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Ask Belle: The Cure for Smelly Shoes

Hi Belle,

My summer shoes came out of storage last week, and they stink.  Time in the plastic tub in my closet was clearly not good for them.  I left them outside to air out, but they still smell.  Help!


The cause of smelly shoes is almost always bacteria growth.  So a sealed, plastic container was not the best way to store them.  But there are some easy home remedies for removing the smell, here’s my method.

Step 1. Put your shoes in a plastic zip top bag and place them in the freezer overnight.  This starts the process of killing off the bacteria.

Step 2. Remove the shoes from the zip top bags.  Then, fill a small spray bottle with a solution that’s 1/4 water and 3/4 vodka.  (That’s right, vodka.  Or to be more specific, cheap vodka.)  Liberally spritz the inside of the shoes.

Pro Tip: Vodka is a great deodorizer.  If you have smelly feet, soaking them in a vodka solution will help.  and if your dry-clean only clothes get a bit odoriffic in the armpits, spritz them with vodka.  It works much better than Febreeze.

Step 3. Place the shoes in a well ventilated area, preferably outside, and allow them to air dry.  The drying process usually takes 2-3 hours.

If they still smell (which they shouldn’t), it’s time for the real work.

Plan B. Make a paste of baking soda, dish soap (I like Honest Co. soap.), and a bit of hydrogen peroxide.  Then, using an old toothbrush, scrub the inside of the shoes.  Finish by wiping up the paste with a paper towel.  Air dry outside.

Keeping Things Fresh. If you struggle to keep your shoes smelling fresh, you can make a homemade deodorizing powder.  The recipe is 3 Tbsp. baking soda, 1 Tbsp. cornstarch, 5 drops of tea tree oil.  Sprinkle it in your shoes and let sit overnight.  Dump out the powder before wearing them.  If you need a lot of this stuff, I recommend keeping it in the fridge in a parmesan shaker.

Another quick solution?  I put a small fan in my closet just to keep the air moving.  It keeps my shoes from smelling, and keeps the smell from getting on my clothes.



  1. Anna says:

    I don’t know about a smelly tub, but the only way I was able to get river water smell out of my sneakers (even after washing them in the washing machine and letting them air dry for several days) was to put about a quarter cup of baking soda in each one and let them sit for a few days. Eventually, the smell completely disappeared and they smelled way fresher than any sneaker has a right to smell.

    May 21, 2015/Reply
  2. Melissa says:

    If you can keep your shoes outside for a day in full sunlight, that is a major helper.

    May 21, 2015/Reply
  3. Anon says:

    Kitty litter. Either make a cotton bag, or else fili the toes of a pair of cut-off nylons/knee-highs and double-wrap (tie a knot, fold back to enclose the filled toes and tie another knot) and stuff them into the toes of your shoes. Do it after wearing, and before storing. The kittly litter does what it’s made for: soaks up moisture and odour. and kitty litter is very inexpnsive.

    May 21, 2015/Reply
  4. Tiffany says:

    I run a lot, and live in Florida, so I have smelly running shoes all the time. My brother got me a shoe dryer for Christmas; this one in fact:

    I am a huge fan, and it is officially the most thoughtful gift anyone’s ever given me. (My shoes really stink, guys.)

    May 21, 2015/Reply
    • Tiffany says:

      I realize this solves the wet shoe problem, and not necessarily the stored-away-for-six-months problem, but I’m just that excited about my shoe dryer.

      May 21, 2015/Reply
  5. Haley says:

    On Your Toes shoe powder is the best! Sprinkle new shoes to prevent smells, and it will take away any odor from your old shoes. Re-powder every 6 or so months. Works like a charm. Available on Amazon.

    May 28, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Good to know, thanks.

      May 28, 2015/Reply