Most people get the odd case of smelly feet (medically known as bromodosis) from time to time, especially when their feet are sweating more than usual. Perhaps you’re spending all day on your feet or you’re wearing shoes that make your feet sweat a lot. Whatever the cause, when your feet start to sweat a lot, the extra sweat encourages bacteria to grow on your feet and produce smelly substances.
You can usually get rid of smelly feet quickly and cheaply by washing and drying your feet more often. Advice from a pharmacist can also help. But sometimes, smelly feet may be a sign of an underlying medical condition and you may need to ask a doctor for advice.
7 ways to get rid of smelly feet
1. Keep your feet clean and dry
Keeping your feet clean is the first step in reducing and controlling their odour. Wash your feet at least once a day with warm water and antibacterial soap.
It’s also important to dry them thoroughly after washing them, or any other time they get wet. This will help stop the skin on your feet from becoming soggy, which encourages bacteria to build up. Make sure you don’t miss drying between your toes, as bacteria can quickly breed there too.
2. Don’t wear damp shoes
If you wear the same pair of shoes 2 or more days in a row, the sweat in them may not get a chance to completely dry out, which can make your shoes and feet smelly.
Allow at least 24 hours for your shoes to completely dry out and if possible, remove their insoles to help them air out and dry more quickly.
3. Wear breathable shoes
Choose shoes that are made of natural materials like leather and canvas, or of mesh, as they let your skin breathe and sweat evaporate. Avoid shoes made of synthetic materials, like plastic, because they trap moisture.
In the summer or warmer weather, let your feet breathe (and sweat less) by wearing open-toed shoes or sandals.
Going barefoot around your home can also help dry out the skin on your feet. But if you have diabetes, be careful when going barefoot to avoid getting injuries. Diabetes can reduce the blood supply to your feet and cause a loss of feeling in them (known as peripheral neuropathy), so you may not feel cuts or other injuries when they happen – and they can take a long time to heal.
4. Change your socks often
Socks are useful for preventing blisters and keeping your feet dry by absorbing the excess moisture from sweat. But they can become a breeding ground for bacteria, so make sure you wear a new pair of socks every day, and change them after exercise or any activity that makes your feet sweat.
Try absorbent socks like some sports socks, special antibacterial socks or socks made from natural fibres like wool or cotton. But avoid nylon socks, which make your feet sweat more.
Try to wear socks if you’re wearing closed shoes, as a layer of material between your foot and your shoe absorbs any sweat.
5. Care for your toenails and exfoliate your feet
Keeping your toenails short and clean will help stop dirt and bacteria from collecting under your nails and creating a bad odour.
It’s also good to remove any hard, dead skin you have on the soles of your feet using a foot file. This helps prevent your skin from getting soggy when your feet sweat – the ideal environment for bacteria to grow. You can do this by yourself at home, or a foot specialist called a podiatrist can help you if you can’t care for your feet.
Exfoliate your feet regularly with a scrub or pumice stone to help remove dead skin cells that bacteria like to feed on.
You can also try soaks, like an Epsom salt bath, to exfoliate your feet. Dissolve half a cup of Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) in a shallow bath or a basin of warm water and soak your feet in it for 10 to 20 minutes – and remember to dry your feet thoroughly afterwards.
6. Use foot products
There are lots of products that can help reduce sweating and foot odour, including powders, sprays and soaps. For example, spray antiperspirants and deodorants, which you usually use on your underarms, work just as well on your feet.
Medicated insoles can also have a deodorising effect in your shoes. And you can use foot powders to absorb sweat.
There are also many antibacterial and antifungal soaps, so speak to a pharmacist if you need advice on which ones are best to use.
7. See a doctor for any medical causes of smelly feet
Although smelly feet are most commonly caused by sweaty feet and poor hygiene, sometimes, they may mean you have an underlying medical condition, including hyperhidrosis (a condition that causes too much sweating) and the fungal infection athlete’s foot (which can also cause smelly feet).
If you think a medical cause may be to blame for your smelly feet, speak to a pharmacist or doctor. For more information, see the ‘When to see a doctor’ section below.
Read more about the medical causes and treatment of smelly feet.
When to see a doctor about smelly feet
You should see a doctor if you can’t get rid of the smell on your own after trying all treatment options, as sometimes, smelly feet can mean you have an underlying medical condition.
See a doctor too if you sweat a lot more than other people do and:
- it's happening more than once a week
- it’s been happening for the last 6 months
- it’s stopping you from getting on with your daily activities, or affecting your quality of life and self-esteem
- you have a family history of hyperhidrosis
- you’re taking medication for an underlying condition
- it's happening at night time (night sweats)
- you're losing weight without meaning to
- you have a fever
You should also see a doctor if you have athlete’s foot and:
- treatments from your pharmacy aren’t helping
- you’re in a lot of pain or discomfort
- you have diabetes or a weakened immune system
Go to an emergency department or call an ambulance immediately if the skin on your foot is very sore, hot and swollen and you:
- have a fast heart rate
- are feeling dizzy or faint
- have a bad headache
- feel confused
- have a fever or chills
Your health questions answered
Do black socks make your feet stink?Answered by: Healthily's medical team
There’s no evidence to suggest that the colour of your socks affects how much your feet sweat or smell. But the material of your socks can have an effect – socks made from natural fibres like wool or cotton are more breathable, so they allow your skin to breathe and dry out. Synthetic materials like nylon can trap moisture, allowing bacteria to thrive and create a bad odour, so avoid these if you can.
- you can usually treat smelly feet quickly and easily by improving your foot hygiene with home treatment and advice from a pharmacist
- keeping your feet clean and dry can help reduce the growth of bacteria that cause bad foot odour
- to help the skin on your feet breathe, wear clean and dry shoes and socks made from natural fibres
- there are many foot treatment products that can help to reduce your feet sweating and smelling
- speak to a doctor if self-care measures aren’t working for you, as an underlying medical condition could be causing your smelly feet