Smelly feet may not be a sign of poor hygiene. Instead, the odor can result from sweating and bacteria or fungi that thrive in moist conditions.
If such germs are to blame, however, it makes sense to wash your socks daily in hot water and switch shoes frequently to give the insides a chance to dry out.
One approach is to soak smelly feet in a warm Epsom salt solution every night for a week. Another is to soak them in a baking soda footbath.
Controlling excess perspiration between the toes and on the soles of the feet can help discourage the proliferation of unwanted microbes that can cause unpleasant foot odor. But reducing sweating is no mean feat.
Another approach that can be helpful employs tannic acid. We have heard from several people that steeping 8 to 10 tea bags in about two quarts of hot water, then soaking the feet in the strong tea solution once the water has cooled slightly can close pores and discourage sweating.
Yet another approach is to make a foot powder of fluffy tannic acid mixed with talc and bentonite in equal parts.
“My 12-year-old daughter is a ballet dancer and has started pointe. Her feet smell so bad we gag if she takes her shoes off. Do you have any remedies for foot odor?” asked a reader.
Foot odor seems to be a common problem among young ballerinas. The mother of a 20-year-old dancer offered this advice:
“First, get some ‘shoe dogs.’ These are cedar-filled bags that absorb the moisture in the shoe and help with the odor.
“Second, ballet students also wear classic soft ballet slippers. Canvas slippers are better than leather, since the canvas kind can be washed every other week if need be. With daily classes, shoes don’t dry out, so purchasing a few pairs will help. They should be stored in mesh bags, not plastic, and outside the dance bag, not in it.
“Third, try a dry rub-on antiperspirant on the feet once a day. This also helped my son with his sweaty, smelly soccer feet.
“Fourth, if she is new to pointe, she may be wearing pads in the shoes to protect her toes. She should use natural lambs’ wool pads that allow the skin to breathe.”
Soaking feet in a diluted vinegar solution (one part vinegar to two parts water) can knock out foot fungus and help with odor.
The same holds for a Listerine soak, which should be at least equal parts Listerine and water.
Other ideas for controlling foot odor include:
• Dust feet and shoes with baking soda before putting on socks
• Do not wear shoes without socks
• Spray feet and shoes with rubbing alcohol
• Use leather shoes rather than synthetics
• Soak feet in a baking soda solution 30 minutes a night for a month
• Soak feet in a warm Epsom salt solution several nights in a row
• Take chlorophyll pills
• Take a zinc supplement
“Years ago my stepson, age 15, had such stinky feet even he couldn’t stand them. His aunt came to visit and when the boy came home, his mom said, ‘Don’t take those shoes off in here!’” a reader told us. “The aunt asked why and his mom explained we couldn’t stand the odor. The aunt reminded her of the old rhyme, zinc for stink.
“We bought a bottle of zinc pills. A whole tablet made him sick to his stomach, so we cut them in half. After a month, his feet no longer smelled and he didn’t need zinc any more.”
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