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How To Deodorize Shoes and Keep Them Smelling Fresh

Smelly shoes are pretty nasty, and it can be easy for running shoes to get even nastier than that. We ask a lot of our running shoes, with all the sweating we do in them, and you should be taking care of them just like you take care of your running clothes. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about removing shoe odor and keeping your shoes nice and fresh.

How To Deodorize Shoes and Fresh

What Causes Shoes to Smell in the First Place?

The short answer is sweat. Now this might seem odd since you sweat in other places of your body, but that’s not factoring in several considerations:

  1. Your feet are covered most of the day in shoes, which doesn’t allow for ventilation. This is especially key when you’re running because you’re producing more sweat with little ventilation.
  2. Each foot contains 250,000 sweat glands! This means that your feet can, actually, produce a lot of sweat.
  3. Most people don’t wash their shoes the same way they wash their running clothes.

And when there’s warmth and sweat without good ventilation, that means that bacteria is going to develop. If you’re someone who sweats a lot, your footwear has the potential to be super smelly. Even if you don’t sweat a lot, shoes create prime conditions for bacterial odor.

What are Ways to Remove Odor?

There are three ways to remove odor in your shoes: you can remove the bacteria and odor, you can try to hide the smell, or you can remove the moisture that causes the smelly bacteria.

Odor Absorbers

If you want to remove odor, try one of these methods.

Baking Soda

This is a tried and true method for getting rid of odors. In fact, I have a box of baking soda in my fridge right now to keep any nasty smells away. All you need to do is dump baking soda inside the offending shoes overnight, and remove in the morning.

Although this shouldn’t be an issue for running shoes, remember that using baking soda too much with leather shoes can dry them out.


Salt is another good alternative to baking soda for helping to remove the odor of stinky shoes. I guess it just depends on what product you have more of at home—baking soda or salt.

Tea Bags

Another option if you want to kill the bacteria and thus the smell in your shoes is black tea bags, which contain tannins. Simply pour boiling water over the tea bag for 2-3 minutes, remove the tea bag from the hot water, and let it cool.

Then put the cool tea bag into your shoe for about an hour. Be sure to clean up any excess liquid when you remove it.

Baby Powder

If you have babies, this option might be a great one. Like baking soda, simply put some baby powder in your shoe to soak up the odor. You can also put baby powder on your feet before wearing your running shoes as well.

As a side note, baby powder is also great for getting sand off your feet so that it doesn’t get in your car. Just a thing I’ve learned living by the beach.

Rubbing Alcohol

If you want to reduce the smell and disinfect your shoe, consider using rubbing alcohol over the smelling part of the shoe. You’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Cat Litter

This option might not be extremely useful if you have dogs, but if you happen to have cats, try using some cat litter. Simply put cat litter on the inside of your shoe overnight and dump out in the morning. Feel free to wipe out the inside with a clean, damp cloth so you don’t have to think, “Oh my gosh, I’m stepping in cat litter.”

Odor Hiders

If you just want to cover the nasty smell up (this might be important if you need a quick fix), try these methods.

Smelly shoes

Deodorizing Spray or Sneaker Balls

You can always try using a deodorizing spray or sneaker balls to help get away from the smell. The downside of a spray is that you’ll have to wait until the shoes are dry to use them, but that isn’t too hard to plan with running.

If you want to make your own spray, you can use a combination of water, vodka, and essential oils. That’s what this runner figured out because she liked using barefoot running shoes that didn’t require socks.

Fabric Sheets

If you stick a fabric sheet in your shoe before you go to bed and then take it out the next morning, you’ll help to neutralize bad smells. You can also use fabric sheets anywhere that you put your running shoes, such as a gym bag.

Essential Oils

My mom loves essential oils, so this tip is for her. If you want your shoes to smell good, put a few drops of essential oils into them. If you’re concerned about directly applying essential oils to your shoe, you can always put some on a tissue or a paper towel and put that in your shoe. Just be aware that oil tends to degrade many kinds of rubber, so think twice before letting oils touch your midsoles and outsoles.

You can pick whatever essential oil you prefer (or which ones you happen to have), but I would recommend lavender as it is good for soothing and calming, which might be really relaxing for a run. You might also consider using OnGuard to combat any fungus or bacteria.

Orange Peel

If you don’t have any essential oils, but still want your shoes to smell good naturally, orange peel is a great option. Instead of stinky foot, you’ll get the amazing smell of orange, and who doesn’t like the smell of citrus? Just put in a peel or two overnight and remove in the morning.

Odor Eliminators

If you want to remove the moisture that caused the odor in the first place, then try these methods.

How to remove smell on shoes

Place Them Outside in the Sun

If you happen to live in an area that’s very sunny, consider placing your shoes in the sunlight. This will keep the bacteria away by drying them out without the disadvantages of shrinking them in the dryer.

Use Newspaper to Dry When Wet

If your shoes are wet, don’t toss them in the dryer. Instead, wrap them with newspaper. The newspaper will absorb the water, and your shoes will get dry quickly. Keep an eye on them to see if you need to change the newspaper once or twice.

Freeze Them

Freezing your shoes will also kill bacteria. Simply put them in a Ziploc bag overnight, and by morning, you’ll have fresh smelling shoes again.

What are Other Tips to Reduce Odor in Shoes?

Now that you know how to get rid of odors once they’ve already gotten in your shoes, here are some preventative measures.

Consider rotating your shoes to avoid wearing the same pair every day. This is also a good idea for your running form and avoiding injuries. Make sure to keep your shoes clean and always wear socks—this alone will help a lot.

The more that you keep your feet clean, the easier it will be to keep your shoes clean. Plus, you might want to consider looking into wicking socks and well-ventilated shoes. With both these items, sweat will be pushed away so that it can evaporate, and it won’t leave your shoes smelling bad.

Finally, make sure that you thoroughly dry out your running shoes before wearing them again if you accidentally get drenched for example. But if you find yourself with bad-smelling shoes, you know what to do.

Nobody likes stinky feet and shoes, and you don’t want to be the runner that everyone avoids. Remember that you’re more likely going to deal with odors from your running shoes because you’re sweating a lot, and take the necessary precautions to reduce and eliminate odors.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner