Hack my stinky feet!
July 14, 2017 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I am developing a multi-pronged plan to banish the stink from my feet. Can you help??

About 3 years ago, I noticed that my feet had started to smell. Suddenly I was aware of the smell of my own feet when I was barefoot (not like, able to smell them while I was standing, but if I’m sitting cross legged I will get a whiff -- gross!). This is problematic because it’s super embarrassing in social situations – many people want you to take off shoes in their home and I’m worried people will smell my feet. It’s also become expensive because I have to replace shoes fairly often -- the shoes aren’t super oderiffic when they are on my feet, since everything is contained, but the shoes themselves get stinky so that even if my feet are clean they will smell after 5 minutes in the shoe. Also the smell is strong/clingy enough that I honestly worry about walking barefoot in my own home, because I think it might make the carpet smell over time.

The problem seems to arise at the base of the toes/ball of the foot. That is the stinkiest part. There is nothing that seems visible on the skin (sometimes there is some dark-ish grunge on the ball of the foot, but I think that’s just sweat mixing with normal shoe/sock lint). The skin is not broken, rashy, or odd-looking in any way.

Stats on me:
-I am a woman in my early 30s and I had never previously had this problem. I do not have any medical problems or diagnosed skin conditions. I am a normal weight. My diet did not change around the time of the foot problem – I’ve eaten low-carb for about 6 years.
-I’m a runner (mileage per week ranges from 5-15 miles, I’m at the low end currently). I also walk to work every day, about 3 miles total. I run in sneakers, of course, but for work I usually am wearing flats with no socks in the summer and closed-toe shoes with cotton socks in the winter.
-Yes I have discussed this with my PCP – she claimed that if there was nothing visible on the skin then it couldn’t be a fungus. She prescribed me “Dri-Sol,” which is an anti-sweating agent. I am to put it on my feet once per week and supposedly it will keep my feet from sweating which she thinks is the source of the odor. I admittedly have not been great about keeping up with this, but it factors into my MULTI-PRONGED PLAN, outlined below.

1. Do some sort of deep clean of my feet – WHAT SHOULD THIS BE?? I’ve been just scrubbing my feet with Dove soap and a washcloth, and occasionally wiping them with alcohol wipes mid-day. But is there some sort of super heavy-duty disinfecting/anti-fungal scrub or wash or something? I want the equivalent of bleach here.

2. Buy 2-3 new pairs of shoes, completely STOP using old shoes that are already contaminated. I feel like this is a big part of the plan that has held me back in the past, because the expense and hassle is off-putting. But I think that I re-start the problem with my old shoes.

3. WHEN WEARING NEW SHOES I will always take the following precautions:
a. If at all possible, wash feet before putting on shoes.
b. Wear cotton socks with closed-toe shoes
c. With flats, wear cotton no-show socks if possible. If not possible to wear socks, sprinkle feet with baby powder before putting on shoe.

4. Be religious about using the Dri-Sol once per week.

5. Be religious about scrubbing feet once per day (I’m not sure if I can manage morning and night, as I have an infant and showers are at a premium).

6. I think my walk to and from work is a particular problem – my feet get sweaty and the shoes I’m walking in are not breathable. I am REALLY trying to avoid walking in sneakers (so dorky!) but if I have to, I have to. Other possible solutions I’ve considered: always changing socks when I get to work (if wearing shoes with socks). If wearing flats that day, having a dedicated pair of “walking flats” and then change into other flats at work.

Please critique my plan! Specific product suggestions are welcome. I REALLY want to go back to a time when I didn’t worry about this.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure how often you wear socks, but I used to have stinky feet until I, reluctantly, started wearing small low-liner socks with EVERYTHING. At first I hated wearing socks with shoes I never wore them with before, like flats.

However, it's the only thing that cut down on my feet and shoes smelling and my shoes have actually lasted longer because I'm not sweating into them anymore. I tried foot deodorant and Dr. Scholl's foot powder, but nothing worked as quickly and as effectively as socks with everything did.
posted by modesty.blaise at 7:27 AM on July 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

I agree that you may need to completely replace your shoe wardrobe. I also suggest that it would be good to get a duplicate pair of walking shoes so that you are not wearing the same shoes on consecutive days. Ideally you would then leave the shoes you wore yesterday out in full sun today, for some natural disinfectant.
posted by vignettist at 7:36 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Consider wool socks instead of cotton. I don't mean giant wintry hiking socks - merino wool socks come in lots of thin, low-profile styles, and I find it is less prone to smell and generally more comfortable.
posted by jeoc at 7:44 AM on July 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Find a tea tree oil liquid soap to wash your feet with. Always wear socks with shoes, when you can't, make sure you don't wear those particular shoes twice in a row. You may need to dump the old shoes and start fresh. I don't agree with your doctor- just because there's nothing visible doesn't mean there's nothing growing- can you see a dermatologist? Best of luck- my feet only stopped stinking when I went to Birkenstock sandals as my full time shoe (obviously not an option for everyone).
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:53 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are those chemical peels that take off the top layer of skin/callous on your feet, here

I don't actually know if it'd help with odor, but as an initial deep-cleaning/grossness removal step, it couldn't hurt.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:55 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agreed, you gotta wear clean socks every single day -- walking three miles in unbreathable shoes with no socks daily will guarantee funk even if the shoes are new and you change shoes at work. Powder won't do much if you're continually sweating into the same pair.

Also, I can't agree enough with never wearing the same shoes two days in a row. Allowing them to completely dry in the places you can't see goes a long long way.

A new shoe wardrobe is a great idea, but I can't say I agree with your "walking flats" plan unless you wear good clean socks with them and don't wear the same walking flats every day. I'd look a little harder for walking shoes (needn't be dorky white sneaks; think Birks or something.)

I doubt your feet need regular alcohol wipes, just scrub well with soap and hot water and a clean washcloth. Tea tree oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Immaculately clean washcloths and towels and sheets will help.
posted by kapers at 7:57 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I like peppermint foot scrubs for foot freshening. I also would recommend sprinkling Gold Bond foot powder in your flats every day (either before or after wearing them, or both). (It comes in a blue bottle instead of the traditional yellow God Bold bottle.)
posted by shortyJBot at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a similar problem once, only mine was worse. Other people could smell the stink. I've written a bit here about how I handled it. Basically, make sure your shoes dry out between wearings -- shoe trees are awesome for this. They can be expensive up-front, but last forever. If you don't want to buy the shoe-trees, you can use newspaper. Also, try to not wear the same shoes two days in a row. Dri-sol is great, but also your doctor can also prescribe a topical antibiotic treatment to get the problem under control. You might consider doing this at the same time you switch to all new shoes. I used this for 2 weeks, and didn't have a serious problem again after that. Also, I second @jeoc's recommendation of wool socks. They are far less smelly than cotton or synthetic socks, and way more comfortable.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

It may seem counterintuitive, but lightweight merino wool socks really help if you have stinky feet.
posted by xyzzy at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2017

Your feet sweat up to 1/2 a cup a day. Your shoes need time to dry and air out between wearings, even if you're wearing socks- which you should. Like vignettist said, don't wear shoes on consecutive days.
posted by Requiax at 8:02 AM on July 14, 2017

Another thing that can help is getting a powder for your shoes. I use LUSH T for Toes, which has tea tree in it. You can put it between your toes or (this is what I do) sprinkle a little into your shoes and let them sit overnight. I wear the same pair of shoes almost every day for reasons and they don't smell.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another thing to consider when you get a new shoe wardrobe is to really invest in mostly leather shoes. Its more expensive but leather breathes and I find the non-leather shoes develop stink much faster.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 8:30 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

As part of your multi-pronged plan, try filling your stinky shoes with cheap coffee beans and leaving them for a couple of days to deodorize.

I used this method on a boyfriend's really awful sports shoes that were so bad I had banished them from our apartment, and to my amazement it worked.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:33 AM on July 14, 2017

Nobody has suggested this yet, so let me urge you to start going barefoot when at home -- socks are ok if the floors are cold. I moved to a shoe-removing country years ago and, all unknowing, got rid of my stinky foot problem. It took me a while to notice the change. Then after returning to this country my partner moved into my no-shoe dwelling and we got rid of his foot stink problem this way, too (and it was legendary in his family). It's important to give your feet time to breathe and be free of the dark moistness of shoes.
posted by nohattip at 8:37 AM on July 14, 2017

Yes, wear those little sock liners. I live in NYC and wear flip flops in the summer and ALWAYS wash my feet when I come inside, also if I feel like my feet are gross/dirty for any reason from the day. Can you wear flip flops or some kind of aerated sandal shoes when walking to work? I would use those disposable cloths to clean my feet too if I was stressed about it during the day. And bring extra liner socks. Those little socks will solve a lot of problems with flats, yes, they are slightly uncool but this problem is also...not what you want to have happening either, right? And not cotton socks, get merino ones, for sure. They sell them on Amazon etc. Smartwool and so on.
posted by bquarters at 8:39 AM on July 14, 2017

Boot dryer for your sneakers, and for your other shoes too if it'll work.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:52 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had embarrassingly stinky feet/shoes for a long time, as well as commute that involved long walking, and what's really helped is switching to dedicated commute shoes with socks. It's dorky, but it will help a ton with the stink. It takes longer than the typical workday for shoes to air out. If you like, you can pack a clean pair of socks for the walk home, but I've found that even if you wear the same socks home (don't store them wadded up!) it's a huge improvement over wearing sockless walking flats.

And yeah, my commute shoes are now sneakers instead of a style that goes a little better with my work clothes, and I was resisting that for a long time. But they're dark low-profile ones instead of puffy white grandma shoes, and there are a lot of cool styles of sneakers right now even if they don't look great with blazers, and it's way less embarrassing than having a cloud of foot funk.

I've found that if I'm good about the commute sneakers, I can wear sockless flats at work with no problem.

If you do wash your feet that often, I recommend not doing so right before putting on shoes, unless you thoroughly, completely dry your feet. Moisture in shoes is bad no matter where it comes from.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:54 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

None of this will have anywhere near the effect of applying this stuff as directed. It solves the problem in a way that will astonish and possibly enrage you (if you've lived with nasty feet for a long time and suffered and nobody told you about this before.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:07 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

The cause of the stink is either bacterial or fungal. Probably fungal. The answers here to let your feet breathe, use Goldbond, wool socks, etc. are all good strategies for preventing that but if your feet stink bad now, kill it at the source. Clotrimazole anti-fungal cream or athlete's foot spray (spray it inside your shoes) will probably clear it up pretty quick. Just because you don't have a rash or visible evidence of traditional athlete's foot doesn't mean some kind of fungus hasn't taken up residence in your shoes.
posted by bradbane at 9:44 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

You can try to salvage your current shoes: stick them in a paper bag (the disposable ones from the liquor store for bottles are great for flats, otherwise "brown bagging" paper lunch bags are good) and stick them in the freezer for 24-48 hours.
posted by porpoise at 10:17 AM on July 14, 2017

I walk about 2.5 miles a day as part of my commute, and more when running errands or on weekends. What works for me:

- wool socks. Year-round. Always always always unless I'm wearing sandals. Knee-height with boots in the winter, ankle-height with flats in the summer. When I first tried, I thought wool socks would be way too hot in the summer, but wool actually keeps my feet cooler and drier than cotton; they wick better than any cotton socks I've ever had, to the point I've gotten rid of almost all of my cotton socks. Expensive, yes, but *utterly key* for me.

- supportive leather shoes. Because I walk a lot, I stick to "comfort" shoes with leather uppers and insoles the vast majority of the time. My basic shoe wardrobe is Clarks and Keens. I can get away with canvas in mild weather, especially if I powder. But never "synthetic" shoes anymore, nor anything without sufficient foot support throughout [especially arch support].

- rotation. Never wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row to give them a chance to air out. Shoes off at the door. Shoes on only when I'm leaving the house.

- sometimes powder. I generally powder my feet if it's going to be over 75F, whether I'm wearing close-toed shoes with socks or going sockless with sandals.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 10:30 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your feet themselves don't make any smell, it's the bacteria that live on them. But there has to be bacteria! Killing them off will just result in recolonization from the rest of your body or shoes, and you can't stop this.

However, if you find someone else who keeps their feet moist all day, but doesn't stink, you could wipe out your bacteria (mostly) and recolonize with large amounts of their skin bacteria. If their skin bacteria is sufficiently competitive with your own, you would have changed your skin biome to populated by non-stinky bacteria. I think following the other posters' advice is going to be much easier.
posted by flimflam at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2017

So I had a seriously stinky feet problem at one point in my 20s, and I tried a lot of things that have been suggested above, but what actually changed things significantly was when I started scrubbing my shower floor with bleach a lot more regularly. I, being a lazy 20 something living alone, did not generally clean my bathroom as often as I should have, and stuff builds up in your shower and gets on your feet. That might be an easy first pass option if you, too, are lazy about bathroom cleaning.
posted by olinerd at 2:33 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by at at 3:05 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dove soap is pretty oily. Maybe use some of the alternatives suggested (tea tree or peppermint) or a plain old-fashioned soap that is not designed to moisturize.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:31 PM on July 14, 2017

Darn Tough no-show wool socks for women (also sold on Amazon).
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:32 PM on July 14, 2017

stinky feet is the most embarrassing problem! my feet have gotten smelly in the last 20-15 years and it's been personally and professionally embarrassing. I finally have my problem mostly under control. yes you need new shoes. yes wash your feet daily.

but the 2 things that have helped me the most are wearing only bamboo socks (they're usually a blend but you want them a majority bamboo fibers, available online in dress, casual and athletic styles) and using an ultraviolet light shoe sanitizer. I use the ShuVee brand, it's around $100, worth every cent. I use it at least 20 minutes or longer if necessary. I also wear open back shoes as much as possible and slip them off at work whenever I can. I tried everything, soaking my feet in vinegar, in tea, scrubbing them, all powders known to mankind, treating for athletes foot, dying of shame, you name it, I tried it. For me the bamboo socks and ultraviolet sanitizer have my problem 95% cured. The socks are a little spendy but I comparison shop and decided the price was worth paying since they make such a huge difference for me. Good luck I know how awful it is.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 4:35 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Get Odor Eaters insoles for all your shoes, especially any you don't wear with socks.
posted by curtains at 2:35 AM on July 15, 2017

If the odor is bacterial, try rubbing on some antibiotic ointment like Neosporin after you wash your feet. Don't forget in between the toes. Leave it on overnight, maybe with a pair of cotton socks, then wash again in the morning.
posted by CathyG at 9:16 AM on July 15, 2017

You may be able to save your smelly shoes. Put about a 1/2 cup of baking soda in a sock (maybe those cotton ones you're replacing with nice wool ones?) and tie off the open end. Make as many pairs of these as you have shoes that need rehabilitation, and a couple extra for the shoes you're rotating currently. Put them right down in the toes. For sandals and the like, put them over the toes. Give them a test sniff after a week or so.
posted by carrioncomfort at 3:11 PM on July 18, 2017

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