Though it may not seem like it, foot odor is a very common issue. In fact, according to the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, 16% of adults over the age of 21 have stinky feet. That just means that 16% of adults haven’t learned how to get rid of stinky feet — and with the right products and know-how, it can be done.
To help us get to the bottom of smelly feet, we reached out to Dr. Miguel Cunha, a board-certified podiatrist and the founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City. He spelled out the various potential causes of stinky feet and gave SPY some advice on how to get rid of foot odor.
So keep reading to learn how to get rid of stinky feet once and for all.
What Causes Smelly Feet?
You’re probably familiar with the usual suspects for stinky feet, but it’s essential to understand the potential causes. Depending on how smelly your feet are or how often you suffer from foot odor, you could be dealing with multiple causes ranging from your genes to your habits.
- Body odor: People with stinky feet may have aggressive body odor caused by the buildup of sweat and bacteria.
- Bacteria: Bacteria can develop wherever you have oil and skin and can contribute to foot odor in a big way. “As colonies of bacteria grow, these microorganisms start getting rid of waste in the form of organic acids that release odorous smells,” Cunha says. “Sometimes you can pick up a bacteria called Kytococcus sedentarius, for instance, which is known to produce a sulfur compound that releases the awful smell of rotten eggs.”
- Athlete’s foot: This fungal infection comes from athletes who often encounter it in exercise facilities and appears on the soles of the feet or between toes, leading to itchy, dry skin and inflammation and blisters in more severe cases.
- Nail fungus: Things can get smelly if athlete’s foot leads to nail fungus when the infection makes its way into the toenail. Cunha explains, “As the nail fungus penetrates deeper into the nail, it may cause the nail to discolor, thicken and develop crumbling edges — an unsightly and potentially painful problem that can lead to foot odor.”
- Sweat: For most people, sweat is the common culprit for stinky feet. There’s typical sweating, like when it’s hot, or you’re exercising or stressed, and hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating when you shouldn’t be.
- Genetics: If you’re a chronic heavy sweater, it might just be your genes: “The most common form of hyperhidrosis is called primary hyperhidrosis, which is hereditary and without a medical cause,” Cunha says.
- Medical conditions: Medical conditions — such as diabetes, cancer, infections, thyroid disease and menopause — can all contribute to above-average sweating and smelly feet.
- Hygiene: “It’s important to practice good hygiene by washing your feet daily in the shower or scrubbing them in a tub with warm water, preferably with antibacterial soap,” Cunha notes.
How to Minimize Stinky Feet
Though many causes can contribute to foot odor, there’s a lot you can do to cut down and even get rid of smelly feet over time. Here are some tactics Cunha recommends.
- Wash your feet: This one is easy. If you want to step your washing up, Cunha suggests using antibacterial soap.
- Apply cornstarch, antifungal powder or antiperspirant deodorant to your feet: We’ll get into some of the best products below, but all of these can help absorb sweat and minimize your chances of developing athlete’s foot.
- Clip your toenails: Keeping your toenails short, clean and tidy can go a long way to keeping your feet smelling clean. Cunha says, “Clipping toenails regularly is critical as bacteria and fungus can grow and spread if your nails are long.”
- Essential oils: Essential oils like castor oil, tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil have antifungal properties. Cunha suggests applying them directly to your skin for five to 10 minutes before exfoliating with a pumice stone.
- Change your socks: Changing your socks daily is a part of good hygiene, but if that’s not cutting it, seek out breathable, moisture-wicking or antibacterial socks, which can help your feet stay dry. Cunha also recommends bringing a second pair of socks to work, school or exercise if you know you’re going to sweat a lot.
- Change and clean your shoes: Your feet need to breathe if you want to lessen sweating and bacteria. Leather and canvas shoes are good options, and just any shoes that feel breathable on your feet. Swapping out insoles, if possible, will also lessen smells. If your shoes have developed their own funky smell, Cunha says giving them a spritz of Lysol can help kill any developing bacteria. (But Cunha stresses that you should never spray Lysol directly on your feet.) You can also spray your shoes with deodorizing spray, so they don’t hold on to smells, and many sneakers nowadays are machine washable.
- Change your diet: “Simple carbohydrate or processed foods such as pasta, rice, bread and other baked goods can contribute to unpleasant foot odor,” Cunha says. High-sulfur foods like onions, broccoli, garlic, cabbage and beer can also contribute to smelly feet.
- Try an iontophoresis device: If you’re looking for a guarantee to minimize sweating, you can buy an iontophoresis device over the counter (though we’d recommend speaking with a doctor beforehand). Cunha explains, “Iontophoresis uses water to conduct a mild electrical current through the skin to dramatically decrease sweating of hands and feet.”
- Medical treatment: There are medical interventions for people who can’t find an at-home solution. That could be a prescription strength antiperspirant, botox injections into the feet, oral prescription medications like anticholinergics and even a surgical procedure, sympathectomy, for extreme cases that involves disrupting the nerves that lead to excessive sweating.
Now that we know what our feet are dealing with check out some of the best products to help fight stinky feet. Whether you prefer a good, all-natural deodorizing product or just need an excellent foot soak to solve your stinky feet woes, the products listed below will help get foot odor under control — and in the privacy of your own home to boot.
1. Duke Cannon Trench Warfare Grunt Foot & Boot Powder Spray
BEST OVERALL FOOT SPRAY
Duke Cannon developed Grunt Powder for hard-working men who “know things can get a bit swampy down in the trenches.” It’s designed to keep feet dry and neutralize odors thanks to the activated charcoal, tapioca starch, menthol and eucalyptus oil used in the formula. While this product also comes in powder form, we prefer the spray because it’s easier to apply. Just spray it directly on your feet or into your shoes or boots. As a bonus, this powder spray has been tested and given the seal of approval by on-duty soldiers (it’s also SPY tested and approved). So, you know it can withstand the rigors of daily life on your feet. If you want to stop foot odor before it starts, this spray is one of the best ways to eliminate stinky feet.
2. Odor-Eaters Foot Powder
BEST DEODORIZING FOOT POWDER
Odor-Eaters is another familiar odor-destroying brand, and its foot powder provides outstanding odor and wetness protection. It destroys odors on contact and absorbs sweat to keep feet fresh all day. Sprinkle the powder all over your feet and in your shoes, and get ready for your day.
3. Lotrimin Antifungal Deodorant Powder Spray
BEST ANTIFUNGAL SPRAY
The Lotrimin Antifungal Deodorant Powder Spray uses 2% miconazole nitrate to take control of athlete’s foot fungus and help treat smelly feet and dry, itchy skin. It also has Cunha’s vote of confidence for fighting foot fungus.
4. FIXBODY Nail Clipper Set
BEST NAIL CLIPPERS
The space between your toes and the end of your toenails is the ideal environment for the growth of bacteria, and that bacteria could cause your stinky feet. The easiest solution to getting rid of this type of stink-causing bacteria is to keep your toenails trimmed. Of course, you’ll need a good pair of toenail trimmers, like those included in the FIXBODY Nail Clipper Set. The set boasts one straight-edge nail trimmer, one curved-edge nail trimmer and one nail file.
5. Jasmine Seven Fresh Feet Wipes
BEST FEET WIPES
The Jasmine Seven Fresh Wipes are nourishing wipes made especially for your feet. These wipes contain peppermint, aloe and vitamin E and will give you that cool and refreshing feeling each time you use them. Keep them handy by your bed, bathroom or door to remind you to use them before you leave the house.
6. Purely Northwest Tea Tree Oil & Peppermint Foot Soak
BEST FOOT SOAK
If all else fails, a good soak is always in order. The Tea Tree Oil Therapeutic Foot Soak combines Epsom and sea salts and a unique blend of essential oils renowned for their natural antifungal properties. This unique combination of ingredients makes an ideal foot soak that is also a cure for multiple foot ailments. In addition, the soak is a perfect way to soothe sore, aching feet after a long day. Use before bed to ease foot discomfort and keep feet healthy, happy and odor-free.
7. LOVE, LORI Athlete’s Foot Scrubber Pumice Stone
BEST SHOWER TOOL
Want to learn how to get rid of smelly feet without applying a messy powder each morning? Try removing the dead skin and other rough patches on your feet with a pumice stone, which can significantly eliminate foot odor. If your feet are as clean and soft as they can be, there is little room for bacteria growth. We recommend using the LOVE, LORI Athlete’s Foot Scrubber Pumice Stone. On one side of the bar, you’ll find a pumice stone for smoothing out your feet; on the other, there is a soap bar for cleaning away any leftover bacteria. The soap contains antifungal tea tree oil, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil.
8. Dermadry Hands & Feet
BEST IONTOPHORESIS DEVICE FOR HYPERHIDROSIS
You’ll want to consult a podiatrist before shelling out for an iontophoresis device. But if that’s the route you’d like to go, the Dermadry Hands & Feet device claims a 98.3% success rate in producing six weeks of dryness for people living with hyperhidrosis.
9. Lysol Disinfectant Spray
BEST DISINFECTING SPRAY FOR SHOES
Lysol Disinfectant Spray is probably the best-known sanitizing spray on the market, and we’d bet you’re more than familiar with it. But as great as it is for bathrooms, floors and counters, it’s also an excellent tool for killing bacteria and fungus in your shoes or your shower. Cunha says, “I highly recommend [Lysol] to many of my patients to help reduce the presence of microorganisms that can lead to foot odor… I inform them to use it to eliminate these germs by regularly sanitizing their shoes, shoe inserts and shower floors.”
10. Sof Sole Sneaker Balls
EASY-TO-USE SHOE DEODORIZER
Sometimes foot stink isn’t caused by the skin on your feet but by the odor in the soles of your shoes. If you fear that’s the case, investing in some shoe deodorizers may help. The Sof Sole Sneaker Balls are made with a special formula that neutralizes shoe odors and leaves a fresh scent behind. To use them, twist the ball and throw it in your shoe (or any other stinky place). When you want to wear your shoes again, remove the ball, twist it close and keep repeating the process for up to six months.
11. Dr. Scholl’s Odor-X Ultra Odor-Fighting Insoles
Dr. Scholl’s is the authority in foot care, and Dr. Scholl’s Odor-X Ultra Odor-Fighting Insoles are specifically made to absorb and neutralize unpleasant odors. By using ultra-effective activated charcoal, the insole will absorb perspiration to keep your feet fresh, dry and comfortable all day long. The insoles are also made of durable foam to provide long-lasting comfort, and the deodorizing action will continue long after your shoes are removed at the end of the day.
12. Stratton Cedar Shoes Trees
BEST SHOE TREES
Stratton Cedar Shoes Trees, or any half-decent cedar shoe trees, absorb moisture leftover in your shoes, helping to prevent smells, preserve the shape of the shoes and generally extend the life of your shoes.
13. Hex Performance Laundry Detergent
BEST LAUNDRY DETERGENT
Keeping your sweaty socks clean can help make sure they handle your feet. Not to mention, many shoes are washing machine friendly nowadays. If you’ve got gross socks or your sneakers have developed their own funk, you might consider a detergent designed for activewear and athletic gear like the Hex Performance Laundry Detergent. The brand sent SPY some detergent for testing, which totally refreshed our smelliest athletic shorts, shirts, socks and yoga pants in just one wash.
14. SteriShoe Essential Ultraviolet Shoe Sanitizer
BEST SHOE SANITIZER
The SteriShoe Essential Ultraviolet Shoe Sanitizer has Cunha’s vote of confidence and could be the germicidal solution your shoes need. Just stick the inserts into your shoes to use the bacteria-killing power of ultraviolet light, creating a cleaner and better-smelling environment.