What to Know About Smelly Feet

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 12, 2023
4 min read

If you notice that your feet smell bad when you take off your shoes, you’re not alone. Having stinky feet is a very common problem. Learn more about what causes feet to smell bad and how you can help to prevent it.

The main cause of smelly feet is trapped sweat. Your feet create a lot of sweat each day since they have thousands of sweat glands. When the sweat becomes trapped in your shoes or socks, it can create a bad odor. This is known as bromodosis, or smelly feet.

Bacteria are also responsible for smelly feet. There are many kinds of bacteria on the bottom of your feet. These bacteria live off the sweat that your feet are constantly producing. When they feed on the sweat, the bacteria create an acid that causes foot odor.

Besides bacteria, fungus may also cause you to have smelly feet. Fungus grows and thrives in warm, moist areas. When your feet sweat inside your shoes and socks, this creates an environment where fungus can grow. These bad-smelling fungi are commonly known as athlete’s foot.

Some other factors that could cause stinky feet include:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Wearing the same shoes every day or not changing your shoes frequently enough
  • Certain diseases

Bromodosis doesn’t just occur in hot weather. Your feet sweat every day, no matter what the temperature is. While anyone can get stinky feet, it’s estimated that 10% to 15% of all people have feet that are smellier than average. These people host a certain bacteria on their feet called Kyetococcus sedentarius that create sulfuric compounds. These compounds can cause sweat to smell like rotten eggs.

Some people are more susceptible to sweaty feet. For example, women and teens may get sweatier due to hormonal changes in their bodies. People with hyperhidrosis may also have sweatier feet since this condition causes excess sweating. In turn, the extra sweat can cause your feet to smell bad.

You may also notice that your feet get sweatier and smellier if you:

  • Wear shoes that are too small or too tight
  • Stand on your feet for long periods of time
  • Are under a large amount of stress

Smelly feet are usually easy to treat at home. Here are a few things that you can try to reduce foot sweat and odor.

Soak your feet. If your foot odor is noticeable, you can try soaking your feet to give them a deep cleaning. To do so, mix half a cup of Epsom salt in warm water. If you don’t have Epsom salt, you can mix two parts of warm water with one part white or apple cider vinegar.

Let your feet soak for up to 20 minutes once a week. Epsom salt helps to remove moisture from your skin, so bacteria are less likely to hang around. Vinegar also helps to remove bacteria from your feet. You shouldn’t soak your feet if you have any open wounds or sores.

Keep your feet dry. Bacteria live in moist areas, so keeping your feet dry will help to cut back on foot odor. You can apply talcum powder to your feet to soak up any wetness or sweat. If your feet are very sweaty, you can even try using antiperspirant on the bottom of your feet.

While at home, allow your feet to get some fresh air by removing shoes and socks. Try to wear sandals when you can to reduce sweat. If you need to wear close-toed shoes, make sure that you wear shoes that fit properly. If your socks typically get sweaty during the day, carry an extra pair or two with you so that you can change them when your feet start to smell.

Practice good hygiene. If you have stinky feet, you should wash your feet every day. You can wash them as you shower or you can scrub them in a tub with warm water. Dry your feet thoroughly, including between the toes.

You should also keep your toenails clean and trimmed, and file off any dead skin on your feet. This can also help to reduce places where bacteria like to live on your feet.

Take care of your footwear. You should avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row to let them air out. In addition, you can wash the insoles of your shoes to help them smell better.

Another way to help reduce stinky feet is by using a disinfectant spray on your shoes and letting them air dry. This will kill off any bacteria living in your shoes.