How To Remove Bad Smells From Shoes

When it comes to shoes, we don’t really expect them to be the cleanest, especially since they frequently come in contact with dirt, germs, and various surfaces. However, we don’t want them to smell foul either!

Unfortunately, dealing with bad smells in shoes could be a common problem for many people. Whether it’s due to sweat, moisture, or simply the wear and tear of everyday use, getting rid of unpleasant odours in your footwear can be a challenge. 

There’s no need to worry though, as there are several effective methods to tackle this issue and keep your shoes smelling fresh. These often include the use of bicarbonate of soda, deodorising spray, essential oils, and other savvy products to get rid of the bad odours. 

In this article, we’ll give you tips on how to make your footwear smell fresh, and also tell you the common reasons why there’s a musty odour in your shoes! 

Home Remedies And Cheap Ways To Remove Bad Shoe Smells

Removing bad smells in your shoes does not have to be expensive, and you don’t have to leave your house either!

Here are some solutions that are inexpensive using products you can already find in your home: 

Popping Them In The Washer

One of the simplest solutions for smelly shoes is giving them a good wash. Before you do so, it’s crucial to check the care label to ensure they’re machine washable. Most shoes that are made from canvas or fabric have no issues with being washed in the washing machine. 

White trainers come out of washing machine

Washing shoes in the washer can be effective in removing dirt, sweat, and bacteria that contribute to bad odours. Make sure to use a gentle detergent and select a delicate cycle to prevent damage. And as always, it’s best to use a cold temperature for shoes to avoid damage. 

For extra protection, you can place the shoes in a pillowcase or a laundry bag. This allows the shoes, especially those with embellishments, to be secure in the wash. 

After washing, it’s important to let them air dry completely, as damp shoes can develop mildew, which can worsen the smell.

WARNING: Avoid putting your shoes in the dryer, as the heat can damage or shrink them!

Placing Them In The Freezer

Using your freezer to remove bad odours from shoes might sound unconventional, but it’s a proven method. Why? Because the cold temperature in the freezer kills the bacteria that often causes the bad smells. 

Of course, since the shoes may be dirty, you’ll need to use a cover such as a plastic or ziploc bag to protect the shoes and leave them in the freezer overnight. 

In the morning, allow the shoes to thaw and air dry completely. This method is especially useful for shoes that can’t be washed in a machine.

Bicarbonate Of Soda

Bicarbonate of soda is not just used for baking but also cleaning, as it is a highly effective odour absorber.  

Bicarbonate of soda works its wonders in your shoes by neutralising pH levels and absorbing moisture, which will help eliminate the bacteria that cause bad smells. 

Baking Soda

Simply sprinkle a generous amount inside each shoe and leave it to sit overnight. For a more potent effect, mix the bicarbonate of soda with a few drops of an essential oil like lavender before applying. Shake out the excess powder before wearing your shoes again.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is a powerful natural deodoriser and disinfectant, making it perfect for tackling shoe odours. 

Create a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water, then put it in an empty spray bottle. Lightly spray the inside of your shoes. The acetic acid in the vinegar will neutralise the odours without damaging them.

Let them air dry in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside. The vinegar smell will dissipate as the shoes dry.

Bar Of Soap

A fragrant bar of soap can serve as a shoe freshener. The soap not only imparts its pleasant scent to your shoes but also absorbs moisture, which is often the root cause of the smell. 

bar of soap and pairs of shoes

Simply place a whole bar of soap in each shoe and leave it overnight. This method is particularly useful for shoes that are stored for long periods, like seasonal footwear.

Lemon Peel

Lemon peel contains natural oils that are effective in neutralising bad odours. The citrus scent is also refreshing and can help to eliminate the smell of sweat and bacteria. 

Place fresh lemon peels inside your shoes and leave them overnight. This method is gentle and natural, making it suitable for all types of shoes.

Drying Them Outdoors

Sunlight and fresh air are natural disinfectants and can work wonders on smelly shoes. This is possible as the UV rays from the sun will kill the bacteria and fungi responsible for the odour. 

white shoes drying outdoors

Place your shoes outside in a sunny, airy spot for a few hours. However, be cautious with coloured or delicate materials, as prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause them to fade.

Commercial Products You Can Get To Make Your Shoes Smell Great

There are a lot of products you can get from the shops that’ll help remove the nasty smells from your footwear. 

Here are the ones that work: 

Deodorising Spray

Commercial deodorising sprays are formulated to tackle tough shoe odours. They often contain antibacterial agents that kill the bacteria responsible for the smell. 

Sprays like those from Odor-Eaters may also have a pleasant fragrance to leave your shoes smelling fresh. It’s important to use the spray as directed, as overuse can lead to dampness, which might worsen the problem and make your shoes smell like a dead animal. 

Odor-Eaters, 24 Hour Odour Destroying Antiperspirant Foot and Shoe Spray for Sport Shoes, 150 ml
  • a powerful anti-perspirant and odour neutraliser that destroys the toughest odour caused by sport and an active lifestyle.
  • provides 24-hour odour control and long-lasting sweat control, with a quick-drying formula.

Activated Charcoal Bags Or Tea Bags

DID YOU KNOW? Activated charcoal is known for its ability to absorb moisture and odours. 

Placing charcoal bags inside your shoes can help to keep them dry and odour-free. Similarly, dry tea bags can absorb the foul smell. 

Both options are natural and can be used repeatedly, making them cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are not just for aromatherapy; they can also be used to freshen up your shoes. 

Oils like tea tree, lavender, and eucalyptus have natural antibacterial properties and leave a pleasant scent. 

Apply a few drops to the insoles or on a piece of cloth, and leave them in your shoes overnight. This method is a natural alternative to chemical sprays.

Tisserand Aromatherapy - Lavender Essential Oil - Ethically Harvested - 100% Pure Essential Oil - 20 ml
  • A GREAT SLEEP AID. Tisserand Aromatherapy Lavender Essential Oil is perfect for providing relaxation so you can feel sleep come to you a little easier
  • BEST AROMATHERAPY BRAND. We are proud to be winners of the Beauty Shortlist Awards for Best Aromatherapy Brand for 2022 - Tisserand Aromatherapy essential oils are of the highest quality, sourced by our team of UK based experts

Shoe Inserts And Insoles

There are specially designed inserts and insoles available that are infused with odour-fighting substances. These can absorb sweat, reduce bacterial growth, and improve the overall smell of your shoes. 

Some insoles are also washable, making them a practical long-term solution.

If you’ve been using the insoles of your shoes for a long time, they’re absolutely due for a replacement!

Cat Litter

Cat litter is another unconventional, yet effective, solution for smelly shoes. 

It’s designed to absorb moisture and neutralise odours, making it ideal for shoe care. Fill a pair of socks with cat litter, tie them off, and place them in your shoes. Like a teabag!

Extra Select Premium Hygiene Cat Litter - Calcium Silicate Non-Clumping Odour Control - 20L
  • Low Dust: This virtually dust free cat litter is a simple solution that's easy on sensitive noses.
  • Non Clumping Cat Litter: Ultra clean fast absorption is great for clean paws and happy purrs.

Reasons Why Your Shoes Are Smelling Foul 

Now that you already have effective methods within reach, you may be wondering about the exact reason why your footwear smells bad. 

The main culprit behind the awful smells is usually bacteria and fungi that thrive in moist, warm environments – like the inside of your shoes. Also, the sweat from your feet contributes to this environment, creating the perfect breeding ground for these odour-causing microbes.

The Material

Aside from bacteria, the material of your shoes also plays an important role in how they retain odours. 

Synthetic materials, like certain plastics and faux leathers, often have less breathability compared to natural materials like genuine leather, canvas, or cotton. 

The lack of breathability in synthetic shoes traps moisture and creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. Hence, if you want your footwear to have fewer issues with bad odours, buy shoes that are made from natural materials.

Tips For Basic Shoe Hygiene

Bacteria and germs make your footwear smell foul. Here are some basic hygiene practices you’ll want to do to reduce the bad odour in your shoes: 

Using Antibacterial Soap

Regularly washing your feet with antibacterial soap can significantly reduce the presence of odour-causing bacteria. This preventive measure is especially important for individuals who are prone to foot odour or sweat excessively.

Keep Toenails Short

Long toenails can trap dirt and sweat, contributing to foot odour. Keeping them short and clean reduces the risk of bacterial growth.

Foot Powder

Applying foot powder helps to absorb excess moisture, keeping feet drier and less hospitable to odour-causing bacteria. This is a must-have for people who have hyperhidrosis. 

TIP: There are various types of foot powders available, and some even come with additional properties like cooling agents or medicinal ingredients!

Value Health Anti Fungal Foot Powder 150g - (2 x 75g Packs)
  • Value Health Anti Fungal Foot Powder
  • Soothes & Protects

Wear Socks

Socks act as a barrier between your feet and shoes, absorbing sweat and reducing direct contact. Opt for breathable, moisture-wicking materials to enhance comfort and hygiene.

TIP: Avoid reusing your socks more than once, as it will make your feet smell and may even irritate your skin!

Air Dry

After each use, allow your shoes to air dry in a well-ventilated area. This practice helps in evaporating any trapped moisture, reducing the likelihood of bacterial growth.

Alternate Between Pairs

Rotating your shoes gives them time to air out and dry completely, prolonging their lifespan and keeping odours at bay. It’s beneficial to have several pairs of shoes for different occasions or days of the week.

SEE ALSO: How To Wash White Shoes In The Washing Machine

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get the smell out of shoes without washing them?

To get the smell out of shoes without washing them, you can use various home remedies such as placing them in the freezer overnight to kill bacteria, using bicarbonate of soda to absorb the odours, inserting fragrant soap bars, or using lemon peels for a natural, refreshing scent. Additionally, drying shoes outdoors in sunlight can also help neutralise bad smells.

How do you get rid of stinky feet permanently?

To permanently get rid of stinky feet, adopt a routine of washing your feet regularly with antibacterial soap, keeping toenails short and clean, using foot powders to absorb excess moisture, wearing moisture-wicking socks, and ensuring shoes are dry and well-ventilated. Also, alternating between different pairs of shoes can prevent the buildup of bacteria and odours.

How do you fix stinky shoes overnight?

To fix stinky shoes overnight, you can use bicarbonate of soda, which absorbs odours and moisture. Simply sprinkle a generous amount inside each shoe and leave it overnight. Alternatively, placing a bar of soap, lemon peel, or a mixture of baking soda and essential oils in the shoes can also effectively combat odours by morning.

How do you clean smelly leather shoes?

To clean smelly leather shoes, it’s best to use a mixture of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Lightly spray the inside of the shoes and let them air dry in a well-ventilated area. The vinegar works as a natural deodoriser and disinfectant without damaging the leather. Avoid soaking the leather and ensure the shoes are completely dry before wearing them again.

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