Foot Odor | What Causes Stinky Feet

Foot Odor

Foot odor is a problem that many people have to deal with on a daily basis.  Often described as having a vinegar, ammonia or cheese smell, it can be an embarrassing issue with no easy solution.  The primary catalyst is sweat.  The human foot has around 250,000 sweat glands that produce up to 236mL (1 cup) of perspiration per day.  Interestingly enough, sweat itself has no odor.  It is sweat in conjunction with other factors that can lead to having stinky feet.


Common Causes of Foot Odor



There are several types of bacteria associated with causing foot odor.  The most common is Brevibacterium.  Found primarily on the foot, it feeds off of dead skin.  As it feeds, a gas known as methanethiol is produced.  It has a sulfur like aroma that has been likened to that of cheese or rotting cabbage.  Interestingly enough, Brevibacterium is used in the fermentation process of certain cheese.

Propionibacterium is a rod shaped bacterium found mostly in the sebaceous sweat glands.  It has the unique ability to metabolize amino acids contained in sweat into propionic acid.  Propionic acid is commonly found in sweat and is recongnized by a strong, vinegar smell.

Staphylococcus epidermidis is a bacteria not only found on feet, but over the entire human body as well.  As it interacts with sweat, it produces isoveric acid which is known to have a cheese or musty odor.


Skin Infection

Keratolysis is a skin infection that results from prolonged wearing of shoes or boots in the presence of excessive sweating.   It is caused by bacteria and is characterized by crater like depressions on the soles and toes.  Keratolysis infections tend to have a sulfur like odor which is a result of the bacteria breakingdown skin.

Contrary to popular belief, Athlete’s Foot does not generally cause foot odor.  It’s a fungal infection generally contracted by walking barefoot on moist, stagnant surfaces such as gym lockerooms or showers.



What we eat can play a significant role in not only foot odor, but body odor and bad breath as well.  Nutrients and compounds contained in food are essential for day to day sustenance, however some of them, especially in over abundance can influence odor.  Sulfides and other organic compounds have pungent odors and are often released in the body as food is broken down.  These compounds are absorbed into the body and released through the skin and sweat.

Over consumption of foods high in sulfides and other smelly compounds will naturally cause not only feet, but the entire body to smell unpleasant.  For example, people who are on low carbohydrate diets or who consume high amounts of protein tend to suffer from a condition commonly known as keto breath or ketosis odor.  Due to the deprivation of carbohydrates, production of ketones are increased.  Ketone odor has been described like rotting fruit or acetone.  In addition, foods high in protein tend to also be high in choline and carnitine.  These compounds are broken down by the body and one of the results is trimethylamine; a compound known to have a fishy odor.

Foods commonly associated with odor issues include red meat, seafood, egg yolks, garlic, onions, yogurt, beans, asparagus, cabbage, and spices such as mustard seed and coriander.


How to Reduce Foot Odor


Good  Hygiene

Because bacteria is one major factor in the cause of foot odor, it is important wash and clean your feet on a daily basis.  Using an antibacterial soap will kill most bacteria on the foot’s surface and thus minimize their effects as you sweat.  In addition, using a soft towel or pumice stone will help to remove dead skin.  Dead skin can serve as food for bacteria which in turn will increase their metabolism of amino acids into odor byproducts.

Proper cleaning also will help to reduce the chance of skin infections and other build up on the foot.


Proper Footwear

Making use of footwear that provides maximum air ventilation can help to reduce sweating, which in turn limits its effect on stinky feet.  Open toed footwear or sandals that allow the foot to breathe are ideal, however can’t be worn at all times for a number of reasons.  If using boots or enclosed shoes, loosening the laces and even removing them for periods of time during the day can help to reduce sweating.

In addition, socks that use materials which are able to pull moisture away from the skin, or are able to maintain a relatively consistent temperature can help to reduce foot odor by limiting sweat.  There are both natural fiber as well as synthetic materials which work well to control foot perspiration.  Socks made of wool, alpaca, silk, bamboo, acrylic and nylon are recommended.


Foot Powder & Deodorant

One of the most common methods for reducing foot odor and sweat, powders work as both a sweat absorbent as well as a method to control bacteria growth.  By limiting both of these factors, it creates a less than ideal environment for stinky feet to occur.



Chlorophyllin has been used for many years as a method to reduce odor.  Made from natural chlorophyll, it takes a different approach in comparison to conventional foot odor remedies.  Rather than fighting odor on the surface of the skin, it works by absorbing odor compounds beneath it.

Because it is water soluble, it has the unique ability of being able to bind to odor compounds such as sulfides, and neutralize them before they are released from the skin.  Many people have reported great success when using chlorophyllin supplements to eliminate foot odor.


Well Balanced Diet

Maintaining a balanced diet can help to reduce foot odor by limiting the amount of sulfides and other odor compounds that the body takes in.  An evenly distributed meal of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables are highly recommended not only to reduce foot odor, but for overall health as well.


Additoinal Resources:

Body Odor Causes: Common causes of body odor and how to reduce it.
Bad Breath Causes: Common causes of bad breath and how to reduce it.

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