Help! What Can I Do About My Stinky Feet?

Illustration for article titled Help! What Can I Do About My Stinky Feet?

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I have a wonderful girlfriend, who I am thinking about proposing to. Unfortunately, I have awful-smelling feet. She has over-active olfactory glands and can't deal with the smell. What do I do to fix this, so I can propose to my girl?


I just sat here looking at a blinking cursor, writing and deleting things like, "Well aren't you a nice-sounding young man!" and "She's certainly a lucky woman to have you!" before I realized that I'm not yet a 90-year-old granny who says things like, "Well aren't you a nice-sounding young man!"

Still though, you are a nice-sounding young man. And you're a dear to try and fix this (totally fixable!) thing to make your beloved feel happier and more comfortable.

The solution to your problem requires a two-pronged approach: First, we've got to deal with your feets themselves, and then we need to turn our attention to your shoes (and socks, while we're at it). Before we get into the specifics of how to minimize the funk, it bears acknowledging that health & beauty advice falls a bit outside my wheelhouse; absolutely, if you have questions along those lines, go on and ask them and I'll do my best, but there are far more qualified folks than I to help you out with personal grooming quandaries.

Right, but back to those feets. Here are a few things to be sure you're incorporating into your bathing and beautifying routine:

  • If you don't already have them, get yourself a stack of washcloths (here are some inexpensive ones from La Targs that'll do you right well) and suds one up with a good deodorizing bar soap (Irish Spring, Zest—that sort) when you're having your shower. (Those body washes and such are also fine, I guess, but I'm a bar-soap kind of gal.) Then use the washcloth to give your feet a good scrubbing; the washcloth is important here because it's going to slough off a lot of dead skin, and dead skin build-up is part of what's causing your odor problems.
  • Post-shower, make sure to thoroughly dry your feet. With a towel, not just by scuffing them back and forth on your bathmat. I know, I am a cruel taskmistress. But it will help, especially if you can try to get in between your toesies to make sure they're nice and dry. Time allowing, wait to put on your socks; that will let your feet un-prune themselves if indeed they've pruned up.
  • Start using a daily foot powder like Tinactin or Gold Bond.
  • Consider the use of a foot antiperspirant. These products work a bit differently from foot powders, which will absorb sweat rather than stopping it. There are a number of brands to choose from—The Ugly Little Bottle, Ghost Grip, Neat Feat—and you may find that you have to experiment to find the one that works best with your body’s chemistry (they're similar to antiperspirant for the underarms in that way).
  • Other tips? You all are assuredly a font of knowledge when it comes to these sorts of things, so please do chime in below if you've got things to add.

Now that your hooves are cleaner than they've ever been, it's time to work on treating the shoes (and socks!) themselves. Actually, let's take on defunking the socks first—and this will mostly be a one-time affair, though you may want to think about instituting a once- or twice-a-year sock defunking routine—because it's pretty simple: You'll want to round up all your socks and throw them in the washing machine on the hottest cycle you can scare up. In addition to your usual laundry detergent, also add in a half-cup of white vinegar, which serves as an odor neutralizer (also as a fabric softener! Isn't that sort of strange and wonderful?). In case you're worried that your socks will come out smelling like salad dressing, not to worry—that smell will dissipate during the rinse cycle and subsequent spin through the dryer. If you're between laundry detergents and are looking for a recommendation, try one of the Arm & Hammer products.

All right, last up are your shoes. We're almost there, guys! There are two basic things to know when it comes to keeping your shoes smelling OK: (1) You need an odor-neutralizing shoe spray; and (2) you need to use it on the regular. Regardless of the shoe type, I like the products made for getting the stink out of athletic shoes. I figure that if they're good enough for foul-smelling sneakers, they're good enough for everything else. Dr. Scholl makes a good one, as does KIWI. The last product type to mention are sneaker balls; you may want to invest in a set for each pair in your shoe wardrobe so that you can pop them in your shoes that aren't in use. And if you would like to take a page from my book and refer to them as "shoe nuts," by all means please do so.


Now go forth and propose! Bonus if you catch her with the old "my shoelace is untied" gag.

I play a lot of tennis on artificial clay courts and I would appreciate your advice on how to get white tennis shorts clean, especially around the pocket area. The artificial clay is called Har-Tru and is a greenish-gray color. When the clay gets on the balls and on my hands it soils the pocket area every time I put a ball in my pocket or take one out, and after a while, I just can't seem to get the stains out.


Hmm, well, I hope you'll still appreciate my advice after you've gotten it! This may be unwelcome news, but when it comes to clay, mud, and grass stains, you're going to have to do some pre-laundering work if you want to get them out. But! It's not hard work, so hopefully that softens the blow. (This is also true of other common types of sports stains, like blood. But I'm saving that discussion for when one of you regales me with the story of a gruesome injury you've sustained because I am a sick, sick woman who is also giving you all a meaningful look right now I've recovered from having watched that Kevin Ware break five times in a row while screaming silently into my white wine.)

But before we get into what to use on stains, a quick word on what not to use. As much as I love it, my dear old friend bleach is not a great option, and here's why: While it will get the clay stains out, it will react to any sweat residue on the shorts and cause that residue to turn yellow. And that's not what we're going for here.


OK, but back to the matter at hand. There are basically three steps you'll take, one of which is the actual laundering.

(1) Brush off as much of the clay as you can using your hands, or a dry sponge or towel. Dry is important here because once water hits the clay it will turn to un-brush-off-able muck. So brush off as much as you can as the first step to getting these babies back to white.


(2) Pre-treat the stains with an enzymatic cleaner. We've only been together for a week and I bet you already know what brand of enzymatic cleaner I'm going to suggest: OxiClean! Hot damn do I ever love Oxi in a way that's entirely unnatural. (Disclosure: The folks at Edelman PR, which reps the Church & Dwight Co. suite of brands, recently sent me a giant package of Oxi products after discovering that I've spent two-ish years telling people about its efficacy in cleaning up sexual stains.)

For the sake of ease, I'm gonna suggest you go in for one of the spray laundry treatments. That way you can spritz the stained area before tossing the shorts in your laundry hamper. The powdered Oxi is stronger stuff, but it will require that you fill up a sink, and then dissolve the powder, and then soak your shorts, and I feel like that might be more effort than you're willing to put in here. But by all means, if you're willing to do that, go on and do that! And then email me to tell me about it because it will make me happy. Related: It does not take much to make me happy.


(3) Launder as usual. You may want to add some of the powdered Oxi to the wash (that goes into the machine in addition to the detergent, not in its stead). Borax, which is another laundry booster akin to Oxi, is also a great choice here. In some ways, Borax has a leg up on Oxi because it also helps tackle strong lingering odors in a way that Oxi won't. Also it's got those cool mules.

Quick note on "laundering as usual": Because we're talking about whites here, you can go ahead and use a hot or warm water setting, provided that it's safe to do so with the material you're washing. Polyester won't like the hot water so much, but cotton will.


Other things that will work:

Laundry Pre-Treatments That Aren't OxiClean: Do you swear by Spray'n'Wash? (Or just, like, have it in the house?) Have an affinity for Zout? Great, by all means keep using those things. But because clay (and mud, and grass) are all protein stains you do want to check that whatever you're using has some sort of enzymatic thing going on. It probably will! But check to be sure.


Murphy Oil Soap: Rub a small amount of the Original Formula Murphy Oil Soap on the stained area and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before laundering as usual.

Cascade: Yup! The powdered stuff you run through your dishwasher will work magic on getting your whites white. But beware: It contains a small amount of bleach (hence its whitening properties) so don't use it on anything except your whites, or colors you don't mind getting faded. Oh, but hey—it's gotta be the powdered stuff, not the liquid or pod form of the product. To use it, add ¼ cup of it to your laundry along with a smaller amount of your regular laundry detergent than you usually use. Maybe like half of what you usually use? Sure, half, let's go with that.


White Vinegar, Dish Soap, And A Toothbrush: Mix equal parts (about a tablespoon or so) white vinegar and dish soap together, then use a toothbrush to apply it and get after the stains.

There are a lot more solutions along those lines, but this is a pretty thorough start and you've all been so patient, so let's ring the recess bell and, like, play some tetherball.


Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, Spring 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.

Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks. You can find her "Ask A Clean Person" archives at The Hairpin.