What's that smell?!

paigectJuly 23, 2006

I'm walking around the house this morning taking stock of what needs to be done. I pass the entryway/stairway area and a horrible, foul stench like rotting food stops me in my tracks. I back up, sniff around, walk past the entryway again, and am nearly bowled over. But I have just cleaned the floors and rug so I know there is nothing there to cause such a stench. The only thing on the rug is a pair of mesh summer sneakers owned by, yes, a preteen boy. Potential source of smell identified. I foolishly lean in close to verify and nearly lose my breakfast.

My son has definite foot odor issues. He refuses to wear socks because "none of the boys in fifth grade wear socks." I sent him in to school all year with socks on, and he would come home without them. At the end of the year he brought home about 30 pairs that he had stuffed in his locker. The woman who runs the home daycare he goes to afterschool would not allow him to remove his sneakers in her house because the smell was so bad! After 6 months of use, his Heely's were so bad I eventually took them outside and doused the inside with straight Simple Green, then ran the garden hose through them for about 15 minutes each and let them dry on the fence posts in the sun. They were only slightly better.

So my summer solution was to buy these Lands End mesh, very breathable, waterproof summer sneakers. I have a pair as well and I have never owned such well-ventilated shoes. They are made of nylon mesh with no padding or anything on the sides/top to get in the way of breathability. Problem solved, I though smugly. Well, guess again. Even ventilation and the occasional dousing with water from a rout in the sprinkler has not solved this problem.

So, all you experienced mothers of growing boys, what to do (short of installing "foot bath" outside back door and insisting the shoes stay in the garage)?

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Yikes! I can empathize since my DS's sneakers are pretty scary. I'll pass along what a good friend suggested to me, but (sheepishly) I have to admit I haven't tried them.

First, she suggested having him soak his feet in strong tea for 30-60 minutes a night for a few weeks. According to my friend, the odor is caused by bacteria, and the strong tea soaks will kill them. She swears by this...

Second, she suggested putting the sneakers in a plastic grocery bag and freezing them overnight.

What I have found that helps are little round plastic balls filled with something (don't remember the names) sold in sporting goods stores just for this purpose. Just place them in the shoes overnight.

One other suggestion - My boys also hate socks. But the 'footsie' types that don't show over the tops of their shoes are acceptable to both of them.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 10:44AM
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Paige, as the mother of a 13 year old boy, and the sister of a 19 year old brother, I've had my share of exactly what you're describing. The smell is so bad it can peel wallpaper! LOL!

When the boys aren't looking, I confiscate their shoes and take them outside. I put a panty hose full of baking soda inside the shoes and "powder them" just a bit. Then I leave the panty hose in the shoes for a few hours.

It works wonders. Seriously.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 11:06AM
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We bought one of those shoe/boot 'ionizers' from Sharper Image. It won't work on already stinky shoes, but if you can train him to stick his sneakers on them every night, it helps somewhat. Actually, if you can train him to do anything, you're ahead of me.

DS has really sweaty feet- always has, even when he was a little baby. They were clammy and cold and smelled like vinegar. (but I kissed his little toes anyway) I have sweaty feet, too- and use a prescription liquid at night that takes care of it. It's Xerac and comes in a plastic bottle with a dabber. I couldn't get him to use it, but I think it would've made a huge difference in the odor.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 11:24AM
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Thanks for the quick responses! Obviously I've struck a common chord. :-)

Sweeby, the tea idea is intriguing, but I honestly think the amount of arguing or cajoling that would be involved in keeping DS's feet soaking in anything for that length of time on a daily basis would be exhausting. The sneakers-in-the-freezer idea is something I will definitely try, although I think I will go with ziploc freezer bags so as not to contaminate the contents of the fridge!

We have tried the little socks that don't show. He says they always slide down off his heel and ball up in his midsole. Any suggestions for a good brand? I've tried 3 or 4.

Reno, peeling wallpaper is about right! I will have to try the pantyhose thing.

Pecan, your instincts re: training him to ionize his shoes every night are on target. I'll be happy if I can get him to put his clothes in the hamper. But I will definitely look into the Xerac. Truth be told I have a little sweaty-foot issue myself, but I've always taken care of it by keeping my feet as clean as possible and using spray.

Good to know we're not alone!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 11:40AM
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The odor does mean that bacteria are present. Toss the shoes, bleach the socks, and talk to your pediatrician about maintaining healthy skin on children's feet. I don't know if the athlete's foot products are safe on children due to the high concentration of drugs in the cream. We soak stinky kid's feet in store-brand listerine for that reason. Is your son a rising sixth grader? Students at our school are not allowed to go sockless, I'd find out what the rules are and use those to enforce good hygene.I can't imagine that any school would want dirty socks fermenting in a locker.

If your son chooses to ruin the inside his shoes by not wearing socks or not maintaining the inside of his shoe once he takes them off, he should buy the replacement shoes. Even if his foot grows, because well care for shoes can be handed down or donated to charity. We should train our children to grasp the notion that foul-smelling footwear is unacceptable in the house/garage, just as a dirty diaper would be or a dirty pet cage. Another idea is to buy two identical pairs so that one pair completely dries out between wearings. Again, consider having your son pay for the second pair. Money talks and children learn the lessons that financial responsibility teaches rather quickly.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 1:09PM
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Paige, I had the same problem all thru my teen years. You DIDN'T want to be down wind of my shoes when they came off. Just before I went into the service is when Dr. Scholls came out with the charcoal cushioned inserts, and those things worked wonders. It didn't kill it completely, but atleast I wasn't knocking any more buzzards off trash wagons!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 4:13PM
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lol Bill! Thanks for the tip!

Cup, the funny thing is he does not consider his shoes ruined. He couldn't care less about the smell. He doesn't understand what the big deal is. There are no rules re: socks at his school (public schools have bigger fish to fry), and the socks he stored in his locker were worn for less than 20 minutes apparently because they didn't smell at all.

Knowing how to kill the bacteria, both on his feet and in the shoes, appears to be the key. I will freeze all of his shoes over the next week or so. Thanks!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 5:31PM
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Replace the insoles more often; I find that the synthetic fabric on most insoles stink really fast. I buy leather insoles as replacements and it helps a lot.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 6:41AM
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Paige, most of those boys ARE wearing sox, they're just the ones that fall below the ankle bone and can't even be seen in their shoes. Head to Walmart or Target and you'll find them. They barely cover the heel. That's what my boys (11 & 14) wear. They even have some black ones (lucky socks, ya know?) that you can't see.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 10:22AM
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lori, I've tried several brands of those but they always slip down into his shoe and ball up under his foot. What brand do you use? What's the secret to making those socks work?!

mitch, that's a great idea. I'll stop at the store tonight and pick up new insoles.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 10:29AM
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There is also deodorant powder (and maybe even spray) for feet. Could be sprinkled in the shoes or on insoles.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 11:35AM
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Paige--what size shoe does your son wear? The Boy has smallish feet--men's 7 1/2--and I've had good luck with WOMEN'S white peds from Target. Men's socks are all too big...but women's (9-11) fit just fine.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 7:40PM
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One other thing that I found made a HUGE difference-- make sure they're wearing LEATHER (or canvas), and not PLASTIC on their feet. Any kind of synthetic material won't let their feet breathe properly, and while it's not a huge problem for most people, when there's a problem with foot odor, it can make a world of difference.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 9:28PM
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I just checked and the 11 yr old has Tommy socks and the 14 year old had Hanes (he just turned 14 yesterday. I'm still trying to get used to that!).

The 14 yr old and I usually share some I got through the Eastbay catalog. They're generic, I think.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 9:56PM
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Ask your doctor what they think about a prescription for Phisohex. It used to be sold over the counter until Hexachlorophine (sp) became regulated. Then the over the counter product became Phisoderm. Doesn't work the same though.

It kills some of the nasty odor causing bacteria colonies in the skin. Worked wonders for my one DD who had bad foot odor. You just wash your feet with it.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 6:19PM
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WHen I was a young kid, that's all we EVER washed with (Phisohex). My mother was an RN and had an obsession with germs.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 7:16PM
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wow, so many more great tips! mjsee, the women's socks thing is a great suggestion. DS's feet are small mens' size now.

I will also look into natural insoles and phisohex. Thanks all!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 12:18PM
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My 16 year old son has had good luck with Hanes, Addidas, Nike and Rebok. My 12 year old son wears the socks that come just to the ankle bone--he likes those better than the ones that you can't see--I know he has Rebok and Addias ones of those.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 4:48PM
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