freshen up stinky shoes

How To De-Stink Smelly Shoes? Disinfect, Then Deodorize

Do your shoes stink permanently? Experiencing foul odors ascending from your shoes even when they are on your feet? Then you could say it’s about time do de-stink them.

There are various ways to get rid of the smell your shoes emit and most of them are fairly easy to accomplish. Certain methods are more effective than others though.

Before we delve into the ins and outs of freshening up your shoes, first this..

  • Some shoes are beyond recovery. If your shoes really stink do your feet a favor and throw them out.

These shoes are probably invested with bacteria. The bacteria may have taken over the inner and outer linings, the fabric, the deepest pores in the soles. The microbes thriving there are hard, if not impossible to drive out.

In other words, really raunchy shoes just don’t benefit from any de-stink treatment.

More importantly, if you do wear them you will nullify your smelly feet cure efforts.

I mean, if you thoroughly wash your feet, wear appropriate socks, use a quality antiperspirant and at the same time wear those old musty shoes you are giving those pesky bacteria a chance to proliferate. In that case, all those other efforts have been for nothing.

For shoes that aren’t totally wasted, here are some proven de-stink methods.

How to get rid of the stink in footwear?

Step 1. Disinfect

Step 2. Deodorize

You will have to disinfect them to get rid of the bacteria in the shoes. After that you can deodorize them.

If you don’t first disinfect your shoes the smell is likely to be back in no time. * Some substances may have both qualities allowing you to disinfect and deodorize at once.


How to properly disinfect your shoes

The following are common methods to get rid of the bacteria, fungi and other micro organisms in shoes. Although all of these remedies are rampant over the internet they are not all equally effective. Some are just plain old wives tales.

Let’s take a look at efficiency and other pros and cons of each method based on contemporary research and common sense.


Disinfect: to clean (something) especially by using a chemical substance that kills all germs and bacteria

The freezer method. Take the pair of smelly shoes and place them into a plastic bag, don’t forget to seal them tightly. Place the bag into the freezer overnight and thaw the next day in the sun. Extreme cold, just like extreme heat, can take out bacteria.

  • Does it work? The problem with this method is that freezing is ineffective since such low temperatures do not kill bacteria. Freezing mostly renders bacteria inactive. Which is why  it doesn’t work well. I tried it and in my experience the smell returned rather quickly upon wearing. It seemed to me as if not all bacteria were killed off. Which I now know is probably true since freezing may kill some but not all bacteria.


Dryer sheets can prove helpful. Simply slide them into your shoes, and enjoy the fresh scent they will leave behind. Because their mild to moderate antibacterial action and fragrances they are a popular means to freshen shoes.

  • Does it work? Again, not a solution for the stinkier shoes since soaking shoes in a potent antimicrobial solution is more effective. Also, dryer sheets may contain all kinds of hazardous target chemicals such as chloroform, pentane, and ethyl acetate. Fragrances are increasingly known to trigger asthma and to stimulate growth of breast cancer cells in lab studies.


The washing machine. Sometimes simply a good washing can help take the smelly away. Remove the soles and laces, and put the shoes into a pillow case. Wash in the washing machine in 40-50 degree water twice and air dry. Don’t forget to wash the soles and laces too.

  • Does it work? One study concluded that washing at 60°C (140°F) for 10 minutes is sufficient to decontaminate hospital uniforms and significantly reduce the bacterial load. So yes washing shoes in the machine is likely to help freshen up stinky shoes by killing bacteria. Not all shoes are suitable for a treatment in the washer though.


Steaming. If your washer or dryer has a steam function, you can use it to destroy bacteria and fungus that are present. You can also try using a (hand-held) steam machine commonly used to remove wrinkles from clothing to clean them thoroughly.

  • Does it work? Steam is also a potent bactericidal. Its high temperaturs are likely to kill odor-causing bacteria and fungi.  There are even special anti-bacterial steam cleaners on the market. These are clinically proven to remove 99,99% of bacteria. Remember that you have to be careful with suede shoes.

Rubbing alcohol. One of the more potent remedies. Dab some rubbing alcohol onto a cotton swab or a Q Tip, and rub that into your shoes. Not only does it dry relatively quickly, but it evaporates liquids like sweat.

  • Does it work? Yes. There’s however a more effective method than the one described above. More in a bit.


Vinegar. It is commonly thought that vinegar, a.k.a. acetic acid is a great odor killer. Advice like, “Use half water, half vinegar, spritz, let dry and follow up with some baking soda”, is omnipresent.

  • Does it work? Vinegar may be able to remove odors but it it’s not your best option when it comes to fighting bacteria.

In the popular media, vinegar is commonly recommended for treating nail fungus, head lice, and warts, yet scientific support for these treatment strategies is lacking.

Whether or not the popular food preservative actually helps reducing shoe odor remains to be seen.

Studies comparing vinegar with commercial chemical cleaners also show that

natural products were less effective than commercial household disinfectants

This particular PubMed study assessed the efficacy of natural products such as baking soda, vinegar and common commercial disinfectants such as

  • Lysol Vesphene IIse Disinfectant Spray,
  • Lysol Antibacterial Kitchen Cleaner,
  • TBQ,
  • Clorox,
  • and Mr. Clean Ultra, ethanol.


We have to point out that this study examined the antimicrobial activity against selected potential human pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and viruses. It did not research the disinfecting activity of these compounds specifically against bacteria living on the feet.

However, it will be obvious to conclude that there are better disinfectants for shoes then vinegar.

Recommended shoe disinfection method:

Rubbing alcohol soak and bleach spray. recommends the following treatment.

  • Soak the shoes in a rubbing alcohol solution. The alcohol seeps into the inner parts of the shoes where it will kill them.
  • After seeping for a while, remove the shoes and let them dry, in a place with sufficient air circulation, preferably directly placed in the sun.
  • Bleach mixed with some water should then be sprayed evenly on the outside and inside of the shoes. All parts need to be sprayed. The bleach kills fungus and germs.
  • Porous surfaces and the inside of footwear should be applied with anti fungal shoe spray to help kill fungus that may cause athletes foot which can cause odor too.


If you dont’ want to soak your shoes use a spray such as Lysol Antibacterial Kitchen Cleaner instead. You could use an antiseptic powder in addtion to reach in crevices and seams.

Foot powders

There are numerous antifungal foot powders, and various foot sprays, that can assist in keeping odors at bay. While they are generally recommended for athlete’s foot, which can contribute to foot odor, these are formulated to cut into the stink.

DIY foot powders. Some people swear by mixing baking soda and zinc for an odor and fungal fighting powder that you can simply sprinkle into your shoes and leave overnight.

  • Does it work? Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is known for its deodorizing ability. This study on PubMed for instance also demonstrates its germ fighting ability. However, baking soda is NOT a sanitzer nor disinfectant. In other words, it is not able to kill most bacteria. This corresponds with my own baking soda for shoe odor removal experiences. So it can help remove foul odor but you will have to use something in addition to kill bacteria. On they explain the difference:

A product that “sanitizes” means it can kill 99.9% of identified germs as written on its label. “Disinfect” does the same thing, with a “nearly 100%” batting average. According to the California Childcare Health Program, baking soda doesn’t “kill germs well enough to be used to sanitize” nor does it mention disinfection as one of baking soda’s uses.


Commerical foot powders. Now we know that baking soda, despite its reputation isn’t a sanitizer pur sang.

If you will be using a commercial foot powder you’ll have to look at the label. It’s not for no reason Arm and Hammer does not mention “sanitizing” or even “disinfecting” on its packaging. The words “baking, cleaning and deodorizing” are listed.

Commerical foot powders however often contain zinc oxide. Among other ingredients. Zinc oxide has superior antibacterial action, relieves itch and has a soothing effect. Zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO NP) are also used in the food industry,

ZnO NP […] can be applied as a potent sanitizing agent for disinfecting and sterilizing food industry equipment and containers against the attack and contamination with foodborne pathogenic bacteria. (Source. Wiley Online Library)

Examples of commercial foot and shoe powders are Gold Bond, Tinactin. These are mainly used to prevent Athlete’s foot and skin rash.


How to deodorize your shoes

Cat litter. Quirky but effective. As strange as it may sound: cat litter actually isn’t such a weird remedy since the stuff is produced for odor prevention and deodorization.

Simply fill an old sock, seal it shut and loop it into your shoe overnight. Just remove anytime you plan to wear them, and put them back after.

Charcoal. Charcoal is commonly used in air filters because of its deodorizing properties. Therefore charcoal can work wonders in removing odor from shoes too. Fill a cloth bag or old socks with charcoal, insert these in the footwear and keep it there during the night.

Tea tree oil based deodorizer spray. This Rocket Pure Natural Shoe Deodorizer can be used on both feet and shoes and has raving user reviews. It’s all-natural containing essential oils of tea tree, mint, eucalyptus, and thyme.

Deodorizing insoles. Shoe inserts made out of cedar wood, bamboo or containing charcoal can help remove nasty scents. These however do not attack the problem at the source.

freshen up stinky shoes
lemon won’t help you much when your shoes are really stinky


Why masking scents doesn’t really help

According to some people, masking odors is an effective way of reducing footwear odor. Commonly used all-natural remedies are fresh orange peel, or grapefruit, lemon or limes. They simply place them into shoes for that fresh, citrus scent.

Others use a few drops of lavender oil dripped onto the soles of each shoe so that it can give off a flowery scent that eliminates the reek.

Well, if your shoes really stink this isn’t going to help.

Natural methods such as spraying some lavender oil are nice for when there’s only a really mild scent. Fact is that these remedies do not kill of the bacteria living in your shoes.

For really smelly shoes it’s time to take out the big guns.


Once you managed to freshen up your footwear you may want to take some preventative action. Here are some things to consider.

Damp or damaged insoles need to be taken care of properly. Remove them from the shoes, and dry them out. Dry the entire shoe beneath a heater or in the sun on a hot day. To quicken the process, remove the laces and lift the tongue up. This will destroy any bacteria currently in the insole.

Or simply buy insoles that don’t allow bacteria to grow. Bacteria are one of the primary causes of foot odor, along with wearing shoes made from unbreathable material synthetic or plastic materials.

  • Cedar wood insoles are antifungal, odor repellant and smell delightful. Simply pick up a pair and stick them into your shoes to regularly combat stinky shoes.


Click here for The Ultimate Guide on How To Prevent Foot Odor.


Never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row but rotate. Shoes can take 36 hours or longer to dry completely. If you wear them every day, they’ll never dry completely and bacteria have free play.

Once your shoes are fresh again, wear good socks, wash your feet properly, use insoles, and if necessary an effective antiperspirant and you are good to go.

Perhaps you have to throw in an occasional foot soak, but then your feet will probably be fresh n ‘dry.


Or de-stink shoes with this device:

StinkBOSS Shoe Sanitizer, Deodorizer & Dryer Review



Image: Yogma.

8 thoughts on “How To De-Stink Smelly Shoes? Disinfect, Then Deodorize

  1. Never wear the same pair twice? That’s a great idea, unless we’re talking work boots. In which case I’m sure most guys will tell you they don’t have a “rotating pair”. Starting at $150 for a decent pair I sure don’t. Just have to be extra vigilant I suppose. Thanks for putting in the research work.

  2. Any experience with 2Toms StinkFree Spray? I heard it’s alkaline heavy vs. bacteria’s acidic nature so it creates a non-conducive environment for the bacteria. Also, the “benzalkonium chloride” is the disinfectant part I guess. I think it is a germicide that pushes bacteria into aptosis. Any thoughts on if this is legit?

  3. No mention of the microwave? Of course, you don’t want to put your shoes in there if there is any metal in them; but in most cases I think we are talking about tennis shoes, which are not likely to have any metal. I washed mine out in a sink with soap and water first. –Now they are damp. (Of course, all the stuff about pulling out liners and removing laces, and pulling out the tongue to expose the inside holds.) Put a piece of cardboard down on the floor of the MW, and you probably want to take out any rotating tray. Nuke them for 30 sec. to a minute. Open the MW and change their position, then do another 30 sec. to a minute. Take them out (careful–they should be hot enough to kill bacteria and molds with steam), and put them in the sun to dry on a hot day. Few germs or molds will be able to survive. The washing and the sun help to deodorize.

    Also, one reason baking soda is good is not about bacteria. Bicarbonate destroys mold SPORES by breaking down their cell walls. I’ve found it best to put it in dry, shake it around a bit, then wet the inside of the shoe and scrub it in along with some soap (part of the pre-microwave treatment.) But the alkalinity be toxic to both mold and many bacteria

  4. I really appreciate that you critically researched this and provided firm scientific evidence. Now I’m off to apply your findings to my husband’s stinky shoes! 🙂

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