Dear Home-Ec 101,
I got my favorite pair of shoes wet last week and now they stink to high heaven. Is there anything I can do to save these shoes?
Smelly in Smyrna
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Last week was not the first time your shoes have gotten wet. Sure, it may have been the first time they were drenched in a puddle and soaked, but your feet sweat about a cup a day. That is a lot of funk fueling power right there. It’s not actually your feet that are the odor problem. It’s the bacteria that like to hang out in damp places. If your shoes don’t get a chance to dry out between wearings, the bacteria in your shoes never have to pause their growth, reproduction, and waste production. This waste is what causes that oh so familiar foot odor. Well now there’s a pleasant thought, no? Mmm bacterial waste.
If the shoes have a removable insole, remove it. Insoles are usually fairly inexpensive and that’s probably where the majority of your funk is hanging out. Go ahead and replace them. Allow the shoes to dry thoroughly in a well-ventilated area. This is actually a good use case for Lysol, just be sure to let the shoes dry thoroughly before wearing again. If you’re anti-Lysol for any purpose whatsoever, you could wipe out the inside with dilute tea tree oil or rubbing alcohol, but be aware that either of those may damage some materials. Again, allow the shoes to dry throughly.
Alternately you can give activated charcoal, loosely crumpled newspaper, or kitty litter in old pantyhose a try.
If the shoes are still funky, there’s one more last ditch effort to try. Clean and condition any leather parts of the shoe. Put the shoes in a paper sack and place the sack in the freezer for 72 hours. Don’t crush the shoes while they are still cold, any leather may be brittle. Allow them to come to room temperature before wearing.
With shoes, the key to odor control is prevention. Always let shoes dry fully before wearing again, this usually means alternating your shoes with another pair. If your shoes do get wet, dry them as thoroughly as possible, as quickly as possible without exposing to excessive heat.
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