Here is the low-down.
Your feet sweat. And while your feet may not sweat more than the rest of your body, they do smell worse than the rest of you does after sweating. Why?
First of all, note that there are more than 250,000 sweat glands in your feet – more than anywhere else in your body. The rest of your body also never spends significant time in dark, damp shoes where bacteria love to live, grow and produce a stinky end-product. Sweat produced by other areas of our bodies has a way to escape into the air. Socks and shoes on our feet keep sweat from escaping and give it the chance to combine with the bacteria in shoes.
To get down to the technical part of it, bacteria multiply in sweat. (Sidebar fact: wearing no socks makes your feet sweat more.)
In the right conditions, bacteria feast on the dead skin cells and oils from the skin on your feet. Bacteria colonies grow and get rid of waste in the form of organic acids and these organic acids are the smelly fellows.
For most of us, this smell is stinky but not horrible. For about 10%-15% of us, this smell is very offensive. This small percentage of us actually has sweatier feet that produce a bacteria called Micrococcus sedentarius – pronounced “my-kroh-kah-kus seh-den-tair-ee-us. These bacteria produce really stinky organic acids and stuff called volatile sulfur compounds. These compounds are powerful and awful smelling – sort of like rotten eggs.
Reduce the Stink
Basically, since foot odor is caused by bacteria digesting sweat, it makes sense that you can reduce foot stink by decreasing the amount of bacteria on your feet and the amount of sweat collecting on your feet and in your shoes.
If you get down to the facts, reducing bacteria levels is a matter of cleanliness. It’s all about controlling the bacteria population on your feet by:
- Wearing clean socks
- Washing your feet with a good, powerful anti-bacterial soap
- Rotating the shoes that you wear. (If you don’t wear shoes for a 24-hour period they have opportunity to air out before you put sweaty feet in them again.)
You can also reduce the amount of sweat that collects in your shoes by:
- Wearing well-ventilated shoes instead of very constrictive shoes (like boots)
- Always wearing socks (cotton or other absorbent materials is preferred) since socks absorb lots of the sweat so the bacteria can’t feed on it
- Changing your socks during the day
- Buying absorbent shoe inserts (like Oder-Eaters)
- Applying antiperspirant to your feet
If you are one of the 10%-15% with really bad foot odor, the best option is to see a doctor. There are a number of prescription drugs that can treat serious foot odor by killing bacteria and/or reducing foot sweat more effectively than the self-help methods above.