

I agree with moral animal - the smell is microbial in origin. Every time you get the shoe wet (even just a little bit) it both solublizes nutrients for the bugs to grow and solublizes the waste products.

The alcohol might damage the leather (dry it out) but you could mink-oil it afterwards - and if you can find a replacement insole, replace it.

If you have access to some halite or something you could fumigate your shoes... (although I'm sure the drycleaners use a different kind of fumigant - so, in retrospect, the 'cleaners would probably be your best bet)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:22 PM on August 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, just thought of something - if you have a friend at a hospital with access to a gamma source, you could get your shoes irradiated (there won't be any residual radiation in the shoes) to kill the bugs, but you're still left with residual microbial waste.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:24 PM on August 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Be careful with mink oil-- many discourage its use. Try Lexol leather conditioner instead.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:45 PM on August 25, 2005

Alcohol on leather should be OK -- I use it all the time on new leather shoes to help break them in and the leather has always been fine.

Not sure if it'll necessarily help with the smell, though.
posted by occhiblu at 3:48 PM on August 25, 2005

I had a pair 5.10 Summits: rock climbing shoes. Think ballet slippers with sticky, black rubber. They developed an amazing funk (rock shoes are worn sans socks, often standing on granite or what not in the summer, with one's feet baking).

I tried everything here except two options: dry cleaner and gamma rays.

I can say that for really nasty funk, none of the other stuff lasted. It seemed to work until the shoes were worn again, but that's all. Something to keep in mind if the stink is bad.

I eventually threw them away (their crap rock shoes anyway), got an unlined pair (probably irrelevant here), and religiously used foot powder every single time I wore the new shoes. That fixed it.
posted by teece at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2005

how about spraying some Fabreeze (sp?) into the shoes?
posted by seawallrunner at 4:03 PM on August 25, 2005

I have been known to spray Lysol into the interior of my summer shoes (worn without hosiery or socks) as well. It sorta works. I just have smelly feet come summertime. I will also leave them outside overnight to air-dry.
posted by Savannah at 6:21 PM on August 25, 2005

Hello there fellow Vermonster!

Shoes are fine in a washing machine, just wash on warm or cold. Do NOT put them in the dryer. Set up a drying rack where they can dry in peace in a, well, dry place.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:49 PM on August 25, 2005

I shit you not - I've been using an ionic shoe freshener every day for the past, oh, 8 years or so, and shoe odors don't exist for me anymore. Basically, you sitck the tubes in your shoes when you're done wearing them, and they create a breeze down in the toes that dries them out, and also theoretically emit some kind of ions to kill microbes. Whatever it does, it works, even on nasty boat shoes I wear in the middle of summer with no socks. When I first got it, my shoes were already kind of nasty, and it rescued a pair, so it might work for you.

The one I originally got from sharper image seems to be no longer available, but other people seem to make them.
posted by Caviar at 6:53 PM on August 25, 2005

6 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp borax
2 1/2 tbsp baking soda
18 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
21 drops rosemary essential oil or sweet orange
7 drops lemon essential oil
6 drops clove essential oil

Borax and Tea Tree are both antibacterial and antibiotic...but tea tree is a particularly medicine-y smell...hence the other oils.

Sift the powders together, add essential oils and mix in until all are blended. Put powder in shoes, making sure to sift down into the toes. Place shoes in the sun for a day, if possible.

This mixture is safe for your feet, and you can use it as daily foot powder as well as a odor treatment.
posted by dejah420 at 8:08 PM on August 25, 2005 [3 favorites]

I'll second Febreze. Soak the insides with spray, leave them somewhere warm (in the sun is good, if it won't hurt the leather) until they dry out, and repeat if needed. I've de-funked shoes this way successfully before. An enzymatic cleaner designed for pet odors (like Nature's Remedy) might also work well.
posted by biscotti at 8:09 PM on August 25, 2005

My birks can get really funky and I was looking for a way to get them clean as well. The only results I found were people mentioning saddle-cleaning supplies, which seemed to make good sense. I'm going to pick up some of that soap and try it out later on the soles which seem to absorb large amounts of bacteria.

On the cheaper side (and something I've found that works great with sports shoes) you can pour some kitty-littler in to some scrap pantyhose and wrap it around itself a few times and leave that in your shoes overnight. It picks up a lot of moisture and odor but it's more of a gradual or preventative practice.
posted by prostyle at 7:48 AM on August 26, 2005

put them in the freezer
posted by mr.marx at 8:50 AM on August 26, 2005

You can double the lifespan of a pair of shoes, and avoid permastink, by keeping at least two pair in rotation.

If you give the shoes an entire day to dry out (during which day you wear the other pair), they retain their shape longer because you're not wearing them while wet, the stitching stands up longer because it's not overstretched, and the insides don't stink so hard because you're not feeding them a constant supply of fresh bio matter.

Shoes are "wet" after 5 or so hours of wear even if they don't feel wet to the touch. After working your shoes particularly hard, such as on a hot day involving a long walk, or at the end of moving house, wrap the shoes loosely in brown bags or newspapers, and put them in the freezer. This dries them out and kills many active microorganisms. [*mr.marx - I just saw that you just posted the same tip. Tip o' hat.]

It really is a good idea to stock up on multiple pairs of the one pair shoes you truly love. If your favorite reliable style stops being manufactured, you at least have some backup time during which you can locate a satisfactory replacement.

/shoes are ergonomic equipment
posted by tarintowers at 5:34 AM on August 28, 2005

« Older Looking for the 80s-era toy, "The Brain"   |   Fix a dried out printer cartidge head, when... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.