Running is an excellent form of physical fitness and has tons of health benefits. One of the essential gears for this exercise is a pair of running shoes. They provide you with cushioning against impact and combat overpronation and supination while still protecting your toes and foot in general.
For runners, nothing beats the smell of new shoes right out of the box. But this goes away with time, and after few running sessions, your running shoes might start to smell. Sweating when running is almost inevitable, and the shoes are bound to carry or absorb the sweat in the feet. However, you can avoid having a smell in your running shoes.
Below we get to understand why running shoes smell and 7 of the best ways to deodorize your running shoes.
Why Do Running Shoes Smell?
The body has about 2 million sweat glands, with about 0.25 million being located in the feet. When you start engaging in an intense exercise like running, they all come into action. While this means that you will get to sweat, it is not a bad thing because the glands regulate your body temperature.
The stinky odor does not come from the sweat. It, instead, results from the bacteria found on human skin. Odor comes from these bacteria breaking down the sweat into fatty acids, some of which are pretty stinky.
A majority of runners hardly wash their running shoes are often as they do with their running clothes. This increases the chances of your running shoes getting smelly, even for those that don’t sweat a lot because of bacterial build-up.
Ways to Deodorize Running Shoes
Now that we know where the stinking comes from let’s look at ways through which you can remove the odor and keep your running shoes smelling fresh.
Keep The Shoes Dry
As we have seen above, odor in running shoes is caused by bacteria. They and other micro-organisms thrive in damp environments. Therefore, there is a greater chance that your running shoes will stink if you leave them sweaty or wet.
Remove your shoes from the bag in between your running or gym sessions. Allow them to get as air as possible by removing insoles. Where possible, place them outside in the sun. This eliminates the bacteria by drying the shoes. The good thing about sun drying is that the shoes are not likely to shrink, as is the case when you use a dyer.
You can also stuff and wrap them with newspapers or paper towels to make drying faster. The newspaper or paper towel will absorb the moisture speeding up the process. Keep looking at the progress and change the newspaper or paper towels at least twice.
Another way of eliminating the odor is by freezing the running shoes. Yes, it might sound a little awkward, but it actually works because the extremely low temperatures kill the bacteria. Put the shoes in a Ziploc bag at night, and by the time you remove them in the morning, the smell will have gone.
Neutralize The Odor
The running shoe odor comes from the broken down fatty acids, especially the isovaleric acid. As such, it is possible to neutralize the odor using an alkaline compound. Baking soda is highly recommended as one of the best shoe odor eliminators.
Place baking soda inside the running shoes and leave it there overnight. Remove it in the morning, and you will notice that the odor will have disappeared. While it is an effective method, you should limit the use of baking soda in leather shoes because it can dry the shoes out.
Another odor neutralizer and effective alternative to baking soda is a black tea bag. Pour boiling water on the tea bag for about 2 minutes, then remove it and allow it to cool down. Once cool, put the teabag inside your running shoes for about an hour. Remember to wipe the shoes for any liquid the teabag might have left behind.
Don’t have salt or black tea bags at home? Well, another item you can use to deodorize running shoes is salt. It is equally effective when placed inside stinky running shoes and left overnight.
Other shoe odor eliminators and neutralizers you can use include baby powder, alcohol and cat litter. Baby powder is a good alternative for those with babies. Place some inside the shoes, and you can also powder your feet before you go for the run.
Rubbing alcohol on the smelly parts of the shoes removes the odor and sanitizes the shoes. If you have cat litter, you can also put it inside the shoes overnight, and the odor will be gone by morning.
Buy the Right Shoes and Socks
The best pair of running shoes need to have minimal overlays and breathable upperparts. It will go a long way in preventing the shoes from being stinky. But even running shoes with the best ventilation tend to hold and absorb moisture inside the shoe. This measure will only enhance keeping the shoes smelling fresh, but it will not work on its own.
Moisture-wicking socks will allow sweat to evaporate from your feet by providing ventilation. Because they drain moisture, there is no room for bacteria that causes the odor. A side-effect of this is that it allows your feet to remain cool, which is vital, especially during hot weather. These socks also prevent blisters and the discomfort caused by having moisture inside the socks.
Avoid cotton socks because they retain moisture, thus providing an ample environment for bacteria.
Use an Odor-Removing Spray
Sometimes, we don’t have time for the above methods, and all we need is an effective quick-fix solution. In such situations, look for odor-eliminating sprays or sneaker balls, and you can find them in most stores. Odor-removing sprays work by using ingredients like enzymes that eat the bacteria and thus eliminate the odor source.
A natural option to the commercial odor-removing sprays is the use of essential oils. You can either directly apply the oils on the shoes or put some in paper towels and put those paper towels in the shoes overnight. Keep in mind that oil tends to ruin a variety of rubber makes. As such, it is best to avoid essential oils in the outsoles and midsoles.
You can also use a fragrance-free deodorant on your feet. This will protect you from fungi and bacteria that produce a stinky smell. It is essential to do a patch test to ensure that your feet do not react to the deodorant’s ingredients.
Wash the Shoes
One of the most effective habits of keeping your shoes smelling fresh is by washing them. Use cold water to hand wash the shoes and the insoles. While cleaning the shoes, add some disinfectant to the water to sanitize the shoes and remove any bacteria.
Coldwater is recommended because the use of hot water is likely to melt the glue holding the shoe parts in place.
We understand that it is tempting, but you should avoid machine washing the shoes because it might damage the shoes and your machine’s drum as well. If you have to machine clean your running shoes, use gentle or handwashing settings.
Air-dry the shoes and avoid using the dyer as it might make the shoes shrink. If you have to use the dryer, wrap the shoes with towels to prevent them from damaging the dryer’s drum.
While washing the shoes is an effective way of deodorizing them, doing so frequently exposes them to detergents which damages the adhesives and glues holding them in place. This means that you might have to buy a new pair sooner.
Check with your shoe brand manufacturer to see how often you need to wash them.
Alternate Your Running Shoes
Where possible, get another pair of running shoes to alternate with your current one. This will allow each pair enough time for drying out and reduce the chances of bacterial build-up.
Change Your Insoles
If you can’t afford another pair of running shoes yet and the above methods are not working, then consider changing your insoles. There are several sweat-reducing and odor-fighting insoles available in the market. Choose a pair that is washable and has sweat absorbing materials.
Cedar wood insoles are some of the best options for deodorizing your running shoes. They work because they are a natural anti-fungal option and thus keeps the odor-causing fungi and bacteria away. They are a good option because they are lightweight. However, they are expensive, but if you have a recurring problem with your running shoes, they will make a good investment.
We have seen various ways on how to make running shoes not smell and what to do if they are already smelling. These methods should work even if you run with the shoes daily. While some work independently, it is best to combine a couple of practices, such as airing the shoes and rotating them for the best results.
Suppose the problem persists, or you have persistent fungal or bacterial infections. In that case, it is best to see a specialist to rule out the possibility of suffering from chronic sweating conditions such as hyperhidrosis.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is through constantly challenging yourself.