As a teenager, flip flops were a staple for me in the summer. I would go through a pair or two each season. But as I got older, I stopped wearing flip flops. Why? Well, for starters, I realized that men have really ugly feet and that most people probably don’t want to see my ugly man toes all the time. Additionally, flip flops just became too casual and adolescent for my maturing style sensibilities. As I started to dress more “grown-up,” flip flops didn’t seem to fit in anymore. Now I only wear them when I’m going to the pool or the beach.
Despite giving up on the flip flop, I still enjoy liberating my ankles and calves by going sockless during the summer. Apparently a lot of other men do too. I’ve noticed more and more men taking the sockless route when wearing closed toed shoes. Walker Lamond from Rules for My Unborn Son picked up the sockless habit from his dad. And many of the men in Esquire and other men’s magazines are sporting shoes without socks.
But the first time I decided to go the sockless route, I ruined a pair of shoes and almost ruined my marriage (I kid about the marriage part). I didn’t take any precautions when I decided to wear my low-top Chuck Taylors sans socks, and in a few weeks I had a biological hazard on my hands. I tried a few things to get rid of the odor, but the stink was as entrenched as the BP oil spill. Thus the shoes were sadly demoted from everyday wear to yard work use only.
This summer I bought a new pair of Sperry Top-Siders that I planned on wearing sockless. To avoid my boat shoes suffering Chuck Taylor’s stinky fate, I looked into how a man can go sockless without the smell. Here’s the lowdown on what causes smelly feet and how I’ve kept my Top-Siders smelling like petunias, or at least from overpowering toddlers and small animals.
What Causes Foot Odor
The key to preventing foot odor when you go sockless is knowing what causes your dogs to smell in the first place.
The main cause of foot odor is sweat. While sweat is odorless, every drop of it is a breeding ground for the bacteria that causes foot odor. Your feet produce copious amounts of sweat because 1) your feet are packed densely with sweat glands and 2) you stick your feet in shoes that have little or no ventilation for hours a day.
Once you have plenty of sweat going, the bacteria that live on your feet start growing and producing smelly stuff. The main culprit for your stinky feet is brevibacteria. These suckers eat the dead skin that sloughs off your feet every day. After digesting your microscopic skin particles, the brevibacteria expel methanethiol, a gas that smells sort of like rotten cabbage. That’s right. Your smelly feet are the result of millions of little bacteria letting out a huge collective fart.
How to Prevent Foot Odor When Going Sockless
To prevent smelly feet you need to prevent two things: 1) sweat and 2) bacteria. Here’s your battle plan.
1. Wash your feet more frequently and vigorously with anti-bacterial soap. I bet most men devote zero time to washing their feet while in the shower. Like me, they probably think that the suds that wash down their body are enough to clean their feet. When you decide to go sockless, that just won’t cut it. Every day you need to destroy the dead-skin-eating bacteria that causes foot odor. Scrubbing vigorously with your favorite anti-bacterial soap will do just that.
2. Don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day. You need to give your shoes time to dry out in-between wearings. Remember, a wet shoe is a smelly shoe. Give your shoes at least a day of rest before you put them back on. More time is better.
3. Use a cedar tree. When you’re giving your shoes a break between wearings, stick an unvarnished cedar shoe tree in them. Cedar shoe trees have several benefits. They maintain the shape of your shoe, help prevent creases and cracking, and most importantly in our case, absorb moisture from the lining of your shoes. Cedar shoe trees will also deodorize your shoes by adding a nice cedar scent to them. Beats smelling like raw cabbage.
If you don’t have a shoe tree on hand, you can use the poor man’s alternative: stick wads of newspaper in your shoes. They’ll absorb moisture as well.
4. Sprinkle foot powder in shoes before you wear them. Foot powders, like Odor Eaters, contain talcum (which absorbs sweat) and baking soda (which neutralizes odor). Before your slip your shoes on, give them a light dusting of powder. It will keep your feet dry throughout the day and will kill any bacteria that might be creeping in your shoes.
I’ve been testing out Odor Eaters Foot and Sneaker Spray and have liked the results. Instead of sprinkling a powder, you spray the stuff on your feet and in your shoes. Your feet stay dry, and you avoid the clumps you sometimes get when using powders. The sneaker spray is pretty good at removing foul smells from shoes, too.
5. Use no-show loafer socks. If you want the sockless look, but want to avoid the hassle that comes with going sockless, try wearing a no-show loafer sock. The gents at Valet Magazine suggest using Gold Toe no-show socks. They’re cut low enough that the socks won’t appear over your loafers, and they’re made of antimicrobial fibers to prevent smells. Another no-show loafer sock that’s been getting a lot of publicity lately is the Mocc Sock. Demand has been so high on these badboys that they’re on backorder right now.
How to Get Rid of Shoe Odor
Alright. We can do alot to prevent smelly shoes, but what can we do if our shoes already reek to high heaven? I’ve had success with the following tips.
Wash ’em. Just stick your stinky gym shoes in the washing machine. Don’t put them in the dryer; stuff them with newspapers to let them dry. Obviously, this is only for durable shoes made with canvas and synthetic fibers that can take being submerged in water and knocked around your washing machine.
Spray ’em. Use a spray like Odor Eaters to neutralize the stench in your shoes. You might try a odor-eating insole as well.
Freeze ’em. Here’s a trick from Grandma. Place you shoes in a ziploc plastic bag and stick them in the freezer overnight. The cold temperature will kill the odor-causing bacteria. When you pull your shoes out, they’ll smell nice and fresh. And it feels really nice to stick your feet in a pair of cold shoes on a hot Oklahoma day.
Demote ’em. Sometimes no amount of washing, spraying, and freezing will remove the stench from your shoes. In that case, take the shoes out of your daily rotation, and put them out to pasture as your yard work shoes.
What’s your advice for keeping your feet and shoes stink free? Share your tips with us in the comments!
Last updated: June 23, 2016