Remedies For Stinky Feet

By Alejandra Zamora

“From head to toe” takes on a literal meaning in the Florida heat when it comes to sweat. Back-to-school is the season of heightened activity in kids, and, combined with the 250,000 sweat glands in your feet, the perfect concoction is created: foot odor.

Whether your kids are athletes or just out and about during the break, if you’ve been met with a pungent surprise the second those socks and shoes come off, you’re not alone. Think of tennis shoes as the perfect breeding ground for bacteria; according to Nemours Children’s Health, in their cozy, humid paradise, the bacteria multiply by feeding off of dead skin cells and oils, growing rapidly to get rid of waste by producing organic acids, or the culprit of our smell. This experience isn’t uncommon, especially in Florida. Dr. B. Samantha Bacchus, an FAAP board- certified pediatrician, says “stinky feet” — medically known as bromodosis — is more common in the summer because of increased sweating.

“The amount you sweat can be affected by hot weather, exercise, obesity, hormonal changes, which happen during puberty,” Dr. Bacchus said.

An unpleasant smell when the shoes come off (and sometimes, in more severe cases, before the removal of footwear) is the primary symptom of bromodosis, a symptom that any parent who has done laundry after an afternoon soccer game or all-day backyard playdate can sniff from miles away.

It’s a reality that April Tisher, a mom of four (including two teenage athletes) faces every laundry day. The unfortunate product of her sons’ physical activity has made her try every homemade remedy mentioned by fellow mom friends, including boot warmers, sneaker balls and even dryer sheets.

“When I chaperoned my fifth grader on the safety patrol trip to D.C. this summer, I followed another mom’s advice about taking dryer sheets with me and passing them out to the kids to put in their shoes at night,” Tisher said. “This saved the hotel room from smelling like feet. It definitely helped!”

While mostly a common occurrence, Dr. Bacchus does suggest keeping a watchful eye on the situation if home remedies are not sufficing.

“Sometimes, smelly feet can be a sign of a medical condition, including diabetes, hyperhidrosis or athlete’s foot. Untreated stinky feet can lead to infection [or] pain, and this can affect gait which could result in joint and back pain,” she said. “Parents should seek medical care if [your] child’s feet still smell after they have tried all at home treatment options, or if the skin on your foot is red, hot and painful, broken or oozing.”

There’s no denying it: Foot odor is a major mood killer. It, unfortunately, comes with the weather and those adolescent hormone fluctuations, but don’t let it ruin your next car ride home from school or embarrass anyone at a friend’s house! The case of the stinky feet is definitely a mystery you can solve yourself using practical prevention tips or, if all else fails, your trusty local pediatrician.

If you’ve tried all the do-it-yourself treatments, going back to basics may help solve your stinky feet situation. Here are some recommended prevention strategies that could help:

  1. Clean your child’s feet every day with antibacterial soap or try soaking them in a mixture of vinegar and water or Epsom salt and water. Dr. Bacchus’ recipe: “For a salt soak, dissolve half a cup of Epsom salt in warm water and soak for about 10 to 20 minutes. For a vinegar soak, combine two parts warm water with one part white or apple cider vinegar in a tub or large bowl of warm water and soak for 15 to 20 minutes once a week.” Make sure your child’s feet are free of any scratches or open wounds, and be sure to dry them thoroughly.
  2. Practice good, consistent foot hygiene, like trimming and cleaning toenails and removing dead skin from soles with a foot file or pumice stone.
  3. Make smart footwear decisions, like investing in moisture-wicking socks, regularly cleaning out or alternating heavily used shoes, switching to clean socks every day, or after a particularly sweaty activity and using disinfectant spray to mitigate odor daily.
  4. Let your little one’s feet breathe without close-toed shoes whenever possible.
  5. Try anti-fungal foot powder or medicated insoles.

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