Why do your feet smell?

Why do your feet smell?

Having smelly feet can be more than just an annoyance. It can be downright embarrassing, depending on the occasion, whether at a job interview, a baby shower or even on a first date.

So why do some people’s feet smell so bad?

The average person takes between 8,000 and 10,000 steps each day, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). And did you know that your feet can sweat up to half a pint each day? While you might not generally think about your feet unless there is an issue, they are fundamental to your everyday life, especially if you are an active adult.

Dr. Jill Austin, a podiatrist at Advocate Medical Group in Aurora, Ill., says smelly feet are primarily due to feet sweat. There are 250,000 sweat glands in your feet, and bacteria also live on the feet’s surface. When bacteria combine with sweat, the particles break down, which can cause a ‘not so sweet’ smell.

So why do some people have smelly, sweaty feet while others don’t?

Many believe excessive sweating is hereditary, but no one knows exactly why it occurs, according to the APMA. Excessive sweating of the feet is called hyperhidrosis and occurs more in men than in women.

Dr. Austin offers these tips to keep your feet smelling good:

  • Keep your feet clean. In order to eliminate the bacteria and reduce odor, it’s important to wash your feet regularly, one to two times a day, with soap. Sometimes, applying a prescription antibiotic cream or taking a prescribed pill may also be necessary. You should speak with your physician if you are experiencing more severe issues that require this form of treatment.
  • Wash your shoes and socks. In order to reduce the moisture in your shoes, Dr. Austin recommends spraying disinfectant inside after you wear them to kill bacteria. This may not work for all footwear and should be tested on a small area to ensure you don’t damage nice shoes. Regularly washing anything you wear on your feet is a key component to getting rid of odor-causing bacteria.
  • Choose your footwear wisely. Wearing open shoes like sandals or flip flops allows air onto the feet, which gets rid of sweat and can limit bacteria. If open shoes aren’t possible, leather and canvas are the next best option because they allow your feet to breathe more than other materials. It’s also important to rotate your shoes and let them “air out.” When you wear the same shoes every day, moisture and bacteria is not able to dissipate, says Dr. Austin.
  • Cut toenails regularly. When your nails are too long, they can harbor bacteria, which can lead to an unpleasant odor.
  • Reduce the moisture content of the skin on your feet. Since sweating is the main culprit in the foot odor battle, reducing the moisture content can go a long way. Dr. Austin recommends using topical soaks or foot antiperspirants every night before going to bed for two weeks. Once the odor has subsided, she says you can reduce these treatments to once or twice a week.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for publishing and sharing this article.
    It’s very embarrassing, and difficult to deal with.
    Often times, no matter what you do it doesn’t seem to get any better. Especially if hereditary.
    Deodorant helps, but so does changing your socks multiple times in a day. Though you still feel silly after doing both of those things so often.
    Either way, it’s very noticeable to everyone near you as it is an unpleasant odor.
    You can be a very clean person, and this just makes everything seem like you are not.

About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is the manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.