How to Stop Shoes From Smelling—7 Different Ways
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How to Stop Shoes From Smelling—7 Different Ways

Dec 28, 2023

Don't throw out your stinky shoes—these simple steps will save your soles.

Mary Marlowe Leverette has over four decades of experience and has been writing and consulting for more than 20 years sharing her knowledge on efficient housekeeping, stain removal methods, and textile conservation.

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If your nose wrinkles when you open your bedroom closet and you get nervous when entering a shoes-off household, then you might be dealing with some smelly shoes. While it can be embarrassing, smelly shoes is a very common problem. The odor comes from body soil and bacteria that accumulate in the shoes—and the result can be pretty potent. But that doesn't mean you need to toss your shoes out. With a few basic supplies and a game plan for regular shoe care, you can learn how to stop shoes from smelling and extend the life of your favorite kicks.

A foot has about 250,000 sweat glands, more per square inch than anywhere else on your body. While sweat itself doesn't smell, damp, unventilated shoes are the perfect environment for bacterial and fungal growth. Bacteria produce organic acid waste that does smell—and it smells bad. Even with great foot hygiene, bacteria lingers in the shoes leaving them smelly. That means it's important to clean your shoes from time to time to both prevent and remove odors.

For smelly sandals, place the shoes and baking soda-filled socks in a large sealable plastic bag for 24 hours.

Most fabric athletic shoes can be washed by hand or in the washer. Check the manufacturer's website for specific instructions.

While chlorine bleach is an excellent sanitizer, it can damage shoe materials. Choose a laundry sanitizer that uses a phenolic disinfectant (like Lysol Laundry Sanitizer) or pine oil. Follow the product label directions for use.

Boots and slippers with shearling linings can't usually be washed in a machine, but you can still kill the bacteria lingering inside.

Tea tree, clove, and cedarwood essential oils have antifungal properties to kill spores and help deodorize shoes.

The sun's ultraviolet rays will kill bacteria. This works best if the shoes are washed first but can reduce odor from damp athletic shoes.

Direct sunlight can cause color fading to some materials, so keep that in mind before using this method.