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I used to wear heels at work, but nowadays I’m a tried-and-true flat-wearer. I walk a lot at work and I enjoy the comfort of my $4 thrift store shoes.


As many of my fellow flat-wearers can attest, these little guys become sweaty and smelly. I’ve noticed the problem is more pronounced with thrift store shoes since they’re already worn-in. The shoes themselves are still really nice and comfortable, but they make my feet smelly. I’m not a fan of wearing socks under them, so it’s bare feet or nothin’.

Here’s how my conversation went with Mr. Picky Pincher about said smelly shoes:

Me: Man, these flats I got at Clothes Mentor are starting to stink.

Mr. Picky Pincher: Okay.

Me: Like, I’m smellaaaaaay.

Mr. Picky Pincher: Then buy new shoes?


Mr. Picky Pincher: Okay.

Determined not to buy new shoes, I set my sights on a frugal and effective way to clean my shoes. After much searching on Pinterest, I found a few likely solutions. Lots of people swore by the powers of coffee grounds, baking soda, and vodka.

On principle I didn’t want to use precious, precious coffee on my shoes, so that was out. I opted to experiment with both baking soda and vodka.

Let the science commence!

How to clean smelly shoes

I picked out two pairs of my smelliest thrift store flats for this experiment.

smelly shoes

Behold the stench.

I thoroughly sprinkled my gray pair with baking soda. If you want less of a mess you can use a sachet full of baking soda for the same effect. I wanted to reach all sides of the shoes, so I skipped the sachet.

sprinkled with baking soda

I then sprayed the feisty pink pair with a vodka-tea tree mixture. I just used one shot of vodka and four drops of tea tree oil and added it to a spray bottle. I sprayed the shoes until the insides were saturated.

sprayed with vodka and tea tree oil

I placed both pairs of shoes on top of my dresser for two days, waiting to see which would be less smellified.

The results

smelly shoes

Drum roll, please!

I hypothesized that the baking soda would be most effective. I’ve witnessed its smell-destroying powers many times and was unsure about using vodka to clean anything.


The smell test didn’t lie, folks. The pink flats were significantly less smelly after two days. The baking soda did help the gray pair, but it still had a vague “shoe smell” to it. The vodka-tea tree mixture was the most effective for this experiment, but baking soda will work in a pinch, too.

I think the best method is to keep sachets of baking soda in your flats when you aren’t wearing them. Use the vodka-tea tree mixture for deeper cleaning once every few months or so.

This was a fun experiment because I’ve found new ways to keep my already-cheap clothing in better shape. I’ve thrown away perfectly good smelly shoes—but never again!

We want to know: How do you keep your favorite clothes clean?

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