What Causes Smelly Feet?

Marlene Garcia

The combination of sweat and bacteria causes smelly feet in some people, which might be troublesome enough to seek medical help. Each foot contains more than 200,000 sweat glands, more than any other place on the body. When moisture becomes trapped by footwear, a bacterium that essentially eats dead skin cells as they slough off develops. This bacterium changes amino acids into a malodorous substance, creating smelly feet. Some cheeses contain the same bacteria, which give them their strong smell.

A roll-on deodorant may help get rid of smell foot odor.
A roll-on deodorant may help get rid of smell foot odor.

Excessive foot sweating might stem from hormonal changes in the body, some medications, stress, or diet. Adolescents commonly suffer from smelly feet as their bodies change during puberty, especially in young boys. This condition might resolve on its own as hormone levels adjust in adulthood.

Excessive foot sweating can cause smelly feet.
Excessive foot sweating can cause smelly feet.

People under chronic stress might also produce more perspiration. Adrenal glands in the human body release extra sweat when danger is present. Those who live with constant stress on a daily basis might suffer from smelly feet because the excess perspiration on the feet cannot evaporate. Podiatrists commonly recommend reducing the amount of stress through exercise, meditation, or other methods to address foot odor caused by stress.

Consuming too many refined carbohydrates might produce excessive bacteria or foot fungus, causing stinky feet. Doctors suggest reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates in the diet and eating more complex carbohydrates and less fat that might cause smelly feet. Limiting alcohol and tobacco use might also help.

Controlling the amount of perspiration and production of bacteria helps reduce foot odor. An antibacterial soap can be used daily to keep bacteria levels low, along with a medicated foot powder. Feet should be thoroughly dried after bathing, with special attention between the toes, where moisture gets trapped. Some people who suffer from smelly feet use shoe inserts that absorb moisture throughout the day.

Socks and footwear made from natural materials help reduce perspiration build-up on the feet. Cotton or wool socks allow air around the foot and absorb sweat, especially socks made with material that wicks moisture away from the foot. Plastic shoes create an ideal environment for moisture and bacteria to thrive. Shoes made from canvas or leather permit the foot to breathe, but the same shoes should not be worn two days in a row, giving them a chance to completely dry out between use.

Treatment for smelly feet might be as simple as using a spray or roll-on antiperspirant daily. If an over-the-counter product does not reduce foot odor, a doctor might prescribe a stronger antiperspirant. These products might not be an option for everyone because they produce skin irritation and redness in some people.

Another available treatment involves injecting botulinum toxin into the soles of the feet to paralyze sweat glands. A podiatrist numbs the feet with injections near the ankle before injecting the toxin into 40 to 50 spots on the sole of each foot. Patients might experience discomfort for a few days after the treatment and might notice increased sweating on the lower half of the legs. When effective, such treatment can reduce perspiration for up to a year. In severe cases that don’t respond to other treatments, nerves in the foot might be cut to stop the production of sweat.

Athlete's foot, a highly contagious foot fungus, causes feet to burn and itch.
Athlete's foot, a highly contagious foot fungus, causes feet to burn and itch.

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Discussion Comments


I suffered many years from smelly feet and athlete's foot. The most important tip for all fellow sufferers: Keep your feet dry! This should be the main rule! So dry them thoroughly after every washing.

In addition to this, put insoles made from cedarwood (I can recommend Zederna insoles) in all your shoes. They absorb the moisture originating from your feet. Using these two methods, my problems are gone after years.

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