If you’ve ever slipped off your shoe and gotten an unpleasant whiff of foot stench, rest assured that you’re not alone. Podiatrist and American Podiatric Medical Association spokesperson Priya Parthasarathy says foot odor — technically called bromhidrosis — is “a very common problem that does not discriminate” and is especially common among kids and athletes.
According to podiatrist and academic dean at New York College of Podiatric Medicine Michael Trepal, odor is most commonly caused by the proliferation of fungi and bacteria found on the foot. “Nobody’s foot is sterile,” he says, and calls the warm, moist, and dark environment of a foot in a shoe “a garden of Eden” for bacterial and fungal growth. Fortunately, feet that reek can usually be treated and prevented at home with over-the-counter products. The two podiatrists we spoke with shared what to look for when you’re shopping for products that help you get rid of smelly feet.
Best products for keeping feet clean
Properly cleaning your feet is the first line of defense in preventing offensive smells. “Foot soaps help draw out bacteria and perspiration as long as the foot is dried afterward,” says Trepal. Parthasarathy suggests washing with an antibacterial soap to make the feet inhospitable to the odor-causing organisms, and both doctors recommend washing your feet once or twice a day. Make sure feet are totally dry before putting on socks or shoes, though, as any moisture will promote bacterial growth.
In a pinch, Trepal says you can create a disinfectant foot soak by diluting a cup of white vinegar in water. The vinegar acts as an astringent to help draw out bacteria.
As bacteria survives by consuming foot skin, Trepal says “people who have thick calluses have more ‘food,’ if you will, for bacteria to thrive on,” so controlling calluses is also important to preventing odor. While extremely thick calluses should be seen by a doctor — and never removed at home with a knife or razor blade — Trepal say more subtle ones can be treated with a pumice stone.
If you suspect the problem is fungal in nature, which Trepal says would be identified by redness or scaling, try using an antifungal powder. Use one specifically designed for athlete’s foot — the most common type of foot fungus — instead of talcum or baby powder.