There are many different reasons why you might want to sanitize or disinfect shoes. If you bought them secondhand, for example, you might want to disinfect them to make sure they’re clean. If you’ve worn them enough that they’ve built up an odor, disinfecting them may also be a good idea.
In any case, it’s a good idea to disinfect your shoes regularly anyway, as they’ll accrue dirt, germs, and odor-causing bacteria over time. However, there are other specific situations where cleaning your footwear is a good idea. If you’ve stepped in a puddle and your shoes have since gained a moldy smell, for example, it’s a good idea to disinfect them. In the following paragraphs, we’ll walk you through how to clean shoes quickly, safely, and efficiently.
Disinfecting your shoes is something that you should do relatively frequently. If you let bacteria and other undesirable things build up in your shoes, you could quickly end up with stinky feet, and your feet might even be at risk for infections! As such, knowing how to disinfect shoes is extremely important for maintaining both the health of your shoes and your feet.
Washing Your Shoes
If you’re wondering how to disinfect shoes, you should first know that there are several different methods you can use to do so. If you regularly wash your shoes (for example, if you’re a runner or someone who exercises regularly), you may be doing this already. As long as you use the right washing materials, you can clean and disinfect your shoes at the same time.
For washing and disinfecting shoes, we recommend a solution of laundry detergent and water as long as it’s safe to use on your shoes. If you have more delicate shoes, such as high heels or dress shoes, you may want to play it safe and disinfect them with a water-free method. However, if you’re purifying sandals or sneakers, try this method. You’ll need:
- Gentle laundry detergent
- Warm water
- A Sponge or rag
Start by diluting a small amount of mild detergent with some warm water. Next, use your chosen implement to wipe off the shoe gently with the solution. Focus on the insole, but don’t ignore the exterior of the shoe. Be careful not to saturate the shoe, as this can lead to more odors if it doesn’t dry correctly.
Alternatively, you can follow the same process with undiluted rubbing alcohol, but only if it’s safe to use on your shoes. Rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, so it won’t waterlog your footwear, and it’s excellent for dispelling odors. Just dab or wipe it gently along the inside of the shoe, focusing on the insole.
Using the Washing Machine
While some people swear by throwing their shoes in the washing machine, we recommend that you exercise caution when doing so. If you have a pair of shoes that’s already somewhat worn or that say they’re machine washable, you should be able to wash them without a problem. However, repeated trips through the washing machine can spell disaster for new or fragile shoes!
If you have a terrible case of odor on your hands, a trip through the washing machine may be just what you need. Again, exercise caution here, as not every shoe will be able to handle it, but most everyday shoes should be able to handle at least one trip through the wash.
To disinfect your stinky shoes in the washing machine, put them in on the highest heat setting your washer can handle, then let the appliance do its work. First, though, make sure to bundle the shoes in a pillowcase or shoe bag to protect them, and pull out any laces and insoles. You may want to wash your insoles separately, but the shoelaces can usually go in the shoe bag with your shoes.
When you finish, dry the shoes in a well-ventilated room, and use fans if possible. Never dry your footwear in the sun, as this can warp the shoes’ shape or fade the fabric colors.
We don’t recommend throwing your shoes in the dryer to dry them off, either. A mechanical dryer will do little to dry the inner layers of the shoe, and it’ll expose them to needless tumbling that could loosen the layers of the shoe.
There are ways to disinfect and deodorize your shoes with chemical sprays, too. If you can’t or don’t want to wash your footwear with water, this is the next best thing! Disinfecting your shoe with a disinfectant spray couldn’t be easier, especially if you buy the spray from the store.
If you’re wondering how to disinfect shoes with a chemical spray, you have several options to choose from. Some of these options include:
- Antibacterial sprays
- Rubbing alcohol
Of course, if your shoes are white, bleach is a reliable and no-nonsense direction to go in, but make sure to dilute it with water first. Popular brand names like Lysol and Clorox, among others, also make antibacterial disinfectant sprays that won’t affect the color of your shoe. However, be careful when spraying your footwear to avoid hitting the outsides, as not all shoes will be colorfast against them.
Sanitizers that kill germs and bacteria with ultraviolet light have been coming onto the scene for years, and they’ve already adapted to things like toothbrushes and sponges. These same sanitizers can work to keep your shoes clean, too! Instead of using powder or liquid, these devices shine ultraviolet light into your footwear, killing 99.9% of fungus and bacteria in the process. If you need to sanitize your shoes often but aren’t a fan of making a mess, this device may be for you.
Deodorizing Your Shoes
While many of the methods mentioned so far will go a long way towards deodorizing your shoes, depending on how long it’s been since they were last cleaned, they may not get the job done thoroughly. You might need an extra dose of deodorization after cleaning them to get them feeling fresh. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for deodorizing your shoes out there, too!
Baking soda is a popular and well-rounded deodorizer. It works on many different surfaces and textiles, and it’s especially potent when combined with vinegar, another mild deodorizer. Baking soda is a beautiful chemical and tool because it’s gentle on surfaces, yet tough on odors. It’s also mildly abrasive, meaning that it’s excellent on surfaces that need a bit extra scrubbing.
Using baking soda for shoe deodorization is easy! Just pour a bit of baking soda inside your shoes (at least enough to cover the insole) and leave them to sit overnight. In the morning, when you remove the baking soda, your footwear should smell fresh and odor-free.
Vinegar is another excellent deodorizer, though it does its best work when combined with baking soda. Unfortunately, vinegar leaves an odor behind that many people don’t like, but this doesn’t make it any less useful! As long as you use vinegar properly, the vinegar smell will fade in a few days, and you’ll be left with fresh, odor-free shoes.
An excellent way to use white vinegar for deodorization is to add a small amount to your detergent-and-water mixture from the disinfecting section. This will make it so you get the deodorization and disinfecting done all in one step! However, you can also rub down your shoes gently with a rag moistened with white vinegar, or you can spray it on your shoes with a spray bottle for the same effect. Just be careful not to saturate your footwear!
Dryer sheets are excellent for making your clothes smell fresh, so why not your shoes, too? While dryer sheets won’t do anything about the source of the smell, they’ll leave your shoes smelling springtime fresh and will mask any returning odors.
To start, slide two dryer sheets into each shoe, then leave them there overnight. Cut a dryer sheet in half and leave one half in each shoe whenever it’s not in use for follow-up odor maintenance.
Charcoal and Kitty Litter
Kitty litter is made for odor control, so it follows that it should be able to control the odor in your shoes! Similarly, charcoal is used to remove impurities from the air in air filters, and it works to remove impurities in your shoes, too.
For both of these, put the granules of either charcoal or kitty litter inside a few old socks, making sure that the filled socks fit inside the shoes you want to deodorize. Leave the socks in place overnight, and you should have odor-free shoes in the morning! You can even keep the socks handy for future deodorizing if you’d like.
Of course, if you’re looking to do things a bit more quickly than a home remedy can, you can always pick up some deodorizing foot powder from the store. These powders are made to remove the odors from your shoes, so they’ll work quickly and efficiently.
You don’t even have to invest in a powder, either; shoe deodorizers come in all different shapes, sizes, and functions. Besides powder, just about anything you can imagine for shoe deodorizing exists on the market! Some examples include:
- Shoe-deodorizing scent “balls”
- Deodorizing spray
- Deodorizing insoles
- Reusable deodorizing sachets or bags
Stopping Your Shoes From Smelling
If you don’t want to have to deodorize your shoes, you can always try some strategies to keep them from accruing odor in the first place. While some people will always have undeniably stinky feet, there are several different tips and tricks you can use to keep your shoes from getting smelly and gross at all.
Rotate Your Shoes
One of the most effective methods for keeping your shoes (and your feet) smelling fresh is to avoid wearing the same pair every day. When you wear the same set of shoes day-in and day-out, your shoes never have a chance to dry from any sweat that might accumulate in them. Instead, keep several pairs of shoes that you rotate throughout the week. That will give each pair a chance to air out between uses.
Letting your shoes rest serves another essential purpose, too: to let the shoe reform its original shape. Your shoes, especially the insoles, can warp and distort with extended daily use. A resting period of about 48 hours lets your shoes bounce back to their original shape before you wear them again, but even giving them a day of rest in between uses is better than nothing.
If you ever wore your shoes without socks when you were a kid, you probably remember your mother telling you, “If you don’t wear socks with those shoes, your feet will stink!” Well, she had a point! When you wear socks, the majority of sweat and other impurities are absorbed by your shoes instead of your socks.
Socks are easily washable, but your shoes aren’t quite so simple. As such, wearing socks whenever possible is a great way to maintain the integrity of your shoes. This doesn’t apply to all types of shoes, of course, but for your everyday sneakers and work shoes, make sure to wear a good pair of socks! If you’re prone to excessive foot sweating, you may want to look for some good moisture-wicking socks as well.
Check Your Shoes
Unfortunately, sometimes smelly feet and smelly shoes can just be caused by the shoe you’re wearing. Flip flops, for example, are an open-air shoe, so any sweat that your feet secrete tends to evaporate or otherwise drip off. Not much gets left on the footwear to make it stinky, and wet conditions can’t be maintained long enough to encourage much mold or bacterial growth anyway.
This is the case for most types of sandals. Sandals also dry more quickly than sneakers or tennis shoes, so when they do get dirty, the cleaning process is simple. However, this isn’t the case for all types of shoes! Some shoes, like the following, tend to have issues with airflow:
- Winter boots
- Dress shoes
- Formal footwear
- Leather shoes
- Shoes lined with fluffy materials
Any shoe that doesn’t “breathe” or offer good airflow is at high risk of sweat and stink accumulation. If you have perpetually sweaty and stinky feet, it might be a good idea to work from the ground up and find new shoes altogether.
Health Risks of Dirty Shoes
Dirty, stinky, and infected shoes aren’t just unpleasant and gross. They can leave you vulnerable to a host of nasty health effects, too. Wanting to disinfect shoes you got from a thrift store is one thing, but if you’re a fan of dipping your shoes in puddles or not wearing socks, you should be on top of keeping your shoes clean, too.
This is because the stinky odor in your shoes actually comes from bacteria. Bacteria grow more quickly in damp conditions, so sweaty and wet shoes are far more vulnerable to them. However, these bacteria can lead to health effects, too, if they’re left to their own devices. This is why knowing how to disinfect shoes is so important!
Not only do sweaty, wet shoes create the perfect environment for stinky bacteria, but they create a welcoming place for fungal spores to grow, too. Athlete’s foot is a relatively common foot fungus among those with sweaty feet, and if you’ve ever had the condition, you know that it’s not particularly pleasant. An athlete’s foot infection stings, burns, and itches – it’s not fun to have!
Not only that, but the athlete’s foot is transmissible to others, too. Of course, if your shoes create a suitable environment for fungus to grow, you’ll be more likely to suffer an infection. If you buy shoes from a thrift store, you could get it from those shoes, too, even if they’ve sat on a shelf for a while. Fungal spores for an athlete’s foot can survive dormant in a pair of shoes for a long time, just waiting for you to wear them!
Toenail fungus is a fungal disease that can plague those with moist, sweaty shoes. Similarly to athlete’s foot, toenail fungus can persist in shoes for many months and can pass from person to person.
Besides deodorization, this is another reason why disinfecting shoes is so important, primarily if they’re used! This applies if they’ve been used by you, too! If you manage to cure your athlete’s foot, but then put on an older pair of shoes that you never disinfected, you could end up with a fungal infection all over again. Anyone who feels they may have a foot infection of some kind should be especially careful about disinfecting their shoes regularly.
Besides health effects, there are several reasons why you should be careful to clean and disinfect your shoes. It doesn’t have to be a problematic or grueling process! Anyone obtaining a pair of used shoes should always disinfect them before wearing them, too. If you remember to do this, you’ll have pleasantly clean, healthy, and odor-free shoes whenever you need them!