It’s a problem we’ve all dealt with at some point – the person who takes their shoes off and immediately fills the room with an overpowering stench. For some people, foot odor seems impossible to escape no matter how much they wash and scrub their feet. So what causes this embarrassing issue, and is there anything that can be done to get rid of inescapable foot odor for good?
What Causes Foot Odor?
Foot odor is caused by bacteria thriving in the warm, dark environment inside shoes and socks. The most common culprit is a bacteria called micrococcus, which feeds on your sweat and dead skin cells. As the bacteria multiply, they produce isovaleric acid, which is responsible for the characteristic odor. Other bacteria like bacillus and coryneforms can contribute to foot odor as well.
In most cases, regular washing keeps the bacteria in check. But some people seem to deal with much more severe foot odor that persists no matter how often they clean their feet. So what makes some people more prone to this predicament? Here are a few potential causes:
People who sweat heavily, a condition called hyperhidrosis, are more likely to battle chronic foot odor issues. The excess sweat creates a prime breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria. The sweat itself doesn’t smell, but as it breaks down due to the bacteria, it creates potent odors.
Certain Medical Conditions
Some medical conditions can increase sweat production, making foot odor more difficult to control. These include diabetes, thyroid disease, and various hormone imbalances. Other conditions like athlete’s foot cause itchy, peeling skin that bacteria feed on. Fungal infections like this can make the odor even worse.
Poor Foot Hygiene
Not thoroughly washing the feet and changing socks daily gives odor-causing bacteria a chance to grow unchecked. Likewise, sharing shoes or socks spreads bacteria from one foot to the other. Infrequent trimming of the toenails also allows more bacteria to hide out.
Evidence suggests that some people may be genetically prone to issues with foot odor. They naturally have more of the types of bacteria that cause odor on their skin. They may also have more sweat glands or naturally produce more sweat.
No matter the cause, some people find themselves dealing with embarrassingly smelly feet no matter what they try. So what can be done to battle inescapable foot odor?
Tips for Fighting Persistent Foot Odor
Controlling extreme foot odor often feels like a losing battle. But trying a combination of the following tips can help keep the smelly feet situation under control:
- Wash feet with antibacterial soap and dry thoroughly twice per day or more. Don’t forget between the toes!
- Change into clean, dry socks twice a day or more frequently if feet get sweaty. Choose socks that wick moisture away from the skin.
- Alternate between different pairs of shoes daily so each pair has time to fully dry out before wearing again.
- Sprinkle antibacterial foot powder inside shoes and socks to help absorb moisture and inhibit bacteria growth.
- Wear shoes made of breathable materials like leather or mesh to discourage sweating and bacteria buildup.
- Disinfect or freeze shoes overnight to kill bacteria – just stuff with newspaper so they hold their shape.
- Apply over-the-counter antifungal creams or powders containing miconazole or clotrimazole to feet daily to treat fungal infections.
- Have athlete’s foot, fungal toenails or other underlying infections properly treated by a podiatrist.
- See a doctor to discuss prescription strength antiperspirants or oral medications that reduce excessive sweating if topical products aren’t effective enough.
- Consider prescription antibiotic creams or oral antibiotics if excessive foot bacteria don’t respond to good hygiene alone.
- Get in the habit of trimming toenails weekly.
- Wear flip flops in communal showers or locker rooms to avoid picking up bacteria left behind by others.
- Soak feet in diluted white vinegar or sage tea baths – both are antimicrobial.
- Change your socks throughout the day if you sweat a lot. Bring extras with you.
- Wipe feet with rubbing alcohol or witch hazel pads occasionally to help control bacteria growth.
- Avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row to give them a chance to fully dry out.
- Sprinkle a thin layer of medicated foot powder inside shoes before putting them on.
With consistency, most people can keep chronic foot odor under control with vigilance about hygiene. But stubborn cases may require prescription strength treatments, medical intervention, and ongoing maintenance. The key is not to give up. With the right combination of prevention tips, even inescapable foot odor can eventually be corralled.
No one should have to face social or professional limitations due to uncontrollable foot odor. Seeking understanding from those around you and getting treatment for resulting anxiety or depression can help reduce the burden while working to control symptoms. With the right approach, it’s possible to maintain confidence and a full life despite frustrating foot odor struggles.