Monday, January 24, 2011

What causes Sweaty, Smelly Feet?

What causes smelly feet?

We all know how smelly feet can clear out a room. Those with this problem are embarrassed by it and those who smell it are disgusted by it. So where does all that stink come from?! It all starts with sweat. If you don't sweat all the time your sweating is likely caused by wearing synthetic socks or shoes that are made with synthetic materials. If, however, you sweat all the time, it's believed that your problem originates from genetics.

Those who suffer can likely point out other members in their family who have the same problem. The inherited gene causes over stimulation in the sympathetic nervous system in the lumbar region. The scientific name for this is plantar hyperhidrosis.

Excessive sweating can also be signs of stress, anemia, overactive thyroid, leukemia, lymphoma, menopause, heart attack, or an infectious disease. If your feet started to sweat more when you began a new medication that is likely the cause and you can speak with your doctor about it.

Alright, so we know that the smell comes from sweat and we know what some major causes of sweating. So how does all that sweat make feet stink? The answer is that bacteria LOVES SWEAT! When we put our feet into our socks and shoes we create a dark moist environment. Everyone sweats on their feet but usually not enough to generate a problem. People who sweat excessively feed that bacteria with their sweat causing them to reproduce en mass. This bacteria is the actual manufacturer of that odor.


You have more than 250,000 sweat glands on your feet, and each foot is capable of producing more than a pint of sweat!!!

What can you do? 

If excessive sweating and odor has not been a part of most of your life then you should examine what is causing this now phenomenon. If it's stress, then you should do what you can to reduce that stress. If, however you're not under stress and this is something new you should speak with your doctor.

For those of you who've had to deal with this for as long as you remember, I'm sad to report that currently there is no cure. All that you can do is manage the symptoms. So I've compiled a list of things to help you reduce the smell and bacteria.

Wash: Yep, as simple as it sounds simply cleaning those feet can be a tremendous help. You can wash 2-3 times a day with a antibacterial soap. Make sure you wash them after any strenuous activity. Be sure to avoid over washing though. If your feet become dry, cracked or scaly reduce the amount of time you wash them.

Keep them dry: Use powder on your feet. The powder will not only absorb the moisture but will also block some of the sweat glands, reducing the amount of sweat. This will starve out the bacteria and reduce their numbers. You can also use a foot scrub containing salt, or simply use salt water. Soak your feet for 5-10 minutes and rinse them with plain water. Be sure that you dry your feet completely with a towel. If you'd like follow this up by adding an oil free moisturizer to your feet. It also works to use an antiperspirant on your feet.

Shoes: Your shoes play a major role in how much bacteria is on your feet, as well as how much they smell. If you can wear sandals or open sided shoes as much as possible. Don't wear the same shoes more than one day at a time. Give your shoes at least 24 hours to breathe and dry out. If you need to wear socks make sure they are made from natural fibers such as cotton or wool and change them several times a day. Any closed shoe should be well ventilated. Invest in some good odor eater inserts.

Diet: No I'm not telling you that you have to loose weight to make your feet to smelling. What I am saying is that certain foods are known to increase sweating and foot odor. If you discover a food that makes you sweat, simply reduce how much you eat of that thing. There are some foods you wouldn't suspect of causing foot odor. Here are a few: garlic, scallions, peppers and onions. The pigments that give these foods their strong flavors get absorbed into the blood stream and from there are removed from the body in the form of sweat.

Go to your Doctor: If you have an extreme case of sweating and nothing you've tried works you can talk to your doctor about it. There are several options and he/she can help you decide what is right for you. A doctor can prescribe an aluminum chloride solution, tap-water ionthophoresis (where a mild electrical current passes through your skin), injections similar to botox, or surgery.


  1. Oh, smelly feet are such an integral part of my life. :)

    I am a dancer and wear ballet or pointe shoes (no socks, ever) all day every day. I try to let them air out each night, but it doesn't help much. I don't like using powder because it makes my feet slip in my shoes too much, but I'm considering going back to it to help the smell! The good thing is I'm around other dancers who understand, haha.

  2. Well, my store offers talc free foot powders that you can get fragrance free or choose your own scent if you decide to try it again.