How to clean smelly shoes

smelly sneakers






Are you an athlete, someone who likes to workout, a worker with a few designated “work shoes”, or someone that just generally finds their shoes smelly more often than not? Don’t worry, there are a lot of ways rid your smelly shoes of their odor that don’t involve investing in a new pair of shoes!

My entire adult life I have been affected by heavy sweating and wherever the sweat traveled they left a bad odor and one of those places are my feet which results in smelly socks and shoes . When I married I found my wife had the same problem it could be zero degrees and we would sweat in our socks and shoes creating very smelly feet. I have tried a number of methods to clean different shoes to get rid of the stink but only a few had success . This post will give you an idea of the best methods to clean different types of stnk shoes and fix this problem permanently.

What causes smelly shoes ?

Your feet is made up of more sweat glands  than the rest of the body and unlike the rest of our body the feet releases sweat all day whether we are hot or not but more so when we are hot, nervous or exercising. The bacteria which lives in our shoes , sock and on our feet feed on this sweat and produce the foul odor we have to endure . This means in order to clean our shoes and get rid of the smell we need to kill the bacteria and get rid of the odor.

What you need to know before cleaning smelly shoes ?

  1. You need to kill the bacteria first.

There are many remedies if you Google or go on YouTube on how to clean smelly shoes but most of them don’t kill the bacteria and fungus so the smell returns the instant the person wear their shoes again.

2. You need to deodorize

After killing the bacteria you need to deodorize to get rid of the bad odors . You will find that some methods does both 1 and 2.



Depending on what you have around the house, there are a lot of different methods which might work well with your shoes. Your stinky shoes don’t stand a chance when you set your mind to cleaning them!

  • Washing machine method for shoes made of fabric
    The first time I seriously attempted to clean my smelly sneakers was with a washing machine . There are a few things I learnt from a number of tries to get the most effective cleaning.   When shoes are beyond hope or are very old anyways, you can just wash them in the washing machine. Make sure to remove the laces and insoles before  you wash them. Insoles can be washed by hand with a brush and detergent or soak in water mix with apple cider vinegar. Wash at 40 to 60 degrees add bleach and detergent . The heat and bleach will help to kill the microorganisms  . If your dryer has steam clean you can steam it for about ten minutes this will surely get rid of most of the remaining bacteria and odor . I usually place mine in the sun and  allow them to air-dry afterwards.


  • It can lose the paste on some sneakers toe front (depending on how its made) because of the heat so you may need to wash cold which is less effective than the warm. smelly shoes toe front loose


  • It best for mostly sneakers cannot use for suede shouldn’t be used with  leather.
  • Air drying sometimes leaves water stain on white and light shoes .


  • A very easy method
  • Very effective for moderately smelly shoes

Does washing smelly shoes in washing machine work ?

I have had different results which depended on how stink the shoes were , my nike trainers I washed with hot water and I steam dry and they were very smelly. This fixed at least 90% of the smelly problem  but it loose the glue at the front . My champion I could not remove the insole it was washed with cold water smelly fresh after the wash but went back to the same state after first wear. So my conclusion is the steam plays a very important part in getting rid of the smell.

  • Tea Tree Oil and peppermint oil method for smelly leather and suede shoes

shoes refresher spraySneakers and shoes made of fabric can be washed with  water by hand or in a washing machine , but cleaning smelly shoes made of leather and suede with water will damage your shoes . I remember a year ago I read a blog post which stated you can make your own shoes deodorizer with peppermint and tea tree oil and since both of these oils have antifungal and antibacterial properties I decided to go to Amazon and buy them both but somehow I stumbled unto this shoe deodorant spray made of peppermint oil, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil and thyme oil it is called WhooHoo-Clean shoe deodorant spray. It was highly rated and received a lot of high praises from customers so  I bought it . I  was excited to use this spray so once I received it I read the label and tried it on my wife flats which had a mild odour .It had a really nice peppermint smell and the odour was no longer there . Next I tried it on my nike trainers and my leather shoes which had  high odours , I was very disappointed with the results so I sprayed them once more and ensure I got every corner and left it overnight .


  • It works well on keeping odour away from new shoes
  • Can be used on feet to help prevent foot odour
  • All natural


  • Does not work on very smelly shoes
  • Mask the odour that already there

Does peppermint oil and tea tree oil work on smelly shoes

Yes it works on new shoes to prevent odour but no not on already smelly shoes it just mask the smell and after a few days the shoes gets a much weirder smell.


  • Vinegar solutions

Vinegar can kill the bacteria that are causing smelly shoes to have their odor. Mix 2 cups of white vinegar into 1 1/2 to 2 gallons of water and submerge the shoes into this solution. Let them sit for a few hours or even overnight. Remove the shoes, rinse them, and let them dry before you wear them again. One method I found very effective was to use apple cider vinegar.  I used it  soak  my wife trainer which was moderately smelly . I used 2:1 ratio of water:vinegar soak the trainers and left it overnight. The next day it was smelling strong of vinegar, it was  sun dry once the vinegar scent has gone there was no odour. For leather and suede shoes you can clean the inside by rubbing vinegar thoroughly inside for moderately to extremely smell soak cotton wool in vinegar  fill up the shoes if you wear a large size it can take some time to fill them up . Leave them overnight .


  • It is the best method for clean smelly shoes
  • It kills the bacteria and deodorizes your shoes
  • Very simple method


  • Cannot think of any

Does vinegar work to clean smelly shoes ?

Definitely, on mildly smelly shoes to extremely smelly shoes . I was a bit surprised that this worked so very well I used white vinegar and apple cider vinegar both worked but the apple cider vinegar gets an A+.


  • Freezer and baking soda method

I saw on Youtube that freezing the bacteria can rid your stink in your shoes . Put the shoes in a clean freezer bag and leave them to freeze for around 24 – 48 hours.

But I then combined two methods used baking soda and place the shoes  in the refrigerator  . Using my Champion sneakers I used an entire box of Arm and Hammer baking soda in and around the shoes ensuring every crack and corner got some powder . I then left it for 24 hour the next day the change was so minimal . So I decided to leave it a week with still not much change  . So with the some fresh baking soda in the shoes I placed the sneakers in the in the freezer overnight by putting each one in a freezer bag . I was excited to see the results the next day but the only change I saw was the express on my wife’s face when she saw a pair of  sneakers  in her refrigerator .


  • It worked on very mild smelly shoes


  • Getting the baking soda to stay in certain parts of the shoe was difficult
  • It was not effective at cleaning any of my smelly shoes
  • It leaves a mess

Does cleaning smelly shoes by freezing and baking soda work ?

Total waste of time , So why didn’t this method work
Baking soda is a good deodoriser it can get rid of odour rather than masking it but for killing bacteria  it is only effective against a few . The freezer didn’t work because bacteria only become dormant under such temperatures once out of the refrigerator the bacteria becomes active again.


  • Alcohol solutions

Alcohol is a very effective bacteria killer and deodorizer. Mix 1 part rubbing alcohol and 1 part water to make a solution. You can either spray it into the shoes, pour it on, or just use a rag to apply it thoroughly. Allow it time to dry before wearing the shoes.

I only tried this on leather and suede shoes and I soaked cotton wool with alcohol and fill the shoes


  • Great for cleaning leather shoes
  • Gets rid of strong odor


  • It took some time to use the cotton wool with the alcohol
  • Does alcohol work to clean your shoes
  • Since I only tried it on leather not sure if it will work on sneaker but I saw success with the leather.


Other methods I didn’t try

  • Kitty litter

As an odor absorber, kitty litter can work well on your smelly shoes. Pour some litter into the shoes and let it sit overnight. Remove the litter and clean out the shoes if necessary before wearing them.
Baby powder
Sprinkle baby powder into each shoe for not only a fresh scent, but an odor eliminating effect.

  • Used tea bags

If you drink tea and use tea bags, save the used bags. Allow them time to dry and then stuff them into the shoes, preferably farther towards the toes. Let them sit overnight and remove them in the morning. Tea leaves are effective at sucking up moisture, so this method helps to get rid of odors.

  • Dryer sheets

Rip one dryer sheet in half and put one half into each shoe. Let it sit for at least a few hours before removing. Don’t wear the shoes with the dryer sheets still inside.


To fix the problem of smelly shoes  you should ensure you dry yours shoes once you taking them off use foot powders and if you sweat a lot wear a new socks every day . You need to wash the socks in vinegar this will get rid of the odour rather than washing in the washing machine.   There are also special socks to help prevent smelly shoes.



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