Foot odor can be annoying, extremely unpleasant, and very embarrassing. Foot odor is caused by smelly chemicals produced by microbes on your feet — namely, bacteria and fungus as they grow in a warm, moist environment.
It is surprising to note that your feet have almost a quarter of a million sweat glands and can produce well over a cup of perspiration daily. Some people have a medical condition called hyperhidrosis, where they produce extreme amounts of perspiration daily.
For microbes to produce the foul odor, they need a warm, wet environment to grow. As you can imagine, this can be an everyday problem and may be pronounced for people engaged in athletic endeavors.
Controlling offensive foot odor is based on this simple principle: If you reduce foot moisture and microbes, you will reduce odor.
Tips to prevent foot odor
- Wash your feet daily with soap and water at the very end of your shower. Use a scrub brush. Lather up! This must be done daily to remove microbes from your feet. Clean between your toes, too. This is one of the most effective ways to reduce foot odor. If you think about it, as you shower, the soil runs down onto the floor and you are standing in it. Cleaning your feet with a brush should be the last task accomplished as you complete your bath/shower. Use a brush, not washcloth. Fewer than 25 percent of people do this on a daily basis.
- Dry your feet completely before putting on socks and shoes.
- Use an antiperspirant spray on your feet before putting on socks/shoes. The spray can also be applied to the feet before bed.
- Wear fresh socks daily. Wash socks in bleach if possible.
- Before washing your socks, turn them inside out to allow the surface that touches your skin to get cleaned the best.
- Use a disinfecting spray in your shoes before and after removing them every use. No exceptions. “Slay” brand athletic shoe spray works well.
- Use at least two and preferably three pairs of shoes. Rotate them daily.
- Never wear the same pair of shoes every day. Giving them a break allows them to dry out completely and reduce odor.
- Use ultraviolet shoe sanitizer “shoe tree lights” in your shoes when not in use.
By precisely employing these principles, 90 percent of people will achieve a significant and acceptable reduction in foot odor. If foot odor is still a problem, consult your doctor. There may be a bacterial or fungal infection complicating the situation.
This is especially a consideration if your feet itch, peel, have little blisters on the sides, or have white peeling skin between the fourth and little toes. Additionally, if you have hyperhidrosis (excessive perspiration), there are good medical treatments for this condition, too.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.