Having smelly feet isn’t just a medical foot problem known as bromhidrosis - it can feel really embarrassing for the
approximately one in five people that are affected, having the potential to make them feel self-conscious, withdrawn and not wanting to
remove their shoes when around others. As such, it’s something we take very seriously. Here’s what you should know about having
In order for your feet to develop an unpleasant foot odour, it usually requires the interaction of two things: foot moisture (sweat) and microbes (bacteria, yeast, fungus). When the feet sweat, whether that’s naturally or through an excessive sweating condition called hyperhidrosis, it provides a warm and humid environment in which bacteria, fungus and other microbes thrive. The byproduct of these microbes is the unpleasant odour. Things that can worsen how much your feet sweat and hence the smell include:
The treatment options for bromhidrosis can vary based on the cause of the smell - particularly whether you have a microbial overgrowth, or an issue with excess sweating. Addressing both of these factors will help reduce or eliminate your foot odour. This means that your treatment options may range from:
Helping get rid of the foot smell at home means prioritising good foot hygiene practices daily. Even if you already have good foot hygiene, a
few extra steps may need to be taken while the issue is resolved. Try:
Washing your feet daily
Washing your feet daily using an antiseptic soap will help to prevent microbes from building up on the feet and worsening the smell.
Drying your feet well after every shower
Drying your feet well after every shower, bath and any time you get wet - like after swimming - is an essential part of helping to prevent ongoing foot odour. This is because moisture creates a favourable environment for bacteria to grow, which is the leading cause of foot odour. When your feet are damp or wet, bacteria can easily multiply.
By drying your feet thoroughly after every shower or bath, you can help remove excess moisture, which can limit the growth of bacteria. It
is especially important to dry between your toes, as this is an area where moisture easily becomes trapped, particularly if you have
hammertoes, claw toes, bunions or other foot problems which keeps the toes close together. Make sure you move your towel between your toes
to stop the excess build-up of moisture here, which can lead to the skin macerating (breaking down) between the toes as these spots are
often missed. If you cannot reach your feet, place a soft towel on the ground and scrunch it beneath your toes
Wearing breathable shoes and socks
When your feet are enclosed in tight, non-breathable footwear, such as plastic or rubber shoes, they easily become moist and warm, creating a favourable environment for the growth of bacteria and fungi. These microorganisms thrive in warm and moist conditions, leading to smells developing.
Breathable shoes and socks, on the other hand, allow air to circulate around your feet, helping to keep them dry and cool. This makes it
difficult for bacteria and fungi to grow, reducing the likelihood of foot odour. Materials such as leather and canvas are excellent choices
for shoes, as they are naturally breathable and allow air to circulate around the feet. Socks made of natural materials such as cotton or
wool are also good choices, as they can absorb moisture and allow air to circulate around the feet. You also want to avoid shoes that are
too tight, and keep an extra pair (or two) of moisture-wicking socks on you to change into throughout the day
Alternating your closed-in shoes
Rotating your shoes allows your shoes to dry out completely between wears. As moisture is one of the main causes of foot odour, when you
wear the same pair of shoes every day, they may not have enough time to dry out completely, allowing bacteria and fungi to multiply. As an
aside, when shoes are worn moist, they also wear out faster. By rotating your shoes, you can give them time to dry out completely, reducing
the likelihood of bacterial and fungal growth. This is especially important if you sweat excessively or live in a humid environment, as your
shoes may become damp more easily. Plus, you can also help prolong the lifespan of your shoes.
Treat any fungal or bacterial foot infections
Given that the causes of foot odour are most often bacterial and fungal foot infections, treating existing infections can help solve a lot of the foot odour problem. Bacterial and fungal nail infections occur when bacteria or fungi invade the nail bed and nail plate. They can cause a range of symptoms, including thickened, discoloured, and brittle nails, as well as an unpleasant odour. These infections can also spread to the surrounding skin, causing additional symptoms such as redness, swelling, and itching.
To treat bacterial or fungal nail infections, antifungal medications, topical antibacterials, or a combination of both may be used. This is
something that should be discussed with your podiatrist, as your specific treatment plan will depend on the severity of the infection and
your medical history. It should be noted that some smells may persist even after fungus and bacteria have been eliminated, as other factors
such as sweating and poor hygiene can also both contribute to foot odour.
Trying a moisture-absorbing powder (these may also be antifungal) from your chemist, these may help to reduce excess sweating, and
therefore help control the smell
Skin and nail care
Keeping your toenails trimmed and clean can help in preventing microbes from building up beneath the nails and contributing to the problem.
If you have difficulty reaching your nails, you can see your podiatrist periodically who can trim your toenails, reduce their thickness,
reduce any build-ups of callus as well as problems like corns.
Wash your insoles
Periodically washing your shoe liners, if they’re removable, may also help. If you have orthotics, these can also be cleaned - just make sure to follow the instructions from your podiatrist carefully and ensure they are completely dry before putting them back in your shoe.
If you’re experiencing bromhidrosis, then it’s likely you will have had the problem for some time and it’s now reached a concerning or unmanageable level. In this case, we always recommend coming in for an assessment. You can always try the foot hygiene tips listed above first to see if they help your problem, though in many cases, the treatment provided by your podiatrist (such as managing your Athlete’s foot infection) will be that extra step needed to completely eliminate the smell for good.
Yes, it is very possible to get rid of your foot odour for good. The approach to this (and the results and the speed at which you achieve them) will vary greatly depending on the cause of the odour, but generally has a very good prognosis.
Natural remedies for smelly feet include any of the good foot hygiene practices we’ve listed above. Some people also try things like baking soda, tea tree oil, lemon juice and sage to help control their foot odour, though this tends to have mixed results as the cause and best approach for managing foot odour can vary so greatly from person to person.