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Solutions to Your Child’s Stinky Feet

Everybody sweats. Perspiration is a normal and important body function to regulate your body temperature and keep your feet from drying out.

As your child athlete approaches puberty (and beyond), they most likely will experience smelly feet (more for boys than girls).

Think of a hot summer day, playing baseball for 2 or 3 hours and you can just imagine the heat and sweat that gets trapped inside these cleats!


There are two distinct types of sweat glands in your skin: eccrine and apocrine sweat glands.

These sweat glands differ in development, location/distribution and function.

Eccrine sweat glands are tubular and coiled present in the skin all over the body, including your feet (mostly in the soles).

Since eccrine glands open directly into the air, they primarily serve to control the body temperature via evaporation.

When the internal body temperature rises, eccrine sweat glands release water to the skin surface. Water than quickly evaporates, cooling the skin and blood below.

Appocrine sweat glands are larger coiled and tubular glands that start to function at puberty.

These glands are mostly located where hair follicles are located (i.e. head, arm pits and private parts) and are also commonly referred to as odoriferous sweat glands.

Although appocrine sweat glands are responsible for the unpleasant “body odor”, there are NO appocrine sweat glands on the sole of your feet so these sweat glands are not responsible for your child’s smelly feet!

According to research papers published in the National Institute of Health, there are approximately 125,000 eccrine sweat glands in each foot!

It is interesting to note that the soles of your feet contain more sweat glands per square centimeter than any other parts of the body.

These sweat glands respond to emotional or thermal situation (i.e. intense baseball game) and can produce around 500 mL to 750 mL of water per day (that is around 8 to 16 fluid ounces PER foot!)

The sweat or perspiration consists of water, sodium chloride, fat as well as end products of your body’s metabolism containing various minerals and acids (i.e. amino acid called leucine)


The most common stinky feet is caused by isovaleric acid which is a byproduct from bacteria consuming leucine.

Most people refer smelly feet to an aged Parmesan cheese, Lumberger cheese, onions and/or vinegar.

Difference in smell type is driven by the which bacteria in your foot is producing odors.

Ironically, the initial sweat does not smell “bad” (body odor is also referred to as bromhidrosis or osmidrosis).


Your skin normally has thousands micro-organisms that live peacefully, feasting on dead cells and oils.

But under moist, wet and dark conditions, bacteria activate to consume dead cells, oils and sweat from your feet.

These three bacteria are the primary culprits when it comes to having smelly feet:

  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • Bacillus subtilis (B subtilis)
  • Brevibacterium linens (B. linens)

Staphylococcus epidermidis and B subtilis love to feast on leucine (amino acid) contained in sweat produced by eccrine glands.

The byproduct from this consumption is an organic acid (isovaleric) which smells like stinky cheese with a hint of vinegar.

B. linens, on the other hand, does not care about sweat but loves to feast on dead skin cells.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Broadbent, Utah State University

The byproduct is S-methyl thioesters which is a sulfur-containing compound (incidentally also found in Munster, Limburger and other washed-rind and smear-ripened cheeses).

These little pesky little bugs thrive in dark, warm and damp environment found in most athletic shoes.

This is also why extreme foot odor is very common among athletes because:

  • They are on your feet, particularly in a warm environment (i.e. playing a double header baseball games on a hot summer day)
  • They are under a lot of stress (i.e. intense game situation)
  • Their shoes may be too tight
  • Their shoes and socks are made of artificially made material that does not “breathe” (i.e. plastic leather, polyester socks, etc.)
  • Poor hygiene (i.e. not washing their feet everyday)

Lastly, if your child is rather flippant about walking around in a shared shower (i.e. YMCA gym, etc), he or she may pick up fungus that causes athletes foot or toenail fungus, you will have additional problems (like itchy burning sensation, etc.) so teach them to take care of their feet!


Some say smelly feet is more of an embarrassment than anything else but I think it is very important to take steps to minimize or even avoid smelly feet to avoid health complications (broken skin + bacteria = bad).

So what are some steps you can take?

  • Wash your feet every day – no need for fancy soaps; just use regular soap to scrub between toes and rinse well; just make sure to dry between toes since this is where germs can breed and multiply
  • Remove hard dead skin – more prevalent in older kids, these dead cells provide food for bacteria to grow; use something like a pumice stone to scrub them off
  • Dry socks – cotton socks are the best followed by wool socks; do not wear polyester or nylon socks as they do not breathe well and cannot absorb moisture as well good as cotton/wool socks; change socks if they are damp (i.e. half way through the game or after each game if playing in a double-header); socks designated “sports socks” are good
  • Correct shoe size – tight shoes may cause extra sweat ;cleats should be about 1/2 size larger that the actual foot size
  • Avoid artificially made shoe materials – cheap cleats are made with synthetic leader or “pleather” (plastic leader); this material is absolutely horrible when it comes to breathe-ability; choose cleat cover made from leather or breathable fabric
  • Multiple cleats – if at all possible, have 2 pairs to wear on alternate days to allow cleats to dry (in the sun)
  • Install removable insoles – great to have multiple pairs during double-headers or insane weekend games; you can toss them in a washer
  • Disinfect cleats after use – Lysol spray works the best to kill surface bacteria
  • Wear sandals or flip flops right after a game – wearing sandals after the game will instantly make you feel better and allow your cleats to begin drying


Let me start by saying that you really should not place cleats into a washing machine or dryer. Nor should you try to speed up the drying process by placing them next to a radiator or use a hair dryer.

Washing machines and extreme heat will degrade adhesives and/or leather and will shorten the life of your cleats.

You can however, toss removable insoles (if applicable) into a washing machine. Just make sure to use a mesh bag to prevent damage to your washing machine.

Use these steps to keep your cleats from developing odor:

  • Remove cleats right after the game (wear sandals to air out your feet as well)
  • At home, use an old toothbrush to remove loose dirt and grass from the surface
  • Gently wipe down the surface with some moist paper towels (use dishwashing or laundry soap; do not use Windex or bleach based products)
  • Remove laces and insoles (if applicable) and “stretch out” the tongues to allow ample air movement
  • Final clean with suede or leather cleaner before placing them out in the sun for couple of hours; I know some say don’t put cleats out in direct sunlight but sun’s UV ray works wonders in killing germs
  • If possible, allow 24 hours to dry before using again


If you still have foot odor problems, you can go with a powder or spray product that applies to cleats or your feet to reduce odor.

I recommend that you AVOID any products with aluminum silicate

Please keep in mind that your child’s smelly feet may be unique so certain essential oil products like Elite Sportz Shoe Deodorizer and Foot Spray, Lumi Natural Shoe Deodorizer Spray and Foot Odor Eliminator, Rocket Pure Odor Control may only cover up odor for a short period of time with pungent essential oil smell.

Three products I used together have produced good results for my son’s smelly feet:

  • Dr. Scholl’s Probiotic Foot Spray – Dr. Scholl’s Odor-X Probiotic supposedly treats odors by naturally restoring the skin’s healthy “microbiome” with probiotics that re-balance the bacterial environment on feet. This product is applied to your feet (check out the latest Amazon price on Dr Scholl’s Probiotic Spray here)
  • Foot Sense Natural Foot and Shoe Odor Eliminator – unlike regular baking soda, Foot Sense product contains talc-free shoe deodorizer to neutralize smelly odors. Powder has a slight lavender like smell and it is a long-lasting, fast-acting foot powder, safe for kids and adults. This product is USA-Made and comes in a 3.5 Oz. (Check out the latest Amazon price on this Foot Sense here)
  • Odor-Eaters Ultra durable cushion insoles (2 pack) – these cushions contain activated charcoal, baking soda and zinc oxide to reduce odor. After each game, I remove these insoles to air them out (as well as the cleats) and replace them with a new pair after about a month of use (check out the latest Amazon price on Odor-eaters insoles here)
  • Charcoal Shoe Deodorizer Bags (Marsheepy 12 pack) – after your cleats have been cleaned and feet groomed, you want to make sure that cleats stay dry. Marsheepy bags are made with natural bamboo charcoal which absorbs excess moisture. After multiple use, you can “recharge” these desiccant bags by leaving them out in the sunlight for 3 to 5 hours (Amazon has it for $17.98 for 12 packs)

I am not a big fan of any lotions or wipes that supposedly reduce sweating as sweating is a necessary bodily function.


Excessive sweating is referred to as “hyperhidrosis”. Excessive sweating in armpit hands and feet are treatable. Other causes may include anxiety, cardiac problems and in extreme cases, cancer.

A commonly treatment to hyperhidrosis is iontophoresis which uses electrical stimulation.

Although home treatment kits are available.This procedure can done in a specialist clinic, When it For those children with excesivieto smelly feet, the most important thing is to keep your feet clean and dry as much as possible.


When it comes to smelly feet, the most important thing is to keep your feet clean and dry as much as possible.

One important thing to keep in mind is that if your child’s feet starts to develop dry cracks or weird smell, check with your pediatrician to see if s/he has an athlete’s feet.

Children should not willy nilly apply ointment of any sort to treat athlete’s feet without first checking with their doctor.

If you decide to try my recommendation, let me know how it turned out by leaving a comment below.

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