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How To Remove Smells From Shoes: And When To Seek Help

Everybody sweats — but let’s make sure our favorite shoes don’t reflect that!

Are your shoes stinky to the point of embarrassment? Do you worry about the stench every time a host asks you to remove your shoes? You’re not alone.

Stinky feet are totally normal. Between trapped sweat, bacteria, and fungus, most people experience smelly feet at some point (1). But when that stench spreads through your socks into your shoes, it can become a problem.

We’ll show you how to remove smells from your shoes, so you never have to be embarrassed again. Check out these 14 easy methods for killing odors instantly.

Key Takeaways

  • Use a 1:1 mixture of distilled white vinegar and baking soda in a spray bottle to remove shoe odors.
  • Wash non-leather shoes in a washing machine with mild detergent on a gentle cycle.
  • Baking soda, sunlight, and essential oils can also help eliminate shoe smells.
  • Maintain good foot hygiene and wear moisture-wicking socks to prevent smelly shoes.

How To Remove Smell From Shoes

The first method involves washing the shoes. This method can remove basically any bad smell — and it’s super easy. Try this for canvas, pleather, nylon, polyester, plastic, sneakers, or cotton shoes.


Don’t use this method for suede, leather, embellished shoes, vinyl, dress shoes, or boots. The washing machine and water can damage these types of shoes.

  • Time: 1-2 hours.
  • Difficulty: Easy.

What You’ll Need

  • Washing machine.
  • Soft-bristled brush.
  • Mild laundry detergent.
  • Bowl.
  • Large basin.
  • Water.
  • Mesh laundry bag or pillowcase.
  • Cloth.
  • Three towels.

1. Remove Excess Dirt

Gently brush the shoes to remove excess dirt from the inside and outside. Then clap the shoes together to shake off the loosened dirt.

2. Remove Laces and Soles

Remove the laces and soles — place them in a large basin with a 5:1 solution of water and mild laundry detergent.

Soak the laces and soles for 20 minutes before scrubbing them gently with the brush. This method can remove bad odors from the soles of the shoes.

Rinse well before air drying the laces and soles on a flat towel.

3. Wash the Shoes

Place the shoes in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase. Place them in the machine and choose a gentle cycle with a low spin speed and cold water.

Add ¼ of the amount of laundry detergent as usual. Toss in two old towels for extra padding. This can prevent the shoes from damage.

Begin the cycle.

Top Tip

For top-loading machines, wait until the machine is ¾ full of water before adding the shoes.

4. Air Dry the Shoes

After the cycle, remove the shoes and let them air dry on a towel in a dry, breezy spot. Once they’re dry, add the soles and laces back.

How To Remove Smell From Shoes Without Washing

If you’re wondering how to deodorize shoes without a washing machine, we have some other home remedies to try. These 13 hacks can take your shoes from stinky to sweet, using items you probably already have in the home.

With Vinegar

You can make a vinegar spray that will naturally remove shoe odors and also bad smells from anywhere else in the home! You can use this spray for bedding, clothes, furniture, and more.

  1. Create the mixture: Combine a 1:1 solution of distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Add 10 drops of tea tree oil for extra stink-fighting power.
  2. Spray: Spray the inside of your shoes a few times. Don’t oversaturate the shoe, but spray enough to evenly distribute the area.
  3. Wipe: After 10 minutes, wipe the shoe’s interior with a dry cloth.
  4. Air dry: Leave the shoes in a dry, breezy spot to 100 percent air dry.

This method works for weekly use, helping you stay on top of odors.

With Baking Soda

Baking soda can absorb odors, making them disappear completely. Just note that this isn’t safe for leather or suede shoes — baking soda can make the material brittle.

  1. Sprinkle: Sprinkle baking soda into the shoes before shaking it around to distribute evenly.
  2. Wait: Leave the powder in the shoes for 24 hours.
  3. Remove: Shake the baking soda into the trash can. Vacuum the excess. Now your shoes are odor-free!

With Sunlight

The UV rays from sunlight can kill bacteria, which causes odors (2). An easy way to remove smells from shoes is to pop them outside in the sunlight for a few hours. The sunlight can also remove mold, mildew, and other musty smells.

If you have leather or suede shoes, put them in a shady spot indoors to air out. Otherwise, you can put them under a UVC lamp which can kill bacteria, fungi, and odors (3).

With Essential Oils

You can add essential oils to other mixtures — such as vinegar or baking soda — or we can use them on their own for odor removal power.

  1. Make solution: Mix eight drops of each oil in a bowl: eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, lemongrass, clove leaf, and peppermint.
  2. Apply: Dip a cotton ball into the mixture and rub it over the inside of your shoes.
  3. Wait: Leave the oil to dry into your shoes overnight.


Wear gloves when applying the oils. Direct contact with undiluted oils can cause skin irritation.

With a Bar of Soap

This easy method involves placing a bar of soap inside the shoes overnight. This is one of the easiest shoe freshener methods, as it takes zero preparation. The porous nature of the soap will absorb odors, leaving your shoes odorless.

You might not want to use this exact soap bar for hand-washing since it now hosts a range of musty smells. Keep it aside for shoe-cleaning purposes only!

In the Freezer

This hack isn’t really based on science. After all, it takes minus 80 degrees to actually kill bacteria, and most freezers sit around zero degrees or just below (4). But if you want to give this tip a go, be our guest.

  1. Prepare: Place the shoes in a plastic bag.
  2. Freeze: Place them in the freezer for 12 hours.
  3. Air dry: Remove the shoes from the freezer and the bag. Leave them to air dry. Check for odors afterward. You might need to use another method alongside this one.

With Kitty Litter

Kitty litter works a bit like baking soda. It absorbs odors, so it’s a handy method for how to get rid of smelly shoes.

  1. Fill the shoes: Fill the shoes with a generous amount of kitty litter.
  2. Empty: After four hours, empty the kitty litter from the shoes. Vacuum the excess away.

Friendly Advice

Keep your cats away from the shoes. They might suddenly think this is a new place to go potty. That’s the last thing you need when trying to deodorize your shoes!

With Lemon Peel

Another home remedy is using lemon or orange peel as an odor eliminator. This natural DIY method is excellent, especially if you have citrus fruit you need to use up.

Simply peel a lemon or orange. Leave the peel in your shoes overnight, and it will add a fresh scent.

With Rubbing Alcohol

If you want to clean your shoes with a disinfectant, rubbing alcohol can help. Rubbing alcohol can kill bacteria, deodorizing and disinfecting your shoes. For tips on how to get rid of shoe odor with rubbing alcohol, try this method:

  1. Prepare: Pour rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle. Add 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil if you want to leave behind a fresh scent. Tea tree is a great option for even more deodorizing power.
  2. Spray: Spray the inside of the shoes generously.
  3. Wait: Wait for the shoes to air dry before wearing them again. Place them in a breezy spot for quicker results.

With Tea Bags

Tea bags containing oolong tea, black tea, Pu’er tea, or hōjicha can remove odors (5). Here’s how to use them in your shoes:

  1. Steep the tea: Boil a kettle and place six to eight teabags in a large heatproof container (like a teapot). Pour boiling water over the bags and let them steep for five minutes.
  2. Prepare the tea bags: Remove them from the water and leave them to cool on a plate for five minutes.
  3. Put them in the shoes: Place the teabags into the shoes and wait for one hour.
  4. Remove: Remove the teabags from the shoes and wipe the liquid away with a cloth.

If you have white shoes and don’t want any tea stains on your soles, you can do this with dry tea bags. It just might not be as effective.

With Coffee Grounds

Coffee contains caffeine (6). Caffeine contains nitrogen. Nitrogen contains odor-fighting powers.

So it makes sense to use this to remove odors in your shoes. Here’s how:

  1. Prepare: Pour some coffee grounds into two socks. Tie the top of the sock tight.
  2. Insert: Place the coffee-ground-stuffed socks into your shoes.
  3. Wait: Leave the coffee in your shoes overnight and let the odors disappear.
  4. Remove: In the morning, remove the coffee grounds, slip on your fresh shoes and enjoy your odor-free day!

With Newspaper

After reading the paper, wad it up into a ball and stick it inside your stinky shoes. Leave it in the shoes for 24 to 48 hours; if you can place the shoes outside, even better!

You might need to swap out the newspaper a couple of times for really stinky shoes.

We also recommend keeping newspaper near your shoe storage and stuffing it in your shoes when you get home. Newspaper can absorb odors and moisture between wears, ensuring your shoes are always fresh.

With Odor Removers

Try deodorizing your shoes with a commercial odor spray. Here are some we love:

  • FunkAway Odor: This odor eliminator spray is terrific for shoes, gym clothes, your car, and more. It can remove bacteria, odor molecules, and other offensive odors.
  • Rocket Pure Foot & Shoe Deodorizer Spray: If you want a natural deodorizer that you don’t have to make yourself, this is one to try. This spray uses peppermint and eucalyptus oils to remove odors and leave behind a lush scent. It can even prevent future odors. For a modest price, this one bottle provides over 700 sprays!
  • NonScents Shoe Deodorizer: These easy-to-use deodorizing pouches use unique technology to eliminate odors, leaving behind zero scent. It’s non-toxic and safe for both children and adults. Simply pop them in your shoes between wears and enjoy fresh feet!
  • Lumi Outdoors Natural Shoe Deodorizer: This maximum-strength natural shoe deodorizer uses essential oils to tackle shoe odors. But you can also use it for deodorizing your entire house! Leaving behind scents of lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree, customers love how clean this makes their shoes smell.
  • Air Jungles Odor Deodorizer Balls: Finally, why not try shoe balls? You simply twist the ball, place them in your shoes and let the natural odor eliminator technology leave behind a fresh scent. You can also use them in your closet, car, backpack, and more.

How To Prevent Shoes From Smelling

What can you do to prevent odors over time? While it’s super easy to remove bad odors, prevention is vital.

Here are some top methods to try:

  • Wear socks: Wearing high-quality socks provides a barrier between your sweaty, germy feet (no offense!) and your shoes. This can combat odors super effectively. Sweat-wicking socks are especially handy!
  • Practice good foot hygiene: You should wash your feet with soap daily to remove fungus and bacteria. You can also apply antiperspirant to your feet as an extra hygiene measure.
  • Store shoes correctly: Store your shoes in a cool, dry place. If your shoes are in a warm, humid place, bacteria, mold, and mildew can quickly grow. If your shoes get wet, always dry them out before storing them.
  • Wear other shoes: Wearing the same pair of shoes every day might be tempting, but every so often, switch it up. This gives your favorite pair of shoes a chance to air out completely.
  • Fight odors daily: You can place newspaper, odor-fighting insoles, or fabric softener sheets inside your shoes after each wear. This kills odors instantly, so they don’t build up and cause problems.

What To Do About Sweaty Feet

As mentioned, good foot hygiene is key for preventing smelly shoes. We have researched what medical professionals have to say about sweaty feet. Here is the most effective advice that we found.

Firstly, sweaty feet are normal. But if you have excessively sweaty feet — something five percent of the population have — you’re not alone (7). This is usually an inherited issue, but it can be very stressful.

It’s important to wash your feet daily with an antibacterial soap or scrub. Get in between each toe, around the top and bottom of your feet, and up to your ankle.

After washing your feet, dry them well. You may want to apply a foot powder to your feet, such as Gold Bond, to help with foot odor control and itchy skin. Another option is using an antiperspirant, which can plug the sweat glands.

Then, we recommended wearing wicking socks made from natural or acrylic materials. These socks can remove moisture from your feet, limiting sweat.

You might even want to change your socks a couple of times a day, especially if you feel they become damp. Another tip is to wear shoes made of breathable materials, like canvas.

Finally — drink a lot of water. This can regulate your body temperature and minimize sweating.

If you still struggle with sweaty feet, visit a podiatrist. They can help you with the symptoms.

Expert Advice

Avoid 100 percent cotton socks as they don’t wick away sweat. This can lead to blisters.

Adieu, Odors!

After wondering how to get smells out of shoes, you now have the answer. There are plenty of excellent options for tackling these odors. Most options use materials you probably already have in the house, including baking soda, lemon peel, and bar soap.

Prevention is key, though. So make sure to wash your feet daily, air your shoes out well and store your shoes correctly.

If you still suffer from sweaty feet and stinky shoes, you should visit your podiatrist, who can help you with the symptoms.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!