We’ve all been there – you take off your shoes after a long day and get slapped in the face with an overwhelming stench. No matter how much you love your kicks, feet sweat and shoes take a beating, leading to unpleasant odors that make you want to toss them out. But before you retire those stinkers, reach for an everyday household item – the dryer sheet. Can slipping a couple dryer sheets into smelly shoes actually eliminate odors? Let’s take a closer look at why shoes get so stinky and if dryer sheets are an effective odor eliminator.

Where Does Shoe Odor Come From?

Ever wondered why some shoes end up so much stinkier than others? The source of stubborn shoe odors lies in the materials themselves and how you wear them. Sweaty feet mixed with warm, dark spaces like the insides of shoes make ideal breeding grounds for bacteria growth.

Bacteria thrive off of the sweat, dead skin cells and oils that feet naturally produce. As they feed, they release isovaleric acid as a byproduct – and this is the main culprit behind the eye-watering stench. Tight-fitting shoes that lack breathability typically end up smelling the worst because they hold sweat against the feet instead of allowing it to evaporate.

Certain materials also tend to harbor more bacteria than others. Non-breathable synthetic materials like polyester blends found in many sneakers provide extra surface area for microbes to multiply, while natural materials like leather and cotton tend to resist odors longer. Regardless of the shoe material, how often and intensely you wear them also plays a key role. Athletes or people who are on their feet all day will notice their shoes getting stinkier faster.

Can Dryer Sheets Actually Neutralize Shoe Stench?

So now that we know where the shoe odor comes from, let’s tackle the big question: do dryer sheets have what it takes to eliminate that noxious foot stench? The short answer is maybe. Dryer sheets are infused with perfumes and cationic surfactants that work to soften fabrics, fight static cling and leave clothes lightly scented. When placed in stinky shoes, they can help mask ugly odors thanks to the pleasant fragrance left behind on fabrics in the dryer vent.

Some people claim dryer sheets absorb and neutralize foot odor rather than just covering it up. There isn’t much scientific data to back this up though. A better explanation is that placing dryer sheets in shoes helps wick away moisture faster, meaning there’s less sweat for bacteria to feed on. The perfumes also overpower musty shoe odors for a temporary refresh. Over time however, bacteria return and the stink comes back.

While dryer sheets can provide a handy quick-fix for shoe odors in a pinch, they aren’t a long-term solution. As bacteria continue growing, they will always overtake light floral notes. To banish smells for good, you need to attack the bacteria directly and change conditions inside the shoes.

Expert Tricks to Permanently Eliminate Shoe Odors

To keep your kicks smelling fresh for the long haul, make bacteria-busting and odor prevention part of your shoe care regimen. Follow this expert advice for boots, sneakers and active shoes that see a lot of wear:

Wash and Fully Dry Shoes Between Wears

Don’t give bacteria a chance to move in. Wash shoes frequently using gentle cleansers made for athletic gear. Remove laces and insoles first and use a soft brush on the exterior material. Rinse well with clean water, stuff with newspaper or towels and allow to fully air dry before next wear. Bacteria can only multiply in damp environments, so drying shoes out completely after washes inhibits growth.

Use Antibacterial Insoles and Odor-Fighting Socks

Wear moisture-wicking socks made with anti-odor fabrics like bamboo rayon or silver and copper fibers woven directly into polyester athletic socks. Or spray everyday socks with an antimicrobial shield. These materials kill bacteria on contact or prevent their formation by wicking away moisture fast.

Pair moisture control socks with shoe inserts also treated with antibacterial chemicals or containing charcoal, which absorbs odors naturally. Replace insoles every six months or so to keep fresh.

Use UV Light to Kill Bacteria

Devices like the ShoeSox Shoe Sanitizer zap shoe interiors with germicidal UV-C light rays known to eliminate 99.9% of bacteria and viruses without any chemicals. Simply place shoes inside and let the unit run a cycle. UV light destroys bacteria by disrupting their DNA so they can’t reproduce. Finish by airing shoes in direct sunlight, another source of natural UV rays.

Rotate Different Pairs of Shoes

Give your shoes a chance to fully dry out between wears by having multiple pairs in rotation. Make sure each style gets 24-48 hours of downtime before putting them back on your feet so sweat and moisture evaporate first. Letting shoes rest inhibits bacterial growth cycles.

Maintain Good Foot Hygiene

Practice smart foot hygiene so your shoes aren’t overloaded with sweat and bacteria sources from the get-go. Wash and exfoliate feet daily, wipe toes and soles to remove dead skin cells bacteria feed on, and use antiperspirant on feet to curb sweating. Trim toenails straight across to avoid toe-pinching shoes that make feet sweat more. Always wear clean, dry socks that wick moisture with shoes.

Say Goodbye to Stinky Shoes for Good

While dryer sheets can temporarily mask ugly foot odor, they aren’t a magic solution for banishing bacteria behind lingering stink for good. Follow these pro tips to attack odor at the source through frequent washing, UV light treatments, breathable materials and good foot hygiene practices. Keep multiple pairs of shoes in rotation and replace inserts often so smelly shoes become a thing of the past, with no need for other shortcuts. Say bye bye to embarrassing odors and hello to fresh kicks all the time with the right prevention tactics.