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DIY shoe deodorizer: 16 ways to refresh stinky shoes

The weather has been getting warmer and, around here, that means no socks! Unfortunately, going sockless can also mean stinky feet and smelly shoes. 

The good news is there are many DIY shoe deodorizers you can make from items you may already have in your home.

Even if it’s cooler outside and you’re wearing socks, shoes can still become smelly because footwear can trap air in your shoe, not allowing it to circulate and making your feet sweat. Either way, I have discovered how to clean smelly shoes using some easy, natural ways to remove the odor from your shoes.

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How do you get the stinky smell out of shoes?

That stinky smell in your shoes is caused by moisture from your sweaty feet becoming trapped in your shoes. This warm, moist environment creates a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. The by-products (or poop) of these germs cause the bad odors. The best way to get the odor out of smelly shoes is to:

  1. Kill the bacteria in your shoes;
  2. Keep your feet and shoes dry to prevent this breeding cycle.

RELATED POST: How to clean flip flops (even when they stink)

This is an infographic that explains why shoes get stinky and lists 16 household items you can use for DIY shoe deodorizer.  Infographic also explains how to keep shoes from becoming smelly.

How do you make homemade shoe deodorizers?

There are many DIY ways to kill the bacterial growth in your shoes and remove the moisture that causes odor using things you probably already have in your home. If you’re looking for ways to fix smelly shoes overnight, here are 16 ways to make your own homemade shoe deodorizer:

RELATED POST: 3 Simple DIY disinfectant sprays that work!

Alcohol shoe spray

The easiest and most effective DIY shoe deodorizer spray is 70% isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle. Open the shoes as much as you can to provide more spraying surface and saturate the interior of the shoes with the alcohol stinky shoe spray. Let dry completely (overnight if you can) before putting the shoes back on your feet.

Isopropyl alcohol is a powerful germicide with the ability to kill a wide variety of bacteria and fungi and neutralize the odor in your shoes. Eliminating the microbes will help eliminate the odor. 

Hydrogen Peroxide to deodorize shoes

Hydrogen peroxide is also an effective disinfectant against bacteria and other microbes and is an excellent natural shoe deodorizer. Saturate the inside of the shoes with the hydrogen peroxide spray and leave to dry for at least 12 hours. You can speed up the drying process by putting them in the sun or over a heater grate.

RELATED POST: 54 Hydrogen Peroxide Hacks You Need to Know

Baking soda shoe deodorizer

With a pH of 8, baking soda is naturally alkaline and neutralizes the acid in your foot sweat to remove odor. Adding some coarse salt will increase this natural shoe deodorizer powder’s ability to absorb moisture, making it a very effective DIY shoe deodorizer. 

To deodorize shoes naturally, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of baking soda into each shoe. Add a tablespoon of coarse salt (sea salt, kosher salt, or epsom salts will all work) to each shoe. Shake the shoe around to distribute the mixture evenly in the shoe, making sure to cover inside the top of each shoe.

The longer you let this homemade shoe deodorizer powder sit in your shoes, the more odor will be absorbed so try to let the mixture sit in the shoes overnight (24 hours for extra funky shoes). Then shake the excess out of the shoes into a sink, trash can or outside. Tap them all around to make sure all the salt crystals and loose powder are out. You can use a small bottle brush to brush out any remaining powder.

Homemade shoe deodorizer with cat litter

Cat litter is specifically designed to absorb both moisture and odors, so it’s a natural option to make your own shoe deodorizer. Simply sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of clean cat litter into your shoes. Add a tablespoon of baking soda to each shoe if the cat litter doesn’t contain any (or even if it does). 

Shake the shoes around to ensure even coverage and let them sit overnight. Shake the litter out into the trash or even into your kitty litter box, making sure not to leave any particles behind.

Background image is a woman holding a black shoe with a cloud of odor emanating from it on a grey background. Pin text reads "16 quick and easy DIY shoe deodorizers to refresh stinky shoes"

Use rice as a shoe odor remover

Uncooked dried rice has the capacity to absorb a good deal of moisture, making it useful as a natural shoe deodorizer. Simply place a half cup of raw dried rice in each shoe and leave overnight. You could add your favorite essential oil to add a nice fragrance. Shake out the rice into the trash when done.

Simple shoe deodorizer with coffee grounds

Used coffee grounds that have been dried are an excellent odor absorber. You can also use fresh coffee grounds if you don’t mind wasting them or drying them is too much of a hassle.This method of removing shoe odors can be messy and should only be used on dark colored shoes.

Protect the shoes by lining them with coffee filters or fabric and then pour in a few tablespoons of the dried coffee grounds on the liner in each shoe. Add a tablespoon of baking soda to each shoe for extra moisture and odor absorbance.

Let the mixture sit in your shoes overnight, then carefully remove the liner. Take care to not spill the coffee grounds. If some do spill, tap and shake the shoe to remove them.

Basic tea bag shoe deodorizer

Peppermint tea bags are another easy DIY way to deodorize shoes. Simply line each shoe with 2-3 fresh peppermint tea bags (you can use another fragrance if you like) to cover the sole of the shoe. Let sit overnight, remove the tea bags and then slip into your odor-free shoes.

Dryer sheet freshener for shoes

If the odor coming from your shoes is not too bad, you can roll up one of your favorite scented dryer sheets in each shoe to deodorize them. Leave them overnight and remove them the next day. Your shoes will smell like fresh, clean laundry.

Use your freezer to deodorize shoes

It’s important to make sure your shoes are fully dry before using this method. Put your dry shoes in a sealed, gallon sized zipper bag and place them in your freezer overnight. The cold temperature kills the odor causing bacteria.

Sunlight to deodorize shoes

An excellent way to deodorize shoes is by harnessing the UV power of sunlight. The UV rays will kill any germs and the sun’s heat will dry the shoes. Untie the shoes, pull the tongues out and remove the insoles if you can without damaging the shoes. The more the interior surface is exposed to the sunlight, the better.

Place the shoes (and insoles, if applicable) in direct sunlight, with the inside of the shoe pointed toward the sun and let sit for at least two hours. An entire day in direct sunlight is preferable. Don’t forget to reassemble the shoes if you have to before wearing them.

Deodorize shoes with silica gel packets

You may have more of these lying around your home than you know. Silica gel packets are often found in bottles of medications and vitamins, jacket coat pockets, cell phone and camera boxes, shoes and purses.

The gel acts as a desiccant, pulling water out of the surrounding environment to reduce the amount of moisture. As a bonus, most silica gel packets last between 1 and 3 years and can be ‘recharged’.

These come in many sizes, so use as many as it takes to cover the insole of each shoe. Let them sit overnight and remove in the morning.

Pin text reads "How to clean smelly shoes overnight - 16 DIY shoe deodorizer ideas" Background image is a smelly green Converse shoe that needs shoe deodorizer home hacks to remove shoe odor.

Newspaper as a shoe freshener

You can stuff your shoes with newspaper when you’re not wearing them to absorb moisture and reduce odor. Newspaper is inherently absorbent so that the ink can adhere to it. Newspapers may be hard to come by these days, but you can always keep a supply of newsprint paper on hand.

Wash shoes to remove odor

Canvas shoes and athletic shoes made with materials like nylon, cotton and polyester are generally safe to wash in a washing machine. Check to ensure it is safe to machine wash them.

If your shoes are washable, you can put them in a pillowcase and put them through a wash cycle in your washing machine to deodorize them. 

Alternatively, you can use hot, soapy water and a toothbrush to scrub your shoes, inside and out. Then rinse with clean water.

Place them in a hot, sunny location to dry or dry them upside down over heating vents. If you have a shoe rack for your dryer, this is another way to dry them quickly.

Essential oils to get your shoes smelling fresh

Essential oil lovers can use the disinfectant properties of their favorite essential oil to freshen shoes. A few drops of eucalyptus, peppermint, clove, or tea tree essential oils can be applied directly into your shoe. You can also drip it onto a piece of paper or a tissue and put that in your shoe overnight if you don’t want to apply the oil directly to your shoe.

Make your own odor eater sachets

Another easy DIY odor eliminator for shoes is sachets or balls you can just place in each shoe to help remove moisture and odor. Make your own DIY shoe deodorizer sachet by using any combination of the moisture absorbing methods above poured onto the center of a coffee filter, cheesecloth or other fabric scrap. Dollar store knee-high pantyhose will also work. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to add fragrance. 

Carefully gather the corners together and secure them with a rubber band or tie them with some twine or string that you have on hand and your homemade shoe deodorizer sachets are ready for use.

You can insert these handmade odor eaters into shoes whenever the shoes start smelling funky. Leave them overnight to absorb the worst of the odor.

Deodorize your shoes with activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is extremely effective for odor control. The porous surface area of activated charcoal (1 teaspoon equals the surface area of a football field) quickly adsorbs, or latches on to unpleasant odor molecules, eliminating them permanently. 

As most people don’t keep the powder on hand and activated charcoal is very black and very messy, I advise you order premade activated charcoal bags. Place one bag in each shoe, leave overnight and remove. This is the best way I’ve found to permanently remove shoe odors, and the bags can be reactivated in sunlight to extend their use for up to 2 years. The bags are also great for removing odors everywhere around the house.

Image shows clean bare feet with flower petals strewn on floor after deodorizing shoes to keep them from developing odor

How to keep shoes from smelling

Once you have learned how to clean smelly shoes and removed that stinky odor from your shoes, there are some things you can do to keep it from coming back.

  • Rotate your shoes – have more than one pair of shoes to allow at least 24 hours drying time between wearings.
  • Use cedar shoe trees or cedar balls to dry your shoes and absorb odors. You can also use shoe dryers to dry shoes quickly.
  • Wash your feet daily with soap and water, making sure to wash and dry thoroughly in between each toe.
  • Keep your toenails trimmed to minimize spaces where bacteria can grow.
  • Wear socks made from absorbent natural materials such as cotton or wool and change them daily.
  • Go barefoot whenever possible and don’t sleep with socks on. This helps reduce foot odor because sweat can evaporate more easily.
  • Use an antiperspirant spray – if you have extra-sweaty feet, spray them with antiperspirant and let them dry before putting on socks and shoes.

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