A good, sturdy pair of boots will protect your feet while you’re working, ensure your footing is secure, and help cushion your knees and back if you’re on your feet all day.
Many people work jobs where they need to wear their boots constantly or will wear them frequently when working in the yard, woods, or wilderness.
Unfortunately, shoes that see this kind of wear and tear often develop the same, sometimes serious, problem: horrible odor.
Stinky shoes are awful to put on, can make you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious around other people, and are often unpleasant to wear as the bad odors are usually indicative of a bigger problem.
Fortunately, there are several easy ways to combat foul shoe smells.
Why do My Boots Smell so Bad in the First Place?
In order to properly deal with bad smells (and the bacteria that cause them) that accumulate in shoes and boots, it’s important to understand where they come from and what set of circumstances make it possible for them to thrive.
You might be surprised to learn that the stink that emanates from your shoes is actually caused by bacteria growing, breaking down, and multiplying again.
These biological functions create bad smells, similar to the way rotten or moldy food will smell bad, often before you even seen signs of the bacteria that is causing it.
It makes sense that bacteria would eventuality start to grow on food – the things we eat are, after all, organic substances that inevitably decay over time and bacteria and mold are a natural part of that process.
Why would shoes – artificial, non-organic objects – have the same problem?
The answer to that question is basically their shape, composition, inherent use, and sweat.
Sweat is an organic substance secreted by your body which gives bacteria a place to develop and a nutrition source to break down. Perspiration also causes your shoes to become damp over time.
In fact, your feet have roughly 250,000 sweat glands which can produce up to half a pint of moisture daily. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist areas that doesn’t see a lot of sunlight (which can kill bacteria) or experience a lot of airflow.
Thanks to the heat provided by feet, the organic components and damp nature of perspiration, and the dark, enclosed structure of a shoe, footwear is essentially the ideal environment for odor-causing bacteria to grow and thrive.
How to Get the Smell Out of Your Boots
In order to really make boots smell better, you have to solve the underlying problem that causes bacteria to grow and create awful odors.
The following methods all take this approach, but everyone’s shoes and feet are a little different, so you may have to try out a couple different solutions before finding the one that works for you.
1. Baking Soda
This makes an excellent boot deodorizer as it absorbs excess dampness where bacteria may be thriving and traps odors caused by bacteria. This way, when you remove the powder, you’re taking away both the obnoxious scent and the bacteria that caused it.
The most effective way of deodorizing with baking soda is to sprinkle it directly inside your boots, completely coating every surface. This allows it to effectively absorb perspiration and neutralize smells. This can be messy to clean up, though, so you can also fill a clean sock until it fits snugly in your shoe and leave it overnight.
2. Kitty Litter
Kitty litter is specifically formulated to be moisture-absorbing and is great for deodorizing work boots. Many varieties are made with odor-neutralizing components and/or perfume additives to help cancel out bad odors and replace them with sweet smells.
How to deodorize work boots with kitty litter? Simply fill a sock with kitty litter and leave it in your shoes overnight or until the shoes feel dry and the bad smells are gone.
3. Dryer Sheets
These sheets aren’t as effective at absorbing perspiration, but they will remove some, and the pleasant scent they release will help cover up the lingering odors of bacteria until it can be completely absorbed and removed.
Drying sheets work best when they are heat activated, so be sure to stick them in your shoes while they are still warm from being worn or place your sheet-filled shoes near a floor vent or radiator overnight. The heat will also help any lingering perspiration to evaporate.
4. Tea Bags, Salt, and Rice
Black tea contains tannins which can kill odor-causing bacteria. To use tea bags, boil them for a few minutes – or simply use some to make yourself a cup of tea – then place them in your shoes and leave them there overnight. I would recommend putting them on top of some cling wrap to prevent excess water dripping into your shoes and possibly staining them.
Speaking of water, this method doesn’t solve the dampness issue, so I recommend pairing black tea bags with some salt and/or rice. Salt and rice are both excellent at absorbing excess dampness. They can be used apart from tea bags, but using them together will get smell out of boots faster.
Charcoal is also excellent for absorbing condensation and killing odor-causing bacteria at the same time. Activated charcoal works the best. It can be bought online for you to stuff into a sock to make your own satchels, or you can buy pre-made deodorizing packets.
In addition to these DIY methods, you can also buy insertable soles for your shoes that are specifically made to absorb perspiration and odors.
You’ll want to look for some that are anti-microbial which will help kill bacteria or prevent it from developing to point that it starts to stink. You can also find charcoal-based inserts which will help as well. Just be sure to wash your inserts regularly using vinegar, soap, and water so they don’t start harboring odors and making the problem worse.
How to Prevent Further Smells
Preventing bad shoe odors is often much easier than trying to deodorize already contaminated boots. Good prevention methods follow the same principles of removing odors from shoes: prevent the buildup of humidity, excess perspiration saturation, and bacteria growth.
1. Start with the Feet
Since your feet are the source of perspiration that leads to bacteria growth and foul smells, you need to start by taking care of them if you want to keep your shoes smelling fresh.
Be sure to wash your feet frequently and spend some time barefoot so your feet can air out and dry out. If you have excessively sweaty feet, you can try washing them in a mineral soak or putting talcum powder on them to absorb perspiration.
2.Change Out Your Socks
First of all, you should always wear socks with your boots. They will provide an extra barrier between your foot and your boot and will help absorb perspiration.
The best foot coverings will be made of wool, as this material is especially absorbent. Be sure to change them out and wash them frequently so you aren’t compounding the humidity and bacteria problem.
3. Swap out Boots
Since damp boots are often stinky boots, it’s important to give them enough time to dry out between uses. If you find yourself needing to wear your work shoes every day, try getting two pairs and alternate wearing them.
This will help both last longer and will give them a better chance to dry out so you’re not just continually sweating into the same pair.
4. Use Newspaper to Dry Them Out
Newspapers can also help dry out your shoes when you’re not wearing them. Simply ball up newspapers and shove them into your shoes till they’re full. Leave them next to a furnace or heat vent overnight for added drying power.
5. Use Baking Soda
While this may be a fix for stinky boots, you can also stick a baking soda-filled sock into your shoe over night as a preemptive measure to help dry them out and absorb odors before they get out of hand.
6. Purchase Boot Insoles
You don’t need to wait until your shoes start to stink to get odor-absorbing inserts. In fact, using stench-preventing inserts in new shoes will help you stay on top of the humidity and bacteria problem that leads to unpleasant shoe smells.
If you have a new pair of boots or know you have stinky feet and are worried about transferring this problem to your shoes, find a good pair of insoles now that will help kill bacteria and absorb perspiration before unpleasant smells become a problem.
There are plenty of brands out there that are good for both relieving foot and back pain as well as assisting in controlling bacteria.
Can I Throw My Boots in the Washing Machine?
It really depends on the shoe. Most can be washed using the gentle cycle, though you should never wash leather or suede shoes. You also shouldn’t put your shoes in the dryer unless you have a special rack to keep them in place. Tumbling shoes can cause serious and expensive damage to dryers. If you really want to tumble-dry your shoes, you can try throwing them in with a few towels to cushion the blows to your machine, but this isn’t always enough to prevent damage.
Do Essential Oils Help?
Not really. Oils on their own won’t get rid of odor-causing bacteria or the damp environment that allows it to thrive.
At best, you’ll just be temporarily masking the odor issue without actually solving the problem.
Oils can be useful, though, if you pair them with a previously-mentioned smelly boots remedy like salt and rice that will remove excess humidity but doesn’t immediately kill or absorb bacteria or the smells they leave behind.
If you place a few essential oil drops on a cotton ball and add them to your shoes with a moisture-absorbing remedy, the oils can help your shoes smell better faster while the underlying problem is being resolved.
Will Dryer and Fabric Softener Sheets Help?
As mentioned before, these sheets can help, especially if you place them in an area where heat can active them.
If you have really damp shoes, you might want to find a more absorbent solution, but these sheets can serve as an option to manage mildly stinky shoes.
You can also throw them in your gym bag or place some in your locker where shoe odors may be spreading. Keeping your shoe storage area clean and smelling fresh will help avoid transferring bad scents back to freshly-deodorized