How to freshen smelly shoes

How to freshen and remove unpleasant odors from shoes

Tennis shoes, running shoes, high heels and dress shoes all have something in common: a confined space that traps moisture in the lining of the shoes. The smell seems to get worse if active people play and run in the rain and leave their shoes at the bottom of the closet where humidity is retained, spores are given a chance to grow and Athlete’s feet have a chance to thrive and multiply. Fortunately, there are easy ways to remove odor permanently and sanitizing shoes with commonly used household items.


Step 1

Wash them

Tennis shoes and running shoes can be thrown in the washing machine without fearing damage. The basic material content is fabric and sturdy rubber which will not be harmed by soap and water. Remove the laces and place in a zippered mesh bag used for baby items or delicate wear to avoid only getting part of the laces clean and getting them caught in the machine’s drum. Add a cup of baking soda to the wash, let them dry by a fire, direct sun light, or throw in the dryer at Permanent Press setting until the inside of the shoe is dry.

Another alternative to washing your shoes is to use a steam machine (if you have one), or if your washer/dryer has a steam feature, use it regularly to kill bacteria causing odors.

Step 2

Spray and dry

In a spray bottle make a mixture of 50% white distilled vinegar and water. Spay a fine mist into the lining and sole of the shoe and let it stand for 30 minutes. Use a blow dryer to finish drying completely. Sprinkle baking soda generously all around the inside of the shoe and on the bottom sole. Let it sit over night and discard excess powder in the morning.

Step 3

Keep it dry

Sweat, high humidity, rain and snow are the primary conductors of microbes that cause foul smells and contribute to athlete’s feet. Remove your shoes promptly and let them air dry in a warm area over night. Putting them at the bottom of a closet with sweaty socks will only make everything in the closet smell just as bad. Leave stinky shoes wide open (remove shoe laces) in a sunny location and if the weather cooperates, let them air dry outdoors. During winter, sprinkle with baking soda and throw in the dryer for a few minutes.

Step 4

Regular maintenance

Like anything else in life, if things are going to last, they need to be maintained regularly and shoes are no different. Refill a baby powder bottle with baking soda and sprinkle generously after using. Shake off the excess the next day and don’t wait until the smell is so bothersome that the only solution is to get new shoes. With proper maintenance, a good pair of shoes can last a few years and still look new and smell fresh.

Step 5

Replace it

Replace the shoes if they are beyond help after trying all the above steps, or if they still look great after cleaning but the smell is too hard to get rid of, replace the insert of the shoes. Most shoe inserts are removable and replacements are easily found at shoe department stores, on line stores, or mass merchandisers like Target and Wal-Mart. They come in all sizes and a vast majority contain odor control properties, such as charcoal or chemicals in the material that make it difficult for bacteria to reside in.

Additional information

Make sure to wash shoes with velcro straps on their own. You don’t want the velcro to attach itself to other clothing and ruin a good shirt or for lint to become embedded in your velcro enclosures because it is time consuming to remove.

Things Needed
• Baking soda
• Fine mist spray bottle
• White distilled vinegar
• Mesh laundry bag
• Hair dryer
• Sunlight and fresh air
• A steamer (optional)
• Replacement inserts

Tips & Warnings
• Minimize sweat from feet by dusting the inside of socks with baking soda or corn starch.
• Let your shoes air dry in the sun whenever possible.
• Do not re-use nylons/stockings without washing them first.
• Odor Eaters contain charcoal to absorb moisture and odors, use regularly in dress shoes to avoid embarrasing odors.
• For shoes that will be stored for several weeks or months, sprinkle generously with baking soda or stuff a few dryer sheets to keep smelling fresh.


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