How To Get Rid of Smelly Shoes

Running comes with a plethora of interesting problems. One problem runners face is smelly shoes. There are ways to both prevent and remedy bad shoe odor and in this article, we give you our best tips on how to get rid of smelly shoes!

Why Do My Sneakers Smell??

After a kick-butt workout, you find yourself sweating, which is good news. The bad news is that sweat makes its way into every crevice, nook, and cranny.

A hot shower fixes the bodily odors, and a prewash of vinegar helps take the odor out of workout clothes. The shoes, however, are a different problem.

Photo credit Pam Berg – Trail Assail Waukesha, WI

Sweat pools into socks and shoes and bacteria thrives in the wet environment. The bacteria break down, turning the sweat into isovaleric acid, a fatty acid that causes the offensive odors.

There are ways to combat the offensive odors, as well as ways to mask the problem.

Give Odor The Cold Shoulder

Did you know that popping your shoes into a freezer can help kill the bacteria that thrive in your shoes? Bacteria need warmth to survive so putting your shoes into the freezer will kill the bacteria. This also works for your apparel in a pinch.

Dry Your Shoes

Never, never put your shoes into a dryer. You can combat odors by keeping your shoes dry, but that does not mean you can never run through snow or slush.

Pack your damp shoes with the newspaper after a workout. The newspaper will absorb the wet, leaving your shoes dry. Dry shoes are less likely to become a playground for bacteria.

Baking Soda

Sprinkling baking soda in your shoes will neutralize odors. Up to a tablespoon of baking soda in each shoe is all it takes!

Remove Insoles

Removing the insoles when airing out your shoes will help prevent odors. The insoles can be washed with gentle detergent or shampoo and left to air dry. The insoles or inserts should never be put into a dryer.

Rotating Shoes

There are many reasons to rotate your running shoes and odor prevention is one of them. Feet tend to sweat and stink and wearing the same shoes day after day not only leads to a breakdown in the cushion, they don’t have adequate time to air out.

Photo credit: Pam Berg

Giving shoes a break, removing the insoles and sprinkling some baking soda into the shoes on their “off day” is a good way to freshen them.

Furthermore, throughout the winter running months when shoes are likely to get damp, you can stuff a little newspaper into both shoes on the off days.

Proper Socks

Runners need to be careful about what kind of running apparel they wear. This goes for socks. Good running socks will prevent excessive sweat with breathable materials and protect your feet from blisters which will, in turn, make your shoes less smelly.

Take ‘Em Off, Baby

It may be tempting to linger in your running shoes or to keep them on post-race, but avoid that temptation. Removing your shoes and exchanging both socks an shoes for dry items is better for both your apparel and your body.

Hanging out in damp workout clothes is not good in any respect. So remove all workout apparel, including shoes, promptly post-workout.

Hang any workout clothing to air dry, remove insoles from shoes, stuff the shoes with the paper if they are damp, and then jump in the shower.

Photo credit: Fitness cheat

If you are running or working out away from home, do your best to avoid shoving wet or damp, sweaty workout gear into a gym bag. If you absolutely must pack up your clothing immediately after, get them out of the gym bag and either soaking, washing or hanging ASAP.

You can also keep a small container of baby powder on hand to sprinkle in shoes immediately post-workout. That won’t seem like an odd item to have hanging out with your workout clothes and will help long term when your shoes end up in your car or locker for a few hours post-workout or run.

About Really, Really Dirty Shoes?

Even runners who don’t set out to attempt a mud run sometimes find themselves with super dirty shoes. Can these shoes be salvaged? The answer is yes.

  • Remove dirty, wet shoes immediately
  • Rinse with cold water
  • Remove insoles, and rinse some more
  • Wash in the washing machine, on gentle cycle, with towels to pad the tumbling
  • If the shoes smell bad, add vinegar to wash cycle and use half the recommended amount of detergent OR use sports detergent
  • Remove from washer and stuff with newspaper to dry
  • About one hour after washing, remove the paper and add new, dry paper
  • Once dry, sprinkle with baking soda

Voila. Clean, dry, not smelly shoes!

Deodorizing Products

It is important to note that the following products should be used in conjunction with regular cleaning and proper drying of shoes, not in lieu of.

  • Sneaker balls are specially formulated items made to deodorize your shoes and gym bag
  • Foot powders like Dr. Scholls are made to eliminate foot odors
  • Antibacterial sprays get sprayed into shoes to eliminate bacteria, which in turn eliminates odor
  • Shoe sprays use a variety of different chemicals to eliminate odor, but there are also natural items – Sprayzee is a product that deodorizes using essential oils, which have increased in popularity in recent years
  • Deodorizing bags use bamboo charcoal to naturally eliminate bad scents from shoes
  • For the smaller budget, dryer sheets are often used inside of shoes to freshen things up
  • Many people find baby powder and/or baking soda do the trick on a shoestring budget

Prevention, Cleaning, Deodorizing – It All Matters

The long and short of it is that you certainly can remove unpleasant odors from running, cross-training or other workout shoes. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Prevent odors by removing shoes promptly after working out and ensuring they are not stored in warm, enclosed areas. Use baking soda or baby powder to absorb odors. Stuff your shoes with newspapers if they are damp after a workout.

Clean shoes with a good old fashion rinse, or go a step further and scrub them up with soap and water. Dry them with the same newspaper trick, or let them air dry. There are also products marketed to help deodorize shoes so they always smell fresh.

The long and short of it is no one wants stinky shoes. Do your best to prevent that from happening but when the inevitable happens, use our tricks on how to get rid of smelling shoes to get them clean and pleasant smelling again!

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