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Foot odor

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Foot odor (also spelled foot odour) or bromodosis is a type of body odor that affects the feet of humans.


The main cause is foot sweat (also see focal hyperhidrosis). Sweat itself is odorless; however, it creates a beneficial environment for certain bacteria to grow, producing odorous substances. These bacteria are naturally present on our skin as part of the human flora. The front part of the foot produces the most sweat.[1]

The smell is exacerbated by factors that increase sweating, such as wearing closed-toe shoes. Sports footwear such as sneakers is often heavily padded inside which provides a perfect environment to trap moisture and allow the bacteria to thrive. Socks can trap foot hair, especially on the toes, and may contribute to odor intensity by increasing surface area on which bacteria can thrive.[citation needed]

Given that socks directly contact the feet, their composition can affect foot odor. Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon afford less ventilation to the foot than do cotton or wool, leading to increased perspiration and odor, although they can also reduce incidence of blisters by wicking away perspiration. Many synthetic socks are treated with chemicals to help reduce odor.[2]

Wearing closed-toe shoes (e.g., ballet flats or pumps) without socks leads to accumulation of sweat, dead skin cells, dirt, and oils, further contributing to bacterial growth.

Odor qualities[edit]

Brevibacteria are considered a major cause of foot odor because they ingest dead skin on the feet and, in the process, convert the amino acid methionine into methanethiol, a colorless gas with a distinctive sulfuric aroma. The dead skin that fuels this process is especially common on the sole and between the toes. Brevibacteria also give such cheeses as Limburger, Bel Paese, Port Salut, Pálpusztai and Munster their characteristic pungency.[3]: 103 

Isovaleric acid (3-methyl butanoic acid), another source of foot odor, is produced by Staphylococcus epidermidis, a bacterial species normally resident on human skin[4] and present in several strong-smelling varieties of cheese.[5]

Other implicated microorganisms include Micrococcaceae, Corynebacterium and Pityrosporum.[6]

Bart Knols of Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands received a 2006 "Ig Nobel Prize"[7] for demonstrating that the female Anopheles gambiae mosquito, known for transmitting malaria, is "attracted equally to the smell of Limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet".[8] Fredros Okumu, of the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, received grants in 2009 and 2011 to develop mosquito attractants and traps to combat malaria.[9] He used a blend of eight chemicals four times more effective than actual human secretions.[10]


Maintaining good foot hygiene is the best way to prevent foot odour as it eliminates odour causing bacteria and removes dead skin cells as well as sebum. A foot file, pumice stone or chemical treatment, such as an Alpha hydroxy acid containing foot peel preparation, can be used to remove dead skin cells.[11][12] Using antibacterial soap to wash feet daily; keeping feet dry by changing socks daily and wearing cotton or wool instead of synthetic fibres can also help reduce moisture build-up. Using medicated insoles and foot powder can also help.[13]


In some cases, medical intervention may be needed to treat the bacterial or fungal infection with a topical antibacterial or fungicide.[14][15]

As a paraphilia[edit]

Foot odor is one of the most widespread forms of olfactophilia;[16] in a 1994 study, 45% of those with a foot fetish were found to be aroused by smelly socks and/or feet, but most importantly by the intensity of the smell produced by such bacteria.[17]

See also[edit]


  2. ^ "Smelly foot (Foot Odor) - Information from ePodiatry". www.epodiatry.com. Retrieved January 2, 2023.
  3. ^ Anthony RM, Noble WC, Pitcher DG (1992). "Characterization of aerobic non-lipophilic coryneforms from human feet". Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 17 (2). Blackwell Scientific Publications: 102–105. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2230.1992.tb00174.x. ISSN 0307-6938. PMID 1516232. S2CID 33517719.
  4. ^ Ara, Katsutoshi; Masakatsu Hama; Syunichi Akiba; Kenzo Koike; Koichi Okisaka; Toyoki Hagura; Tetsuro Kamiya; Fusao Tomita (April 2006). "Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control". Canadian Journal of Microbiology. 52 (4): 357–364. CiteSeerX doi:10.1139/w05-130. ISSN 0008-4166. PMID 16699586.
  5. ^ Thierry, Anne; Richoux, Romain; Kerjean, Jean-René (2004). "Isovaleric acid is mainly produced by Propionibacterium freudenreichii in Swiss cheese" (PDF). International Dairy Journal. 14 (9): 801–807. doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2004.02.002. S2CID 85336899.
  6. ^ Kanlayavattanakul, M; Lourith N (August 2011). "Body malodours and their topical treatment agents". International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 33 (4): 298–311. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2011.00649.x. PMID 21401651.
  7. ^ "The 2006 Ig Nobel Prize Winners". improbable.com. Past Ig Winners. August 2006.
  8. ^ Bart G.J. Knols (November 9, 1996), "On Human Odour, Malaria Mosquitoes, and Limburger Cheese", The Lancet, 348 (9037): 1322, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)65812-6, PMID 8909415, S2CID 12571262
  9. ^ McLaughlin, Michael (July 15, 2011) [July 13, 2011]. "Scientists: Stinky Sock Smell Helps Fight Malaria". Huffington Post.
  10. ^ Susannah Palk (August 2, 2011). "'Dirty sock smell' lures mosquitoes to a sticky end". CNN. Retrieved October 14, 2018.
  11. ^ "The solution - Stinkyfeet". Stinkyfeet. Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  12. ^ VELASCO, PIA (March 25, 2019). "Read This Before You Try the 'Baby Foot' Peel Craze". Good Housekeeping. Retrieved October 19, 2019.
  13. ^ "How to stop smelly feet". NHS UK. National Health Service. April 26, 2018. Retrieved October 19, 2019.
  14. ^ Fernández-Crehuet, P; Ruiz-Villaverde, R (April 21, 2015). "Pitted keratolysis: an infective cause of foot odour". Canadian Medical Association Journal. 187 (7): 519. doi:10.1503/cmaj.140809. PMC 4401600. PMID 25712956.
  15. ^ "ATHLETE'S FOOT (TINEA PEDIS)". Summit Medical Group. Retrieved October 19, 2019.
  16. ^ "The History of Footwear - Foot Fetish and Shoe Retifism". Archived from the original on October 18, 2007. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  17. ^ Patricia B. Sutker; Henry E. Adams (2001), Comprehensive handbook of psychopathology, Springer, p. 762, ISBN 978-0-306-46490-4