on this week's edition of Disgusting Shoes...
March 28, 2013 7:52 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to prevent the gross black stuff that builds up in my women's flats due to my sweaty sockless feet?

Right now I'm not interested in buying a new pair of scientifically-proven-to-be-breathable flats; I'd like a solution for the canvas-style shoes I already own.

This is never a problem with shoes that I wear with socks. But my flats and flat-style sneakers always accumulate this black gunk on the inside bottom - I suspect it's a lovely mixture of dead skin and sweat. I can scrape it out after I wear the shoes, but that doesn't make the shoe any less smelly, or the situation any less gross. I don't wear leather or vinyl-ish faux leather; all of my flats are the knockoff Toms kind like the one linked above.

I already use Gold Bond Medicated Foot Powder for dryness and odor control (one dusting on my feet and one puff into the shoe itself) but it never holds up for an 8-hour work day.

I'm thinking of wearing in-shoe liners (like Dr Scholls sans the gel) and then swapping them out when they get gross. How have you dealt with this issue effectively?
posted by wintersonata9 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe clean them with a vinegar dampened cloth?
posted by brujita at 7:58 AM on March 28, 2013

Can you re-apply the Gold Bond at lunch?

(I get that black gunk in my sandals or other barefoot shoes but I just do my best to scrub them regularly with baking soda + tea tree oil soap.)
posted by gauche at 8:03 AM on March 28, 2013

Give it another couple puffs of Gold Bond halfway through the day? You could buy another one just to leave at work.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:03 AM on March 28, 2013

When you get home at night, stuff your shoes with crumpled newspaper. That will absorb the day's buildup of sweat and damp and ick. Then let them air out for a day before you wear them again. And if you can, put them out in the sun for a few hours every once in a while - the sun is a great natural germ and stink killer.

This should cut down on any carried-over, lingering dampness that could be contributing to the gunk buildup. To keep the gunk even more at bay, nthing adding an extra dusting of Gold Bond midway through the day.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:08 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

how long (during the day) do you wear them (9-5, from shower to bed, etc) ? Do you wear them every day, or do they get to air out a bit during wearings ?
posted by k5.user at 8:09 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: I don't have that issue consistently but it has happened on occasion. Have you tried treating the source of the gunk? Exfoliate your feet! Those skin cells have to come from somewhere, you know? Also it's just surprisingly nice to have clean, smooth feet, and you massage your feet while you do it.

You can also buy very short socks that don't peek up above your shoe line. You might think that it would be hotter but it helps wick away the sweat so you actually end up more comfortable, and you can just toss socks in the wash. I think they're called "sock liners", or at least that's what zappos seems to think (1, 2, 3).
posted by Mizu at 8:10 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some ideas here and here, though more oriented towards odor they might help with the gunk too.
posted by bunderful at 8:11 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: I bet the "gunk" is mostly powder. Maybe try switching to a odor control insole without the powder and see if it goes away?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Putting them out in direct sunlight can help. Can you put some sort of inner sole in that you can take out as they get dirty, like an Odor Eater or something. That would help with smell and keeping the shoes clean.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on March 28, 2013

Seconding "sock liners" suggestion from Mizu. I'm a guy, and I swear by them; I don't care how girly I look. You can't see them with your shoes on anyways. I was having a terrible time with foot odor, which instantly went away with sock liners (nothing is more embarrassing than standing there talking to your boss, smelling something corpselike and horrible, and realizing that it's you).

I buy 'em at the drugstore. Get the kind with the little dot of tacky rubber that holds them in place on your heel.
posted by Fnarf at 8:21 AM on March 28, 2013

I haven't tried it, but a friend told me that leaving shoes overnight with a thick layer of bicarbonate of soda in them will work wonders for smells and grossness.
posted by daisyk at 8:22 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: I don't use foot powder, but I have definitely had this happen, as I live in these types of shoes most of the summer. I also hate socks. The only solution I have found is buying cheap insoles and replacing them every month or so. If I have a pair of shoes with gunk in them I clean them out with disposable antibacterial wipes. I do exfoliate my feet once in a while but it seems to happen no matter what. Some of it seems to be just dust from the street.
posted by photoexplorer at 8:27 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's sweat, then a little antiperspirant on your feet before bed will do the trick much better than powder. Antiperspirant also isn't going to build up in the shoe the way powder will.
posted by 26.2 at 9:01 AM on March 28, 2013

I put Odor eaters (the more cushiony ones) in all my shoes and I change them out when they start to get gross. They help with support and cushion (although I'd never do serious walking/standing in flats anyway), and also so it doesn't feel like my feet are directly on concrete. So yes, inserts are definitely something you can consider!
posted by foxhat10 at 9:11 AM on March 28, 2013

Yes, you want no-show sock liners. They absorb the sweat and no gunk forms, personal experience here.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:49 AM on March 28, 2013

Best answer: I use a back-brush on my feet in the shower every other day, to brush of dead skin. I have some Clorox wipes in my bathroom to wipe the insides of my shoes. Works better if you wipe them after using and the gunk hasnt dried, but work as well if you use them before putting on your shoes, except you need extra time to let them dry off.

I don't use any powder so the gunk in there is mostly your own feet plus any dust and stuff that gets in during the day.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:56 AM on March 28, 2013

Gross, but I just windexed my shoes and bottoms of my feet midway through the day and it worked.
posted by cestmoi15 at 10:06 AM on March 28, 2013

I use a baby wipe on my feet and on the insides of the shoes. But mostly I just wear shoes with removeable insoles and take them out and wash them with a nail brush every once in a while.

Oh, also: they call it Sandal Wash but it's good for any kind of shoe that your bare feet touch (although it's harder to get into the toe of a closed-toe shoe).
posted by mskyle at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2013

Just looked at my own shoes (6 months usage) and there is no black build up, although I do have sweaty smelly problems. My strategy is to use deodorant on my feet every morning and maybe once every couple months, swish some hydrogen peroxide around in the shoe and wipe it out with a paper towel.
posted by kitcat at 11:14 AM on March 28, 2013

nthing sock liners. I wear them in flats all the time and they prevent gunk and odor accumulation.
posted by bedhead at 11:14 AM on March 28, 2013

I always put powder in my shoes when I wear them like this, and have never had the problem you describe. maybe mix the gold bond (or Dr. Scholls or some other foot odor powder) with regular talcum powder? my feet always emerge at the end of the day -- even in sweaty 100 degree summer periods -- white from the powder.
posted by acm at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2013

Just a word of caution - I get this and I never wear my work ballerinas without sock liners or knee highs because otherwise my feet blister too much. Rotating shoes religiously seems to slow down the process a lot. The easiest way to get the gunk out seems to be to wait until the next day and just scrape it out. It normally lifts right off. And yes, cleaning the inside of your shoes regularly before you get to a point where you have gunk to scrape helps some.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:21 AM on March 30, 2013

Best answer: Last year, I asked my shoe-repair guy about this. He is one of those old-school shoe repairmen and is just about the nicest man you've ever met. He also doesn't like to charge me for stuff that I can easily do myself, which I like. I showed him a pair of leather & cork sandals that had some gunk along the footbed and wondered if he would clean them up for me. He told me that he could, but he would just use some dish soap on them, so I might as well do it myself at home for free.

I went home, took out some old washcloths and a bottle of dish soap, and cleaned my shoes. I just dampened the washcloths with some warm soapy water, and then rinsed the same way with just a dampened washcloth. (No saturation of the shoe occurred.) I dried them out in front of a fan for a few days, and they looked great. So I washed a bunch of my summer sandals and slip-ons the same way (trying to avoid getting water on the leather uppers) and they all washed and dried well. Even the leather footbeds dried well.
This morning, I'm wearing regular pumps with no socks or hose for the first time this spring, and I noticed that there's some buildup on the soles. I plan to go home later and wash these out, too.

I don't actually use anything on my feet. The buildup just occurs when I wear open shoes and walk along streets and sidewalks. The dirt is going to naturally work its way into my open shoes. I do use Air Pillow-like insoles for some shoes, but not for those where they would be visible.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:12 AM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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