Foot Odor (Bromodosis): How To Get Rid of Smelly Feet
After a long day at work, school, or play, you come home, kick off your shoes and socks, and are greeted with that unmistakable smell — stinky feet.
It’s a common body odor, yet kind of embarrassing, and it may make you ask yourself, “Why do my feet smell?”
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What is Bromodosis?
Bromodosis is the medical term for excessively smelly feet. It is a common medical condition caused by a buildup of sweat that results in bacteria growth on the skin.
What Causes Smelly Feet?
Your feet, like all of your skin, are covered in sweat glands. When your feet are covered with close-toed shoes and you run around all day, your feet sweat. That sweat creates a prime environment for bacteria to grow, and their metabolic processes emit a certain odor.
In fact, one type of bacteria, brevibacterium, lives in between the toes, thrives in a damp, salty environment, and produces the cheese-like smell of feet. That same bacteria is actually used in the cheese-creation process for Muenster, Entrammes, and Limburger cheeses. So really, your feet don’t smell like cheese; the cheese smells like feet.
Other causes of smelly feet include:
- Athlete’s foot—A fungal skin infection that usually starts under the toes.
- Hyperhidrosis—A condition of excessive sweating even when you’re not overheated.
Shoes and Foot Odor: Are Your Shoes Making Your Feet Smell?
As a child of the ‘80s may remember, plastic shoes known as “jellies” were impressively stinky shoes. Although they were sandals they didn’t allow any airflow, which resulted in very sweaty feet.
Choose shoes designed for breathability. New styles have mesh portions that keep your feet cooler and increase airflow.
You also may want to consider alternating different pairs of shoes. Wearing the same pair every day can contribute to the colonies of bacteria thriving in them, but if you let them completely dry out, the bacteria won’t be able to survive in the dry conditions. Winter boots in particular have a tendency to stink, so rotating pairs may help kill off bacteria.
Wearing socks of any kind helps reduce unpleasant smells because they soak up the sweat and keep it from permeating the shoe. You can wash socks much more easily than washing your shoes. To reduce foot odor, always wear socks when wearing closed-toed shoes. (Wearing socks with sandals is neither necessary nor advisable from a fashion point of view.)
Regular cleaning and trimming of the toenails can also help reduce odor. Be sure to clean under the toenail before trimming and cutting the nail. Consider using a cotton ball soaked with isopropyl alcohol to clean around the toes and nails before bed to kill bacteria and keep your feet dry.
“Thicker cotton or newer synthetics are better at absorbing sweat and wicking it away and evaporating,” says Kevin M. Wong, MD, Westmoreland Family Medicine-UPMC. “For some people, they may need to change socks through the workday.”
How to Get Rid of Smelly Feet: Home Remedies for Foot Odor
One easy bromodosis treatment is daily foot washing. Paying special attention to the areas around and between the toes can help reduce the bacteria. Scrub to remove the dead skin, and then make sure your feet are completely dry before you put on your socks and shoes. You can follow that up with an antiperspirant (the same as you would use on your underarms) or foot powder to reduce sweat.
Removable insoles also can help reduce foot odor and some are made especially for that purpose. “Make sure they are changed frequently,” advises Dr. Wong. “They are disposable and may have an anti-microbial feature to deter bacteria.”
You also can follow the bowling alley’s example and spray your shoes with a disinfectant/deodorizing spray. However, Dr. Wong adds, “Nothing is better than totally drying them out.”
If your foot odor is due to athlete’s foot, a fungal infection that also can cause foot odor, it can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams or sprays.
Keep your feet clean and neat
It’s important to keep your feet clean and dry to stop foot odor. Good foot hygiene includes regular washing, thorough drying, changing your socks daily, and allowing your shoes to dry out between use. Toe nails are an often-underestimated source of odor, it’s important to keep your toenails trimmed and clean to fight odor.
Pay attention to your socks and shoes
Follow these tips to drier, smell-free feet:
- Always wear cotton or moisture-wicking socks with closed-toe shoes.
- Try alternating between different pairs of shoes each day.
- Let shoes dry out completely between wearings.
Get rid of smelly feet with other home remedies for foot odor
Try these tips for eliminating foot odor:
- Spray antiperspirant/deodorant on your feet.
- Soak your feet in a solution of 1 tablespoon of baking soda to 1 quart of water for 15 minutes a few times a week to restore pH balance and reduce bacteria.
When to See Your Doctor About Smelly Feet
If you have tried your best to eliminate your foot odor, changed shoes and socks, and washed every day, and still have an odor, it may be time to consult a podiatrist or primary care doctor. They can provide expert guidance on the next level of care.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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