Foot odor is a recurring problem that affects both men and women, at any age. It can cause discomfort and even shame in those who suffer from it, undermining their self-esteem. And this despite maintaining scrupulous personal hygiene. The current opinion, in fact, is that stinky feet are caused by poor cleanliness and self-care. It’s not that! Washing your feet is certainly a good habit but it is not enough to eliminate the problem, because the cause of foot odor is actually much more complex.

You can try any kind of solution on the market to solve the problem of bad foot odor: from sprays to powder deodorants. The smell, unfortunately, is bound to return. Not even the most common grandmother’s remedies will help. However, there is a real solution to get rid of smelly feet permanently: vegetable tanned shoes. Read more to find out.

What causes stinky feet?

The smell of feet can recur even after washing them. This happens because the smell does not depend on foot hygiene but we could say ‘shoe hygiene’. A moist and warm environment is created inside the shoes that encourages the proliferation of bacteria, which commonly colonize our feet. They are the real responsible for the smell. Let’s see why.

On the feet, as on the rest of our body, there are real bacterial ecosystems, commonly known as microbiota. The foot, for example, is populated by very common bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, of the staphylococci family.

These microorganisms feed on sweat and dead cells that flake off the skin: the bad smell that develops is the result of their metabolic activity, which produces volatile substances that are unpleasant to smell. An entirely natural and harmless phenomenon, if we were free to walk barefoot. But inside the shoe the situation becomes more complicated.

  • Bacteria themselves are not the problem, they become the problem when their ecosystem ‘goes crazy’, e.g. due to the increase in body temperature and the consequent production of sweat: the shoe therefore creates the ideal microclimate for an uncontrolled development of bacteria
  • The solution to foot odor therefore lies in balancing the foot’s microbial ecosystem. How to do this? By using breathable shoes that absorb sweat and counteract the formation of environments favorable to bacterial proliferation, the cause of bad odor. Such as, shoes and sandals made of vegetable tanned leather, where the foot stays cool and dry every time we wear them. If this is not possible (e.g. for some sports shoes), it is advisable to use at least an insole made of vegetable tanned leather.

Foot odor: natural remedies

Test the effectiveness of tannin in combating foot odor!

In addition to vegetable tanned shoes as a solution to get rid of smelly feet, you can find very ‘creative’ solutions online (insert a layer of onion on the shoe, sprinkle some parsley, give foot baths with vinegar…). Most of them are unfounded and some may even be dangerous. If you want effective and safe natural remedies for foot odor, we recommend the following tannin-based solutions:

  1. Black Tea. There are two alternatives to this solution: the first is to use two used black tea bags and insert them inside the shoes; the second is a tea-based footbath! In both cases, the tannic action of this beverage eliminates the odor.
  2. Sage leaves: sage leaves contain tannic acid, which helps reduce foot odor as well as shoe odor. Putting sage leaves inside socks and shoes counteracts the formation of stench.

The experiment: the odor problem is the shoes and not the feet

The effectiveness of tannin in preventing foot odor has been scientifically proven. The WellMicro laboratory at the University of Bologna demonstrated this through an experiment. How?

They tested 15 people’s shoes, both men and women, who were made to wear a shoe with a vegetable-tanned leather lining on one foot and a shoe with a synthetic lining on the other for four consecutive weeks.

The result of the experiment showed that in the synthetic shoe, bacteria tended to multiply, causing the feet to stink.

Clearly, the problem cannot be foot hygiene, as each participant maintained the same personal hygiene standards for both feet: in the synthetic shoe, bacteria continued to grow exponentially, while in the vegetable-tanned leather shoe, bacteria did not multiply.

When feet are closed for a long time inside shoes that do not allow them to breathe, made of synthetic or plastic materials, they absorb the bad odor. On the market, there are numerous deodorant sprays or talcum powder, with the phantom anti-odour power, to solve this problem.

These products, however, have merely a momentary effect and, indeed, tend to cover up the bad smell as soon as they are sprayed, but after a short time they are completely ineffective. Moreover, many of these solutions counteract the natural perspiration of the foot, sometimes causing undesirable effects, especially in individuals with delicate skin or allergy problems.

Why tannin?

There are many synthetic fabrics on the market that call themselves ‘breathable’. So why choose vegetable tanned leather? Simple: because tannin, in addition to making the tanned leather particularly breathable, has a bacteriostatic action, i.e. it keeps the bacterial population stable, preventing excessive proliferation. A true natural ‘balancer’ whose effectiveness has been scientifically tested (see point 3).


  1. Tannin is a 100% natural substance: it is obtained from raw materials of plant origin such as chestnut or quebracho wood, or from the pods of the Tara tree. The extraction process does not involve the use of chemicals but is a simple infusion in hot water, like tea.
  2. Tannin is safe: so safe that it is contained in many foods we bring to our table every day, such as cherries, pomegranate, blackcurrant, spinach, red fruits, dark chocolate, coffee, tea and red wine.
  3. Vegetable tanned leather does not give rise to allergies, even for the most sensitive skins. On the other hand, leathers treated with other tanning methods, such as chromium salt tanning, may lead more sensitive people to develop allergies.

How to get rid of smelly feet: here’s the solution

The only real solution to foot odor is to choose shoes that allow the feet to breathe, i.e. shoes made of vegetable-tanned leather. During the tanning process, tannin binds to the hides and leather, transmitting its antiseptic and breathable properties.

Vegetable-tanned leather allows the skin to breathe: even after many hours in the shoe, the foot skin is dry and therefore does not stink. This is because the tannin, by absorbing sweat and preventing the creation of environments favorable to bacterial proliferation, prevents the formation of short-chain volatile fatty acids, molecules responsible for the onset of bad foot odor.

In conclusion, shoes made of vegetable-tanned leather are highly recommended to avoid the occurrence of bad foot odor. Vegetable-tanned leather, thanks to the presence of tannin, is able to regulate the ecosystem inside the shoe, acting in particular on the microorganisms responsible for producing bad odor.

Want to know more about how to get rid of smelly feet? Find out more on our “smelly feet causes” page.