How to get rid of foot odor
By Anna H. Chacon, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology Sep 06, 2023 • 5 min
Foot odor affects people of all ages, and it’s a very common issue, but that doesn’t make it any less troublesome for those who experience this problem. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce bad smells and promote fresher-smelling feet.
What causes foot odor?
Understanding what causes foot odor is an important first step in addressing the problem. In many cases, bacteria is to blame for foot odor. These microorganisms eat away at the top layer of skin and give off foul-smelling substances. Bacteria thrive in warm and moist places. Shoes and foot perspiration create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. Fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, can also lead to foot odor. Like bacteria, fungi prefer a warm, damp environment. People who have sweaty feet are more likely to develop foot odor due to the increased moisture.
Managing foot odor
It’s often possible to address foot odors through hygiene, lifestyle changes and self-care. Follow these tips to minimize smelly feet:
If an underlying medical condition, such as athlete’s foot, is the cause of foot odor, getting treatment is typically the best way to address the problem. Some medications may cause increased perspiration, so people can talk to their healthcare providers about switching to another treatment option.
To control bacteria, wash your feet daily with soap. You can also try soaking your feet in a mixture of Epsom salts and water, vinegar and water or an antibacterial agent to disinfect your skin.
After soaking and cleansing, pat your feet dry with an absorbent towel. Don’t put on socks or shoes until your feet are completely dry.
Removing dead skin from your feet may aid in the fight against foot odor. You can use a pumice stone or a foot file to exfoliate.
Wearing socks with closed-toe shoes can help in the fight against foot odors. Choose socks made from cotton, which is a breathable, natural fiber that allows air to pass through, keeping your skin drier throughout the day. Change your socks every day at a minimum, and launder them before you wear them again.
Going without socks and shoes at home can allow your skin to breathe and help reduce foot odors, but be sure to wear shoes when you head out of the house to protect your skin from bacteria and fungus. If you’re at a public swimming pool or using a communal shower, wear water shoes or flip-flops.
The shoes you wear are just as important as your socks. For breathability, choose shoes made from natural materials, like cotton or leather. Also, wear shoes that fit properly. If they’re too tight, moisture can build up.
Disinfecting your shoes regularly with an antiseptic spray can help keep odor-causing microorganisms at bay. You may also want to use anti-odor insoles or wash and dry removable insoles to help keep your shoes smelling fresh.
Before you put on your socks and shoes, apply powder formulated especially for feet. These products often contain antibacterial and/or antifungal ingredients, which discourage the growth of microorganisms that cause odors. In addition, powders help absorb moisture when you sweat.
Follow the directions for best results. Typically, you’ll want to apply the powder to your entire foot and sprinkle some between your toes.
Foot spray can also help to reduce odors. Like powders, these products typically fight bacteria and/or fungus. They also may contain essential oils or synthetic fragrances to leave behind a pleasant scent.
If excessive sweating is a problem, applying foot deodorant or antiperspirant can make a difference.
If the foot odor remedy tips above don’t solve the problem, see your healthcare provider. They can prescribe medications or topical treatments to address fungi or bacteria or recommend other treatments and self-care interventions to address odors.
Published September 2023.