Are you one of those people who dreads taking off their shoes in the company of others? When you get home from work and peel off your socks does your husband or wife look anxiously around and ask who opened the cheese?
Foot odour is a problem suffered by tens of thousands of people across New Zealand. While it may provoke wrinkled noses and accusations of poor personal hygiene, it is actually just the result of natural chemical reactions – reactions which are hothoused by our habit of keeping our feet encased in shoes for prolonged periods of time.
What Causes the Pong?
As humans, our bodies are crawling with bacteria. These minute organisms play a valuable role in removing unwanted biological debris from our skins and in most cases cause no trouble at all. Odour problems arise, though, when certain populations of these bacteria reach unusual levels. And this is just what happens on the feet of people afflicted with stinkfoot.
Our feet each contain a quarter of a million sweat glands and produce about a cup of perspiration every day. On the skin of our feet, particularly on the sole and between the toes, we have a bacteria known as Brevibacteria, the role of which is to eat up the dead skin cells our feet shed.
Back in the days before we wore shoes all the time this mix of moisture and bacteria would not have been such an unhappy combination. Bacteria love a warm, moist, dark environment, so feet exposed to light and air for most of the day did not provide the right conditions for excessive bacterial growth.
Encase your feet in socks and shoes, though, and it’s another story. Sunlight, with its mildly antiseptic properties can no longer reach the feet, and that cup of perspiration can’t evaporate and instead lies against the surface of the skin, feeding those bacteria.
As they feed on sweat and dead skin cells Brevibacteria produce gasses that carry the characteristically cheesy tang of foot odour. In fact, it is exactly these bacteria that give certain cheeses their strong aroma.
How to Beat It
To beat foot odour you need to reduce the bacterial count on the skin of your feet. You can do this by keeping your feet drier, reducing perspiration, and by killing the bacteria itself.
Shoes & Socks
The environment around your feet has a bearing on levels of foot odour. Shoes and socks which allow the feet to breathe more will keep your skin dryer and so reduce foot odour.
Open shoes allow air to circulate around the foot, and socks made of natural fibres will absorb sweat and draw it away from the skin.
Allowing your shoes to dry thoroughly between uses will also reduce the level of moisture around the feet. Wearing clean socks daily reduces bacteria levels.
While foot odour is not caused by dirt per se, regular washing of the feet will reduce levels of bacteria, particularly if an anti-bacterial soap is used.
Deodorant and Antiperspirant
Deodorant may disguise foot odour for a short time, but it does nothing to combat the cause. If you’re looking for a quick fix in a can, antiperspirant is a better option as it prevents the sweat glands from producing the moisture foot bacteria thrive on.
There are a number of simple home remedies you can use to attack your smelly feet. The ones listed below are all inexpensive and easy to prepare.
- Bicarbonate of soda. Make a solution of 1 tablespoon to a litre of water and soak your feet twice a week. The bicarbonate of soda creates an environment which inhibits bacterial growth.
- Tea. Soak your feet in cold strong black tea for 20 minutes. The tannic acid in the tea is both a mild anti-bacterial and an astringent (reduces perspiration).
- Vinegar. Tip 1/3 cup of white or apple cider vinegar into a bowl of warm water and soak your feet for 10 minutes.
- Radish. Juice 20 radishes and add 8 drops of glycerine. Use this mixture in a spray bottle to mist the feet.
- Tea Tree Oil. A great antiseptic and anti-bacterial.
- Salt. Soak your feet in a solution of ½ cup of salt and 1 litre of water. Salt will dry out your skin and also kill bacteria.
Banish the Stink
By creating a clean, dry, well ventilated environment around your feet, reducing perspiration and lowering bacteria levels you’ll be able to take those shoes of in public again without creating a stampede for the nearest exit.
To learn more about getting rid of foot odour check out this video.