Do your work boots smell nasty? Are your Nike or Sketchers detectable from a distance? Well, this article will be focusing on cleaning and removing those unwelcome shoe smells with quick and easy techniques on how to wash work boots, easy to use cleaning methods you can use at home.
We’ll also cover the various ways you can clean and take care of safety boots, steel toe boots, composite, moc toe, square toe boots and other types of construction boots.
Updated October 2022 by Tony Bleak
What causes work boots to smell?
To better avoid smelly boots, it helps to understand where this unpleasant smell comes from and why.
The odor emanating from your boots is usually caused by warmth and humidity. And although sweat is odorless, it creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. This bacteria growth is the source of the unpleasant smell.
This bacteria is called Brevibacteria and grows by ingesting dead skin cells. Most of the dead skin on your feet is between the toes and on the sole. When the bacteria grow, they feed on the dead skin and the side effect of this process happens to be the release of a strong cheesy sulphuric smell.
There are factors that make the smell more pungent, such as wearing shoes and socks that trap moisture and don’t “breathe”.
Particularly construction safety shoes and ironworker welding or logger boots are worn for many hours at a time. If these boots do not have a breathable mesh lining you could end up with sweaty uncomfortable feet at the end of the day. Some are insulated for winter but the good quality boots will avoid any moisture accumulation, keeping your feet comfortable and shoes internally clean.
Cheap boots are likely to leave your feet sweaty and cause fungal infections along with unpleasant smells. They are also more likely to be less comfortable and non waterproof, again getting your feet wet. Make sure to wear waterproof boots to save yourself an uncomfortable wet foot situation.
Rubber soles from non slip and slip resistant steel toe work boots are easy to clean with water and a soapy shoe brush if needed.
How to wash work boots and get the smell out
Once you’ve noticed an odor from your work shoes, there are multiple things you can do to neutralise & clean them. You might want to start with the DIY methods since you will have those items in the house already.
Some techniques for the removal of shoe smells are more effective depending on the type of material or such as suede, leather or canvas. For better understanding, the smells have been categorized into 3 stages:
- Minor smell
- Medium smell
- Rancid smell
Generally, there are some shoes that will smell worse than others, depending on their design, materials and construction. However, it depends on your feet as well. Some feet are simply more prone to overheating, sweating and therefore smelling, than others.
If that is you, make sure to clean your feet regularly. Try to get as much dead skin off your feet as possible, especially between the toes and heel. You can wipe your feet with cleansing wipes to kill the bacteria causing the smell and change your socks during the day.
For minor smells or light footwear odors, there are several techniques you can try:
Take the smelly work boots, in a ziplock bag and place them in the freezer. This may be a bit surprising, but it is a very effective technique.
Leave the boots there for about 12 to 24 hours. By then, the odor-causing bacteria which makes your boots smell bad wouldn’t be able to survive the low temperature. This should kill off the smell quite effectively.
Another technique that is arguably the easiest to do at home is simply going to your pantry and grab a handful of tea bags and place them in your smelly boots. Let them sit for 12 to 24 hours. The tea bags work by absorbing odor from inside the boots.
As you remove the tea bags, and you should notice a big difference in smell.
Another technique that is extremely easy and you should try out is using newspapers. All you need to do is grab some newspaper, scrunch it and place inside your boots. This trick cannot only be used to absorb the smell inside your shoes, but it can also absorb the moisture straight after cleaning your boot. Just like the other techniques, wait 12 to 24 hours for maximum effect.
· Odor bags
Odor bags are very affordable and are usually used in boxing gloves, but they can also be used for fridge smells and footwear as well. They contain bamboo charcoal and they can be recharged by leaving them in the sun for two hours.
Once you’ve charged the bags in sunlight, simply place the bags inside your boots or trainers overnight and pull them out in the morning, after a night of odor cleansing. This routine will ensure your footwear is fresh every morning.
For Medium odor in shoes try some of these highly effective techniques:
AYou can make use of lime peels. Or you can use any other citrus if you do not have limes, such as lemons or oranges, they serve the same effect.
Now how do you do this? Simply get a knife or peeler and strip off the citrus skin. Be careful when cutting the lemon as you only want the skin. You do not need to cut too deep into the messy inside of the lemon.
Place a single layer of toilet paper or paper towels in the shoes before adding the citrus peels. This is so that they don’t stain the interior of your boot.
Place the cut skin into the shoes and let the citrus oils do their magic overnight. In the morning remove the skins and your boots should be spring-morning fresh.
· Dryer sheets
The next technique for medium smells is making use of dryer sheets. Depending how potent your dryer sheets are place the sheet either inside the shoes or on top of the shoes if they are very potent.
Make sure to store the boots in a warm spot overnight with the dryer sheet as the dryer sheets are more effective in warm conditions.
In the morning, remove the sheets and your boots should smell fantastic. This technique can be used for both men’s and women’s shoes.
· Cat litter
The next effective solution to your smelly boots is a cat litter. If you have a stocking, simply fill the stocking with some cat litter and place the cat litter sock inside your smelly boot. Most cat litter will absorb any nasty smell and add a subtle fresh odor at the same time.
Just like the other techniques, leave the cat litter sock in your shoes overnight and the cat litter should have drawn out the smells by morning. Also, for this technique to work, store the boots in a high place where your cats can’t reach them because you don’t want your cats thinking that your boots are their new toilet.
· Baby powder
The next technique is by using baby powder. Baby powder is actually designed for rashes and eases friction on the skin. It can also be used on your feet to absorb moisture and odor.
This time around, you do not need a stocking or paper towel. Simply place the baby powder directly inside the shoes and leave overnight. The baby powder should absorb any moisture and odor inside your boots. This technique can also be a combo along with the freezer techniques. You can place the boots in the freezer once you have added the baby powder.
Also, the baby powder could be a solution to blisters on your feet or toes, when you are breaking in new boots.
For absolutely rancid stink, there are few techniques to get your boots smelling fresh again.
· Sneaker balls
The number one most effective technique is the use of sneaker balls. Sneaker balls have a strong smell to them and they’ll remove any sort of odor inside your boots. Sneaker balls can be purchased at any general sports store, and they are quite cheap.
Also, they are quick and easy to use, hence they are a good option. Simply add a ball to your boots and let them do their thing overnight.
These sneaker balls can also be used for the gym bag and anywhere else you might need to get rid of any unpleasant smell and encourage a good one.
· Odor Neutralizing Spray
Next up is the use of odor neutralizing smelling spray. There are a lot of sprays that can be used for very rancid smells. Most of these spray uses self-activating organic enzymes to break down sweat and other odors. So essentially the more you sweat, the harder it works.
With this method, you spray every part of the shoes and let it completely dry out. Avoid spraying them too much and only lightly spray them at first. If that doesn’t work, apply a second layer of spray. This cleaning method works great for suede shoes.
- Our favorite pick: Lumi Outdoors The Extra strength version will do the job. You might have tried countless odor neutralising tricks or products, well look no further, this will get rid of absolutely all smells.
- Budget choice: Elite Shoe Deoderizer and Foot Spray is a shoe deodorizer and works wonders on neutralizing work shoes smells. You can also spray this on your feet soles, even if you have dry cracked feet.
- Runner up: Zederna Cedar Wood Shoe Insoles, although some people have combated work shoes smell with only the use of these insoles, most found the smell was reduced and their feet felt more comfortable during the day, however the smell was not completely neutralized.
· Washing machine
What about simply throwing your dirty shoes into the washing machine to clean them? These simple and effective steps using the washing machine are not a general every day strategy. Flooding your dirty shoes with soapy water will clean and rinse every surface and may even be the most effective way to remove the smell from your work boots. However, it is recommended that you avoid doing this on a regular basis as it will shorten the life of your shoes. Doing this too many times will wear down or even damage your boots although they will smell good and be dirty no more.
However, this is not regarded as a general strategy because not all shoes are washable in a machine. For some boots, you could try pressure washing, depending on the boot type. However, we prefer a more gentle approach with the steps described above. Especially when it comes to clean care for suede materials.
There you have some of the best steps of getting rid of unpleasant smells from your shoes. It’s cheap to clean your shoes as you already have most of the items in your house and it’s easy to do. And if one technique doesn’t work for you, just try the next, there are so many to choose from, you’ll soon find your favorite.
How to wash work boots most efficiently: The washing machine use is our favourite for sneakers and trainers and the odor neutralizing spray is the most effective for footwear not suitable for the washing machine but have extreme smells.
Proactive tips to avoid shoes smelling
Although you can’t control your foot sweat with sheer will, there are ways to diminish sweat and therefore smell. Here are a couple good ways and some of our favorite tips:
- Get rid of as much dead skin on your feet as possible, soak your feet and use a pumice stone or foot file.
- Never wear wet or moist work boots. Dry your boots by a heater or in the sun. If very wet, remove the laces and pull the tongue out for quicker drying
- Try a lightweight quickdry technology safety shoe that has no leather.
- Wear clean, dry cotton socks or a better alternative are anti microbial, anti bacterial and moisture absorbing bamboo socks
- Always wear socks with your work boots. Wearing shoes without socks causes more sweat and therefore more odor.
- Avoid synthetic socks and carry a replacement pair of cotton or bamboo socks
- Take your shoes off and let your feet breath when they start feeling hot.
- Disinfect your feet with alcoholic solution wipe twice a day
- Cedarsoles insoles are antifungal
A final pro tip is to have 2 pair of work boots and alternate wearing them so that you never wear the same pair 2 days in a row. This will give the boots a chance to dry out completely from any residual moisture. It also gives you the opportunity to treat the pair of boots you’re not wearing that day with muslin bag of activated charcoal or bicarbonate of soda as detailed above.
Do you have a good foolproof method to clean, wash shoes or eliminate odor from work boots? Share your favorite steps, tips & tricks with us in the comments.
BONUS: How to Get the Smell Out of work boots?
Work boots usually accumulate smell over time, especially if you wear them consecutively. Here are a few ways and tips to help you get the smell out of your boot.
· Making use of baking soda
Spread the baking soda in the shoe. What this does is that it helps remove the smell and helps dry up the boot. To do this, just take the desired scoop and put it in the shoe.
Apply it into the shoe by just dropping it in and just shaking the shoe around so it gets everywhere including the shoe walls.
Once you made sure you got every corner inside the show covered, tip out the excess baking soda. After a few hours of wearing the boots, this white powder will go away. This method may not be effective for heavy-duty boots like logger, and welding boots, but it couldn’t hurt either since it’s quick and easy and you probably have baking soda in the house in any case.
· Alcohol and cotton wool
Take a bit of alcohol and some cotton wool, or alcohol wipes if you have some. Drip a bit of alcohol onto the wool or cloth (don’t soak it, it should only be slightly moist, not dripping. and apply it to the inner liner of your footwear to disinfect it. What the rubbing alcohol will do is help kill the bacteria that is causing that odor in your shoes. You can use this method for Metatarsal and Met guard boots. It works wonders for most lightweight footwear primarily.
How to Wash Leather Work Boots?
To wash a dirty leather wedge sole work boot, you’re going to need the following.
- Water to clean & rinse
- Soft Bristle brush
- small stiff brush
- a cloth or similar material
- leather care oil
Follow these steps to a clean pair of shoes: So the first thing you’re going to do for lace up boots is to take out your boot laces. This is one of the most important steps to really access most of the dirt. For slip on or pull on all you would remove is the insert or insole.
Then grab your soft bristle and just wipe off any excess dirt and dust on the outside that will just come off easily. Take care to get in external hidden spaces and cracks.
Wipe the shoes with the cloth to get the remaining dust off. You do not need to rinse the shoes.
Using the leather care products
There’s a lot of different leather care products out there. The most preferable brand to choose is one that does not use petroleum-based products. Choose only a brand that treats leather care like skincare.
Take the old cloth and dip it in water, mixed with some soap. Apply it so that you’re building up a foam to get all that dirt out. This basically just washes the leather and provides a little bit of conditioning. Make sure you get down all in the cracks. Pay extra attention to the toe areas and inside the boot.
After this stage, take a little excess water and rinse it by wiping it all down till the boots are clean. You then take the dry cloth or rag and wipe off all excess water. By now, the boots should already be looking better. This is also effective for cowboy boot types, and composite, moc toe boots.
Set them in a place to dry. After drying out completely, apply the oil or wax to treat the leather. This remoistens and helps to protect the leather from water.
When remoistening, really focus on any areas that have stitching. These need a little extra attention so that the oil gets into the holes. How dry the boot is will determine how much leather oil you’ll need on your boots.
Make sure that the shoe dries completely before wearing it.
Best Oil for Leather Boots?
Two types of oils are perfect for your leather boots: the mink oil and boot oil. Both are wax secreted oil by wool-bearing animals, usually sheep.
Some boot oils contain mink oil: this is made from the fat removed from the mink pelts. It’s very high in saturated fat. It’s approximately 75% unsaturated, but it’s a lot more stable than other unsaturated fats like plant oil. That’s a big reason why people like mink oil for their leather boots, especially Timberland, Red Wing Heritage, Wolverine, Keen, Danner, etc.
Some believe the mink oil is more about weatherproofing, whereas the boot oil is going to do a better job of conditioning as well as weatherproofing. There are reports of a lot of companies combining the 2 oils for the ultimate leather resistance.
So the pine pitch can increase longgevity of leather boots and is used by people who need to make their boots resistant to very extreme temperatures and elements.
Pine pitch is from pine trees that are pretty tough trees, they endure a lot. So mink oil with pine pitch and boot oils are effective for leather boots. While they have only slight differences, they will both help increase the water resistance and nourish the leather.
The application of oil to boot is not for all types of work boots. Only leather boots need oil, don’t apply to rubber or other material work boot.