Combating stinky toes

Q: My 3-year-old has insanely smelly feet. Help!


A: Ah, one of the unforgettable aromas of childhood.

Yes, kids have sweaty feet — and sweaty bodies — for a good part of the day. 

They’re constantly in motion, frequently breaking into sprints or suddenly wrestling with friends, often exercising on and off all day long. 

From a prevention standpoint, using cotton socks or socks that wick sweat away from feet can help keep kid footsies dry and prevent skin breakdown or athlete’s foot. 

Shoes, too, can be removed in order to fully dry out between exercise episodes. The dampness of shoes can be evaporated or partially dried by baking soda. Baking soda, can also be exceptionally helpful for absorbing odors. 

However, many well-used and well-loved shoes have a very sweet, malodorous smell that doesn’t seem to respond to airing shoes out or the use of baking soda. 

This terrible smell is due to bacteria, usually pseudomonas, that are growing in the shoes, using the dampness from sweat as their starting point.

To kill bacteria, a disinfectant spray (used inside the shoes) may be helpful, or washing shoes — in a washing machine with hot water and drying in a dryer on high heat — may also be helpful.

Fortunately, kids’ feet tend to grow quickly and so purchasing new shoes is another strategy to remove that pungent smell from your home.

Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Send your questions to