The Art of …
Fixing Shoes Filled with Foot Stink

A sweaty footed Art of Doing Stuff reader shot me an email a while ago. She had a secret. A deep, dark, bacteria filled secret.

Her shoes stink. A lot. Think rotting corpse meets hot garbage.

At least that’s how I would imagine it if I were to imagine stink filled leather shoes in the middle of summer.  If I were to imagine it.  In my head.  And … thankfully … I am of the “creative” persuasion so I have no problem imagining things like that.  Just making stuff up out of the blue.  It’s a gift, really.

O.K. fine … I’m not “imagining” it.  I’m smelling it at this very moment.  I TOO have a shoe that smells as though a  dinosaur with intestinal issues just threw it up.

So, sweaty footed fan (who would like to remain anonymous … can you blame her?) wanted to know how to get the stink out.

Your leather shoes stink because they get moist from your sweaty feet and bacteria grows.  Making sure you let your shoes dry out between wearings will help reduce the stink.

After browsing the Internet and my own brain for a few days I came up with what I believed were 2 plausible remedies.

Internet Suggested

1.  Sticking the shoes in the freezer to slow down/kill the bacteria (which is what causes the stink).

Karen’s Brain Suggested

2.  Filling the shoe with Kitty Litter.  I mean … it’s sole purpose in life is to absorb moisture and get rid of stink.  Win, win.

So, I got my own stink filled shoes …

Filled one up with kitty litter …

And stuck one in the freezer


After 24 hours I dumped the litter out of the one shoe and removed the other from the freezer.

These are my conclusions:

1st sniff:

Freezer Shoe: No smell

Litter Shoe: No smell


1 Day Later:

Freezer Shoe: Slight smell

Litter Shoe: No smell


2 Days Later:

Freezer Shoe:  Pungent-ish

Litter Shoe:  No smell


3 Days Later:

Freezer Shoe:  You know when you leave flowers in a vase for too long and the water gets all slimey?

Litter Shoe:  Slight smell


4 Days Later:

Freezer Shoe:  I can’t accurately report on the smell of the freezer shoe on day 4, but I can tell you all about the smelling salts.

Litter Shoe:  Stinks again


Let us all keep in mind at this point that I get paid nothing to do this blog. Nothing. Nada. Zippola. And yet I’m sniffing potentially vile footwear … free of charge. I must have a screw loose.  And exceptionally terrible business skills.

Final Conclusions

Freezing your leather footwear will do nothing to get rid of a deep down stink.

Filling your shoes with kitty  litter won’t get rid of the problem completely but will make your shoes as good as new for a few days. If you repeat the process every so often, I’m sure it would markedly improve your shoe stink.

Before I wrap things up, you should know there are risks that come from filling your shoes with litter:



  1. Marc O. says:

    After my hiking boots got wet, the smell was atrocious. I found a solution. First, the shoes must be dry. Take out the insoles if possible, and let the shoes dry for a day or two. Stick the shoes and insoles in a plastic bag, and add a cup of baking soda. Close the bag, shake well, and put the sealed bag in the freezer for 24 hours. Use a vacuum and bristle brush to remove the baking soda immediately to avoid any caking. The cold kills bacteria, and the baking soda freshens and absorbs
    odor. The combo works wonders. Really bad cases may benefit from repeating the process.

  2. I used to put Zinc Oxide on my kids’ bums to treat diaper rash! It might be the new “super cure”! Thanks for the advice re: application, and I’m wondering whether to go to Shoppers’ and just buy a jar of zinc oxide.

    One question… do you ALWAYS wear socks then? What about summer shoes when you don’t want to wear socks?

  3. I am nearly 70 years old and my feet still stink. Once it bothered my mother so much she made me soak my feet in boric acid for several days. The result? Took the top 2 layers of skin off! An abject failure, and I’ve struggled with this embarrassing condition all my life. I’ve had to throw out my Mephistos as well as pretty well anything leather. The Dawgs I just wear in the shower but of course they can’t really be considered “dress shoes” except on the Isle of Wight where nobody knew me so I didn’t care anyway. I fear my sense of smell may have deserted me but emphatically not the opinion of my hubby. So I am now trying tea tree oil ~ a fortune for about an ounce. Wish me luck. Please try it and comment ~ I’m positive I have no sense of smell!

    And I know these posts are several years old but I’m considered “slow” in many ways… And I’m a new subscriber who needs to catch up.

    • Karen says:

      Hey Stinky! Let me know how the Tea Tree Oil works for you. And you’ve got some reading to do lady … you’re about 300 posts behind. You might want to put a pot of coffee on. ~ karen!

      • Sadly I’m a newbie to this blog and will need more than a pot of coffee to catch up! There’s so much to learn and I’m getting old…

        I donated my unused litter when Chester-Cat died… should I adopt a new cat?

        The tea tree oil is okay, but not permanent even though it’s an antibacterial. So I’ve now decided to buy most of my shoes cheap on Zulily and not worry whether they make it to a second season. I don’t wear my good shoes cuz I don’t want them to stink.

        • Rachel says:

          Jill, try “On Your Toes” foot powder

          I always thought, growing up, that there was nothing I could do about foot smell, and my leather shoes always smelled terrible. I was always embarrassed. :(

          When I decided to buy nicer shoes this year, I went on a mission to find a solution. This powder made all the difference. I can now wear my expensive french shoes, and you can too. Try it. It’s less messy than tea tree and keeps my feet dry, too.

          And let me know how it goes if you try it! It always makes me feel good to know that one more sufferer is free.

        • Thank you so much! I’ve just ordered it.

        • Rachel says:


          PS: The instructions say to treat the shoes, and I did that, but it’s great to apply to the foot before putting a sock on to keep it dry and sterile. Some people suggest a little plastic bag. I sprinkle it on a dry, clean surface and step on it. Messy, but effective, haha.

          Apparently zinc oxide (the active ingredient) is a bactericide and reduces sweat, too. And we all thought it was just for sunscreen.

  4. Mattie's Mother says:

    Happened upon this blog because I have smelly Sperry’s and was looking for a solution to this problem. I’m just going to have to start all over, toss the old, and bring in the new. I’ll try some of your suggestions, they all sound great. I’m an old soul and remember wearing white Keds, and washing and bleaching them when needed, for years. They came out Great after wash. Now I have Sperry’s that stink. Bought a pair of white Tom’s recently; wore them one time and got some dirt on them. Did spot cleaning, which should have worked but it left brownish stains above my toes and at heel, where stains were. Let’s face it. Manufacturers aren’t making shoes that can be washed or bleached anymore. They are sabotaging so we have to buy again, again and again. I might try treating them before wearing with Scotch Guard next time, but that will probably fail, as well. Doesn’t matter. I’ll keep wearing white tennis shoes/boat shoes in summertime no matter what. Funny thing is, my Lab, Mattie, will not tear up my Sperry’s, cotton or leather. She sure likes my Tory Burch leather, canvas, flip flops, etc. , and has destroyed many.

  5. Peter says:

    I’ve had this issue forever and tried everything. I find including completely soaking my shoes with a bottle of 99% rubbing alcohol let soak for an hour. Washing out with soapy water, very well. You may have to re-apply shoe polish and oil afterwards. If you can’t do this, then buy new shoes. The simpler and higher quality shoes smell less. The multi-multi layer, stupid complex Chinese shoes are the worst! (Nike etc!)

    With quality new shoes: Never go barefoot, never wear socks for more than 8-10 hours, that means two pairs of socks per day. Always turn your socks inside out to wash dead skin and stuff off. Soap and wash feet daily, and twice a week, with a small spray bottle, spray and rub your feet with 99% rubbing alcohol. I’ve been good for over a year.

    I have concluded that shoes are finished and worn, when they smell bad after a few days after washing.

  6. Joy says:

    Lol! I use the Crystal stick deodorant, which works to kill stinky feet smell, too. Just rub it on your feet after your shower and after a few months your feet won’t have the smell. It doesn’t help for currently stinky shoes, but should help you have future non-stinky ones. I’ve had and used my Crystal stick for years and I don’t stink when I sweat. :)

  7. Anna Starner says:

    Have you tried activated charcoal in the shoes? I understand it is a great help in getting rid of that mouse was here small in antique dressers etc.

  8. Sandra says:

    You are hilarious! I can only hope you are a writer. You have talent girl!

  9. Niella says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s hilarious and very helpful!
    One question (well, two, actually): Can the litter be reused? And if so, does it ever need to be replaced?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Niella – I’ve never actually reused my litter so I’m not sure, but others have said they’ve tried this method and reuse their litter several times. Since it’s inexpensive ($3 or so for a jug of litter) I’d probably just throw it out and use fresh when needed. ~ karen!

  10. Rebecca says:

    Try rubbing alcohol! My fathers doctor told him about it and it seemed to work great for him! Only use on the inside of course and let dry before wearing again!

  11. Tina says:

    I love your experiment. You are a brave soul. We found soaking our feet a couple times a month in a pekoe or black tea (solution 1/2c of tea to 1/2 cup water)for 15 minutes, or watered down cider vinegar (same amount of time) worked well for helping with the stinky shoe enhancement. And wiping the inside of the shoe each evening with a wet wipe that is anti bacterial. It helped a lot!

  12. Casey says:

    my youngest son has the stinkiest feet ever so I was just dumping a bit of baking soda in his shoes and shaking them. I’ll try the litter next! thanks!

  13. Rachel says:

    Vodka is actually an amazing smell remover. It (mixed 30:70 w/water sprayed like febreeze) is what costumer’s used to remove body odor from costumes before they invented Febreeze. It’s practically magical. Also, the vodka is an antibacterial. So, is you used it straight it’ll kill all the nasty bacteria.

  14. Pax says:

    I have limited expectations of thanks for telling you this BUT I’ve been told that human urine is used to tan leather in some countries so….ah, damp can make the shoes take a little tip down memory lane for lack of a better way of putting it.

    Probably just an urban legend, right?

    • Karen says:

      Hah! Well … no … no thanks from me, but I did laugh! ~ karen

    • man says:

      Hello ladies,
      Pleasant blog indeed… Uhm, not that I have stinky shoes or anything, just perusing, really.

      In fact, it is Urea, found in urine, that was for a very long time used in tanning. In many countries.

      Often, if someone wanted to make some quick cash, they could sell their urine. Of course, most people were not as poor. But some were. Some were even poorer. They could not sell their urine, because they were so poor, that they didn’t have the necessary “means” of getting the urine to the tannery.

      So no tupperware, no dishes, no pots. So poor, that they didn’t have a pot to piss in.

      Hence the idiom. Ha!

      PS: Sorry for swearing. It was for art’s sake, I swear.

      PPS: I do have a few more, but unlike my boss (and my brain) who have endless hours to… uhm… “p***s” away, I must get back to work now.

    • Maria says:

      This post originally appeared before I started following you Karen. I know, right? There was such a time because I didn’t know you were here!

      Yes, on some countries using urine to tan leather. I bought a gorgeous leather bag in an OUTdoor plaza, lots of fresh air. After some time in a closet (no moisture) I smelled it. Had to get rid of it ::sigh::

      I have 2 pair of Saucony athletic shoes. One pair, after the 1st wearing and thereafter, smell like – wait for it – Doritos (or Fritos)! Yes. The socks smell of it as well. My feet don’t have a smell. When I wear them indoors, the smell wafts out. The not unpleasant smell drives me crazy! I love Doritos, but don’t eat them as I’m doing low-carb. I hope I don’t find those insoles half eaten after an episode of sleep walking!

      I told a friend of the Dorito smell, and had her do the smell test. The insoles. The feet. Yep. Dorito insoles. No feet smell.

      The other pair are ok.

      I’ll have to try kitty litter.

  15. Kacia says:

    Brilliant! I’ve tried baking soda, then MORE baking soda, then baking soda AND febreze, all to no avail. I like this idea.

    Suggested topic for next shoe post: How to Convince Your Brutish Male Roommates That Yes, Their Shoes Do Stink, and Kitty Litter Really Is The Best Solution. Without Hurting Their Feelings.

    I’ve just been sneaking sprinklings of baking soda into their shoes when they’re not looking. I have a feeling kitty litter will be a bit more difficult to hide.

  16. marisa says:

    may i make a suggestion? if your shoes are beginning to stink so badly that you need to search the internet for solutions on how to get rid of said stink, perhaps it is time to just buy a new pair of shoes. i’m just saying….

    • Karen says:

      Hah! Well, I must admit, I personally have a pair of shoes that stunk, stinked?, stank??? from day ONE. I have no idea why, but certain shoes … leather or not … like to hold a stink. Stank. Stunk.

  17. Meredith says:

    Hi — I have had excellent luck eliminating that smell by loading up my feet with zinc oxide and then sticking them right into my shoes. I have a few pairs of very expensive French shoes that I could only wear outside because of the pervasive pungency. It really works and it keeps my feet soft, too. I use either Weleda Calendula Diaper Cream or Burt’s Bees Herbal Defense Ointment. The antibiotic properties of zinc combined with the herbal extracts have given my expensive shoes a few more years of life.

  18. Crystal says:

    The kitty litter looks a little messy… Just a suggestion, and possibly a better way to prolong the benefits of the kitty litter:

    Sew a drawstring pouch or sew a closed pillow of kitty litter using a thin fabric like muslin or cheese cloth. Then you can place these in your shoes when not using them.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Crystal – thanks for the suggestion. The litter in a very thin pouch is a good idea if you’re trying to eliminate odour, but when you’re also trying to eliminate moisture it’s best to use the little directly on the “offensive” item. :) It’s actually not messy at all. You pour it in … then you pour it out. No problem!

  19. evalyn says:

    The cedar inserts are very useful for storing shoes or boots. Sprinkle baking soda inside the shoe, wipe the inside with dilluted vinegar or dissolved baking soda will help for daily wear.

  20. Heather says:

    Fix the source, not the shoes. I give the bottoms of my feet a LIGHT spraying of aerosol anti-perspirant in the morning when I go sock-less. I like Morning Clear Arrid Xtra Xtra Dry (no, I don’t work for them). At the end of the day, my feet are freakishly dry and my shoes don’t stink, even the ones I was ready to pitch from the funk.

  21. Ana says:

    When you leave (forget) a tupperware full of sliced watermelon in the trunk of your car in the hottest week of summer, do not try to cover up the smell with Febreeze.

    I gag when I see it at the store.

  22. Susan says:

    I have a Air Force spouse so stinky combat boots are constantly walking through my front door. That’s where the shoes live, right there by the front door in a teeny, narrow hall that ends with a door into the living room.

    The smell of combat boots does not graciously welcome guests into our home. Being a housewife who has nothing to do all day except laze about between cooking, cleaning and picking up after two other people and two cats, I decided to attend to the problem of Eau de Stinky Boot.

    The verdict? Lightly swab the inside sole with a cotton ball dipped in hydrogen peroxide. Then place a dryer sheet inside said stinky boot/shoe. Use your hairdryer to active the dryer sheet for several minutes. Once the new smell is good and baked in, you should be good for a few days.

    If your man, like mine, does not appreciate the smell of a delicately scented dryer sheet in his combat boots, there is alternative method.

    Cedar! This magnificent yet manly miracle of nature can be purchased in block form in the same aisle where you can find mothballs. Just drop ’em in when you take them off, take ’em out when you wanna wear them.

  23. Schmidty - Man Vs. Style says:

    Great (and hilarious) post.

    one thing that I had to go to is avoiding the stink in the first place and buying tiny (half way) socks that you still cant see on the lowest shoes. Has actually worked thus far and absorb the sweat and stink instead of your shoes.



  24. Joni N. says:

    Way cool! So glad you figured that out. I won’t need it, however, since my shoes/feet smell like roses. :o)

  25. Pam'a says:

    What’s with all these suggestions?!! Karen has bravely solved the problem FOR us, yet again.

    (Personally, I think this might be what caused the migraine. Just sayin’.)

  26. Kim from Milwaukee says:

    Fill a sock with baking soda and slide into the shoes….worked for my nephew’s stinkified tennies. The sunlight thingee works, too.

  27. Natalie says:

    Soaking your feet in tea (brew first, then cool before sticking tootsies in) is supposed to work. Dr. Oz says so. But a pain in the butt and turns your feet orange eventually. I bought specifically-designed soft insoles for going barefoot in shoes. Probably works for most people but I, alas, soaked through them. Baking soda, maybe? Works in the litter box… and that is the stink to beat all.

  28. kt says:

    I’ve read that stuffing your shoes with balled up newspaper between wearings both dries them out AND reduces the smell. Though maybe they just smell…like…sweaty, leathery newspaper?

  29. Marlène says:

    I’ve tried all kinds of products (Dettol is great, but has a smell of its own), powders, and soaps. Some definitely work better than others, but this is an instance where an ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure. Wear peds and it will save you tons in shoe replacement.

    Also, Geox shoes, which have breathing holes in the soles. Great shoes!!

  30. Annette says:

    LMAO This post was just too funny. =) and produced numerous great ideas… Love the sniff test though. =)

    Thank you for the tear producing laughter.

  31. Mary says:

    I’ve purchased those balls you put in your shoes that are supposed to remove the stink and they don’t work either. I have 4 boys and LOTS of shoe stink!

  32. Phyllis says:

    My grandmother’s method of getting rid of foul smells was to put the offending item out in the hot summer sun for a day or two (bringing them in at night so the dew doesn’t get them wet). Sunday-Go-To-Meeting dresses and feather bedding especially benefitted from this treatment as she had no access or money for dry cleaning. I’m not sure about leather shoes. Sunlight is a great disinfectant and deodorizer. The problem is that leather doesn’t like sunlight & probably not vinegar either. Still, I would think a daily spritz with vinegar then left to dry in the sun might work. Another thing to try is coffee grounds. I’ve used that to remove moldy odors from old luggage, & trunks that I’ve restored. Charcoal, kind purchased in the aquarium department at pet stores, might work too, but any dampness might make staining occur.

    You are so brave to have tried this experiment. You rock!

  33. Langela says:

    My grandfather swears by using stick deoderant between his toes and on his feet. As for the shoes, what about using Ly-sol or a hand sanitizer that kills bacteria?

  34. kasia says:

    OMG! LOVE the fur and shoe pic!!! Something about it being just a hint/suggestion of the act cracks me up! (Kitty didn’t really do it, did she/he???) Thanks for making my day.

    • Karen says:

      She did not! She came close and was um … curious, but I shooed her away. Funny.

      • Liz says:

        Shooed her away… I see what you did there.

        • Langela says:

          I am one of those people that loves to laugh at other people who have to have a joke explained to them so I feel qualified to laugh at myself over this one. I had to read and reread this to figure out what you thought was so funny. I DID finally get it, though. Funny!

        • Karen says:

          Um … I totally didn’t mean to do that. I shouldn’t admit to that should I? Maybe it was subconscious. Yes … that’s what I’ll say I am subconscious smart and funny. Uh huh.

  35. mimi says:

    Karen, swabbing out the shoes with the following mix would kill the bacteria- try it! Then just let them air out.

    Mix 20mls witch hazel (vodka or gin would work too, but don’t drink it!) with 20 drops (TOTAL) of any of the following essential oils:

    Bergamot (Citrus Bergamia)
    Geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens)
    Lemon (Citrus Limon)
    Peppermint (Mentha x piperata)
    Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
    Sage (Salvia officinalis)

    It’s better to use 2 oils, as there’s a synergistic effect.
    If the person is going to wear the shoes with bare feet, Geranium would be the best to use, as the others sometimes irritate the skin.
    Essential oils can usually be bought in health shops, or online, just make sure it has the Latin name on the bottle.

    I haven’t tried this, but if you can get frsh sage, rubbing the leaves on the inside sole of the shoe might work.
    Let me know how you get on!

    • Annette says:

      I can say that yellow yarrow leaves make a great deodorant; sadly I did try it (just wipe the leaves onto your armpit – do NOT LEAVE there) and it appeared to work for the evening.

      • Langela says:

        Was this something you had read somewhere or did you just walk by it and say to yourself, “Hey! I wonder if that would work as a deoderant?”

  36. Amy says:

    Leather isn’t suppose to get wet is it? hense the problem. Mom would just throw our tennis shoes right in the washing machine.
    Of course If you wear socks or pedi’s on your feet the sweat would be absorded in that, but thats not pretty?

    I just go barefoot. I hate shoes.

  37. Caroline says:

    Gotta say Febreeze is the WRONG idea…I used that on my shin guards in high school and maybe it was flowery for a day, but after that, it smelled even worse than before. Shin sweat AND rancid Febreeze…..I get ill just thinking about it.

    • Karen says:

      Yes. I tend to agree. Febreeze has perhaps the most unnatural smell on the planet. Even more than Grape Jello.

  38. Laura says:

    You are so good to us. When I think of the money I have saved because of this fab blog: never having to buy WD40… What about that fabulous stuff called Fabreeze? Or good old fashioned baking soda? Try those!

    • Karen says:

      Hah! Thanks Laura. I’m afraid the issue is bacteria and moisture. The Febreeze would just cover the smell for a short period of time and would be all flowery and stuff. The baking soda would cake up from the moisture in the leather shoe and not do as good a job as kitty litter. Trust me. Kitty litter is a miracle product! I plan on posting on all of it’s virtues in the future! – karen

  39. Lucia says:

    What really works – for feet (!) and shoes (that can get wet) is soaking in white vinegar and water – even Tevas! (good for feet, too)

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Lucia! Of course you understand I can’t endorse this technique until I actually try it. Because I’m weird. If I ever get over this recent shoe smelling experience I’ll give it a shot!

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