Got Smelly Shoes? Here’s How to Remove Their Odor and Keep Them Smelling Fresh and Clean

published Jul 26, 2022
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Ah, summer, the season of sweaty outdoor activities. If you’ve watched a natural deodorant commercial before, you may have learned the chemistry of body odors and know that, once they’re in a fabric like shoes, they can be hard to get out. But never fear, because it is possible to rid your favorite sneakers or sandals of an offending smell. 

Here’s how to make your shoes not smell and prevent odor.

What you’ll need:

  • A washer and dryer
  • Laundry detergent or dish soap
  • Deodorizing inserts (such as dryer sheets or charcoal insoles)
  • Deodorizing spray, powder, or cream
  • Washcloth 
  • Baking soda
  • Talc-based powder or a diluted vinegar and water solution (combined in a spray bottle)

Step 1: Preventing odors

“One of the best ways to prevent shoe odor is to focus on the source,” says Dr. Bruce Pinker, a board-certified podiatrist and foot surgeon at Progressive Foot Care, stating that shoe odor is often due to excessive perspiration of the feet. And while you can’t always do anything about sweating, you can do something about where the sweat goes and how it smells. 

Consider wearing breathable socks with sneakers, letting your shoes air out if they get wet or very sweaty, and alternating shoes so you don’t wear the same pair every day, especially if they haven’t dried out yet.

Store your shoes with dryer sheets, charcoal insoles, or other deodorizing inserts inside them to keep them smelling fresh. You can also treat your feet with a deodorizing spray or cream before putting on your shoes to keep odors at bay and stop bacteria from developing. Pinker recommends “to spray out one’s footwear with Lysol at the end of the day after wearing and allow it to dry overnight. Also available are ultraviolet light disinfection devices that help reduce the presence of pathogens in shoes which can also help to reduce shoe odor.”

Make sure to deodorize the cabinet, closet, or wherever you store your shoes, or keep a box of baking soda or a cup of rice with them. Some people even freeze their shoes to prevent odors, but that is said to degrade the shoes more quickly than storing them in a well-ventilated closet. 

Step 2: Washing your shoes

If your shoes are soiled and made of water-safe materials (not leather or something that can be permanently altered), you can wash them. Keep in mind that repeated washings will cause your shoes to break down faster, which would result in them needing to be repaired or replaced. 

Some shoes are completely machine washable and have a tag that gives you washing instructions similar to your clothing. Others give instructions on the packaging or website. Sometimes you can remove and wash the insoles alone and that will do the trick. Most of the time, you’ll want to remove laces and use a gentle setting. Be sure to check what instructions are available for your type of shoe before proceeding.

You can also spot clean sources of odor with a washcloth and some common cleaning products, such as dish soap, laundry detergent, or a stain remover. Test out any product on a small, less visible area before using it all over your shoes.

Handwashing with cold water and some mild laundry detergent is the happiest medium. If you can’t wash your shoes at all, Pinker recommends wiping footwear with a disinfecting wipe.

Step 3: Drying them

Some shoes smell because they dry improperly and can grow mold, which is scary but fixable. Some shoes can go in the dryer, most of which are equipped with a shoe drying attachment that prevents wear and tear on the shoes when placed inside.

Other shoes need to be air-dried. To prevent mold or mildew, choose a well-ventilated area or, if the weather allows, you might want to leave your shoes in the sun for a few hours. However, don’t leave them in direct sunlight all day — especially if you are in a very hot climate — as the colors can fade and certain materials can melt.

Step 4: Using deodorizing products

“Applying a super absorbent foot powder to one’s feet can help absorb the excessive moisture, therefore, minimizing the foul smell,” says Pinker. Talc-based powders absorb moisture and mask smells. Sprinkling these in your shoes can deodorize them once the smell has set in and can help to prevent foot fungus. 

You can also put baking soda, which also absorbs moisture and odor, in your shoes after wearing them. Then, fill the shoes with newspaper or tissue paper. Vacuum the shoes out before wearing them. 

For flip flops and sandals that can’t absorb a powder, you can buy a deodorizing spray specifically made for foot odors or make your own by mixing diluted vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Again, test the spray on a small area to make sure it doesn’t damage the material before using it all over. Also, consider doing a skin test on yourself to make sure you don’t react to any chemicals used. 

Now, you can enjoy the season of sunshine without worrying about stinking up your next soiree or date. And, if you do notice some foul smells coming from your espadrilles, don’t freak out. Simply follow the steps outlined above and you’ll be back on your sweet-smelling feet in no time.