All Blogs

How To Clean Smelly, Gross Shoes

Psst, I make money on some of the links in this post at no cost to you. It keeps the lights on around here.

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!

get the free 30 day frugal cleanse

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?

24 comments on “How To Clean Smelly, Gross Shoes

  1. Any excuse to keep vodka in the house! 🙂

    I love the idea of buying used shoes but am simultaneous skeezed out about wearing someone else’s shoes. The vodka/tea tree and baking soda treatments might actually get me to buy second hand shoes instead of new next time I am in the market for shoes!

    1. Ahaha, fair enough. Maybe try that stuff that bowling alleys spray in the bowling shoes lol? 🙂 I do get the used shoes issue. I try to clean mine out at well as possible, but the vodka mixture does seem to kill quite a bit.

  2. I have such bad circulation that my feet hardly ever sweat, which is terrible in the winter but convenient because my shoes never smell. However, my husband has the opposite problem, so I’ll be passing along this info to him. I have used sunshine to deodorize clothing and some other items, but that tends to only work during the summer months!

    1. That both sucks and makes you very lucky! Oh, I never thought of setting shoes outside, but you’re right. I know people who cloth diaper use sunshine to sterilize the cloth. We have an abundance of sunshine here in Texas so maybe I’ll give that a go as well. 🙂

  3. I have an aversion to proper lady shoes, so I never have this issue, but I also play roller derby and safety gears STINKS. In fact you know you’re a veteran when you don’t even notice the smell, you try and hug your friends/family after a game and they visibly recoil.. haha, oops!

    Nothing beats airing stinky things out. I have a set of hooks in the garage so that I get home from training and hang my gear straight out. Although in summer the garage smells like a gym, blergh. I dry all the excess mint in there that I couldn’t find a use for – helps to keep the smell down.

    1. Oooh, yeah that’s gnarly! I went to a roller derby game once and those ladies are fierce! I love it. 🙂

  4. Hahaha… That’s awesome. xD

    Thanks to the power of Shout bleach, I keep all of my pants and shirts clean now! I was using the stuff on my underwear so much to get stains out of them instead of throwing them in the trash… (I know, I’m gross, but underwear are expensive… T _T) that my skin broke out by my thighs! O _O;;; I suffered for a month with itchy skin until I got the right diagnosis. Apparently my problem was an allergic reaction to something and I think it was the Shout bleach I was using on my underwear… So I’m sad I just have to throw my underwear out now all over some stain I can just get out of it using Shout, but not anymore… :C I’m going to try a more naturally method to get stains out though… I’m determined to find a way, haha. > .>

    But as of now, I am recovering from my allergic reaction nicely. ^ u^

    1. Aw dang, sorry to hear about that. I started making our own soap so there’s no “mystery” ingredients lol. I honestly just go with the stains hahaha.

  5. Great tip! I don’t have any vodka, guess I’ll pick some up.
    Also, I find that rotating my shoes helps. Not wearing one pair two days in a row lets them thoroughly air out between uses.
    I’ve also heard that throwing them in the freezer overnight will kill the funk.

    1. I’ve heard of the freezer hack as well! I’m tempted to try it, but I just want to understand the science behind it. I guess it stops the growth of bacteria? Hm.

  6. I had a wicked bad day today but your post and the comments made me laugh! Thanks everyone!

    I’ll keep these tips in mind. 😊

    1. Girl, I totally feel you. I’m SO GLAD to hear it brightened your day a little bit. Things will be better. 🙂

  7. It might be an NZ thing but, Gran’s remedy! You can buy it at the pharmacy. I have tried baking soda in shoes in the past and didn’t love it. I get suuuuuper sweaty feet (also hands, but that’s another story) and my shoes always get stinky fast. It’s not so bad in winter cause you’re wearing socks or tights and usually boots, but in summer… my poor flats.

  8. The buildup of bacteria causes the bad odor. Every so often I take a cotton ball, dab alcohol on it, gently wipe the inside of the shoes with it and then let them dry.

    1. Good idea! I think rubbing alcohol is a wonderful way to clean up those shoes if you don’t have vodka on hand I suppose. 😉

  9. When you first take the shoes off (and they may still be damp) stuff them with bunched up newspaper. Sunlight is the best method for us, but we live the the PNW, so we found newspaper does the trick in our hiking boots.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *