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What causes smelly feet?

Smelly feet factor into many jokes because British people love to giggle at the quirks of everyday life. For some people however, smelly feet can be a daily battle, so we have created this explanation on what causes smelly feet and why it shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as an adult and for your children.

What causes smelly feet

Why do feet smell?

The main cause of smelly feet is trapped sweat. The sweat itself might not have a strong odour but as it builds up, trapped inside socks and shoes that do not provide enough access for air to circulate, the sweat will start to smell.

Our feet contain an impressive 250,000 sweat gland, which help us to cool down, so it’s no wonder that they sweat! In fact, each foot produces an egg cup size worth of moisture every day and various activities, situations or conditions can cause these sweat glands to pump a little more than usual.

There are obvious reasons why your feet might sweat more than usual such as hot weather, or exercise. However, gaining weight, stress, standing for long periods of time, wearing shoes that are too tight and hormonal changes (such as puberty), some medications and medical conditions, such as hyperhidrosis can all contribute to more excessive sweating than normal.

Other contributing factors to an increased odour include bacteria and fungus. Bacteria live on the bottom of our feet and feed off the sweat. This creates acid that causes an odour. Some people also suffer with fungus. As you might imagine, fungus grows and thrives in moist and warm areas so shoes are the perfect place! Athlete’s Foot is a strong-smelling fungus that you might have heard of and there are various treatments available to treat it.

It's estimated that around 10% to15% of people host a specific bacteria that causes a stronger odour than others and this condition is referred to as Bromodosis. The bacteria is called Kyetococcus sedentarius and it creates a specific odour associated with rotten eggs.

Your feet sweat every day, regardless of your activity, so it’s important to clean your feet at least once a day and to change your shoes frequently to allow pairs to fully air dry before you wear them again.

Why do feet smell like cheese?

There is another type of bacteria called brevibacterium linens which likes to live and thrive between the toes. The bacteria enjoys the salty sweat and damp environment which provides the perfect condition for this bacteria to thrive and the resulting smell is from the bacteria waste. While the smell is seen as unpleasant, this clever bacteria is needed to eat away at our dead skin cells. A little-known fact is that the same bacteria is used to ripen popular cheeses so some experts like to say that our feet don’t smell like cheese, but that cheese smells like our feet!

Why do feet smell like vinegar?

Another clever bacteria that we need to eat away at the dead cells on our feet is called Staphylococcus Epidermidis. Within this bacteria is Propionibacterium, which we need to break down our sweat, but in the process it produces a sour-smelling propionic acid which is similar to the smell of vinegar. It’s important that our bodies harbour and feed this bacteria because it helps to protect us from fungus developing.

If you notice that your foot odour has changed, then this shouldn’t be cause for alarm. It could be due to diet changes, hormonal changes, or lifestyle changes and can easily be rectified with some simple solutions. If the odour is excessive and you cannot identify a cause, then it might be useful to consult a doctor.

Why do children’s feet smell?

The first 13 years of childhood are critical for feet – this is when they are developing at their quickest. That’s over 4,500 days of growing!

Children constantly move and all this moving is important to contribute to their growth and healthy development. However, this will naturally cause feet to sweat and as children reach puberty, these hormonal changes will also contribute to more sweat.

To help our shoes manage this increased moisture and to make sure that children are as comfortable as possible, we invented Air-Rite technology. Air-Rite, is a system of breathable passages built into the shoe, that allow air to flow through the shoe but keeps any moisture from outside the shoe getting in. The improved air circulation creates a more healthy environment for growing feet. Read more about Start-Rite’s proprietary Air Rite technology here.

Each of our feet has:

  • 26 bones
  • 33 joints
  • 100+ tendons, muscles, and ligaments
  • 7,000 nerve endings
  • 250,000 sweat glands

Read our page about Fun Foot Facts to find out more about why we think feet are fascinating and fantastic.