No matter how fast your pace or far you run, there’s one thing most runners have to face eventually: smelly shoes. The side effect of wearing them day in, day out seems unavoidable. The stench is pesky, but there are things you can do to prolong freshness and clean up your sneaks when they need it. Read on to see why shoes get smelly and what you can do about it.
Why It Happens
The source of your shoe’s odor is actually quite simple. Each of your feet has more than 250,000 sweat glands that produce sweat while you work out. That sweat is confined to three places—your foot, your sock, and your shoe. The smell happens when the perspiration has nowhere to evaporate. Even shoes with proper ventilation tend to absorb and hold on to some of this moisture. It’s not the sweat alone that creates the stench, though. The smell itself comes from the bacteria that’s living in each of these places. Because of this, it’s important to not only rid your shoes (and self) of the smell but to also attack the bacteria that’s causing it. If you don’t, it could lead to infection. Here, Aaptiv trainers share their best tips to prevent and treat smelly shoes and feet.
Wash your feet often.
You may think this goes without saying, but it bears mentioning. Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden recommends keeping your feet clean to prevent smelly shoes and feet. Washing your feet regularly (and especially after runs) will reduce the bacteria that are present, therefore causing less transfer to your shoes. Antibacterial body wash can definitely come in handy here, but normal body wash is completely fine as well. Keeping your feet clean also reduces your risk of getting athlete’s foot and similar infections.
Wear the right socks and shoes.
One simple way to prevent your footwear from going rancid is by choosing proper socks and shoes. Wearing well-made running shoes with breathable features—such as mesh uppers and minimal overlays—is an easy start. While this may not stomp out the source of stink completely, it’s a step ahead of heavy-duty running shoes. McFaden also recommends rotating between two pairs of shoes if you can. Go deeper by purchasing socks made of moisture-wicking fibers, such as Coolmax, copper, and wool. These will provide more ventilation to your feet, allowing more sweat to evaporate. Lastly, never go barefoot in your running shoes, even if you’re not running. A lack of socks means there’s no barrier between your sweat and shoes, making the sweat easier to absorb.
Take your shoes off ASAP.
Once you’re done running, remove your shoes as soon as possible. This allows them to air out rather than remain in contact with your sweaty feet and socks. “The longer the sweat lingers in the shoe, the smellier,” McFaden warns. Take off your shoes, remove the sole inserts, and place them in a cool, dry place (and, of course, throw your socks in the washer). This will prevent bacteria from growing inside the shoes. If you place them in the heat (say, you throw them in the trunk of your car), they’re more likely to get musty.
Take it a step further and try Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois’ trick. “One great tip I have is to use baby powder to help with the smell of running shoes. The baby powder absorbs your sweat and helps reduce that awful smell!” Baking soda has the same effect. Sprinkle about half a teaspoon of either into each shoe while you let them sit.
Use sweat- and smell-reducing products.
From deodorant sprays that prevent wetness and odor to deodorant balls that fit in your shoes, there are a number of inexpensive products out there that actively reduce the amount of sweat or stink in running shoe. Aaptiv trainer Jessica Muenster uses the latter, telling us, “I use these things called sneaker balls that are little bitty deodorant balls you can put inside your shoes. They’re only about $3 a pair. I put them inside my cycling shoes because sweat gets all in those.” Other items on the market include air-purifying bamboo and charcoal bags, shoe disinfectant spray, and even electronic shoe dryers. While these products are great for short-term results, don’t use them in place of washing your shoes when needed.
Replace your insoles.
If none of the above remedies has any effect, try replacing your insoles. McFaden recommends doing so every few months. Plenty of odor-fighting, sweat-reducing insole options are available to prolong their usage. Look into insoles made of sweat-absorbing materials (such as charcoal) or those you can take out and wash over and over. Keep in mind that, like shoes, all insoles have specific care instructions. Some can be washed and reinserted, but others need to be replaced periodically. If you see no improvement after replacing your insoles, it’s likely time to wash or replace your shoes.
Wash your shoes.
When the odor becomes too noticeable and no other solution has been effective enough, wash your shoes. “If you want to wash your shoes, make sure you read what material they are, as some shouldn’t be washed,” McFaden advises. Throwing them into the washer can often fade colors and weaken materials, causing them to lose their shape, so always check the care label. If you can put them in the washer, a cold machine wash without detergent (or with a sport detergent, as Moncourtois advises) should be fine. Before tossing them in, remove the insoles, tie the laces together, and put everything into a washer bag. You can even throw in a towel for extra protection. Keep the water cool and the spin cycle slow. Once they’re washed, avoid putting them in the dryer! Stuff them with newspaper to maintain their shape, and let them air-dry.
On the other hand, expensive new sneakers or those with materials that can’t go in the washing machine (such as leather, velvet, suede, and canvas) should be hand-washed. To do so, begin by removing the laces and insoles. Mix warm water with a small amount of shoe-safe detergent to create a soapy mixture. Apply this mixture to a scrub brush, sponge, or cloth, and scrub your shoes clean. Repeat the same steps with the laces and insoles. When you’re finished, rinse off any detergent, stuff the shoes with newspaper, and let everything air-dry.
When all else fails, consider purchasing a new pair of running shoes. Not sure which type to get? Find the best running shoes for you here.