Nobody ever said feet were supposed to smell like Chanel No. 5. And even the most well groomed tootsies are going to be a little reekish after they’ve been stuffed in a pair of leather boots all day. But if you catch a whiff of something foul each time you unlace your kicks, then we need to warn you: What you’re smelling is the presence of an overgrowth of bacteria or fungus on your feet. Time to figure out what’s causing it and take action.
“These microbes thrive in dark, damp conditions—like the insides of shoes,” says Joseph Sciandra, a podiatrist in Buffalo, New York, and president of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association. Winter is prime time for stinky feet, says Sciandra, thanks to the heavy shoes we keep our feet warm in for hours on-end. Another funk culprit are those super trendy (and totally comfy) slip-on sneakers, which a lot of women wear sans socks. “I see this in my practice: Without the socks, your feet sit in a sweat bath all day, and that breeds germs that cause odor,” says Sciandra. Fight the funk without giving up your favorite kicks with these tactics.
1. Don’t Go Sock-less
We hate to sound like a broken record, but your feet have more sweat glands than any other body part, so this really is important. When you wear any kind of closed-toe shoe, even thin cotton-blend socks act like sponges, soaking up sweat and preventing your feet from becoming germ colonies, says Sciandra. Socks made of synthetic fabrics designed to wick away perspiration work well, too, as do those made from a wool-blend, he says. Change them at least once a day—more if you work out.
2. Throw Your Feet a Tea Party
When your tootsies are really raging, go with this home remedy: steeping them in a bath of black tea for 20 minutes daily. The acid in black tea kills microbes and closes up pores, so feet stay drier, according to the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management. Use two tea bags per pint of water, then cool the tea before you soak.
3. Spray Your Dogs Down
A couple of spritzes from an antifungal foot spray once a day will help keep the stench under control, says Sciandra. If you’re not a fan of aerosols, sprinkle on an antifungal powder instead. Once you’ve sprayed or powdered up and your feet are dry, layer on the socks. It’s also not a bad idea to spritz or powder inside your shoes before putting them on.
4. Rotate Your Kicks
You know how you generally won’t wear the same pair of jeans two days in a row so they have time to air out a little? It’s the same principle with your shoes. “Wearing the same shoes every day prevents the sweat from your feet from fully drying, contributing to odor,” says Sciandra. Alternate your kicks so you wear each pair no more than every other day. (Just don’t make them two pairs of high heels in a row.) And if you’re a daily gym-goer, consider investing in two pairs of athletic shoes, then switching off.
5. Free Your Feet When You Can
Slipping off your shoes under your desk when you’re sitting at work or in the car during your commute just gives them a little extra time to air out so fresh oxygen can circulate and fight the growth of bacteria and fungi, says Sciandra. (But for your seatmate’s sake, don’t unlace them if your commute involves public transportation, please!)
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