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Smelly feet are a common enough problem around the world. Medical science even has a name for it: bromodosis. The bad news is that keeping your feet odour-free requires a routine. The good news is that there are several tried-and-tested remedies that are easy, cheap and effective.

  1. What causes foot odour
  2. How to remove foot odour
  3. Home remedies for foot odour
  4. Takeaways

Sweat and bacteria

Billions of Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria live on our feet. When our feet sweat, these bacteria break it down into organic volatile compounds including fatty acids and isovaleric acid - which creates a musty odour.

Poor foot hygiene

Sweat, grime and dead cells build up on our feet over time. When we neglect to clean our feet thoroughly and regularly, it encourages bacterial growth and smelly feet. 

Normal secretions

Scientists have found that feet that have more exoenzymes like lipase, protease and callous-degrading enzymes tend to have stronger odours. Exoenzymes are enzymes that our cells release outside their walls.

Foot infections

Foot infections like athlete's foot may also lead to foot odour.

Foot odour can be really embarrassing, especially when you need to take your shoes off in public. But you do not need to worry. Getting rid of foot odour is not that difficult. You just need to make some small changes in your life and take a little more care of your feet.

Wash, scrub, repeat

Simple as it sounds, cleaning your feet with soap and water removes sweat, dirt and germs. And a fresh foot is least likely to smell. Washing your feet, especially after returning from work or at the end of the day, also relaxes you. 

  • Clean your feet with soap and water - warm water is better than cold water. Remember to clean your nails and between toes
  • Scrub with a brush, pumice stone or mild exfoliant to get rid of dead skin 
  • Make a habit of washing your feet at the end of the day - especially if you have been wearing shoes or pumps all day. Even in winter months

Medicated soaps and foot sprays

While regular washing should take care of most bacteria, you can also buy medicated soaps and foot sprays from your local pharmacy. These soaps and sprays are made to kill bacteria and wash off excess chemicals like the odour-causing exoenzymes. Make sure you ask your dermatologist to know which soap or spray is best-suited to your skin.
If excessive sweating is the problem, you can opt for an aluminium chloride solution. This solution has been scientifically proven to reduce skin pores and hence control hyperhidrosis of feet, ultimately getting rid of smelly feet. It is available in the form of both ointments and sprays in the market,

Wear the right footwear

Design and trends aside, there are a few things to keep in mind while shopping for footwear:

  • Make sure that your shoes, especially closed shoes such as Oxfords and pumps, fit you well. Shoes that are too tight cut off the airflow to your feet, causing you to sweat more. Tight, closed shoes also don’t allow the sweat to evaporate, giving the naturally occurring bacteria on our feet more time to cause a stink
  • The material of footwear also plays a crucial role in feet health and odour. It is important to choose footwear made of a material that is absorbent and allows air passage. Hence, shoes made with very thick fabrics, plastics and synthetic materials are not recommended

Clean and maintain your footwear

Washing your feet is not enough. Our shoes gather germs, dirt and dried sweat particles over time. And this can lead to stinky feet. 

  • Make a habit of washing your footwear regularly. Depending on the material, wash them with mild detergent and water or give them for dry-cleaning. Afterwards, spray them with a mild mix of apple cider vinegar and water, and leave them out to dry in the sun
  • Make sure your shoes are completely dry before you wear them again. Any residual moisture in shoes can promote bacterial and fungal growth and lead to even worse odour 
  • Washing shoes daily is not possible, so wash them weekly and wear freshly washed socks daily
  • Try wearing different shoes each day. This will give your shoes time to dry before you wear them again. Try wiping the shoes with a soft cloth when you take them off, to remove some of the dirt and sweat immediately. You can also alternate between wearing shoes and open sandals - this also allows your feet to relax.
  • Another easy way to refresh a well-loved pair of shoes is to put in fresh insoles. Do it yourself, or ask your friendly neighbourhood cobbler to do it for you

Fresh, dry socks

Your socks are just as important as your footwear, and a lot easier to wash and dry - even in the monsoons. Nowadays there are many brands that make quirky, interesting socks. Try buying different kinds, for variety as well as dry and odourless feet.

  • Wear socks made with materials like cotton and bamboo that allow air passage
  • Your socks should be absorbent enough to wick away the sweat throughout the day
  • Remember to wear a freshly washed pair of socks every day 

Go Barefoot

Shoes protect our feet, but sometimes our feet need to relax. While you may have to wear shoes or close-toed sandals outdoors, try to leave your feet uncovered when you’re home. If you are uncomfortable walking barefoot, however, try wearing open chappals or flip-flops. 

If the foot odour still persists after everything you did for routine foot care, you can try home remedies. Apart from helping you get rid of foot odour, some of these tried and tested remedies have added benefits, like relieving stress and fatigue.

Epsom salt soak for foot odour

Epsom salt is a natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling and pain) agent. Not only does it suppress microbial growth but also it helps you get rid of any swelling or pain that may be associated with foot infections. Furthermore, Epsom salt is a muscle relaxant and can be an excellent way to destress after a long day at work. Drawing up an Epsom salt bath for your feet is simple and cost-effective:

What you’ll need:

  • Bucket 
  • Epsom salt
  • Warm water

Procedure:

  • Cleanse your feet properly with soap and water
  • Take some warm water in a bucket
  • Add 2 tablespoon of Epsom salt in it, and stir well
  • Check and adjust the temperature of the water to your liking, before you dip your feet in it
  • Soak your feet in the solution and just relax
  • Take your feet out in 10-15 minutes, or before the solution gets cold
  • Now wash your feet with plain water and you are done
  • You can repeat this once weekly

Note: Do not use very hot water, as it can lead to burns and irritation.

Apple cider vinegar wash for foot odour

Research shows that apple cider vinegar is an excellent antimicrobial and antifungal agent, and hence a great option to eliminate foot smell. There are many techniques to use apple cider vinegar:

i. Apple cider vinegar soak:

What you will need: 

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Bucket
  • Warm water

Procedure: 

  • Clean your feet properly
  • Take some warm water in a clean bucket
  • Add some Apple cider vinegar into the water
  • Stir the solution
  • Check the temperature of the water by dipping your finger in it
  • If temperature feels right to you, put your feet inside the bucket
  • Soak your feet in the bucket and relax for 10-15 minutes
  • Wash your feet off after some time

Note: Do not burn yourself by putting your feet inside hot water. Check the temperature of water carefully before moving to other steps. 

ii. Apple cider vinegar direct application: 

What you will need:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Clean bowl
  • Cotton ball
  • Water

Procedure:

  • Take apple cider vinegar in a clean bowl
  • Dilute it with water
  • Dip a cotton ball in the solution 
  • Now, with the help of the cotton ball, apply the solution all over your feet
  • Leave it on for some time
  • Wash your feet with plain water

Note: Do not forget to apply the solution in-between your toes.

Essential oils for foot odour

Essential oils such as lavender oil, lemongrass oil, clove oil and cinnamon oil have antimicrobial properties, and can, therefore, help to reduce foot odour.

What you need:

  • Lavender oil
  • Warm water
  • Clean bucket

Procedure:

  • Pour a few drops of Lavender oil in water
  • Soak your feet in the water, till it becomes cold
  • Take your feet out of the water, and dry them properly with a clean towel. Don’t forget to dry the skin between your toes
  • Bacteria break down the sweat on your feet into smelly compounds like isovaleric acid. Wash your feet twice daily, to remove these compounds and deter the growth of more bacteria on your feet. Remember to clean between your toes
  • Dry your feet properly after washing. Remember to scrub between the toes
  • Use an antibacterial soap to wash your feet - medicated soaps are easily available at pharmacies 
  • You can also use foot spray or powder to absorb excess sweat
  • Wash your shoes regularly - every week, if you can. Make sure they are completely dry before you wear them again
  • Wear well-fitting shoes made with materials that allow air to flow to your feet. Try to alternate between formal shoes and open sandals - sandals let airflow to the feet and helps them relax
  • Wear fresh or washed socks daily
  • Try and walk barefoot at home. If you want to wear slippers, pick comfortable and airy flip-flops
  • If the smell persists, try home remedies like soaking your feet in Epsom salt. These suppress bacterial growth and have the added benefit of relieving stress

References

  1. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; How to stop smelly feet
  2. Hossain S, Heo H, De Silva BCJ, Wimalasena SHMP, Pathirana HNKS, Heo GJ. Antibacterial activity of essential oil from lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) against pet turtle-borne pathogenic bacteria. Lab Anim Res. 2017 Sep;33(3):195-201. PMID: 29046693
  3. P. Khuntayaporn1, J. Suksiriworapong. Efficacy of essential oil formulations against malodor causing bacteria. Pharm Sci Asia 2017; 44 (4), 209-216
  4. Yagnik D, Serafin V, J Shah A. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Sci Rep. 2018 Jan 29;8(1):1732. PMID: 29379012
  5. Insight Medical Publishing. [internet]. American journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics.Pharmaceutical Influences of Epsom Salts.
  6. Isitua, Chinwe & Isaiah Nnanna, Ibeh & Ajuzie, Christopher. (2014). The Effects of Epsom Salt on Microorganisms Isolated From Sewage. The Journal of Applied Sciences Research.
  7. Khademi Kalantari K, Zeinalzade A, Kobarfard F, Nazary Moghadam S. The Effect and Persistency of 1% Aluminum Chloride Hexahydrate Iontophoresis in the Treatment of Primary Palmar Hyperhidrosis. Iran J Pharm Res. 2011 Summer;10(3):641-5. PMID: 24250398
  8. Katsutoshi Ara, Masakatsu Hama, Syunichi Akiba, Kenzo Koike, Koichi Okisaka, Toyoki Hagura, Tetsuro Kamiya, and Fusao Tomita. Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control. Can. J. Microbiol. 52: 357–364 (2006)
  9. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Foot odour: causes and cures
  10. Health Link. Foot Odour. British Columbia. [internet].
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