why do your feet smell

Here’s Why Your Feet Smell So Bad (And Tips To Prevent Them From Stinking Ever Again)

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Just a few days ago I was walking around our nation’s capital taking in all the patriotic sights including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument (which is unfortunately closed for elevator repair work), the beautiful WWII memorial, and so many other landmarks.

But as great and memorable the walk was, I was fully unaware of the vapid stench that hid in my beloved Onitsuka Tigers.

Long after the walk was done, and I got back to the hotel room, slid off my shoes and, to put it mildly, unleashed a beast.


But before I got to D.C. and boarded the Amtrak train, I made a critical mistake in my pack list.

I completely forgot to pack my socks!

Seriously, if you have travel plans in the next couple of days, pack socks…now!

::fast forward::

As I sat in the room wondering how my feet could have smelled so bad (which I will get to in a minute), I decided to jump in the shower and give them a deep scrub.

With limited resources and an over-priced gift shop at my disposal – I had to make do with what was readily available.

While my shower may have helped to subdue the stench between my toes, I still had a bigger issue – my shoes still stunk (so much so that I had to place them in the sliding closet to try and escape the smell).

So, after the smell finally started to escape the room – I knew I had to hop onto the computer and find out what was the cause of this stench.

Here’s the results:

Your Feet Need To Breathe

why do you feet smell - breathe

Ok, so we all know there are different types of men’s shoes that exist.

From the common sneaker to the sophisticated Chelsea boot and everything in between, men have no lack in style choices when it comes to shoe wear.

But here’s the deal:

When flipping through the latest issue of GQ or Esquire we see these men modeling shoes with no socks on.

While it might harken a Hollywood feel, there is some severe information that isn’t being translated to the reader:

Never wear your shoes without socks.

Sockless feet are a recipe for disaster for many reasons…

Socks play a key role in sucking away the moisture from your skin, especially if you choose the right fabric (more on this in a minute).

When going sans-sock, you open your feet up to a breeding ground for bacteria.

Just like this article where we talk about bad breath, moist and dark environments are what bacteria thrive in.

And here’s the kicker:

You never wash your shoes!

Even if you wear your shoes without a sock just once, especially in a warm damp climate like New Orleans or Florida, it can spell disaster for your favorite sneaker forever.

The bacteria from your feet will now live in your shoes munching on dead skin cells (gross I know).

So, if must go without socks, then you should wear the right type of shoes (I.e. open-toed shoes or anything with a highly breathable mesh): sandals, boat shoes, etc.

But here’s the reality:

When going out for an evening with your wife or girlfriend, boat shoes just simply don’t cut it (unless of course, you’re eating lobster at a beachside restaurant)

So, the solution here is to wear a pair of no-show socks.

There are some excellent options you can find at retailers like Amazon and Nordstrom that offer cuts below the line of the shoe.

This will help give the appearance of going barefoot (like the magazine fashion models) while retaining the moisture wicking ability so your feet nor shoes stink in the long run.

Buyers note: No-show socks are drastically different to low cut socks. Low cut socks generally will be similar to white tennis socks and offer additional padding while being cut just below your ankle.

No-show socks on the other hand are constructed with a much thinner lining (think dress socks) and just wrap around the base of your feet. No-show socks are designed to be worn with more formal shoes like a pair of oxfords or loafers.

When deciding on a pair of no-show socks, I will tell you a dirty little secret that just about every ‘men’s fashion’ publication tends to leave out:

Go with a natural or hybrid fabric (cotton or polyester).

These fabrics will win any competition for odorless socks any day of the week.


Because they are insanely breathable and prevent that swamp-like environment from festering between your toes and the sole of your feet.

Personally, I like to recommend these ones for men as they tend to have the most universal fit and are less prone to slipping off when wearing your beloved oxfords.

Why Are Your Feet Sweating So Much In The First Place

I don’t know about you, but even if I simply take out the trash and just slide on my shoes while barefoot, my feet start to sweat almost instantaneously.

Seriously, it feels like someone just took a hose and sprayed water into my shoes!

While the lack of air vents on the construction of the shoe is one leading factor, the other is hyperhidrosis.

In fact, many people (both men and women) deal with this symptom on a daily basis – profuse sweating.

Whether it’s the feet, arm pits, hands, or anywhere else on the body, sweat will begin to flow almost immediately if you aren’t getting enough air or are just mildly hot.

Unfortunately, with hyperhidrosis, it’s incredibly tricky to cure and something that many people just simply need to live with.

In fact, some men will go so far to have surgery performed on the area(s) where hyperhidrosis occurs in order to reduce or eliminate the flow of sweat.

Unfortunately, surgery isn’t perfect as you may not only lose feeling in the in the area where it was performed, but the sweat in your body will find another place to escape (I.e. the face, hands, underarms, etc.)

Foot Odor Sprays Vs. Powders Vs. Creams – Is There Really A Difference?

foot sprays for smelly feet

When browsing at on online retailer like Amazon or simply going to your local drug store, you will find that smelly feet remedies come in three distinct varieties – sprays, powders, and creams.

Here’s the important stuff you need to know about each foot odor remedy:

Foot Odor Sprays

My personal favorite is the foot spray for a couple of reasons:

Application is incredibly easy – seriously, I can do this before I run out the door in the morning.

It has multiple uses – while you can use this on your feet, a 1 or 2 second spray inside your smelly shoes should stomp out even the most wretched odors almost instantly.

This can be great if you are heading to a friend or family members house and slide off your shoes once you arrive without others taking notice of any odd smells.

Clean Application – whether you have a toddler that’s finding every crumb off the floor or you have a neurotic wife, sprays are pretty clean to apply.

I like to use this one personally.

Foot Odor Creams

Of all the ways to get rid of foul smelling feet, creams are the most effective but also the most laborious.

So, if you are struggling to find extra minutes in the morning or just don’t like rubbing a cream fully between your toes – then a cream isn’t for you.

But as much as they may be a pain for initial application, they do their job really well.

Creams can not only get between your toes where most of the smell permeates, but with diligent application, it can uniformly cover your entire foot as well.

Plus, if you get a foot cream with an antiperspirant like this one, it will completely stop the sweating from occurring in the first place.

This ensures that the bacteria causing the foul smell won’t have the moist environment it needs in order to grow.

Essential Oils For Your Feet

Last but not least you have essential oils.

While there are some valid doubts on essential oils effectiveness, they do offer at the very least, a way to cover up the smell – even if they don’t eliminate the bacteria.

Found in nearly all natural deodorants, essential oils are a potent solution derived typically from plants, flowers, or seeds, and are used to generate natural fragrances.

Their popularity aside, some folks do like to use essential oils mixed with a carrier oil in order to eliminate any foul smells from your feet.

Even if they don’t do a great job at eliminating odor, an essential oil mixed with regular oil will be a terrific moisturizer for your skin – which will ultimately make your feet both look and feel a heap better.

Diligence Is The Most Important Aspect To Make Sure You Don’t Have Smelly Feet

Whether it’s through the regular use of socks or no-show socks when paired with brown dress shoes or simply repeated application of a foot spray or cream, you must exercise persistence in order to ensure your feet don’t stink.

Even simple around the house tasks that you might not think twice about (i.e. going to the mailbox with no socks on) quickly make an environment for the bacteria to thrive and ultimately make your feet smell.

About The Author

Shawn Burns

Shawn is the founder and senior editor at Tools of Men, the leading style and grooming source trusted by men in 187 countries. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. He is an expert in all things men's grooming related. His work has been mentioned on countless sites including The Wall Street Journal, NBC, AskMen, Vice, WikiHow, and the New York Times.

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