Dear Home-Ec 101:
I did some awesome cleaning in my closet and swapped out my winter for summer stuff. I noticed my closet has a funky shoe odor. I googled it and saw a lot of ideas for getting rid of the shoe smell, but I trust Home-Ec 101 ideas more.
Imelda Marco, I’m Not
The joy of foot funk lingering in your closet.
The first thing to do is pull the shoes out of the closet.
If any of the shoes are particularly smelly, please check out the post “What to Do About Stinky Shoes” and address the source of the problem. For the moment though, let’s start by taking those shoes out of the closet to see if that improves the situation.
If the closet has carpeting follow these instructions to get rid of the bad odors.
Once the shoes are out of the closet, sprinkle the carpet with baking soda, allow it that to sit for at least an hour or so—overnight is better.
Sweep up what you can or use a shop vac¹ to get up as much of the baking soda as possible, it’s time to get out your regular vacuum and vacuum like you’re being graded and there is no curve.
I don’t mean a wave the vacuum in the general direction of the closet kind of vacuum.
The carpet needs an I mean business kind of vacuuming, give any large areas several passes with the vacuum and then get on your hands and knees with the dreaded crevice tool and attack the corners.
Additionally, if you can use Febreze, which does help with odors, it, unfortunately, makes me sneeze like crazy—especially the allergen reducing one which I find amusing in the you’ve got to be joking kind of way. If you don’t want to use Febreeze, you can use diluted white vinegar and mist it, using a spray bottle over the carpet.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT CLOSE THE CLOSET until the carpet is fully dry.
If the closet has linoleum, tile, cement, or hardwood flooring follow these instructions to get rid of the bad odors
First, sweep or vacuum the flooring to remove any grit. Then use diluted white vinegar followed by plain water to damp mop the floor.
Then use a box or oscillating fan to encourage the area to dry quickly. The last thing you want is to replace your shoe funk with an odor of mildew.
What if I’ve cleaned the flooring and the odor is still present?
If the odor is still present, remove all of the clothing, shoes, and anything between you and the walls. Find a good flashlight and inspect the entire closet carefully and look for any damp spots to ensure there isn’t another issue contributing to the odor problem.
Run a hand lightly over the drywall from top to bottom feeling for cool or damp spots. If you find any, you will need to call in a professional, as this is out of the scope of Home-Ec101’s advice.
If you notice that the odor has gotten much fainter with the clothes and shoes out of the closet, pay attention to that, too.
If things improved while the closet was empty, that may be a good sign that you’ve taken care of the source of the issue.
Wipe down the walls and door with dilute white vinegar and again allow to dry fully before closing the door. Finally, if the odor is especially persistent set a bowl or two of full-strength white vinegar in the closet and shut the door. Leave the empty closet door closed overnight and then empty the bowls in the morning. Yes, the closet will temporarily smell like pickles, but it will dissipate.
Let the closet air out before you return your clothing to the closet and give each item the sniff test before hanging. If you find any items that smell, get those back through the laundry so you don’t have to start over.
It may be a good idea, if you live in a humid area, or if your closet is located right next to a poorly benefited bathroom to use a product like DampRid². DampRid is a desiccant that absorbs moisture from the air making your closet less hospitable for mildew.
There are reusable alternatives out there, most of which you use for a period of time and then dry in your oven to recharge.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
¹Most household vacuums recommend never vacuuming up large amounts of fine dust, this is why I suggest getting the bulk of the baking soda up with something other than your best household vac.