I suffer from smelly feet, which is very annoying particularly because I am in a new relationship. I have tried many OTC/home remedies to prevent this, but this doesn't really help.

According to this website (NHS) http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/foothealth/Pages/smellyfeet.aspx

You're also more likely to have foot perspiration if you're on your feet all day, if you're under a lot of stress or if you have a medical condition called hyperhidrosis, which makes you sweat more than usual. Fungal infections, such as athlete's foot, can also lead to bad foot odour.

I don't have any of the conditions mentionned above (I am healthy and my GP told me I don't have hyperhidriosis or fungal infections). Also, I am not on my feet all the day. I did follow all the recommendations (changing socks and shoes every day, keeping my toenails short) without success.

What are the causes of smelly feet? Could it be genetic? Or are there any other reasons (for a healthy individual)?

  • 1
    I don't have a great answer but it may have to do with the bacteria, just as in armpit odor. Have you tried foot powders? I recently starting using one with tea tree oil and it has helped a lot Sep 16, 2016 at 15:17
  • Also not an answer, just suggestions from experience. I am on my feet all day and sweat, and had this issue for a little while. I wash feet EVERY morning very well with (1) soap instead of my gentle body wash I was using, and (2) vigorous friction (rough washcloth or foot brush) EVEN IF I shower the night before. I use shoe powder, go barefoot when I'm at home (no sweating in socks), and if I have to leave without washing I have 2 pairs of shoes dedicated for "unclean" days. I threw out many shoes (especially sandals with porous soles) and washed others. Seems excessive, but worked.
    – DoctorWhom
    Oct 3, 2016 at 7:28
  • Consider also (part of what is described below) that our skin produces oils, including soles/palms. Look at your phone screen for example. You deposit these oils on surfaces including sandals and shoes. Oils can contain odor, as well as bacteria and fungi. Washing (your skin or the surfaces) decreases oils as well.
    – DoctorWhom
    Oct 3, 2016 at 7:45
  • I’ve just heard someone say that their doctor recommended spraying alcohol on their feet or in their shoes and she said it worked wonderfully. For the first time in her life her feet don’t pong. I read it in Quora and thought I’d pass it on though I’m not a sufferer myself. Dec 18, 2017 at 2:14

1 Answer 1


This is an interesting question. You are certainly not an isolated case.

The "origin" of foot odor has been examined in many studies.

  • This study conducted by Marshall et al focused on the microflora found on normal feet (no foot odor) and compared it to feet with foot odor. They reported a higher population densities of staphylococci and aerobic coryneform bacteria in the feet with foot odor. They also reported that these feets had higher exo-enzymes (lipase, protease, and callous degrading enzymes) than the other feet.
  • During the same period, Kobayashi et al showed staphylococcus epidermidis was linked to the presence of foot odor or not
  • Some years later, a japanese group led by Kanda analysed socks (!) and feet from two group of people (with/without odor) using a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). They reported that short-chain fatty acids were the primary components of foot odor

In 2006, a very interesting study was conducted by a group of canadian researchers: their aim was to identify microorganisms that are involved in producing unpleasant odors and examine plant extracts and fragrant agents which would inhibit the routes of production of these substances.

Here first an overview of the fatty acid they have found ( acetic acid is responsible for the odor of sweat, isovaleric acid, propionic acid, isobutyric acid, and butyric acid are involved in foot odor)

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Then they looked at a difference in organisms distribution and found that bacilli were significantly different between the groups:

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They then examined the possible role of naturally occurring materials using leucine dehydrogenase activity as an index (which is involved in foot odor), and obtained citral, citronellal, and geraniol as good competitive inhibitors. So these fragments are likely to inhibit foot odor.

Why different bacteries are present in some individuals and not in another might be multifactorial and precipitated by diseases (fungus, endocrine disorders,...). I haven't found any study suggesting it might be genetic.

Now, there are indeed many websites suggesting many different possible ways of treating foot odor. The only peer-reviewed paper I could find is was on The Physician and Sportsmedicine . Here their advices:

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Hope this brought some clarifications.

Sources: Ara et al. Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control.Can J Microbiol. 2006 Apr;52(4):357-64.


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