Do you have a problem with stinky socks and shoes? Do you dread taking off your shoes in front of other people because of the foul smell that wafts out? Do you wonder why your feet smell like cheese or rotten eggs? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this blog post is for you!
In this post, I explain how odor causing microbes are responsible for stinky socks and icky shoe smells, how bacteria can survive in socks and shoes even after washing, especially thriving in synthetic fibers, why shoe deodorizers don't fix the cause of bad smells, and why fragrances just mask the smells and don't fix them. I will also mention some cleaning and deodorizing solutions for shoes and their limitations. By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of what causes stinky socks and shoes, and how to prevent or reduce the stink.
What Causes Stinky Socks and Shoes?The main cause of stinky socks and shoes is foot sweat. Sweat itself is odorless, but it creates a moist and warm environment for certain bacteria to grow, producing odorous substances. Moreover, sweat provides vital nutrients to microbes in the forms of oils, fats, and proteins. These bacteria are naturally present on our skin as part of the human flora (same reason why your armpits can smell after a workout). And interestingly, the front part of the foot produces the most sweat.
One type of bacteria that causes foot odor is brevibacteria. They feed on dead skin cells on the feet and convert an amino acid called methionine into methanethiol, a colorless gas with a distinctive sulfuric aroma (due to the sulfur in methionine). Methanethiol smells like rotten eggs or cabbage, or stinky cheese. In fact, brevibacteria also give some cheeses, such as Limburger, Bel Paese, Port Salut, Pálpusztai and Munster, their characteristic pungency. So if your feet smell like cheese, you can blame brevibacteria, and you know understand the saying "toe cheese" (yuck)!
Another type of bacteria that causes foot odor is Staphylococcus epidermidis. They produce isovaleric acid (3-methyl butanoic acid), which has a rancid or sweaty smell. Isovaleric acid is also found in some cheeses, such as Parmesan. So if your feet smell like Parmesan cheese, you can blame staph.
Other microorganisms that can cause foot odor include micrococcaceae, corynebacterium and pityrosporum. They produce various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have different odors, such as fruity, floral, musty or fishy. Stopping all these nasty microbes is the only way to actually stop the smell.
How Do Microbes Survive in Socks and Shoes Even After Washing?You might think that washing your socks and shoes would get rid of the microbes and the odors they produce, but that's not always the case. Some microbes can survive in socks and shoes even after washing, especially if your footwear is made of synthetic fibers.
Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon afford less ventilation to the foot than cotton or wool, leading to increased perspiration, safer hiding places for microbes, and of course, more odor. They also trap more foot hair, especially on the toes, which can increase the surface area for bacterial growth.
Shoes are also hard to wash thoroughly, especially if they have padding or cushioning inside. The padding can trap moisture and dirt, creating a perfect environment for microbial growth. Even if you wash your shoes regularly, some microbes may still remain inside or on the surface of the shoes and in the deep fibers, just waiting for a tasty treat the next time you sweat.
Why Shoe Deodorizers Don't Fix the Cause of Bad Smells?Shoe deodorizers are products that claim to eliminate or reduce shoe odor by various means, such as absorbing moisture, neutralizing odors or masking them with fragrances. However, shoe deodorizers don't fix the cause of bad smells -microbes; they only address the symptoms.
Absorbing moisture may help reduce the amount of sweat available for bacterial growth, but it won't remove the dead skin cells or the VOCs that have already been produced. Neutralizing odors may help reduce the intensity or perception of smell, but it won't remove the source of smell or prevent new ones from forming from the bacteria living there. Masking odors with fragrances may help cover up the unpleasant smell with a more pleasant one temporarily, but it won't remove the underlying smell or prevent new ones from emerging from bacteria, and often nasty hybrid smells emerge.
Why Does Rain and Sweat Make Socks and Shoes Smell Worse?
Rain and sweat make socks and shoes smell worse because they increase the moisture level and often have food for bacteria in them (sweat) or bacteria and fungi in them (rainwater), which promotes microbial growth and odor production. Moisture and heat are two factors that favor the growth of microbes. People wearing shoes for a long time perspire profusely and high heat due to friction and body temperature favors the growth of microbes.
What Are Some Cleaning and Deodorizing Solutions for Shoes and Their Limitations?
There are some cleaning and deodorizing solutions for shoes that can help reduce or prevent stinky sock and shoe smells, but they have their limitations. Here are some of them:
- Washing your socks and shoes regularly with hot water and detergent. This can help remove dirt, dead skin cells, bacteria, and VOCs from your socks and shoes. However, this may not be enough to eliminate all the microbes or odors, especially if your socks or shoes are made of synthetic materials or have padding inside. You may also need to dry your socks and shoes thoroughly after washing them, as moisture can promote microbial growth and odor production. Try using antimicrobial detergents if this is a particular issue for you.
- Using activated oxygen products with a 60C wash. This can help kill bacteria and fungi that cause odor, as well as remove VOCs from your socks and shoes. However, this may not be suitable for all types of socks or shoes, as some may be damaged by high temperatures or oxidizing agents. You may also need to use this method regularly, as new microbes can grow on your socks and shoes over time.
- Using baking soda, vinegar, or lemon juice. These are natural products that can help absorb moisture, neutralize odors or kill bacteria in your socks and shoes. However, these may not be effective enough to remove all the microbes or odors, especially if your socks or shoes are heavily contaminated or have a strong smell. You may also need to use these products frequently, as they may lose their potency or effectiveness over time. Lemon juice also has some sugar that can feed surviving microbes.
- Using charcoal, cedar wood, coffee grounds or dryer sheets. These are products that can help absorb moisture or mask odors in your socks and shoes. However, these may not be able to remove the source of smell or prevent new ones from forming, as they do not address the microbial growth or VOC production in your socks and shoes. You may also need to replace these products regularly, as they may become saturated or lose their scent over time. These can damage or stain your shoes.
- Antimicrobial and odor-protection sprays like SWIFF spray offer a means to neutralize odors, kill microbes, and prevent microbes from growing in your shoes and socks and is the only reliable method for stopping and preventing odors.
Stinky sock and shoe smells are caused by odor causing microbes that grow on feet, socks, and shoes due to foot sweat, dead skin cells and other factors. Washing your socks and shoes regularly can help reduce the microbes and the odors they produce, but it may not be enough to eliminate them completely, especially if your socks or shoes are made of synthetic materials or have padding inside. Shoe deodorizers don't fix the cause of bad smells; they only address the symptoms. Rain and sweat make socks and shoes smell worse because they increase the moisture level in them, which promotes microbial growth and odor production. There are some cleaning and deodorizing solutions for shoes that can help reduce or prevent stinky sock and shoe smells, but they have their limitations. SWIFF spray is your best bet at stopping odors today and preventing them tomorrow.
I hope you found this blog post informative and helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. And if you liked this post, please share it with your friends who might benefit from it.