July 9, 2013 at 4:54 PM ET
Hot, sweaty feet usually become stinky feet. And that’s pretty much impossible to avoid in the summer. “Sweat creates the perfect environment for bacteria, which is what causes odor,” says Stephen Mandy, M.D., a dermatologist and professor at the University of Miami. “Bacteria thrive in hot, moist conditions and feed off the dead skin cells your feet shed.” So next time you go sockless, try one of these tips.
Let your feet breathe. “When possible, wear sandals so moisture can evaporate from your feet,” says David M. Pariser, M.D., former president of the American Academy of Dermatology. Sneakers and even ballet flats don't allow any fresh air to get to your feet. If you do wear sneakers (or other closed shoes), get yourself some "moisture-wicking" socks. Made from synthetic blends, they actually pull moisture away from your feet. Cotton socks absorb moisture which means you'll just end up with soggy socks that can lead to stinky feet and blisters. Stash an extra pair in your bag and change them midway through the day.
Wash your feet with white vinegar. Another bacteria fighter: soap and water and well-dried feet after the fact). A squirt or two of hand sanitizing gel or spray after washing keeps bacteria away. Or try this home remedy: Mix a cup of white vinegar in a gallon of lukewarm water and soak your feet for 15 to 30 minutes once or twice a day, says Dr. Mandy.
Head off moisture. Dust on a thin coating of talcum powder, cornstarch or plain baking soda before slipping on socks and shoes to absorb wetness, says Dr. Pariser. You can also apply antiperspirant to the bottom of your feet and between your toes before bed and again after showering in the morning. Look for antiperspirants labeled “clinical strength”—they have higher concentrations of active ingredients. Sprays like Secret Sport are easiest to use on feet.
Rotate your shoes. Give shoes a chance to dry out a few days between wearings. You can also use an odor-control foot powder in your shoes, such as Zeasorb or odor control insoles (change them once they seem to stop working). If your shoes really reek, leave them outside to air out and run washable types, like athletic shoes, through the laundry, suggests Mandy.
Consider a prescription. If nothing works, your dermatologist can prescribe more powerful antiperspirants for your feet, like Drysol.
Your doctor can also let you know if you have a condition called hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), says Pariser. If your feet (and armpits or forehead) are always sopping wet, your doctor can help with prescription medications or Botox injections that can keep sweating to a minimum.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.