Your shoes look good and feel comfortable, but when you take them off pot plants wilt and small birds fall to earth. Stinky feet are such a common problem – does that mean it should be yours?
If your hands were snugly encased in layers of cotton and leather every day they’d smell a little like you feet by 6pm. That’s because your hands and feet are the extremities with the highest number of sweat glands on the body – more than 600 per square centimetre.
Encased in your favourite beetle-crushers the perspiration emanating from them can’t evaporate. Warmth and moisture create a perfect incubator for bacteria, which get to work, producing fatty acids that smell vaguely like your high school change rooms. The conditions are also ripe for the bacteria that can cause athlete's foot, itself no winner in the olfactory department.
With the great advances in micro-optics, scientists have for the first time been able to photograph the bacteria with tiny little clothes pegs over their noses while they work. One of the main contributors to odious odours from the feet is the wrong sort of shoe or sock. Materials are more of a factor here than aesthetics, although it can safely be said that grey men’s shoes do stink.
Check out your shoes carefully and keep your credit card handy – it can be a good divining rod for how much you’ll need to spend to solve your problem.
If your shoes have plastic, synthetic or cardboard linings, you’ll probably be able to find them in the dark. That’s because they don’t allow sweat to evaporate. Stick your finger inside and they might feel damp, even if you haven’t been wearing them. Time to trash them and get a new pair.
Your credit card might emit a slight humming or vibrating sound now, but not as bad as the hum coming from grey shoes with cardboard linings - unless you keep your credit card in your shoes. If your shoes have a little stamp that says “leather uppers” they might still have a synthetic lining, so check. If this is the case, consider buying new shoes. Two new pairs would be good if you can afford that, because then you needn’t wear them for consecutive days. The decision might make your credit card vibrate like an electric shaver, but you’ll be on the way to fragrant feet. With two pairs, the shoes that have the day off should be stuffed with newspaper. Well-read shoes don’t smell. And the paper absorbs the moisture.
Got a vacuum cleaner? Every few weeks, stick its narrow nozzle into the shoes to draw off any moisture. You could even leave those little bags of silicon that you get with electronic equipment inside the shoes.
Buy some inner soles for your shoes. Buy enough so that each pair only gets used once or twice a week. The good ones will stand up to sustained washing.
Get rid of any nylon or synthetic socks and replace them with socks that are a mixture of wool and cotton, or ones with no more than 40 percent man-made fibre such as rayon or nylon. Obviously you should wear clean socks each day.
Enough about the shoes and socks. Next, take a look at your feet.
If you have hard or cracked skin, you need to remove it. Hard skin is stinky skin because it goes soggy and harbours bacteria. Use a pumice stone or foot cream to remove the hard skin. Your local pharmacy will help you find some.
While you’re there, buy some tea tree oil. Put a few drops into a basin of warm water and bathe your feet in it for about 20 minutes at the end of each day. As always, dry your feet thoroughly afterwards.
Look for little pits in the soles of your feet. If there are enough of them to create almost a honeycomb pattern, and if this is accompanied by a very bad, very non-honey smell, you might have a bacterial infection called pitted keratolysis. See your doctor about a course of antibiotics.
Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about an aluminium chloride spray that you can apply to your feet as long as you don’t have athlete’s foot or any open sores.
(William Smook, Health24 updated November 2010)
12 footcare tips