Having smelly feet can be embarrassing, especially if you’re worried that other people around you can smell them too. But what causes foot odor in the first place, and what can you do to keep your feet fresh? Here’s what you need to know.
What Causes Smelly Feet?
There are a few key culprits behind foot odor:
- Sweat – Your feet contain more sweat glands per square inch than any other part of your body. When your feet sweat, this provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
- Bacteria – The most common bacteria that live on our skin, known as micrococci, feast on the sweat from your feet and produce unpleasant-smelling substances such as isovaleric acid as a byproduct. Other bacteria like bacilli and fungi can also contribute to odor.
- Shoes – Tight-fitting or non-breathable shoes create a hot, humid environment that encourages sweat and bacteria growth. Shoes can also hold in odors.
- Socks – Wearing the same socks multiple days in a row allows sweat and bacteria to build up.
- Personal chemistry – The natural chemical makeup of your sweat and skin bacteria can influence how much and what type of odor is produced. Some people simply have smellier feet than others.
- Medical conditions – Issues like hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), athlete’s foot, and some hormonal changes can increase foot odor.
Why Can Other People Smell Them?
There are a few reasons why your foot odor doesn’t just stay neatly contained in your shoes:
- Diffusion – Gaseous molecules from smelly feet diffuse into the air over time, spreading the odor.
- Heat – Your feet are very warm inside shoes, warming the air and gases being emitted from your feet so they spread more quickly.
- Motion – Any type of walking or movement circulates air, dispersing foot odor. Taking your shoes off also releases trapped odors.
- Permeable shoes – Very breathable shoes or open shoes allow foot odors to escape more readily.
- Proximity – Obviously, the closer someone is to your feet, the more likely they are to detect any odors.
- Sensitivity – Some people simply have a stronger sense of smell than others and will notice odors that others don’t.
How to Keep Your Feet Fresh
Now that you know the science behind smelly feet, here are some tips to keep odor at bay:
- Wash feet daily – Make sure to scrub well, including between toes. Drying thoroughly afterward is also important.
- Rotate shoes – Don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row to prevent odor buildup inside them.
- Wear breathable socks – Cotton or wool socks allow ventilation and moisture wicking. Change them frequently.
- Use antiperspirant sprays – These can curb sweat, reducing odor. Products like odor-eaters can also help absorb smells.
- Treat medical conditions – See a doctor about excessive sweating, infections, etc. Proper treatment can curb associated odors.
- Consider specialized products – Prescription antiperspirants, medicated insoles, and shoe deodorizers can tackle tough foot odor.
- Go barefoot when possible – Letting your feet air out helps minimize sweating and bacteria growth.
- Practice good hygiene – Keeping your feet clean and trimmed can reduce odor. Also, don’t share shoes with others.
What If I Still Have Smelly Feet?
If you’ve tried the above tips but still struggle with foot odor, don’t panic. Here are a few final pointers:
- Talk to your doctor – There may be an underlying issue they can help diagnose and treat.
- Use foot powder – Moisture-absorbing powder can keep feet drier. Medicated powder can curb bacteria as well.
- Consider prescription deodorants or antibiotics – For excessive odor, medications may be needed.
- Monitor diet – Foods like meat, beans, garlic, and spices can impact odor. A food journal may reveal connections.
- Get fresh shoes and socks – When all else fails, toss shoes and socks harboring stubborn odors and start fresh.
- Have a sense of humor – At the end of the day, almost everyone has dealt with foot odor before. Being able to laugh about it can go a long way.
The bottom line is that some foot odor is very normal. But if it’s bothering you or others, there are many ways you can tackle it and keep your feet fresh. With consistent foot hygiene and targeted treatments as needed, you can bid smelly feet goodbye.