How to stop smelly feet

Smelly feet aren't fun for anyone, but here's a sure-fire way to banish foot odour for good.

Smelly feet aren't fun for anyone, but there is an effective, simple and cheap treatment that you can use at home which will banish foot odour within a week.

Medically known as bromodosis, stinky feet are a common year-round problem.

The main cause is sweaty feet combined with wearing the same shoes every day.

Why feet sweat

Anyone can get sweaty feet, regardless of the temperature or time of year. But teenagers and pregnant women are especially prone because hormonal changes make them sweat more.

You're also more likely to have foot perspiration if you're on your feet all day, if you're under a lot of stress or if you have a medical condition called hyperhidrosis, which makes you sweat more than usual. Fungal infections, such as athlete's foot, can also lead to bad foot odour.

According to podiatrist, Lorraine Jones, feet become smelly if sweat soaks into shoes and they don't dry before you wear them again.

Bacteria on the skin break down sweat as it comes from the pores. A cheesy odour is released as the sweat decomposes.

"Your feet sweat into your shoes all day so they get damp and bacteria start to grow. The bacteria continue to breed once you've taken your shoes off, especially if you put them in a dark cupboard. Then, when you put your shoes back on the next day, even if you've just had a shower, putting your feet into still damp shoes creates the perfect conditions for the bacteria to thrive – warm, dark and moist."

How to treat smelly feet

The good news is that there's a simple, quick, sure-fire solution to smelly feet.

  • Wash your feet with an anti-bacterial soap called Hibiscrub. There are lots of over-the-counter foot hygiene products at your local chemist, but Hibiscrub is the best one.
  • Leave on the Hibiscrub for a couple of minutes, then wash it off.

According to Lorraine, "if you do this twice a day, you'll definitely banish smelly feet within a week."

She adds that you shouldn't use Hibiscrub on your feet if you have broken skin, such as eczema.

Preventing smelly feet

Keeping feet fresh and sweet smelling is all down to good personal hygiene and changing your shoes regularly. To keep feet fresh:

  • Never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Instead, wear different shoes on successive days so they have at least 24 hours to dry out.
  • Make sure teenage boys have two pairs of trainers so that they don't have to wear the same pair for two or more consecutive days.
  • Wash and dry your feet every day and change your socks (ideally wool or cotton, not nylon) at least once a day.
  • Keep your toenails short and clean and remove any hard skin with a foot file. Hard skin can become soggy when damp, which provides an ideal home for bacteria

If you're particularly susceptible to sweaty feet, it's a good idea to:

  • dab between your toes with cotton wool dipped in surgical spirit after a shower or bath – surgical spirit helps dry out the skin between the toes really well – in addition to drying them with a towel
  • use a spray deodorant or antiperspirant on your feet – a normal underarm deodorant or antiperspirant works just as well as a specialist foot product and will cost you less
  • put medicated insoles, which have a deodorising effect, in your shoes
  • try feet-fresh socks – some sports socks have ventilation panels to keep feet dry, and antibacterial socks are impregnated with chemicals to discourage the odour-producing bacteria that feed on sweat
  • wear leather or canvas shoes, as they let your feet breathe, unlike plastic ones
  • wear open-toed sandals in summer and go barefoot at home in the evenings

When to see a doctor

Smelly feet are a harmless problem that generally clears up. Sometimes, however, it can be a sign of a medical condition.

See your doctor if simple measures to reduce your foot odour don't help, or if you're worried that your level of sweating is abnormally high.

Your doctor can offer you a strong prescription antiperspirant or refer you for a treatment called iontophoresis, which delivers a mild electric current through water to your feet to combat excessive sweating.

Here are more tips on how to look after your feet.

Common questions about how to stop smelly feet

Content produced by Your.MD

How can I stop sweaty smelly feet?

It is common and normal for your feet to sweat. However, if you are wearing shoes that don’t allow the sweat to evaporate, skin bacteria can break down the sweat and produce a distinctive smell.

You can help stop sweaty smelly feet by keeping your feet clean and dry. You can do this by a variety of methods, including:

  • washing your feet with antibacterial soap daily
  • always drying your feet well after they have been wet, especially between your toes
  • avoiding wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row - give them at least 24 hours to dry out
  • changing your socks at least once a day
  • wearing wool or cotton socks instead of nylon
  • keeping your toenails short and clean
  • removing any hard skin with a foot file - hard skin can become soggy when your feet sweat and this provides an ideal home for bacteria

What’s the best natural remedy for smelly feet?

The best natural remedy for smelly feet is to keep them clean and dry. This is because feet tend to smell if they sweat while you are wearing shoes that don’t allow the sweat to dry properly. When this happens, bacteria on your skin break down the lingering sweat and produce a smell.

Effective strategies for keeping your feet clean and dry include:

  • washing your feet daily with antibacterial soap
  • always drying your feet well after they have been wet, especially between your toes
  • avoiding wearing the same pair of shoes for two days in a row
  • changing your socks at least once a day
  • wearing wool or cotton socks instead of nylon
  • keeping your toenails short and clean
  • removing any hard skin with a foot file - hard skin can become soggy when your feet sweat and this provides an ideal home for bacteria

You can also help your feet smell less by keeping them sweat-free. You can do this by:

  • using a normal underarm spray deodorant or antiperspirant on your feet
  • wearing leather or canvas shoes, as they let your feet breathe
  • wearing socks with closed-toe shoes
  • using a foot powder to absorb sweat
  • trying special antibacterial sports socks or socks designed for sweaty feet

How do you treat a child’s smelly feet?

Teenagers are prone to getting smelly feet because hormonal changes make their feet sweat more. There are many things you can do to improve a child or teenager’s smelly feet. These include encouraging them to:

  • wash their feet daily with antibacterial soap
  • always dry their feet well after they have been wet, especially between the toes
  • avoid wearing the same pair of shoes for two days in a row
  • change their socks at least once a day
  • wear wool or cotton socks instead of nylon
  • keep their toenails short and clean
  • regularly remove hard skin with a foot file
  • wear leather or canvas shoes, instead of synthetic (plastic) ones
  • always wear socks with closed-toe shoes
  • use medicated insoles and/or foot powder to absorb sweat
  • put normal underarm deodorant spray on their feet

What causes sudden smelly feet?

Your feet can smell if they sweat while you are wearing shoes that don’t allow the sweat to dry properly. If your feet suddenly start to smell, this may be because they are sweating more than normal.

Your feet may sweat more if you:

  • are on your feet all day
  • wear shoes that are too tight
  • are under a lot of stress
  • are a teenager or pregnant (because of hormonal changes)
  • more active than normal
  • in a warm environment
  • are overweight or obese
  • have hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
  • have a medical condition that causes increased sweating, such as diabetes, endocarditis and hyperthyroidism

Do black socks cause smelly feet?

No. The colour of your socks does not tend to affect how much your feet sweat or smell. However, the material of your socks can play a role. Your feet may smell more if you wear socks made from non-breathable materials like nylon. This is because feet tend to smell if they sweat and the sweat doesn’t evaporate properly.

Can smelly feet be a medical condition?

Sweaty smelly feet tend to be harmless and easily improved with better foot hygiene. However, in some cases, foot odour can be a sign of a medical condition, including:

Speak to your doctor if you are worried that your feet are too sweaty or smelly.

Are smelly feet more common in pregnancy?

It is normal for your feet to sweat more during pregnancy. This is because of hormonal changes. If the sweat soaks into your shoes and they don't dry properly before you wear them again, your feet can also smell more.

You can manage sweaty, smelly feet during pregnancy by keeping your feet clean and dry, and changing your shoes regularly.

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