How to get smell out of shoes

How To Clean Stinky Shoes

Do you cringe every time you remove your sneakers when you get home from working out?

If you’re worried about the odor from your shoes bothering others after you take them off, rest easy. There are a few simple techniques you can do to get the stink out of your shoes for good.

Getting Started Cleaning Stinky Shoes

The first way to clean stinky sneakers is simple. Remove the laces (If your laces are especially dirty you can soak them in a mixture of detergent and water overnight and then rinse them by hand) and place your shoes inside a pillowcase and wash them with a gentle detergent in your washing machine.

It is important that you wash them on a cycle that will spin, as it will help remove the majority of the water from the shoes. Once the wash cycle is complete you should promptly dry your shoes using a hair dryer or by setting them outside in the sun.

Leaving your shoes wet for prolonged periods of time can actually be the cause of a stinky odor, since bacteria and mold (which often smell) like to grow in dark damp places. Do not dry your shoes in your clothes dryer however, since it can change their shape and diminish the way they support your feet.

Putting Powder In Your Shoes

If the stinky odor remains in your shoes after you have washed and dried them, try sprinkling the inside of each shoe with baking soda or a foot powder made to control odor. Leave a generous amount of the powder in your shoes overnight. Remove the powder the next day by shaking out your shoes. If any stubborn powder remains in small corners of the sneakers you can remove it using the hose attachment on your vacuum cleaner.

Natural Shoe Cleaners To Get Rid Of Odor

Another method known to kill odor causing bacteria in shoes is by spraying them with a solution of water mixed rubbing alcohol (the kind found in drug stores in the first aid section). In a spray bottle combine one cup of water and one cup of the alcohol. Thoroughly spray your shoes with the solution both inside and out. Then place your shoes in well ventilated area to dry. The alcohol will kill any odor causing bacteria that is in your sneakers and should prevent the stinky smell from returning.

You can also soak your sneakers overnight in a tub filled with vinegar and water. Use two cups of vinegar for every three gallons of water you add to your soaking tub. Again, once the sneakers are finished soaking it is critical that you allow them to dry promptly and completely to ensure that no new bacteria has a chance to begin growing within the shoe.

If you believe that odor is coming mainly from the insole of your shoe (the part that sits directly under your foot as a cushion) you can purchase new ones at the store and replace them. There are even certain types of insoles that are made to prevent odors in your sneakers from the start.

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Now you know how to clean stinky shoes!

The best way to prevent smelly shoes

This may sound a little over-the-top but it is absolutely the best way to reduce existing stench and prevent future smells.

Before Climbing: Wash your feet. Rub off the dead skin that’s been building up during the day. No access to water? Get some alcohol rubbing pads or baby wipes and give them a good once-over. This is especially important if you’re climbing later in the day because you’ve already spent a majority of the day sweating in your socks and breeding bacteria.

After Climbing: Store your shoes where they can air out. Open your shoes to the max, and leave them in a non-sunny area where they can completely dry out.

Certainly it’s acceptable to put your shoes in a bag for short periods of time, during transit, but the more you can limit this the better (carabiner them to the outside!). Nothing promotes a bacteria orgy like a hot shoe without ventilation. Not only does stuffing you shoes in a pack for long periods of time increase odor, but the more you cram your shoes in a pack the more deformation occurs, which can result in permanent damage to the shoe. If you have to put your shoes in a bag, try to give them room to roam.

Going Further. If you’re willing to put in the time and energy to reduce the smell as much as possible, you can also:

  • Help dry your shoes after you use them. After you’re done climbing, wick the moisture from the shoes by inserting a shirt, rag, newspaper, fabric softener sheet, ball of kitty litter, paper towels, anything absorbent will work. This speeds up the drying process.
  • Keep your shoes out of the sun and hot areas. If they must be stored in the car, keep them in the darkest, coldest part of the vehicle for as short of a period as possible. Scarpa says that in the direct sun, car temps can skyrocket 50+ degrees in just minutes which can mess with the heat activated glue and could lead to delaminations of the rand or sole or cause rubber deterioration.

Additional ways to prevent smell

These methods do not make shoes suddenly smell better–they’re simply ways to further reduce the chance of smelly shoes. They also all have downsides.

  • Take your shoes off between climbs. This prevents your feet from heating up and sweating more, and it starts airing out/drying your shoes, too. Caution: Walking around with your shoes off will pick up other crap (chalk, dust, etc) that you don’t want in your shoe, so make sure if you’re taking your shoes off between climbs you’re not adding more contamination and funk to the problem.
  • Wear thin wool socks. Wool is anti-microbiotic, so socks may absorb some of the nastiness to get it out of the shoe / prevent further stench from getting trapped. You can do it occasionally and it’ll still help. Caution: Wearing socks will reduce sensitivity, could stretch your shoe, and is generally considered a newbie move.
  • Only buy unlined leather shoes. Leather shoes breath the most. Synthetic shoes breath the least. The more natural materials involved, the better the breathability. Caution: Buying only leather will limit your shoe options and your shoes will still smell if not taken care of, just not quite as bad.
  • Rotate the use of your shoes so each pair has more time to dry out (yup, this means you need a few pairs)
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Quick fixes, that mask the smell

These will not eliminate smells, but could tide you over for a roadtrip with friends you care about. 

For all of these suggestions, be light-handed! Powders and sprays can build up a gunk that is just as terrible to deal with. These are only short-term solutions.

  • shoe fresheners / dryer sheets / tea bags
  • pantyhose (or old chalk balls) filled with: coffee beans, potpourri, kitty litter, etc
  • deodorizers / odorcide spray / McNett MiraZyme (a bit more natural than some)
  • antifungal powders (be light-handed to prevent build-up!)
  • Friendly Foot, Dr. Scholls, Doc Martin, Odorban’s, Lysol, etc.

Methods to avoid

  • Washing shoes in a washing machine. Yes, there are many reports of climbers who have done it successfully. And it can be done with synthetic, slip-lasted shoes, on low spin, no heat, BUT it’s not a guaranteed safe way to clean shoes. And if you don’t realize your shoe has leather parts (or a board-last), you could end up changing the fit or breaking down the materials of your shoe accidentally. There are blatant exceptions to this rule such as the La Sportiva Oxygym (there are men’s and women’s models) that were specifically made to withstand the washer.
  • Freezing your shoes. This may temporarily help as it will slow down the bacteria metabolism or even kill some (not all) of the smell. Unfortunately, it can also stink up your freezer, and this method overall is pretty ineffective compared to the methods we mentioned above. And it has risks of harming the materials of the shoe as freezing is not a commonly tested temperature.
  • Powdering your feet. This is just adding more junk to the mix, and most powders will get goopy fast. You could probably get away with putting liquid chalk on your feet as a drying agent, but really, the goal is to keep your shoes as clean as humanly possible. Clean your feet instead!
  • Baking the bacteria in the sun. The biggest concern here is that the heat activated glue used to put your shoe together can warm and cause delaminations of the rand and sole.

Summary

To most effectively prevent smells

  1. Before you climb, wash your feet. Clean off the sweat, bacteria, and dead skin so they don’t transfer to your shoes.
  2. Keep your shoes dry and in open air environments — always leave the shoes as open as possible, in areas where they have access to new air. Do not leave them in the car.

If your shoes already smell

  • Use a disinfectant to kill the bacteria. Rub/scrub either hydrogen peroxide over the inside to kill the smelly bacteria, or spritz your shoes with tee tree or lavender oil (mixed with water). If your shoes are extra nasty, you may need to scrub harder to get all the gunk off/out.

You can use a “deodorant” to mask smells as a short-term solution

  • dryer sheets, cedar chips, popurri, odor-eating antifungal sprays will all help to hide the problem temporarily
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Bonus insights (and stories) we came across while writing this article

Each of your feet has more than 250,000 sweat glands capable of producing more than a pint of sweat per day. – via SBClimber

This bacteria and sweat is why your slippers feel slimey days later, or why your lined shoes end up stiff and crinkled. -via Chris Weidner

“A rotten, nasty smell can be an indication that the leather is actually decaying,” says Eric Pauwels, owner of Rock & Resole in Boulder, explaining that this often happens when moisture builds up under the rand. -via Kate Nelson

The only time I got real funky shoes was when I missed a crashpad in a swampy bouldering area, and then forgot my shoes in a plastic bag in the trunk of my car for a week. My friends would moan every time I brought those shoes out. -via Michael Collins

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Prevention

The best way to deodorize your dance shoes is to keep them smell-free from the start. Feet have more sweat glands than anywhere else on your body. When you are dancing, these sweat glands activate to keep you cool.  Normally, the sweat would dry up and cool you down, and the bacteria on the skin would begin to die off.  Unfortunately, while performing, your shoes trap that moisture and the bacteria multiplies.

  • Clean feet: This may seem obvious, but washing feet with deodorant soap and drying them well is the first step to sweeter smelling feet.
  • Change shoes: If you are dancing several times a week, it may benefit you to purchase an additional pair of shoes. One pair can air dry while the other is being used.
  • Tights/socks: A lot of dancers hate wearing tights. Wearing clean tights or socks can absorb the moisture and help prevent odor.
  • Dance shoes are only for studio/stage: You should only wear your dance shoes in the studio or on stage.

Remedies

  • Air dry: Make sure your shoes dry out thoroughly after each use. Look for bags that have an outer pocket made of netting for carrying your shoes home. It’s really important to allow shoes to air out, as damp shoes allow the bacteria to continue to grow.
  • Baking Soda: Put some baking soda in your shoes. This will not damage the shoes, and will keep them clean and smelling fresher. The baking soda will also absorb the sweat and aid in drying shoes out.
  • Dryer sheets: Some dancers put dryer sheets in their shoes.
  • Alcohol: Quickly put into a spray bottle and spritz away. It will deodorize and kill the bacteria. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant and can be added to the alcohol.
  • Freeze the bacteria – Some people swear that putting shoes in a Ziploc bag and freezing them overnight kills the bacteria and therefore the smell.

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