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Smelly feet: Causes, remedies and cures


1st Jan 2015 Health Conditions

Smelly feet: Causes, remedies and cures
Do people hold their noses when you kick off your shoes? Has the family dog fallen in love with your trainers? There are plenty of solutions that keep your feet from smelling foul–such as changing your socks at least twice a day and using antiperspirant on your (washed) feet. Amazing, huh?

What causes smelly feet?

Your feet are the natural habitat of millions of bacteria, which thrive on your sweat and shed skin cells. By-products produced by these bacteria are what give feet that stinky smell. When you seal your feet in a pair of shoes and they pour out sweat, you give the bacteria more food to feast on. Foot odour can also be caused by poorly controlled fungal infections, such as athlete's foot. People with diabetes or heart disease, as well as elderly people in general, are often more prone to foot infections and foot odour due to inefficient blood circulation.

Home remedies for smelly feet

  • Instead of talcum powder, try dusting your feet with bicarbonate of soda, which neutralises odour, and cornflour, which absorbs moisture. For extra odour-busting power, add a few drops of essential oil to the powder of your choice. Cypress, patchouli and peppermint not only smell good, but are antibacterial and antimicrobial. 
  • Mix around 400g Epsom salts with 4 litres warm water in a bucket or an old baking dish or basin. Soak your feet for about 15 minutes twice a day. The astringent Epsom salts will help to reduce sweating and may kill bacteria. 
  • Lavender oil not only smells wonderful, it can also help to kill odour-causing bacteria. Rub a few drops of lavender essential oil onto your feet and massage it in before you go to bed at night. Cover your feet with socks. Before trying this remedy, check to make sure that the oil will not irritate your skin by putting one drop on a small area. 
  • Try a black tea footbath. Simmer 2 tea bags in 500ml water for 15 minutes. Remove the bags and dilute the tea with 2 litres of water, then soak your feet for 30 minutes. Repeat every day. The tannic acid in strong black tea kills bacteria and closes pores to help your feet sweat less. 
  • Make a quick and easy odour-fighting foot soak simply by adding a cup of vinegar to a bucket of warm water. For more odour-fighting force, add a few drops of thyme oil (or a product that contains it, such as Listerine mouthwash). The oil contains a strong antiseptic that kills odour-causing bacteria. Soak your feet for 15 to 20 minutes a day for a week. (Caution: Do not use this remedy if you have any open sores or broken skin). 
  • After a bath or shower, blow-dry your feet with a hair dryer set to its lowest temperature. This is especially good advice if you are prone to athlete's foot or nail fungus as it helps to prevent infection and reduces moisture.

Tips to prevent smelly feet

  • Wash your feet every day in warm water using a deodorant soap or antibacterial soap. 
  • It shouldn't come as a surprise that the same antiperspirant you use on your armpits can also keep your feet less sweaty (and therefore less smelly). Simply spray or roll it on before putting on your shoes and socks. 
  • Store your shoes in a place that's bright and well ventilated–not in a dark wardrobe or cupboard where bacteria thrive. 
  • Each time you put your shoes away, insert a sachet filled with cedar chips into them. You can buy cedar chips packed in breathable cotton bags designed to fit into shoes from shoe repair shops or online. They absorb moisture, neutralise embarrassing odours and keep shoes dry and comfortable. 
  • You can also buy shoe inserts that consist of mesh pouches filled with zeolite. Zeolite is a natural volcanic mineral that attracts odours and moisture and traps them. Expose the reusable pouch to the sun for 6 hours to discharge the collected odours. 
  • Apparently cat litter (clean) works a treat, too. Scoop some clay-based cat litter into an old pair of socks and pop them into your shoes whenever you take them off. After all, that's what litter is designed to do–neutralise nasty odours and absorb moisture… 
  • Buy odour-absorbing innersoles that contain activated charcoal and cut them to fit your shoes. Replace them every 3 to 6 months. 
  • If your shoes have removable innersoles, take them out to dry every time you remove your shoes. And put them in the washing machine from time to time. 
  • Check the care instructions on your sports shoes. If they're washable, chuck them into the washing machine and run them through the gentle cycle at least once a month. 
  • Change your socks at least once and preferably 2 or 3 times a day, replacing them with a clean pair each time. 
  • Alternate between at least 2 pairs of shoes, and allow them each to air out for at least 24 hours after wearing them. 
  • Wear shoes with open-mesh sides or open sandals that allow your feet to ‘breathe’. Your feet will also breathe better if you wear cotton socks rather than synthetic blends. 
  • The best cure, of course, is to stop wearing shoes–so get rid of those smelly old slippers and pad around the house (at least) barefoot whenever possible.

Severe foot odour

See your GP if you have athlete's foot that does not clear up with home treatment, excessive sweating even without trainers, or any signs of fungal infection on the nails. You may have an infection that requires a prescription antibiotic or antifungal medication.