Smelly feet aren’t fun for anyone, but there are simple things you can do to make sure yours stay fresh.
Medically known as bromodosis, stinky feet are a common year-round problem. It can be embarrassing and unpleasant for you and people around you.
The main cause is sweaty feet combined with wearing the same shoes every day.
Why feet sweat
There are more sweat glands in our feet than anywhere else in the body.
Anyone can get sweaty feet, regardless of the temperature or time of year. But teenagers and pregnant women are especially prone because hormonal changes make them sweat more.
You’re also more likely to have foot perspiration if you’re on your feet all day, if you’re under a lot of stress or you have a medical condition called hyperhidrosis, which makes you sweat more than usual. Fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, can also lead to bad foot odour.
According to Lorraine Jones, chiropodist and spokeswoman for the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, feet become smelly if sweat soaks into shoes and they don't dry before you wear them again.
Bacteria on the skin break down sweat as it comes from the pores. A cheesy odour is released as the sweat decomposes.
"Your feet sweat into your shoes all day so they get damp and bacteria start to grow. The bacteria continue to breed once you’ve taken your shoes off, especially if you put them in a dark cupboard. Then, when you put your shoes back on the next day, even if you’ve just had a shower, putting your feet into still damp shoes creates the perfect conditions for the bacteria to thrive – warm, dark and moist."
Preventing smelly feet
According to Lorraine, keeping feet fresh and sweet smelling is all down to good personal hygiene and changing your shoes regularly.
“The key is never to wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row," Lorraine says. "Instead, wear different shoes on successive days so they have a minimum of 24 hours to dry out. And make sure teenage boys have two pairs of trainers so that they don’t have to wear the same pair for two or more consecutive days.”
Lorraine says that it’s also important to wash and dry your feet every day and to change your socks (ideally wool or cotton, not nylon) at least once a day.
If you’re particularly susceptible to sweaty feet, Lorraine suggests that you could also:
- dab between your toes with cotton wool dipped in surgical spirit after a shower or bath – surgical spirit helps dry out the skin between the toes really well – in addition to drying them with a towel
- use a spray deodorant or antiperspirant on your feet – a normal underarm deodorant or antiperspirant works just as well as a specialist foot product and will cost you less
- put medicated insoles, which have a deodorising effect, in your shoes
- try feet-fresh socks – some sports socks have ventilation panels to keep feet dry, and antibacterial socks are impregnated with chemicals to discourage the odour-producing bacteria that feed on sweat
- wear leather or canvas shoes, as they let your feet breathe, unlike plastic ones
- wear open-toes sandals in summer and go barefoot at home in the evenings
Treating smelly feet
If you already have foot odour, the good news is that there’s a simple, quick solution.
Lorraine says: “A sure-fire way to get rid of smelly feet is to wash your feet with an anti-bacterial soap called Hibiscrub. There are lots of over-the-counter foot hygiene products at your local chemist, but Hibiscrub is the best one.
“Leave on the Hibiscrub for a couple of minutes, then wash it off. If you do this twice a day, you'll definitely banish smelly feet within a week.”
Lorraine adds that you shouldn't use Hibiscrub on your feet if you have broken skin, such as eczema.
When to see a doctor
Smelly feet are a common problem that usually clears up, but sometimes it can be a sign of a medical condition.
See your GP if simple measures to reduce your foot odour don't help, or if you're worried that your level of sweating is abnormally high.
Your doctor can offer you a strong prescription antiperspirant or refer you for a treatment called iontophoresis, which delivers a mild electric current through water to your feet to combat excessive sweating.
Here are more tips on how to look after your feet.