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Home Remedies for Foot Odor: What Works, What Doesn’t

The Institute for Preventive Foot Health combed the literature to see what strategies might be backed by science

(July 29, 2014 – Statesville, NC) - Smelly feet, technically known as “bromhidrosis,” are a fact of life, especially in warmer weather. Simply washing and drying your feet, while helpful, won’t necessarily take care of the problem. That’s because foot odor is caused by bacteria that breed in wet or moist environments on and around the feet; once your feet start to sweat again, the odor may reappear—especially if you slip them back into the same footwear that contributed to the smell to start with.

Can home remedies get rid of the foul odor?

“There’s very little scientific evidence to support the use of home remedies for foot odor or for any other foot condition,” says Lori Weisenfeld, DPM, Diplomate, American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery and Diplomate, American Board of Podiatric Medicine and IPFH Scientific Advisory Board member. “Some strategies might work for some people, even if those strategies aren’t proven. However, certain remedies require caution because they involve potentially caustic substances, such as bleach. And in all cases, it’s important to focus not only on the feet, but the environment. This means shoes, socks and surfaces with which the feet come into contact.”

Here’s a look at some popular home remedies for foot odor:

Antiperspirant deodorant: The ingredients work the same way on the soles of the feet as they do when applied under the arms, so although no studies support its use, some people do find applying underarm deodorant to the feet reduces odor.

Baking soda/corn starch: Both do reduce foot odor for many people, although again, there is no research to support their efficacy. Remember to change your socks and shoes after applying it. Adding either to your shoes may help absorb additional moisture where germs can breed.

Disinfecting shoes: Using a household cleaning/disinfecting agent in your shoes could help because the bacteria responsible for foot odor often live in shoes.

Kosher salt soak: No clinical research suggests this soak is effective in preventing foot odor; however salt has a drying effect on the skin and, by reducing moisture, it may have some benefit. People who use this approach say kosher salt is made of larger crystals than regular table salt, and tends to dissolve better in water.

Lemon juice mixed with water: Several studies show that lemon juice has antibacterial properties. It is also an astringent that can help to remove dead skin from the feet. No studies specifically show this approach prevents foot odor, but many people find it helpful.

Talcum powder: Like baking soda, talcum powder helps absorb excess moisture that can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Scented powder can also disguise odors in shoes and on the feet. Again, there are no studies confirming this, but no harm in trying.

Tea soak: The tannic acid in tea acts as an astringent, meaning it cleans and dries the skin and contracts the pores. However, if you put clean feet back into dirty socks and shoes, the odor is likely to recur.

“Many articles on the Internet give specific formulas for using these approaches. But since there is no clinical evidence that they are effective, keep in mind that what works for one person might not work for another,” Dr. Weisenfeld says.

“The best year-round strategy for preventing foot odor and other foot conditions is to keep your feet and footwear clean; change socks daily or more often if you are active; rotate shoes every few days; and inspect your feet daily for signs of sores, cuts, cracks and itchiness between the toes, which could indicate athlete’s foot,” Dr. Weisenfeld stresses. “If foot conditions persist or if you have diabetes or another condition that affects blood flow to the feet, see your foot health professional.”

According to the IPFH/NPD 2012 National Foot Health Assessment, 6% of adults (more than 35 million people) in the United States said they had at some time experienced foot odor.

About IPFH
The Institute for Preventive Foot Health (IPFH) is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness, education, research, and the identification of easy-to-follow methods to prevent, treat and manage painful conditions and diseases affecting the feet. IPFH was founded by James L. Throneburg, owner of THOR•LO, Inc., based on knowledge gained from groundbreaking clinical research conducted with novel padded sock designs donated by THOR•LO. Both Throneburg and THOR•LO continue to provide financial support for IPFH and to initiate collaborative efforts with the organization’s educational partners: the Amputee Coalition, the International Council on Active Aging and the European Union’s SOHEALTHY foot care initiative.

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