Foot odour

Also called bromodosis

Most people experience smelly feet now and again, but for some people sweaty feet is an ongoing, embarrassing problem.

What causes smelly feet?

undefinedFoot odour or smelly feet is caused by too much sweat being produced by sweat glands on the feet. Each foot has about 250,000 sweat glands, and produces about 1 cup of sweat daily. When the sweat combines with bacteria that grow on the soles of the feet, this produces an unpleasant odour or smelly feet.

The main causes of sweaty, smelly feet are:

  • Not washing feet daily.
  • Wearing the same shoes every day.
  • Wearing shoes that are too tight so that sweat can't evaporate, or shoes that are made of 'unbreathable' material (such as plastic). 
  • Stressful situations that cause you to sweat more.
  • Hormonal changes in the body (especially in teenagers and pregnant women).
  • A fungal infection such as Athlete's foot between the toes. 
  • A condition called hyperhidrosis, in which people sweat far more than usual.   

What is the treatment for smelly feet?

In most cases, smelly feet are easy to treat. Wash your feet with an anti-bacterial soap or a mild, antiseptic solution, every day for about a week. Make sure you dry your feet well, before putting on socks or shoes. This usually reduces the amount of bacteria on the feet. 

If you suspect that you have a fungal infection like athlete's foot, speak to your pharmacist about using an antifungal product to get rid of the infection.

How can I prevent smelly feet?

Foot products

  • Use an antiperspirant spray or foot powder on your feet.
    • These products reduce sweating from the sweat glands on the soles of your feet.   
    • Examples include Prantal powder, Gran's Remedy, or aluminium chloride foot products. 
  • Use surgical spirits (can be bought from your pharmacy).
    • Apply following a bath or shower (make sure you have dried your feet well with a towel) by dabbing cotton wool dipped in surgical spirits between your toes.

Foot care

Good foot care or foot hygiene is very important in preventing smelly feet.

  • Wash feet daily with soap and water and dry thoroughly – especially between the toes.
  • Keep toenails short and clean.
  • Remove hard skin from the soles of your feet – it can become soggy when damp, becoming a place for germs (bacteria) to grow

Footware

  • Wear fresh socks every day. Wear cotton or woollen socks and avoid wearing nylon socks.
  • Avoid wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Instead, alternate your shoes daily to allow them to dry out.
  • Wear leather or canvas shoes, that allow your feet to 'breath'. Avoid plastic shoes. 
  • If you use your canvas or sports shoes very often, machine wash them and dry them out thoroughly, every now and again. 
  • If you wear insoles, air them out every day. This can also help reduce foot odour.
  • Wear open-toed sandals in summer and go barefoot at home in the evenings. 
  • Avoid tight-fitting shoes. Choose a shoe size and style that allows air to circulate, including sandals and open-toed shoes.  

When to see a doctor or podiatrist?

In most cases, the treatment and prevention mention above will reduce smelly feet. However, in some people, despite their best efforts, smelly feet still persists. If this is the case, it is a good idea to see your doctor or podiatrist.

It is also best to see your doctor if you have other conditions such as diabetes, peripheral neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease, where excessive sweating can put your feet at risk of foot infection leading to more serious conditions such as a skin infection (called cellulitis) and ulceration.   

Learn more

Find a local podiatrist Podiatry NZ
How to stop smelly feet NHS Choices, UK