Having smelly feet — also known medically as bromodosis — isn’t necessarily something that you should be concerned about.
Foot odor is often caused when bacteria on your feet, shoes, and socks mixes with your sweat. This can produce an unpleasant smelling acid byproduct.
Foot sweat on some people includes propionic acid which is a breakdown product of amino acids by propionibacteria. Propionic acid comes from the same acid family as acetic acid (vinegar). This may account for foot odor that smells like vinegar.
The more your feet sweat, the more they may smell like vinegar.
Excessive sweating, including foot sweat, is known as hyperhidrosis. It’s not necessarily related to heat or exercise and can be treated by your doctor.
Primary focal hyperhidrosis
The cause of this type of hyperhidrosis is unknown. When focused primarily on your feet, it may be referred to as plantar hyperhidrosis.
Secondary focal hyperhidrosis
This type of hyperhidrosis is caused by a medical condition, such as:
- a thyroid condition
- nervous system disorders
- low blood sugar
- menopause hot flashes
If your foot odor changes and starts to smell like vinegar, chances are it’s caused by a change in:
- natural hormone cycles
- general lifestyle
If you want to stay on top of any changes to foot odor, consider doing regular sniff checks.
While smelling your feet may be a rather unusual activity, it can help you figure out if there’s been a change in the bacteria on your feet.
Bacteria are considered beneficial because they:
- will eat dead skin cells
- keep our skin soft
- protect our feet against pathogens who are interested in live flesh
A smell change could indicate a developing infection that may cause rashes and wounds.
If a change in foot odor concerns you, discuss it with a doctor.
You can reduce or eliminate smelly feet by:
- Washing. Wash your feet daily with an antibacterial soap.
- Soaking. For a thorough cleaning, consider soaking your feet for 10–20 minutes in a large bowl or tub of warm water with a half cup of Epsom salt dissolved in it. By drawing the moisture out of your skin, the Epsom salt makes a less-inviting environment for bacteria.
- Keeping dry. Always thoroughly dry your feet after showering, bathing, swimming, or soaking. Consider wearing cotton socks and shoes made of natural materials that allow the moisture to evaporate. Consider changing your socks during the day.
- Powdering. Sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch in your shoes to help keep your feet dry.
- Using OTC products. Consider trying an over-the-counter (OTC) foot antiperspirant.
- Changing your shoes. Avoid wearing the same pair of shoes 2 days in a row to give them time to dry out.
- Disinfecting your shoes. Consider spraying the inside of your shoes with a disinfectant that contains a sanitizing ingredient, such as ethanol. If your shoes have removable insoles, take them out, spray them lightly, and then let them dry outside your shoe for 24 hours.
If your feet still have an odor problem, talk with a doctor about prescription medication for foot perspiration.
It’s not unusual for feet to smell. The smell, however, is not your sweat. It’s a byproduct of the bacteria on your feet consuming your sweat.
If your feet smell like vinegar, it’s most likely the result of propionibacteria breaking down your sweat and producing propionic acid, which is similar to acetic acid (vinegar).
There are many self-care methods to reduce or eliminate smelly feet, including better foot cleanliness and extra care in keeping your feet dry.
If you’re worried that your foot odor is an indication of an underlying condition, such as diabetes or a thyroid condition, discuss your concerns with a doctor.