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Foot Odor ( Smelly Feet ) - Risk Factors, and Treatments

Published on Oct 16, 2021   -  4 min read


Smelly feet are an embarrassing situation and can make you self-conscious, but they can be treated and eliminated. Read this article to know more about smelly feet, their causes, and ways to get them treated.



Foot odor is a common medical condition. It happens when sweat builds up, resulting in the growth of bacteria on the skin. The smell, however, is not due to the sweat, but it is due to the byproduct of bacteria on the feet. These bacteria contribute to bad odors. Smelly feet are otherwise known as Bromodosis. Even though it is uncomfortable, it is a treatable condition. There are multiple self-care methods like maintaining foot hygiene that helps in keeping the foot dry and eliminate foot odor.

What Are the Common Causes and Risk Factors of Smelly Feet?

Bacteria are to be blamed. The bacteria like dark, damp, sweaty places and they multiply in sweat. So bacteria will feast on the feet because feet have more sweat glands than other parts of the body. Sweat creates a prime environment for the bacteria to grow, multiply and their metabolic processes emit a bad odor. And these bacteria can also feed on the dead skin cells and oils present in the skin and start to grow into colonies. They get rid of the wastes that are breaking down from the oils and dead skin cells in the form of organic acids. These organic acids produce a bad odor.

The risk factors for smelly feet are as follows:

Why Does Feet Smell Like Vinegar?

Excessive sweating is known as hyperhidrosis. Feet odor is a byproduct of bacteria and sweat. In some instances, foot sweat includes propionic acid, which is produced when the amino acids are broken down by Propionibacterium. Propionic acid belongs to the same family of acetic acid that is vinegar. This change in foot odor could be due to changes in the following conditions which includes:

How To Get Rid of This Smelly Feet?

Foot odor (smelly feet) is a treatable condition. It can be reduced or eliminated in the following ways:

1) Maintaining proper foot hygiene like:

2) Choosing the right footwear:

3) For better cleaning, soak the feet in a tub of warm water with Epsom salt for about 10 to 20 minutes, and then dry the feet thoroughly.

4) Sprinkle some antifungal powder in the shoes to keep the feet dry.

5) You can take over-the-counter foot antiperspirants. Antiperspirants are used to reduce the incidence of sweating.

6) Exfoliate the feet by using a scrub or pumice stone to remove dead skin cells that bacteria feed on. Use this method 2 to 3 times a week to prevent bacteria from building up.

7) Try using essential oils to get rid of the odor-causing bacteria. Essential oils can be so strong that they may irritate the skin so getting a skin patch test done is better before applying the essential oils.

Are Any Medical Treatments Available To Treat Foot Odor?

Despite a person’s best efforts, they may find it hard to get rid of the smelly feet. In those instances, a doctor can be consulted to check for any treatments for the smelly feet. The treatment options include:


In this method, mild electric current is given through water to the skin to reduce the incidence of sweating in the feet. This method is called iontophoresis.


This is another method used to reduce sweating. In this botulinum toxin is administered by means of plantar injections in the feet. Though it is a painful procedure, the results can stay for three to four months.

Is Foot Odor (Smelly Feet) a Sign of Any Underlying Medical Illness?

Foot odor or smelly feet is rarely a sign of any underlying medical illness. Severe foot odor, even when it is not hot or humid, can be due to hyperhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating even when there is no overheat. Hyperhidrosis of the feet is known as plantar hyperhidrosis. Most people think that foot odor is linked to diabetes, but smelly feet do not indicate diabetes. It is that people with diabetes should take special care when it comes to their feet as diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy and other peripheral artery diseases leading to damage of feet.

A bad odor can be indicative of any unhealed wound or ulcer in the feet.

What Medical Conditions Cause Hyperhidrosis?

Excessive sweating is called hyperhidrosis. This includes sweating of feet as well. The type of hyperhidrosis caused due to an underlying medical condition is called secondary focal hyperhidrosis. The medical conditions that cause hyperhidrosis are:


Staying off foot odor begins with maintaining proper hygiene by washing the feet regularly and drying them thoroughly, keeping the toenails short and clean. Even the shoes and socks one wears can make a difference in fighting off the foot odor. Diabetic patients should take special care of their feet. Making foot care a part of a regular hygiene routine is one key to wave off the bad odor. Home treatments are usually easy and effective.


Last reviewed at:
16 Oct 2021  -  4 min read




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