We’ve all experienced it – you take off your shoes after a long day and get an unpleasant waft of odor. Smelly shoes spreading foul odors can be unpleasant and embarrassing. Luckily, you can banish bad shoe smells quickly with simple household ingredients.
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Stuff shoes with odor eliminators like newspaper, paper towels, and dryer sheets to soak up sweat and moisture and leave a fresh scent. To optimize results, freeze or seal sneakers and heels to lock in deodorizers.
Bid farewell to smelly soles for good and avoid future odors by maintaining shoe hygiene between wears with these fast, overnight fixes. Say hello to fresh kicks each morning.
- Baking Soda and Charcoal:
- Remove the insoles or any removable parts from your shoes.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda and activated charcoal (available in pet stores or online) into the shoes, covering the entire interior.
- Leave the shoes overnight in a well-ventilated area.
- The baking soda and charcoal will absorb the odor-causing bacteria and moisture, leaving your shoes smelling much better by morning.
- Before wearing the shoes again, make sure to shake out the excess powder.
- Freezing Method:
- Place your shoes in a sealable plastic bag.
- Put the bagged shoes in the freezer and leave them overnight.
- The extreme cold temperature will kill the odor-causing bacteria.
- The next morning, remove the shoes from the freezer and let them thaw at room temperature.
- Once thawed, the odor should be significantly reduced.
- You can further freshen them up by sprinkling baking soda inside and shaking out the excess before wearing.
- Tea Tree Oil:
- Mix a few drops of tea tree oil with water in a spray bottle.
- Remove the insoles and spray the mixture directly into the shoes, targeting the areas with the most odor.
- Allow the shoes to sit overnight in a well-ventilated area.
- Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties that help eliminate odor-causing bacteria.
- The next day, the shoes should have a much more pleasant scent.
Why Do Shoes Smell Bad?
Before learning how to get rid of smelly shoe odor, it helps to understand what causes the unpleasant smell in the first place. There are two main culprits responsible for bad shoe smells:
Bacteria and Fungus – The dark, moist environment inside shoes promotes the growth of bacteria and fungus. As these microbes thrive, they multiply quickly and release noxious odors.
Sweat – Sweat itself has no odor, but when your perspiration comes in contact with the bacteria on your skin and shoes, it creates a chemical reaction that results in unpleasant smells. This tends to worsen over time.
So if you wear your shoes without socks, sweat heavily in them, or don’t allow them to fully dry between wears, it’s a perfect breeding ground for smelly shoe odor.
Best DIY Methods to Fix Smelly Shoe Odor Fast
The good news is you likely already have the simple household ingredients needed to get rid of shoe odor overnight. Some of the most effective DIY methods include:
Baking soda is mildly abrasive and alkaline, making it excellent at neutralizing odors and absorbing moisture inside shoes. The simple steps include:
- Pour a generous amount of baking soda directly into shoes (1⁄4 cup or more per shoe).
- If insoles can be removed, take them out and sprinkle baking soda directly onto the base and sides of the shoe interior as well.
- Let the baking soda sit and work its magic overnight, a minimum of 8 to 12 hours.
- In the morning, shake out the excess.
- For added freshening power, spray a little vinegar or vodka (dries odorless) onto the baking soda before shaking it out.
Activated charcoal has a highly porous texture, allowing it to effectively trap chemicals and odor molecules. Follow these steps when using it:
- Place a few activated charcoal bags directly into each shoe.
- Alternatively, you can fill socks with loose activated charcoal powder and stuff them inside your shoes overnight in place of the normal shoe inserts. This maximizes surface contact.
- Let it sit for 8 to 12 hours minimum.
- Remove the activated charcoal bags or powder-filled socks in the morning.
Using disinfecting and odor elimination sprays can help kill bacteria inside smelly shoes. Some options to try include:
- Isopropyl alcohol – Spray inside shoes at full strength then let dry overnight. The alcohol will evaporate leaving your shoes fresh.
- Tea tree oil spray – Has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties to destroy microbes and related odors.
- Distilled white vinegar – Helps neutralize stubborn odors. Spray it onto the shoe’s inner surfaces or a cloth and wipe clean.
- Essential oil sprays – Oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon and orange also have deodorizing effects.
No matter the spray, completely saturate the interior of smelly shoes then let them dry fully before wearing again with clean socks.
Preventing Smelly Shoes in the Future
While these DIY methods can banish foul shoe odors quickly, it’s also helpful to employ prevention strategies to stop the problem occurring in the first place:
- Wear breathable shoes and compatible socks so feet can ventilate properly. Change socks daily.
- Use antifungal and odor eliminating shoe powders and insoles.
- Stick moisture absorbing shoe trees inside shoes when not wearing them.
- Wash shoe inserts regularly to kill bacteria.
- Alternate shoes between wears to give them adequate drying time.
- Wash shoes occasionally as needed to flush out dirt and sweat buildup.
- Store shoes fully dry in a cool, well-ventilated area; never enclose them in plastic bags.
When to Throw Out Smelly Shoes
While the overnight fixes described can refresh smelly shoes and boots most of the time, occasionally footwear odors can get too deeply embedded no matter what you try. Signs it’s time to replace your foul-smelling shoes include:
Visible Mold Growth
If you spot fuzzy mold growing inside or on the surface of your shoes, they likely have an advanced fungal infection and should get tossed. Mold releases toxin-containing spores so wearing infected shoes long term poses health risks.
Permanently Soaked Insoles
Shoes with mushy, chronically damp insoles tend to harbor deeply embedded odors no DIY method can fix. The moisture provides the perfect habitat for microbes to grow and release noxious smells. Let excessively wet shoes dry out completely before one final odor treatment attempt. If they still smell afterwards, it’s best to get new shoes.
Won’t Dry Out Between Wears
Similar to perpetually soggy insoles, shoes that simply never have a chance to fully air dry before the next wearing will develop stubborn smells that can’t be remedied. If your footwear rotation is limited or weather prevents drying, odor buildup gets unavoidable over time.
While no one wants to throw out smelly but otherwise usable shoes, maintaining healthy foot hygiene has to come first. So if good shoes go really bad on the odor front, bite the bullet and buy fresh replacements. Then implement preventative steps so new shoes stay stink free season after season.
The Bottom Line
It’s frustrating coming across those inevitable smelly shoe situations. But armed with the right household ingredients and techniques, you can fix even severe shoe odors overnight without complicated remedies or specialty products.
Baking soda, activated charcoal and antimicrobial spritzes like vinegar and tea tree oil all offer affordable, accessible ways to tackle foul footwear smells fast. Then integrating moisture wicking, odor fighting insoles and consistent shoe hygiene routines helps guard against recurrence in the future.
So next time you slip on your shoes and catch an unpleasant whiff, don’t panic. Just pick your favorite DIY odor elimination method and freshen your footwear back to normal by morning. With a few basic tips, you can easily keep even heavily worn shoes from assaulting people’s nostrils thanks to inconvenient odors.
The prevention is key to keeping your shoes smelling fresh. Allow your shoes to fully dry after each use, rotate them to allow them to air out, and consider using odor-absorbing insoles or shoe deodorizers to maintain their freshness.
- Rotate shoes to allow them to air out between wears.
- Use odor-absorbing insoles or shoe inserts.
- Keep feet clean and dry to prevent excessive sweat and odor buildup.
- Consider investing in breathable shoe materials.