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Smelly feet: What causes this and how can I prevent it?

Smelly feet - the medical name is bromodosis - can affect anyone. It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. The main cause is sweaty feet and there are simple steps you can take to help prevent this.

What causes sweaty and smelly feet?

The function of sweat glands is to keep the skin moist and therefore supple, and to regulate temperature when the weather is hot or while you are exercising. There are more sweat glands in our feet than anywhere else in the body. However, unlike sweat glands elsewhere in the body, the sweat glands in the feet secrete all the time, not just in response to heat or exercise.

Feet smell when bacteria on the skin break down sweat as it comes from the pores. A cheesy smell is released as the sweat decomposes.

The main causes of sweaty and smelly feet are:

  • Wearing the same shoes every day. Feet become smelly if sweat soaks into the shoes and you wear them again before they are dry.
  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Hormonal changes can cause feet to sweat more, so teenagers and pregnant women are especially prone.
  • If you are stressed.
  • A condition called hyperhidrosis, which causes you to sweat more than usual.

Preventing smelly feet

The best way to prevent smelly feet is good personal hygiene and not wearing the same shoes 2 days in a row. It's important to wash your feet every day and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes. Teenagers especially should be discouraged from wearing the same pair of trainers all the time. You should also wear clean socks every day. Cotton or wool socks are much better than nylon.

If you're particularly prone to sweaty feet, you could:

  • Use a spray deodorant or antiperspirant on your feet. A normal underarm one will work just as well as a specialist foot product.
  • When you have dried your feet with a towel after a shower or bath, dab between your toes with cotton wool dipped in surgical spirit.
  • Put detachable medicated insoles in your shoes. These have a deodorising effect.
  • Try foot-fresh socks. These are impregnated with chemicals to discourage the bacteria that break down the sweat and cause a smell. Some sports socks have ventilating panels to help keep feet dry.
  • Wear leather or canvas shoes. In the summer, wear open-toed sandals. Go barefoot at home if you can safely.

Sweaty feet can be treated with an antibacterial foot scrub, but avoid using these scrubs if you have broken skin or eczema.

These steps to prevent sweaty and smelly feet will usually help. If they don't, or you are worried about how much you sweat, seek medical advice.

Athlete's foot can also cause your feet to smell. You can treat this yourself with antifungal treatment available from a pharmacy. Seek medical advice if you're concerned or if the problem is not clearing up.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 14, 2015

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