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Sweaty feet

Because we normally wear shoes, the sweat from the foot cannot evaporate normally. This sweat rapidly becomes smelly, because bacteria work on it to produce smelly fatty acids. Warm moisture also encourages the growth of the fungi that cause ‘athlete’s foot’, and this can add to the cheesy smell, as well as being unpleasant in itself.

One of the main causes of sweaty, smelly feet is wearing the wrong socks or footwear. Shoes with plastic or other synthetic fabric linings don't allow any sweat to evaporate and don't absorb it either, so the foot stays wet. Synthetic socks have the same effect, particularly if they're tight.

What you can do for sweaty feet

Deal with your socks
  • Throw out all your nylon socks. Replace them with socks that are 60–70% wool combined with 40-30% man-made fibre. Socks that are all cotton are not as good because they do not hold as much moisture without becoming sodden, and all–wool socks become clammy. You could try socks made from bamboo fibre, which are supposed to be draw sweat away very effectively.
  • Make sure your socks are not too tight. Some sports socks have ventilation panels and are designed to transport moisture away from the foot. If necessary, wear a second pair of the correct socks over the first pair to increase absorbency.
  • Wear clean socks every day. Wash socks on the hottest cycle. After washing, rinse your socks in antiseptic, diluted 20 times, and let them dry naturally.
  • You might consider antibacterial, fresh-feet socks. These are impregnated with chemicals to discourage the odour-producing bacteria that feed on sweat, but they are not a substitute for having clean socks every day. And some scientists worry that trying to combat these harmless bacteria could encourage stronger strains to develop.
Deal with your shoes
  • Check the linings of your shoes. Leather shoes often have a plastic lining, so be sure to choose all-leather shoes without a lining or ones that are lined with leather.
  • Buy some washable insoles for your shoes, and wash them every day.
  • Every couple of weeks, use the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner to clean the inside of your shoes. This will help to remove dried old sweat. You can also wipe the inside of your shoes with surgical spirit, which you can buy from a pharmacy.
  • Avoid wearing trainers for long periods. Most trainers are insulating and synthetic – ideal conditions for cheesy feet.
  • Try to avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row allow them to dry out properly.
Deal with your feet
  • Check the soles of your feet for hard skin. Hard skin is dead skin, and it becomes soggy when damp, providing an ideal environment for bacteria. Remove it with a pumice stone.
  • Bathe your feet in warm water with a few drops of tea-tree oil added. Tea-tree oil has antibacterial properties. Dry your feet thoroughly.
  • Alternatively, soak your feet daily in black tea, which contains tannic acid. Boil two tea bags in half a litre of water for 15 minutes. Add this to 2 litres of cool water and soak your feet for 20–30 minutes. Dry thoroughly
  • Try wiping your feet with surgical spirit (available from a pharmacy) each day. Stop if it irritates your skin.
  • Check between your toes for fungal infections such as athlete's foot. Fungi thrive when the feet are warm and moist. The skin between the toes will look red and soggy. Buy an antifungal foot spray, which is more effective than antifungal foot powders. Keep using the spray for 10 days after the symptoms have gone. If the problem persists, see your doctor.
  • If you notice lots of small pits in the skin of your soles – almost a honeycomb appearance – and a very pungent smell, you may have an infection called ‘pitted keratolysis’. The skin on the soles of the feet is often slimy and whitish in colour. This condition is caused by a bacterium and is common in soldiers who wear boots in humid conditions (called ‘Mekong foot’ by US troops in Vietnam). It needs to be treated with antibiotics, so see your doctor.
Other measures. You could also try using a special foot antiperspirant/deodorant or a 20% aluminium chloride solution (see Useful contacts). It is important to use the aluminium chloride solution correctly. Use it at night. Wash and dry your feet first and then apply the solution when you are lying in bed. Do not miss between your toes. Allow it to dry naturally and wash it off in the morning. Apply it every night until the problem is under control – usually 3 or 4 days – and then twice a week. Do not use it if you think you might have an infection, such as athlete's foot, or if you have any sores on your feet.
 
If you are really bothered by sweatiness of your feet, and the measures described above have not dealt with the problem, it would be worth talking to your doctor. If you feel too shy to talk to your doctor, see a chiropodist. Chiropodists are experts on all foot problems, including sweatiness, and give very useful advice.

What doctors can do for sweaty feet

Iontophoresis is a treatment available through some hospital physiotherapy departments. It used to be difficult to obtain this treatment, but more hospitals now have the equipment – your doctor can find out if it is available locally.
  • It involves placing your feet in a bath of tap water, through which a very small electrical current is passed for about 30–40 minutes.
  • You may find it a slightly uncomfortable, tingling or burning sensation, and skin irritation can occur.
  • It is not suitable if you could be pregnant or have a heart pacemaker.
  • At first, treatment is every few days, so it is time consuming, but it is gradually decreased to once every 3 or 4 weeks.
  • If you find it works well, you might consider buying the equipment to use at home – ask the physiotherapist’s advice (they are available from iontophoresis-device.com). (Obviously, you should not try to make home–made equipment, because you could electrocute yourself.)
Botulinum toxin injections (Botox, Dysport; look at the section in sweaty armpits are probably the best treatment for seriously sweaty feet. It is tedious and uncomfortable because you may need about 36 tiny injections into the soles of the feet and the skin of the feet is very sensitive. This is a new treatment so it may not be available in your local hospital, but your doctor can find out the location of the nearest specialist treatment centre.
 
Anticholinergic drugs block the action of the nerves responsible for sweating, and are fairly effective. However, their side effects – drying of the mouth, blurring of vision, constipation, sedation – are probably worse than the sweating! Propantheline bromide can be prescribed by your doctor. In the UK, glycopyrronium bromide is available only through a specialist dermatologist (because it has to be imported from the USA); this drug has lesser side effects than propantheline bromide.
 
A sympathectomy operation to destroy the nerves that control sweating of the feet is possible, but is not to be recommended because it causes impotence in men and probably also interferes with sexual function in women.
 
Return to Sweating

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Wednesday, May 1st 2013

 

Dr Phil Hammond asks why do we sweat, why do some people smell more than others, and what can we do about it. Find out more by clicking on the video below.

Useful contacts for Sweaty feet

Click to see all the contacts that you may find useful in relation to sweating | Sweaty feet


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Comments on this article

Posted by Optional on 10/10/2013 at 04:23

today I was going out for the day and I never where socks I had been walking all day on the train on the way home I took my boots off and was instantly hit with the smell of stinky sweaty feet my barefeet where dripping with sweat I new that everyone could smell them people started holding the noses and moving seats I felt so inbarressed

Posted by Jaffa on 24/08/2013 at 12:27

socks that are 60–70% wool combined with 40-30% man-made fibre are hard to find, wearing wool will make your feet hot and more sweaty, therefore there will be more sweat and the socks will eventually get damp. Its not a good idea to Wash socks on the 'hottest' cycle a lot of washing machines have 90 degrees and above and if people wash on the hottest cycle the elastic of the socks will be gone and you'll have to throw them away, perhaps 50 degrees might sound better ? 'After washing, rinse your socks in antiseptic' - pour dettol or bleach down the washing machine or get a big bucket and pour a tiny drop in 5 litres of water ? its not efficient. Most shoes these days are synthetic - plastic or other man-made fibres and real leather shoes would be way too expensive as its always is unless u gotta loadsa money. using the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner to clean the inside of your shoes is unhygenic because you have used the nozzle else where on the floor where there are germs and bacteria and you're just transferring a new breed into your shoes. Bathing your feet in oil and black tea every day for 20-30 minutes - do you think people have the time in the modern urban lifestyle with the added hassle of mixing it with correct proportions ? However, using a special foot antiperspirant/deodorant or a 20% aluminium chloride solution does sound like more efficient in a busy urban lifestlye with also changing shoes and socks regularly. That is the best reversible method anything else like botox surgery is permaent and if feet dont sweat a bit it will feel really hot.

Posted by Estelle on 20/07/2013 at 08:09

For as long as I can remember I have has sweaty feet (& hands/armpits, though I use Mitchum for Men, even though I'm not a bloke, but that has made a big difference in the armpit area). However, in winter my feet are so cold I have to wear thick tights and 1 or 2 pairs of socks, and they're never warm. In from late spring into summer my feet sweat all the time, even when they are bare; they glisten with sweat. I walk around and leave wet footprints. They pick up dust and dirt, so I wash them at least twice, usually three times a day and dust with foot powder each time. I hate my feet and don't know what to do.

Posted by PWhitley on 03/05/2013 at 12:03

I still need help on how to make my feet not smell. Last night my boyfriend came over and i took my shoes off and i could smell my feet so i know he could and im a 13 yer old girl with sweatie, stinky feet...yup thats attractive!?

Posted by Optional on 16/10/2012 at 03:06

Recently started experiencing slipping in tiled bathroom floor especially after visiting toilet. Nothing major, I just wipe off the floor., no leaks., therefore for 1st time in my life I'm dealing with some foot sweating. Maybe it's because I've started wearing Birkenstoks without socks the last few months., but on occassion do wear them. Love Birkenstocks., but look out., they can contribute to sweating.

Posted by Peter on 18/06/2012 at 12:03

I suffered all my life from this complaint. 7 years ago I went to a pharmacy in lusaka Zambia and was recommended LIMASOL I used it for 3 days with a pumice stone and I was cured. I also by accident shaved a mole off my face and it kept reappearing. I dabbed some limasol on it and it has never reappeared. NO I DO NOT HAVE SHARES IN THE COMPANY..

Posted by Optional on 17/12/2011 at 11:38

Thank you,the soles of my feet has flakes that are hard, my feet are sweaty most of the timd even when I'm wearing sandals,I've tried different foot sprays,scrubs,powders and creams but all in vain

Posted by Optional on 17/09/2011 at 03:30

I store my out of season shoes in large plastic boxes. I am finding some of my shoes have the lining eaten out of them next season. The lining is cracked and sometimes completey gone. I don't see any bugs. What could be causing this? Last year some of the plastic soles were eaten away.

Posted by moocow on 14/08/2011 at 09:54

to the comment about the "smell of menthol" in funky feet... that's actually ammonia compounds and is part of ketosis, not fungal issues.

Posted by Optional on 17/06/2011 at 04:16

great advice in all areas

Posted by Justin on 25/04/2011 at 04:56

In my opinion special cedarsoles are the best remedy. These insoles consist of absorbable and antifungal cedar wood. So you don't have to apply it daily. Just put them in your shoes and the sweat problem is gone.

Posted by Optional on 24/03/2011 at 10:41

Baby powder works great.

Posted by SwEaTY FEEt #1 on 23/02/2011 at 02:38

Change your sock out everyday and wash them in the shower and you should be good!!!

Posted by billl on 03/02/2011 at 11:07

feet are damp every 3 hours change socks same thing 3 hours later

Posted by Optional on 04/12/2010 at 06:29

I had a long term problem with excessively sweaty feet, constant outbreaks of athletes foot and the fegree of sweating made my feet look like I was suffering from trench foot, google some pictures.....disgusting. I read an article about bamboo fibre socks so bought some, Ihad tried numerous creams and potions unsuccessfully. The sock arrived which were extremely soft and silky and I started to wear them, incredibly within a week my problem started to clear up and normal feet were resumed very quickly after with no problems, sweating under control, no recurrence of athletes foot and no need for any creams, bamboo fibre all the way for me, the site recommended you get at least 75% bamboo fibre, they are no more expensive than'normal' socks so no cost issue either

Posted by Optional on 28/08/2010 at 08:12

Can you please tell me if there is any doctors who can do the operation on Hawaii

Posted by Optional on 26/08/2010 at 01:48

I made a mistake my last article. wrong:sea weed crrect:"sea mineral powder" addition :"SUPER Cu insole" is goods. thanks!

Posted by Optional on 25/08/2010 at 11:40

I have a good news one of invention sole for shoes. It's launched selling July.2010 in Japan. this contained "Cu+Seaweed including" ,seemed to stop increasing bacteria. Our problem things are in common worldwide, I think. hopefully, this information is becoming your helpful. for more info please contact: http://www.magx.co.jp/healthcare/insole.html (I'm not this company's sales person)

Posted by Ly on 10/08/2010 at 01:01

Hi had Hoooorrrible Sweaty/Smelly/Clammy feet for a LOONG time, and this honestly Solved my problem.. Dove radiant Silk Aerosol deodorant. I tried lot so of other foot powders, food deodorants, soaks, black tea, bleach, rubbing alcohol, you name it, I tried it, and Nothing worked!! But this spray Did it. I kept using everyday, everytime I put on shoes, until the can was empty, and now my feet Never Smell and I dont have to use it all the time. My feet still sweat, but they dont smell anymore or have that sticky clammy feeling. Try it out, its only a few bucks at the local drug store or market. http://www.amazon.com/Dove-Radiant-Aerosol-Anti-perspirant-Deoderant/dp/B000GCLB8M

Posted by Optional on 06/07/2010 at 06:14

feet sweat in normal shoes, whether synthetic or leather does not matter. in winter feet comfortable approx half hour, then go cold because they are wet causes bad Tinea, & Chilblains when I lived in southern part of Australia

Posted by Anonymous on 27/06/2010 at 03:15

I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH SWEATY FEET WHICH IS CAUSING ATHLETES FOOT WHICH IS VERY SOAR AND A PAIN WHEN WALKING AM A FIREFIGHTER DO YOU THINK ALL THAT HEAT FROM FIRE IS CAUSING PROBLEM DONT WANT TO WASTE DOCTORS TIME IF SOMETHING CAN BE BOUGHT OVER THE CHEMIST COUNTER

Posted by Robert Powel on 04/06/2010 at 03:52

Hello excellent advice, here I found this site with more tips home. I solved the problem of foot sweating. http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=2954529

Posted by Louise on 11/05/2010 at 05:16

as a female working in the city I cannot wear socks. I have to wear tights which don't absore the sweat. Any other suggestions?

Posted by Optional on 28/03/2010 at 10:33

Very informative article. @Jenny: In my eyperience the use of foot powder is very annoying. You have to apply it every day... I think it's better to wear special cedarsoles inside your shoes. So you have to deal it with your shoes. The cedarsole absorbs all the sweat, prevents you from getting fungal problems and making your feet smelling like menthol.

Posted by Optional on 17/03/2010 at 11:10

Help! My feet and hand sweat, I cant hold any thing more than 30 sec with out getting them all wet, my feet smell, I not wear any shoes I like and I dont what to do about

Posted by Shaide on 01/02/2010 at 07:59

Very Good Info. Thanks xx

Posted by Jenny on 12/11/2009 at 04:40

For anyone having problems with smelly feet and shoes, I use a foot powder, which can be put in your shoes and it gets rid of the smell. Try alvin connor, they are also natural. You can rub the powder onto your feet and inside your shoes, as it is a powder, it doesnt just wear off, so lasts all day.

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Fascinating facts

Each person has 3-4 million sweat glands

At rest in a cool environment, a normal person loses about half a litre of sweat in a day

The sweat glands are capable of producing 12 litres of sweat in 24 hours

Hippopotamus sweat is red. It contains sunscreen and is also antiseptic (Nature 2004;429:363)

We can smell the sweat of a giraffe from a quarter of a mile away. The smell repels ticks (New Scientist 1 February 2003)

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