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Why Do My Socks Always Smell?

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Why do my socks always smell? Your feet contain more than a quarter of a million sweat glands, which means they are prone to sweating. A LOT. And with a lot of sweat, comes a lot of smell.

In this article, I will briefly describe why this happens, and give you some actionable steps you can take to combat it.

Why Your Feet Smell

Sweat isn’t bad, it has a very special purpose; to regulate your internal body temperature, and to keep your skin from drying out. However, your feet contain more sweat glands than any other region of your body, which means that at any point during the day, there is going to be SOME sweat.

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Just like under your armpits, the sweat glands that cover your feet are known as apocrine glands. These are glands that sweat and also produce an odor. When this occurs to your feet, this odor is known as “bromodosis”.

You may be wondering why your armpits don’t smell as funky as your feet do, being as they contain the same types of sweat glands.

The reason for this, is that your feet have a lot going on, a lot more than just simple apocrine sweat glands to worry about.

There is brevibacterium, which is a bacteria that breeds and thrives right between your toes. This is the bacteria that produces that cheese-like smell that sometimes wafts from your toes. It’s also the same stuff that is used to make certain cheeses, such as Limburger and Entrammes cheeses.

There are also the bacteria staphylococcus epidermidis and bacillus subtillis that often hand out on your foot skin. Like brevibacterium, they multiply and explode in damp, warm environments.

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And for the unfortunate 10 to 15% of people who suffer from extremely smelly feet, there often exists a very potent funk-smelling bacteria called Kyetococcus sedentarius at the root. If there is a “bad bacteria”, it’s this one, as these are the guys that produce that sulfur-like smell that comes with stinky feet.

All of these bacteria thrive because:

  • your feet are prone to sweating a lot
  • when you wear socks and shoes, you are creating a warm, damp environment for this bacteria to grow

The bad news is that there is very little you can do to stop your feet from sweating.

The good news is that there IS quite a bit you can do to prevent stinky sock and foot smell.

How to Prevent Stinky Feet

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1. Wash and Scrub Your Feet Daily​

This should be obvious, but it needs mentioning.

Don’t just do a once over with some soap and water in the shower. You need to really scrub your feet good.

If you don’t eliminate all of the bacteria on your feet during your wash, you are simply giving them more opportunity to grow.

One thing that works really well with daily washing is to use a pumice stone at least once weekly. Pumice stones can help you to scrape off dry, dead skin. Bacteria love dead skin, so the less of it on your feet, the better.

2. Keep Your Toenails Short

Bacteria also loves to flourish underneath and around toenails in particular.

Keeping them short, and making sure that they are clean, means that you are giving that bacteria a lot less opportunity to grow.

This probably isn’t going to make a noticeable difference, but it will make a difference nonetheless.

3. Wear Moisture-Wicking Socks

One of the best things you can do to prevent smelly socks is to wear open-toed shoes, but that simply isn’t a realistic option on a day-to-day basis.

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Since this is the case, your next best option is your socks themselves.

You’ll want to wear socks that are made out of something that can kill moisture as best as possible. Getting your socks wet from sweat is one of your biggest enemies here, so in order to tackle this, you should try to wear socks made from:

  • synthetic fibers such as polyester and/or nylon
  • merino wool

Either of these are much better than the common cotton-fiber socks that almost everyone else wears.

4. Powders and Anti-perspirants

At the very least, you should be using one of these methods.

One method is to simply use your armpit deodorant and anti-perspirant stick. It works just as well on your feet as it does on your pits, although you’ll want to avoid using the same stick for both regions.

Give the bottoms of your feet a few good swipes, as well as around your toes, let it dry a bit and viola.

Any good anti-fungal and odor-absorbing powders will also go a long way to prevent smelly socks and feet. After a shower is the best time to throw some of this on your feet, before any bacteria have had the chance to start growing.

5. Don’t Wear the Same Shoes on Consecutive Days

This is a really, really big culprit of foot and sock odour. You can wash your feet sixty times a day, and wear three pairs of nylon socks, but if your shoes are still wet and chock full of sweat, your feet are still going to smell.

Ideally, you should not wear any one pair of shoes or boots on consecutive days. The inside of your shoes is dark, and the insoles become damp and smelly after a good day’s use, and this simply becomes compounded the more consecutive days you wear them.

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When you switch shoes, it gives them a chance to air out and dry. A shoe-rack is a great, inexpensive investment to help dry out your shoes faster.

You should also consider washing your shoes, or at least your insoles, every now and again to kill as much bacteria as possible. Removable, anti-odour insoles are also another option.

6. Alternative Methods

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you are one of the unlucky few that is stricken by truly awful, smelly socks and feet, considering a black tea or saltwater foot bath.

Black tea can be used as an antiseptic to kill off foot bacteria. Any of the regular tea bags from Lipton or other generic brands will do. All you need to do is to steep a few bags in a few cups of boiled water for 10-15 minutes, then cool it down by adding colder water, and soak your feet for around 20 minutes a day. Do this once everyday for a week, and any odour from your socks and feet should be substantially reduced.

Saltwater can also really help. If you live near the ocean, a daily walk along the beach in the water is perfect. For the rest of us however, that’s not really possible. You can however use simple bath salts, or epsom salt, to achieve the same thing in a bucket of water. Do this 2-3 times a week and it should help with any odour.

To sum everything up:

  • Your socks are smelly due to hundreds of thousands of apocrine sweat glands on your feet, being in a damp, warm environment day in and day out.
  • Washing and scrubbing your feet daily.
  • Keeping your toenails short.
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks.
  • Apply anti-perspirant or anti-fungal powder.
  • Not wearing the same pair of shoes on consecutive days.
  • Using alternative methods such as black tea or saltwater foot baths.

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