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Primary Causes Of Shoe Odor (And How To Fix It)

Shoes are tough to keep fresh and clean since we don’t always regularly wash them as we do with clothing. But that doesn’t mean they have to stink. What are the real causes of shoe odor, and what can you do to prevent them from ruining your favorite footwear?

Shoe Odor: An All-Too-Familiar Frustration

Regardless of whether you’re wearing shoes for fashion or exercise, they can end up smelling pretty bad– pretty quickly. Hey, it happens to all of us. In particular, with shoes we wear often or ones we work out in. Shoes are one of those things we expect to be smelly. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Unfortunately, bacterial stink can get in your shoes, where it thrives and spreads. This can turn into an embarrassing problem when people can smell your shoes from a distance. On top of that, you can spread the bacterial stink within your gym bag and from your shoes to your feet. How can you keep your shoes from stinking? Is it possible to not only combat it– but to prevent the odor?

how to clean dirty shoes with HEX

Preventing shoe odor

Getting to the Source of Shoe Odor


To combat shoe odor, the first step is to understand where the stink is coming from. The answer might seem obvious since the feet that go in the shoes can have an odor. But it’s not quite so simple. And the question of where the odor comes from begs the question, which came first: the foot odor or the shoe odor?

The Primary Source of Foot and Shoe Odor: Bacteria

Shoes smell for the same reason that workout clothing smells. They collect sweat. While some sources attribute the smelliness to the sweat itself, it’s actually coming from bacteria that emits odor. This bacteria is able to thrive on the sweat and transfer from a foot to a shoe and vice versa.

The smell is created when the bacteria breaks down the sweat, so you need the combination of bacteria and sweat to create the smell. Bacteria create waste of organic acids, which is the source of the bacterial stink. Some people’s feet have a certain type of bacteria, Kyetococcus sedentarius, which gives off strong-smelling sulfur compounds in addition to the normal bacterial odor.

Bacteria Thrives in Darkness and Moisture


Sneakers and other closed-toe shoes have a dark cavern inside that is perfect for bacteria to thrive. Nonetheless, bacteria can live on open shoes as well.

Then, you might store your shoes in an area without much light or circulation, such as your gym bag or a closet. This allows them to stay wet and stagnant. When they are damp for an extended period of time, the bacteria have a chance to grow and spread, leading to more odor. The situation gets pretty gross, as the number of bacteria present on something is able to double every 20 minutes.

Factors That Can Worsen Shoe Odor

  • Excessive sweat
    Exercise shoes can get particularly smelly since the feet tend to get sweatier than normal as you work out. Nonetheless, feet can always add sweat to shoes, especially during hot weather, during a long day on your feet, or if you’re going through hormonal changes or have a health condition that creates extra sweating. Plus, some people simply have sweatier feet than others. If you find that your shoes are always moist, you may just need to take a few extra measures to dry out the shoes and remove the smell.
  • Wearing the same socks and shoes all day
    Changing your socks when your feet feel sweaty can help prevent the buildup of sweat. Wearing the same socks and shoes from work to the gym might be allowing too much time for sweat to linger. Student-athletes may have a full day of classes followed by practice, so they should change their socks just like they change their shirt.
  • Wearing shoes without socks can perpetuate the stink problem.
    This is because your shoes are catching all the sweat from your feet, rather than collecting the bulk of moisture on the socks that you take off and wash regularly. The bacteria also eat dead skin cells, which your feet can give off. Again, wearing shoes without socks can worsen this problem, whereas socks can remove the skin cells from the shoes and maintain a cleaner environment.
  • not wearing socks causes shoe odor

    not wearing socks can make your shoes smell bad quickly

  • Socks & shoes of certain materials
    Have you noticed that athletic socks today tend to get smellier than cotton socks? That’s because clothes made of polyester, spandex, and other synthetic fabrics need to be washed with a detergent that’s built to clean synthetics. Washing running socks with HEX Anti-Stink Detergent will keep them smelling great, in turn cutting down on your shoe odor problem.
  • Not allowing shoes to dry fully
    If you wear the same pair of shoes every day, they may not have the chance to fully dry. This moisture can cause shoe odor to persist. Try to store shoes in a well-ventilated area after a workout, even outside on a nice day to give them air to dry.
  • storing shoes in gym bag causes shoe odor

    storing your sweaty shoes in a dark gym bag can worsen the smell

  • Not cleaning the feet properly or regularly
    Showering after a workout is important for keeping body odor at bay. Ask your doctor if you’re concerned about a sudden change in body odor.
  • Shoes that are too tight
    Non-ventilated, tight-fitting shoes may cause your feet to overheat, then trap that moisture. Try lightweight shoes with ventilation.

What to Do About Stinky Shoes

Some methods for keeping shoes fresh, such as using sneaker balls or powder, don’t target the bacteria causing the scent, so they’re not completely effective. Instead, these methods are often intended for drying the shoe or covering up the smell with a fragrance, but the bacteria will remain. To target the smell inside the shoe, you need to destroy the bacterial stink. Fortunately, there’s a solution.

eliminate shoe odor

Use deodorizer spray to tame the smell

HEX Performance Anti-Stink Spray can help you with your smelly shoes. It comes in a spray bottle that you can carry in your gym bag and use to quickly spray the inside and outside of your shoes. It eliminates odors caused by bacteria. All you have to do is spray it on and let it dry.

Add Anti-Stink Spray to cart ($9.99)
gear wash shoe odor eliminator

Wash smelly shoes and socks to get rid of odor

If your shoes are washable, you have the option to throw them in the washing machine with HEX Performance Gear Wash. Like the spray, this gear cleaner is scientifically designed to destroy bacterial stink. And washing the socks with HEX Anti-Stink Laundry Detergent can help get the bacterial stink out of them with every laundry load.

Add Gear Wash to cart ($19.99)

Did you know?

Others just hide the smell – HEX eliminates bacterial stink

HEX not only acts on the bacterial stink but also leaves molecules behind that can help prevent new odors from forming. Having the laundry detergent and spray on hand gives you the ideal combo for keeping your shoes fresh on a regular basis.

HEX is an eco-friendly solution for shoe odor

Another perk of HEX products is that they are natural and environmentally friendly. Plus, they don’t use harsh chemical fragrances to cover up smelly shoes. Instead, they leave your shoes in a neutral state with no smell. Or, choose the variety with a light, fresh scent if you prefer a nice smell.

Get Rid of Shoe Odor with HEX

Having stinky shoes is a common problem since they tend to have a wet, dark environment that allows bacteria to thrive. To get your shoes fresh and clean, head straight to the source of the smell. That’s the bacteria that’s creating an odor with the help of the sweat in the shoes. By targeting the bacterial stink, you can have fresh shoes that don’t embarrass you or bother you from the smell. HEX gives you an easy way to eliminate bacterial stink, so you don’t have to worry about stinky shoes anymore.