Stinky Shoes

As a mom of three active kids I get lots of stinky shoes and boots left lying around the house and after a while the toxic stinky cheese smell can be a bit much, so I went on a quest to find out what I could do about it.  Here’s some of the interesting stuff I found!

Why do my shoes stink?

Ok, so this may seem like an obvious answer…. Because feet stink, right?  Not really, although it is natural for the body to produce certain odours which may be unpleasant it is really not natural for feet to smell.  Most of our body odour is actually produced from glands in our armpits, genital areas and navels.  Who knew – your belly button can actually stink!  Feet on the other hand do not actively produce scent.  So, if our bodies are not making us smell bad then what does?  Most of our body odour is caused by bacteria as it breaks down sweat and oils on our skin.  For most of our body our clothes help wick this moisture away from our skin and air circulation helps keep us dry – keeping those stinky bacteria at bay by limiting their food source.


Stinky Shoes stinky feet trusted clothes investigates

Our feet are different because we keep them encased in shoes all day.  This keeps air from circulating around our feet and keeping them sweat free.  So the easiest way to deal with stinky shoes is….


Preventing stinky shoes is pretty easy.  Go barefoot.  This simplistic solution works great around my house because the kids love to roam in the backyard barefoot.  Just make sure you pull the thistles!

Stinky Shoes stinky feet trusted clothes investigates

Barefoot may work at home but is generally not as acceptable out in public (although if you explain the smell problem… well, maybe not) but you can use sandals and open shoes to apply the same principles of air circulation.  Some manufacturers are even coming out with running shoes with built in mesh to encourage air flow.

All good solutions for the summer, but maybe not so useful in the winter.  Thankfully there is a new high tech solution.  Socks.

Socks help wick moisture away from the feet and eliminate sweat and oils accumulating in your shoes.  Some socks are better than others.  Natural fibre textiles absorb perspiration and release it into the air, a process called “wicking” that creates natural ventilation. Because of their more compact molecular structure, synthetic fibres cannot capture air and “breathe” in the same way.  Natural fibres like wool and hemp are not only moisture wicking but also have natural anti-bacterial properties.

Stinky Shoes stinky feet trusted clothes investigates

Oh yah, and washing!  Soap and water does a lot to remove any bacteria that are busy colonizing your feet.

So prevention is ideal, but for my kids it is too late.  So what do I do now?


The kids stinky shoes are already crawling with bacteria. The bacteria may have taken over the inner and outer linings, the fabric and the deepest pores in the soles. Any attempts to clean these shoes without killing the bacteria will just lead to the shoes returning quickly to their old stinky ways.

Stinky Shoes stinky feet trusted clothes investigates

Gentle ways to disinfect shoes include

  • Direct sunlight – the sun’s UV rays do effectively disinfect fabric but only where they shine directly. Maybe effective for sandles but little else
  • Freezing – just wrap the shoes in a ziplock bag and freeze them overnight
  • Heat – a quick trip through the washing machine on HOT and then into the dryer until they are completely dry
  • Steam – Some washers and dryers have a steam function or a handheld steamer will do the trick if you can get it into all the nooks and crannies.

These tactics are usually effective for shoes that are mildly stinky.  Please remember that not all shoes are suitable for cleaning with water

For shoes that are really stinky you may need to pull out the big guns

Stinky Shoes stinky feet trusted clothes investigates

  • Vinegar – spritzing the shoes with vinegar and then letting them dry is a good natural disinfectant
  • Rubbing alcohol – dab it on a cotton ball or q-tip and dab it on all surfaces that may have been exposed to sweat
  • Lysol, Oxyclean, Clorox or other commercial cleaners are good disinfectants although they should be handled with care as they are potentially toxic
  • Bleach – for really hard cases bleach is one of the most potent anti-microbial agents in the arsenal.

Throughout all my research the one solution that everyone seems to agree on is:

Soak the shoes in a rubbing alcohol solution. The alcohol seeps into the inner parts of the shoes where it will kill them.  After seeping for a while, remove the shoes and let them dry, in a place with sufficient air circulation, preferably directly placed in the sun.  Bleach mixed with some water should then be sprayed evenly on the outside and inside of the shoes. All parts need to be sprayed. The bleach kills fungus and germs. Dry the shoes thoroughly in the dryer with high heat.

Stinky Shoes stinky feet trusted clothes investigates

At this point your shoes will either be the cleanest they have ever been or completely destroyed.  In any case, they will smell just fine.

Once your shoes have been cleaned by whatever method you choose there is one more step to keep them smelling good.


Stinky Shoes stinky feet trusted clothes investigates

There are many commercial solutions for deodorizing you shoes on the market today, but as with some of the harsher chemical cleaning methods you need to be aware of potential toxins and irritants.

There are many good natural deodorizers including:

  • Baking Soda
  • Vinegar
  • Citrus Peels or dried fruit
  • Dried Herbs such as Lavender and Rosemary

Many of these can be placed in shoes overnight and by the morning your shoes smell great.

So now it is time to go try it out.  Wish me luck!

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