What to Do About Stinky Shoes?

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I got my favorite pair of shoes wet last week and now they stink to high heaven. Is there anything I can do to save these shoes?
Smelly in Smyrna

what to do about stinky shoes


Heather says:

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Last week was not the first time your shoes have gotten wet. Sure, it may have been the first time they were drenched in a puddle and soaked, but your feet sweat about a cup a day. That is a lot of funk fueling power right there. It’s not actually your feet that are the odor problem. It’s the bacteria that like to hang out in damp places. If your shoes don’t get a chance to dry out between wearings, the bacteria in your shoes never have to pause their growth, reproduction, and waste production. This waste is what causes that oh so familiar foot odor. Well now there’s a pleasant thought, no? Mmm bacterial waste.

If the shoes have a removable insole, remove it. Insoles are usually fairly inexpensive and that’s probably where the majority of your funk is hanging out.  Go ahead and replace them. Allow the shoes to dry thoroughly in a well-ventilated area. This is actually a good use case for Lysol, just be sure to let the shoes dry thoroughly before wearing again. If you’re anti-Lysol for any purpose whatsoever, you could wipe out the inside with dilute tea tree oil or rubbing alcohol, but be aware that either of those may damage some materials. Again, allow the shoes to dry throughly.

Alternately you can give activated charcoal, loosely crumpled newspaper, or kitty litter in old pantyhose a try.

If the shoes are still funky, there’s one more last ditch effort to try. Clean and condition any leather parts of the shoe. Put the shoes in a paper sack and place the sack in the freezer for 72 hours. Don’t crush the shoes while they are still cold, any leather may be brittle. Allow them to come to room temperature before wearing.

Guide to Household Odors
Click the picture for lots more tips!

With shoesthe key to odor control is prevention. Always let shoes dry fully before wearing again, this usually means alternating your shoes with another pair. If your shoes do get wet, dry them as thoroughly as possible, as quickly as possible without exposing to excessive heat.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.


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22 thoughts on “What to Do About Stinky Shoes?”

  1. Another thing that helps is baking soda. Teenage boy foot odor is horrible! Put a good amount of baking soda in each shoe, set aside for at least 24 hours, empty baking soda and vacuum/clean well. Helps here !!

  2. One thing that I've always done–it's cheap & you already have the items–is put a drop or two of vanillia extract on a cotton ball. Put the cotton ball inside the shoes. Close them up in a paper bag overnight. Open up the bag, remove the cotton balls, and you should be good to go. It's always worked for em

    • Vanilla is definitely great at covering up smells, which makes it a good choice for some areas where you just can't deal with the source. Once you get the bacteria levels under control it might be good to cover up some lingering funk. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. How about filling a sock with silica gel (available at the craft store), tying a knot, and sticking it in? That would dry it out well (and remain around to use and reuse).

    If they are Naturalizer, I'm not surprised. Every pair of their shoes I've had (and my MIL, too) has made my feet reek to high heaven. I don't know how they do it. Too bad. 🙁

  4. i throw my sneakers and flip-flops in the washing machine every now and then with a tiny bit of detergent and vinegar rinse instead of fabric softener. to dry them afterwards, i stick them in front of the vent on the bottom of my refrigerator. it blows warm air over them, but it can still take a few days to fully dry out the shoes. turning them each day helps to get the completely dry. i think the air circulation helps with the odor. just be sure not to block too much of the vent.

    • I took your advice and put them in the washer. Now my house reeks of smelly feet horrible! I’ve tried vinaigrette, baking soda and bleach and nothing will remove the smell from my washer! I’m beginning to think my washer is ruined!! Someone please help!!

  5. I had a pair of shoes that had a bad "funk," as you called it. I looked up ideas at the time, and tried putting a lot of baking soda in them, then putting them in the freezer. I had already tried a few other things by that time. But the baking soda-freezer trick worked–no more funk. I suspect it was more the freezer than the soda, but I'm not sure.

  6. Skunkies are the hottest new deodorizers, they absorb moisture which helps prevent bacteria from growing . Skunkies can be used for cleats, dance shoes, running shoes, clogs, skates, bags, trunks and anywhere you need a fresh scent. I use them in my son’s soccer cleats and they work great!!!

  7. Oh no, don’t put your shoes in the washing machine… better try something made from cedar wood. Cedar wood has a very fresh smelling aroma and antibacterial characteristics. The use of special cedarsoles is probably the best thing you can do.

  8. Very good to read article! Thank you!!! I use special cedarsoles inside all of my shoes. They are made from antibacterial cedarwood – the only tree in nature which has self-active components against fungal infections. So the effect also works for foot bacteria. I think it’s another good way to eliminate this problem.

    • I have a pair of shoes I bought from GoodWill naturalizer brand, leather upper. They reek of dog poo on the inside. I realized this before I wore them for the first time. My feet have not entered the shoes. I tried baking soda and it didn’t work. I am trying pet stain carpet cleaner now. Next I will try the freezer. If that doesn’t work I will try cedar essential oil mixed with alcohol. By the way, Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is also antimicrobial and is a much better cure for athlete’s foot than lamisil or tinactin. Natural remedies for the win!

  9. Howdy would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.

    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs
    and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Apologies for being
    off-topic but I had to ask!

  10. just curious but why was the rubbing alcohol part crossed out? was it found ineffective or unsafe or…? (im searching for solutions to a stinky boot.)


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