EMILY ASKS ALISON: What Can You Do About A Real Stank-Ass Shoe??

Do your shoes smell really bad? Take heart: someone else's do, too.
Publish date:
January 21, 2014
shoppables, style, what's in a costume designers kit, boots, stinky feet, emily is cute

I got a great Ask Alison question last week, from someone you all know pretty well:

Here it is, in all its glory.

"I have a question: what can you do about a real stank-ass, swampy, stinky shoe? I wore my beloved white boots too much and now they smell super bad. I can't even keep them in my room; I have to put them in the hallway! I tried Odor-Eaters but they did no good. You can answer this on the site if you want!"



Here are the boots she's talking about:

You might be wondering what caused this foot stank in the first place. I was, too, because I loaned Emily a pair of shoes when she stayed at my house last year, and they now smell like flowers and candy -- not flowers and garbage! So the problem is definitely not that her feet are gross. I think I actually know what caused it, because I've been a victim of this dreadful foot stank myself.

Since I converted McCombs to wearing fleece tights, she's been hella warm, even in the Polar Vortex of early 2014. (Which is COMING BACK, BY THE WAY.) But her footwear has surely suffered for it. Because winter + tights + boots is a dreadful combination. (Or any enclosed shoe + tights, really.) I'm in a huge hightop sneakers + dresses phase right now, which means wearing a lot of tights as part of my look. And let me tell you, the gold sneaks I'm wearing in this photo ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SMELL GOOD.

Most tights don't have any cotton content -- at least not enough to absorb sweat and odor. So all your foot sweat is going straight into the insole of your shoes, and it smells BAD.

A smelly shoe problem is made even worse when you truly love a pair of shoes and wear them multiple days in a row -- because then they don't get a chance to dry out and de-stink themselves, so foot funk has a tendency to build and grow and become terrible. (I'm not saying for sure Emily did this, but it's a good guess.) Boots that are made from pleather or rubber can also be the foot-smell culprit, as they don't allow the foot to breathe, thereby trapping sweaty stink inside the shoe with no place to go.

Another reason feet can stink in boots is not allowing your feet to dry completely after showering before putting on your shoes. That little bit of water trapped between your toes can be slow to dry and quick to funkify.

I'd prescribe some preventative maintenance to keep this from happening again -- either by wearing some cotton socks over your nylon tights or investing in these awesome Bootights that have built in moisture-wicking socks. Not only do they absorb foot sweat like a champ, they are markedly more durable and less prone to tearing than regular old tights.

Also, make sure to allow your shoes dry out completely between wearings. This can be helped along by stuffing newspaper inside of each shoe to help absorb the excess moisture that's left behind. We use these fancy Cedar Fresh inserts at work for severely stinky shoes:

But you can make your own by filling a pair of old socks with either activated charcoal (like they use in aquariums) or plain old baking soda. Stuff your homemade absorbent sachets in each shoe after every wearing -- if you do it religiously, it will keep the stink at bay.

The Odor-Eaters insoles Emily tried may have worked if she'd used them from day one -- but this far after the fact, they won't do a whole lot of good. I always tap a little plain old baby powder or Gold Bond foot powder in my shoes before I wear them barefoot or with tights, and it makes a huge difference in soaking up the stink.

But once a stank-foot smell has taken up seemingly permanent residence, what can you do to get rid of it? The solution lies in killing the bacteria that causes the stink. If it's a pair of washable sneakers, a spin through the washer in hot water with a capful of bleach does the trick.

But a pair of leather (or leather-ette) boots is a different story. To de-funk a non-washable shoe fast, just run a cotton ball soaked with either rubbing alcohol or Pine Sol all over the inside of the shoe and insole. Allow it to dry completely before wearing. You may need to do it twice, but it is great at neutralizing stink on the double.

If it wasn't January in New York City, I'd also suggest leaving them outside in bright sunlight to kill the odor -- because it actually works like nothing else.

A spritz of classic Lysol spray never fails to eradicate shoe stench -- but if you want to de-stink your shoes like wardrobe girls do, grab a can of what bowling alleys use to kill the funk of a thousand feet:

It's hardcore stuff -- but it works like WOW. It has a pretty distinct scent, so if you are sensitive to smells, try this clever spray that leaves no trace of scent once it dries:

The moral of this stinky foot story is that an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. But I honestly don't know why Emily is so concerned about her foot odor. She should just sell her smelly boots to science for some extra cash -- because it appears that cheese made of foot, belly button and armpit bacteria is all the rage for 2014. YUM!

I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison.

A shopping PS: The doll shoe necklace Emily is wearing is made by Sara Gallo!