Removing Shoe Odors With Baking Soda

A Cheap Fix for an Embarrassing Problem

Dirty football boots on a grass pitch
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Shoe odors can be embarrassing and may even affect your social life. It's embarrassing and you don't need it. There are many commercial products that are touted to mask or eliminate shoe odor, but one of the very best—and certainly one of the least expensive—is a product you probably already have in your home: baking soda. You may have heard the advice to place an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb unpleasant food odors. By exactly the same principle, baking soda can do the same thing for your shoes.

How Baking Soda Removes Odors

Chemically, baking soda is technically sodium bicarbonate, a powdery substance with a slightly base (alkaline) pH. Baking soda has the effect of neutralizing the acid pH of many substances in its proximity, including the moist air in shoes where bacteria thrive. Like many substances that cause odors, human sweat is slightly acidic in nature, and baking soda's apparent magic may be due to the fact that it neutralizes air inside the shoes. 

Another odor-reducing benefit is that the dry baking soda powder simply absorbs humidity, which reduces the conditions by which odor-producing bacteria thrive. 

Baking soda has several benefits as an odor-eliminating substance: 

  • Using baking soda to remove shoe odors reduces the chance of a sensitive skin reaction that might occur with other products.
  • Baking soda removes odors without adding other fragrances that linger and mingle with your shoes.
  • Baking soda acts as a fungicide and has mild antibacterial properties.
  • Baking soda is by far the cheapest way to treat smelly shoes.
removing shoe odor with baking soda
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Method 1: Using Straight Baking Soda

Sprinkle a layer of baking soda directly into your shoes, and shake the shoes around to distribute the powder. Let the shoes sit for at least 24 hours, in order to give the baking soda time to absorb the odor, then shake out any excess powder.

With this method, the baking soda comes in contact with every part of the shoe, and the bacteria that cause the odor have nowhere to hide. In the morning, tap out the baking soda before wearing the shoes, or you'll leave a white powdery trail. This method works well with cloth shoes, but be cautious with leather and suede shoes, as a buildup of baking soda can cause these materials to become brittle. With suede and leather shoes, you are better off using baking soda sachets. 

Method 2: Make Baking Soda Sachets for Your Shoes

Tennis shoes, sneakers, and walking shoes used for exercising are especially prone to collecting odors. To minimize shoe odors, after each wearing, put a sachet of baking soda inside each of the shoes to absorb the odors until you're ready to wear them again.

To make the sachets, just wrap up some baking soda in a small piece of cloth and tie it with ribbon or string. If you wish, you can add a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender, to help add a pleasant fragrance as the baking soda is performing its odor-removal work. 

Sachet variation: Fill the toe of a sock with baking soda and tie it off. Leave sock sachets in your shoes overnight to absorb odors. This can be part of your ongoing routine for any athletic shoes you wear regularly.

Method 3: Baking Soda for Sandals

Sandals worn with bare feet are particularly susceptible to odors and are particularly stubborn when it comes to getting those odors out. 

A good method for removing odors from sandals is to place 1/2 cup of baking soda into a large zip-lock bag, then sealing the sandals inside the bag. Shake the bag to distribute the baking soda, and leave the bag sit, sealed, for 48 hours. 

Tips for Preventing Shoe Odor

  • Air out your shoes regularly by opening the laces and placing the shoes in a sunny spot. Sun is a natural disinfectant. 
  • Wet insoles or other wet parts of a shoe encourage bacteria growth (and odor). Remove any wet parts of the shoe (if you can) and air-dry the shoe in a warm spot or in the dryer set on low heat.
  • Don't wear the same shoes every day. Alternating shoes gives the offenders time to air out.
  • Wear socks with your shoes whenever possible. Socks will absorb the moisture that fosters odor in shoes.