How to Prevent Running Shoes From Smelling (Plus 6 DIY Deodorizer)

Any one of us has it. The fear of humiliation from a stinking running shoe which by nature is unavoidable. But is it?

My running shoes have been a product of discussion a couple of times. I simply didn’t care much about preventing it from smelling. After all, it’s a running shoe, it’s meant to smell bad. But after sniffing other shoes for comparison (yes, I did that out of curiosity) I noticed mine smells a little worse than the others so I researched and tried a bunch of ways to keep it from smelling. And here’s what I found to be the best way… 

Follow a routine of washing your feet before you run, removing the sock liner, and letting them air dry after using, and schedule to wash your running shoes at least twice a month will prevent your running shoes from smelling bad. You can also stuff a bag of activated charcoal every time you let it dry. 

After following that simple routine strictly, I was able to keep my running shoe from smelling bad (or at least more decent). 

Ahead, we will discuss how the routine I stated prevents your shoe from smelling. We will also discuss 6 of the most common home tricks you’ve probably already read and ranked them based on the effectiveness, availability, and convenience of the process. But first, we need to know how your running shoe gets its smell. 

What Causes Running Shoe Odor

The running shoe odor is caused by the build-up of bacteria in your running shoes that happens because of the sweat that is trapped in your running shoes. 

Bacteria tend to grow faster at a higher rate with moisture, and since your running shoes get sweaty a lot, dry slower, and get washed less often, it tends to smell bad after just a couple of uses. 

Shoe odor could also be exacerbated by:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Sweating a lot (hyperhidrosis)
  • Repeating your socks
  • Keeping your shoes in a closed environment
  • Keeping them when they’re still wet
  • Not washing your shoes at all

The good news is that the odor in your running shoes can easily be prevented with a little patience and a few simple tricks. 

Preventing your running shoes from smelling

Preventing your running shoes from smelling can’t be achieved with a single product or a single trick. You need to follow a strict routine that you’re gonna have to do before and after you run. Plus, do these best practices that will help keep your shoes smelling fresh. 

Before running

  • Wash your feet – It’s the most basic yet the most forgotten step of preventing shoe odor. Make sure you wash your feet with soap and water to remove the bacteria that’s already in your feet and prevent them from getting mixed up with your sweat. 
  • Use foot deodorants – Foot deodorants work wonders. I recommend using this foot powder instead of the liquid form. It’s effective in preventing odors and it’s non-sticky. 
  • Take out fresh socks – Bacterial build-up also happens in your socks. Make sure to refrain from reusing them, especially socks that you sweat on. 

After running

  • Remove your shoes and socks immediately – Don’t give odor-causing bacteria a chance to build up. Immediately remove your shoes and socks right after you run. 
  • Remove the sock liner and open the shoe tongue wide – The sock liner is where your foot lies directly and is probably the dirtiest part inside your shoes. Remove them from the shoe and let them dry. 
  • Let them air dry – Although the sun could make the process faster and can kill the bacteria, it could also damage the shoe. Let the shoe and sock liner air dry in a well-shaded area (preferably outdoor). You can also stuff old newspapers inside the shoe to help absorb moisture.
  • Place activated charcoal or baking soda inside the shoe – Activated charcoal and baking soda can absorb odor. It’s used as a deodorizer in the kitchen, it can be used as a deodorizer in shoes as well. 

Best practices

  • Wash your running shoes regularly – Wash your running shoes once or twice a month to keep them fresh all the time. 
  • Rotate your running shoes – Allow your running shoes to dry completely before using them again by adding another pair of running shoes to your rotation. This will help reduce bacterial build-up in your shoes. 
  • Leave your shoes in an open environment – Keeping your shoes in closed spaces like the trunk of your car or inside an airconditioned room can exacerbate the foul odor of your shoes. 
  • Always wear socks every time you wear any shoe – Socks can help keep your feet dry, therefore, reducing wet environments where bacteria can thrive. Use socks every time you wear a shoe, even casual shoes. 
  • Use socks with activated charcoal – Some socks feature activated charcoal that can help reduce shoe odor.

We’ve talked about how to prevent your running shoes from smelling bad. But if your running shoe is already smelling bad, what should you do? I made an article that will help solve this problem.

6 DIY Shoe Deodorizer Using Home Items (ranked)

You’ve probably read a bunch of shoe deodorizing techniques from other sources but are not sure how and if they work. 

So I decided to pick the 5 most common DIY shoe deodorizing techniques using simple home items and tested them out for about a week each method. 

To test their effectiveness, I applied the strategy to one shoe and left the other shoe to fend for itself. Then, I compared the smell of the shoes from each other. 

Effectiveness isn’t the only ranking factor in this list. I also ranked them based on availability, duration of effect, and convenience of each method. 

#1 Vinegar

Effectiveness9/10Very effective but may leave out the smell of the vinegar.
Availability10/10I’m pretty sure vinegar is in every home. 
Duration of effect9/10Lasts multiple uses.
Convenience of process10/10Simply create the water + vinegar solution and put it inside a spray gun. 
Total score9.5/10

Vinegar works as a disinfectant while also preventing bacteria from building up after a few uses. 

To do this, mix water and white vinegar with a ratio of 1:1 inside a spray gun. Then, take out your insoles and spray a generous amount. Then, spray inside the shoe including the tongue and the rest of the upper.

Lastly, let it air dry fully. 

Although it’s very effective in removing shoe odor, it leaves out another smell if you use it before it dries out. And I’m guessing you already know what smell it is… vinegar. 

If you wear the running shoe before the vinegar that you sprayed dried up, the smell of the vinegar may linger if you smell your shoes up close. 

I recommend this method, however, as a once-a-week thing to kill the bacteria inside the shoe or to use it as an aid to washing.

It works really well from low to high shoe stink. 

#2 Freeze Your Shoes

Effectiveness10/10You literally can’t smell any bad odor from the shoe that underwent freezing compared to the shoe that didn’t.
Availability10/10All you need is a refrigerator and a plastic bag.
Duration of effect8/10Lasts multiple uses since the bacteria did not build-up due to the shoe being frozen.
Convenience of process3/10The process of letting the shoe dry and stuffing them in a plastic bag takes time. Not to mention, it takes up a lot of space in the freezer.
Total score7.75/10

I’m not a big fan of this process but in case you’re up for it, freezing your shoe works very well in preventing shoe odor. 

Simply spread out baby powder inside your shoes and place your shoe inside a ziplock. Then throw it into the freezer overnight. The baby powder will absorb moisture while the freezing will prevent the bacteria from building up. 

The only problem is, if your shoes are wet before you store them inside the freezer, they will still be wet when you take them out. 

Not a method that I recommend but I’m just leaving this option in case you want to try it. 

#3 Activated Charcoal

Effectiveness7/10Effective at reducing smell but you can still smell a little bit of stink.
Availability 7/10Not everyone keeps activated charcoal at home. 
Duration of effect6/10Lasts only up to the next use
Convenience of process10/10The bags are reusable. Simply put them inside the shoe after each run and leave them alone. 
Total Score7.5/10

Activated charcoal works by absorbing the odor-causing molecules in the shoe and it’s effective in doing so. However, this doesn’t disinfect the shoe making it a temporary fix. Expect your shoes to smell bad again after a day or two. 

It’s one of my favorite methods since it’s very effective at removing the smell. In addition, it’s really quick and easy to do once you already have activated charcoal to stuff inside the shoe.

You can make your DIY deodorizer by stuffing activating charcoal inside an old stocking. Alternatively, you can buy this ready-made charcoal deodorizer from Amazon. 

I’d recommend it for runners with low to medium stinking shoes who like a go-to method to include in their after-run routine. 

#4 Scented Kitty Litter

Effectiveness9/10Highly effective in reducing shoe odors
Availability5/10Not readily available for non-cat owners.
Duration of effect6/10Lasts only up to the next run.
Convenience of process10/10Once you have the kitty litter set up in old socks or stockings, you can reuse it over and over again. 
Total score7.5/10

If you’re a cat lover, you probably have one of these. Scented Kitty Litters!

These are not only effective in concealing the smell of your cat’s waste, but it’s also effective at concealing the foul odor of your running shoes. 

Simply stuff the kitty litter inside an old stocking and leave it inside your running shoes overnight. This will absorb the moisture and smell of your shoes. 

It is recommended for runners looking for a go-to method to add to their routine. 

#5 Baking Soda

Effectiveness7/10Reduces odor but is not very effective.
Availability9/10Most people keep a box of baking soda in their kitchen.
Duration of effect6/10Lasts only up to the next use
Convenience of process8/10Simple but it leaves out a mess inside the shoe so you have to clean it everytime.
Total score7.5/10

You can’t talk about home remedies without talking about baking soda. This readily available ingredient is used mainly for baking. But do you know what else it’s used for? Deodorizing. Yes, that’s right. You can use baking soda to deodorize your shoes. 

It works by neutralizing acidic odors such as in sweat. However, like the activated charcoal, it’s not a disinfectant so don’t expect the effect to last long. 

To do this, simply sprinkle baking soda inside your shoes or put it in a small pouch and leave it open inside the shoe.

It’s not the most effective method but it’s a readily available item at home. 

I’d recommend it for those runners with low-stinking shoes looking for a quick fix for tomorrow’s run. 

#6 Tea Bags

Effectiveness4/10Not effective for very wet shoes.
Availability9/10Most households have bags of tea.
Duration of effect6/10Lasts only up to the next use
Convenience of process10/10Simply leave the tea bags in the shoe overnight. 
Total score7.25/10

Teabags are great at absorbing moisture and moisture is where bacteria thrive. 

Remove moisture from your shoes by leaving at least 5 tea bags inside your shoes overnight. 

The main problem with this method is that it is not very effective for overly wet shoes. 

I recommend this only for shoes used for light walks. 

The Wrap Up

The foul smell of running shoes has been a problem for a lot of runners, including myself. By following simple routines before and after running, I was able to reduce the stink in my running shoes. 

Although washing them regularly remains the best method. Prevention and adding one of these 6 tricks will help you keep your running shoe smelling good. 

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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