I found this antique book excerpt about a cure for exceptionally stinky feet. It’s from The British Medical Journal edition Sept. 18, 1880.
Since we, in our pharmaceutical dominated culture, have a hankering for remedies from grandma’s era I did some research. Checking if it’s a good alternative to more modern cures.
In the book, a doctor called George Thin, MD, describes how he goes about treating a patient with, in his own words, evil smelling feet.
There are few persons of experience, medical or lay, who have not had the misfortune to discover that certain individuals smell so offen- sively, that it is almost to approach them. In many instances, the evil smell is connected with the feet.
This evil smell is so strong and gross that it fills an area “with a sickening effluvium” that somewhat resembles “putrefying cheese”.
The doctor also describes how the foul odor may linger long after the person with the stinky feet has left the room.
In some cases the smell is so strong and penetrating, that it pervades a room long after the person from whom it emanates (and who may have remained in it only a few minutes) has left.
The doctor expatiates a bit more about the social consequences of such a medical problem before he proceeds with his experimental, yet successful treatment of such extreme cases of foot odor with boracic acid.
He also explains that in case of such extremely smelly feet there’s more to it than just bacteria feeding on the excessive sweat and skin flakes on one’s feet.
The cause of the extreme foot odor
George Thin M.D. notes:
Profuse sweating of the palms and soles is not uncommon, but, in order to produce the specific odor to which I refer, something more than mere profuse sweating is required. The excessive perspiration, when confined by stockings and boots, macerates the epidermis, and, if the per becomes tender. This tenderness is accompanied by redness, slight blistering, or more decided localized eczema.
What is boracic (boric) acid?
It is often referred to as sodium borate in the list of ingredients in products.
Boric acid is made from the mineral boron, from sodium salts and from oxygen
During WW1 boracic acid was used to treat wounds of British soldiers. In fact, the ancient Greeks already used it to make cloth fireproof.
The substance is still today used as a mild desinfectant on skin and as an eye wash. Because of its antiseptic properties it’s a common ingredient in baby powder, contact lens solutions, and various cosmetics.
It is popular as a remedy for yeast infections (ladies issues), Athlete’s foot, jock itch, yeast, in the laundry and more.
The substance, in powder form, was and still is sprinkled in corners and crevices of rooms to repel and exterminate mice, insects such as silverfish, cockroaches, termites, fire ants and other vermin.
The chemical boric acid has proven to be a potent topical agent that requires apropriate and cautious use.
Is it safe?
It’s basically toxic but with correct use it’s generally considered safe.
From Wikipedia: Toxicology
While strictly speaking, Boric Acid is poisonous if taken internally or inhaled, it is generally not considered to be much more toxic than table salt (based on its mammal LD50 rating of 2660mg/kg body mass).
The New York Times reported that products containing boric acid are safe according to research but may cause skin irritations in people with sensitive skin and babies.
Is it a good idea to use boric acid on extremely sweaty feet?
While it may generally be safe, is it a good idea to use boric acid on extremely smelly feet?
Feet of which the skin has been broken or otherwise damaged because of maceration?
The general rule of boric acid (liquid or powder) is,
Don’t eat it, Don’t inhale it, and Don’t use it on broken skin.
While boric acid, borates, and other compounds containing boron are used medicinally, they are potentially toxic if ingested or absorbed through nonintact skin.
Which is often a problem accompanying very sweaty feet. Maceration of skin, blisters, pitted keratolysis, cracks, in other words, nonintact skin.
Treatment of feet
It’s a commonly used agent to both treat feet and shoes. For shoes often boric acid powder is used. It’s a very potent cure according to some. As this user experience demonstrates.
I was in Mexico visiting my aunt, and I showed up at her door after having spent 24 hours straight on a bus from Guatemala. I was wearing hiking boots and have been known to have sweaty feet. As soon as I took my boots off in her house she pointed me to a container with a white powder.
After washing my feet I applied the powder directly onto my feet and sprinkled some in my boots. For one of the first times in recent years I was not worrying about how stinky my feet were.
Apparently her husband was in the Mexican army and upon walking into the rancid barracks recommended that his COs put out bowls of boric acid for the soldiers to rub their feet with. It worked so well he got a promotion on his first day. cheers, J.
Treatment of shoes
To treat your shoes you can use boric acid powder or wash them with a solution of borax, vinegar and water.
Elissa Altman, editor of “Baking Soda, Banana Peels, Baby Oil and Beyond” recommends to use 1/2 cup of borax, 1/2 cup of vinegar and 2 cups of water to kill lingering bacteria.
If your shoes can’t be washed you could spray this solution in a fine mist in shoes and let it dry completely before wearing the shoes.
Does it work better to desinfect footwear from bacteria and as an astringent than other foot powders and antiperspirants?
Since it’s a weak acid it may not be such an effective astringent (thus antiperspirant) compared to more potent antiperspirants.
Although the cooling and tightening effect of boric acid may be average it seems to be an effective shoe sanitizing agent. If you do want to use it as a topical for feet, don’t forget to check if the skin on your feet is whole and not damaged.
As for effectiveness, it often also depends on what works best with your body’s chemistry. What works well for some people may not work for others.