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

Published on Oct 16, 2021 and last reviewed on Mar 15, 2023   -  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 ( Smelly Feet ) - Risk Factors, and Treatments


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:

  • Teenagers and pregnant women are at increased risk of developing smelly feet because their bodies produce hormones that make them sweat more.

  • People who are on foot all day at work.

  • People who are into sports activities.

  • Poor foot hygiene such as infrequent washing of feet, not changing socks at least once a day can let bacteria grow on the feet.

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:

  • Washing feet daily with antibacterial soap. Try to use a scrub brush also to clean your feet. Special attention should be given to the areas between the toes. The most significant thing to be done after washing your feet is to dry them.

  • Clip the toenails and clean them regularly.

  • Changing socks at least once a day. And if in a hot environment or into any sports activities or any other condition where the feet get more sweaty, then the socks need to be changed more often.

2) Choosing the right footwear:

  • Try to wear open-toed sandals in hot and warm weather and move barefoot indoors to keep feet dry.

  • Do not wear tight-fitting shoes.

  • Choose shoes that do not retain moisture.

  • Try to choose socks that are made of cotton or any other materials that allow the feet to breathe.

  • Do not wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Allow them to dry out.

  • Replace shoes with odor-reducing or antibacterial insoles.

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.

How to get rid of smelly feet

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:

  • Thyroid problem.

  • Infections.

  • Hot flashes during menopause.


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.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Do You Cure Stinky Feet?

In order to reduce the smelly or stinky feet,
- Wash the feet daily with a mild antibacterial soap in the morning and evening.
- Wet feet are prone to acquire bacteria, so keep it dry or wipe the feet after using washrooms.
- Wear sandals also indoors.
- Do not wear tight shoes.
- Have two shoes and use them on alternative days.
- Often disinfect the shoes and keep the toenails neat and clean.
- When foot odors cannot be eliminated with treatments and home remedies and occur due to excessive sweating, then stronger antiperspirants and foot soaps will be prescribed by the doctor.


How to Get Rid of Foot Odor from Shoes?

Fill both the socks with baking soda, and tie them at the top, and place the socks in each shoe. Allow them to sit overnight. To remove odor-causing fungus and bacteria, spray the disinfecting spray like Lysol into the shoes. Also, sprinkle baking powder or foot powder inside the shoes for similar effects.


What Are the Home Remedies for Smelly Feet?

Having good foot hygiene helps prevent smelly feet. Wash with an antibacterial soap on a daily basis, exfoliate with pumice stones to remove dead bacterial cells, soak the feet in warm water with Epsom salts for 10 to 20 mins and allow the feet to dry thoroughly, and antiperspirant is used on the feet to reduce the incidence of sweating.


Why Do My Feet Smell So Bad All of a Sudden?

When the feet suddenly start to smell bad and itch, then a common fungal infection such as an athlete's foot could be developed. This is because fungus thrives in the warm and moist environment of the socks and shoes. When healthy foot hygiene habits are not practiced, there are more chances of developing fungal infections.


Why Do I Have Smelly Feet?

Smelly feet, or bromodosis, is a widespread medical condition. It occurs as a result of sweat buildup, which results in bacterial growth on the skin, and these bacteria cause foul odors. Also, fungal infections like athlete's foot lead to bromodosis.


Can You Put Deodorant on Your Feet?

Deodorant can be applied to the soles. It keeps the feet from sweating, just like the armpits. It helps the feet smell better. Some deodorant brands are meant for armpits alone, so to keep the areas fresh and dry, check the label to make sure the deodorant is safe to use anywhere.


How to Clear Out Diabetic Foot Odor?

- Gently scrub the dead skin using antibacterial soap and a soft brush when you bathe.
- Change the socks more often when the feet get wet during the day.
- Wear socks while wearing shoes.
- Use an antiperspirant or powder to help the feet control odor.


What Does the Foot Odor Smell Like during Cancer?

The foot odor in cancer patients smells like dead fish or sweet fruity sickly smell. The smell is because of the infected wound, and when there is a sudden change in body odor and also diagnosed with cancer, then speak with the doctor.


Are Smelly Feet Normal?

Smelly feet indicate poor personal hygiene, and so changing the shoes keeps the feet fresh and sweet-smelling. It is medically known as bromodosis or stinky feet, which is a common year-round problem. The important cause of sweaty feet is wearing the same shoes every day.


Does Baking Soda Help Smelly Feet?

Baking soda reduces the bacteria and helps to get rid of the smell. For every one liter of water, add one tablespoon of soda. Soak the feet into the solution for about 20 minutes and do this every day for the best results.

Last reviewed at:
15 Mar 2023  -  4 min read




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