Why Your Feet Smell Like Vinegar

Sweat plus bacteria equals sour-smelling feet
Applying foot powder to clean feet to cut down on odor.

Vinegar is pretty cool. You can use it to clean your home, flavor your food and kill weeds. It even repels insects!

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Speaking of repellant … have you ever noticed a vinegar smell emanating from your feet? That’s the thing about the smell of vinegar: It’s very context-dependent. The smell of vinegar is great on a potato chip — not so much on your body.   

The good news: Sour-smelling feet are a funky problem with several effective DIY solutions. “Feet smell like vinegar when they sweat too much, and the moisture interacts with bacteria on your skin,” explains podiatrist Joy Rowland, DPM.

“The bacteria actually eat your sweat, and this creates an acidic byproduct that smells like vinegar.”

Together, your feet have about 250,000 sweat glands that help regulate body temperature. It’s no wonder your soles tend to get soggy!

“The more your feet sweat, the stronger the vinegar odor will be. So, it’s important to control excessive sweat,” says Dr. Rowland.

Four reasons why feet can smell like vinegar

The sweat glands in your feet may go into overdrive if you:

How do you get rid of a vinegar smell on your feet?

Dr. Rowland recommends these seven at-home remedies to help keep your feet smelling fresh:

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1. Wash your feet daily

Start by washing your feet every day before putting on socks or shoes. “Make sure you dry them really well, especially in between your toes,” advises Dr. Rowland. “The toes and arch of your foot tend to build up sweat.”

2. Apply a daily dose of medicated foot powder

Kick your foot hygiene up a notch with an over-the-counter medicated foot powder. Apply it to freshly washed and dried feet. “Foot powder helps absorb extra moisture on your skin before you put on your socks and shoes,” states Dr. Rowland. “By absorbing your sweat, it prevents the interaction between bacteria and excessive moisture.”

3. Up your sock game

Moisture-wicking socks are sweat-fighting superheroes. That’s because they’re designed to pull moisture away from your feet and dry quickly. “Socks made from natural fibers like wool can be effective, too. But be careful with cotton,” Dr. Rowland cautions. “Cotton can trap moisture, so you should choose cotton socks that specifically say they wick moisture.”

She continues: “Moisture-wicking socks made from synthetic materials are great, too. But avoid nylon because it can trap sweat and cause sour-smelling feet.”

4. Change your socks and shoes often

If you still end up with wet socks (and feet) despite your best sweat-snuffing efforts, don’t despair. Dr. Rowland says an ounce of preparation may just cure your stinky feet. “Carry an extra pair of socks with you. When your first pair starts to get moist, change into the dry ones,” she recommends. “And if certain shoes cause your feet to sweat more, don’t wear them or have another pair on hand to change into.”

Shoes made from breathable natural fibers like leather, canvas and suede are a great option for staving off sweaty feet.

“Avoid shoes that contain a lot of plastic or rubber,” Dr. Rowland adds. “They tend to cause foot moisture because they trap sweat inside the shoe.”

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5. Try an antiperspirant

Antiperspirants aren’t just for armpits. Apply them to your feet to keep them dry and smelling fresh. Dr. Rowland says that this practice can be especially helpful for people who wear nylon stockings or compression stockings because they tend to trap moisture.

“After you wash and dry your feet well, spray or apply a light coating of antiperspirant on the soles of your feet. Let them dry and then apply foot powder to the toe area before putting on your stockings, socks or shoes,” explains Dr. Rowland. “That way, you’re covering all the sweat-producing areas of your feet that could interact with bacteria.”

6. Fight vinegar with vinegar

White vinegar kills bacteria (ironically enough). So, if your feet still smell sour, Dr. Rowland recommends soaking them in a mixture of warm water and white vinegar for 10 to 20 minutes. She suggests mixing 1 to 2 cups of white vinegar with a gallon of warm water.

7. Disinfect your shoes

If you have a favorite pair of shoes that you wear often, try spraying their insides and insoles with an over-the-counter disinfectant spray.

“Spray them lightly and let them sit for about 24 hours before you wear them. That will help reduce the bacterial load inside the shoe,” Dr. Rowland notes. “It can also prevent fungal infections. Everyone has bacteria and fungus on their skin. But it’s our job to keep it in check so it doesn’t overgrow.”

When to see a doctor about feet that smell like vinegar

For most people, the right foot self-care methods should do the trick. But if you’re not happy with your results, Dr. Rowland says it might be time to visit a podiatrist. “Podiatrists can recommend prescription products that reduce the sweat and bacteria. They can also determine if the vinegar foot odor is the result of something else, so you can address it with the right treatment.”

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