I sweat a lot when I run, especially during the hot and humid days of summer, and as a result my running shoes tend to smell terribly! I have tried powders and deodorizing sprays in an attempt to mask or eliminate smell, but they don't seem to work. What can I do to keep my running shoes from being smelly? - Stinky Feet
First, I want to say that I have been writing this column for a couple of years now, and have been waiting with great anticipation for such a question as yours. I have so dearly sought to write a response to these letters with the salutation "Dear Stinky", that I can hardly contain myself for the joy of the moment. But now, on to your question:
As a member of the species Homo Sapiens, your body has several complex and ingenious functions for overcoming environmental stress. When you are cold, you shiver: a function that uses friction to generate heat. When you feel extreme pressure, such as the pressure of a hammer accidentally squashing a finger, your digit "swells up", a function that forces healing white blood cells to the injured area to begin repairs and fight infection.
When you are overheated, you sweat: a function which works to cool your body down to the 98.6 degree Fahrenheit desired operating temperature that your body seeks to maintain. This function works due to one of the fundamental properties of thermodynamics: liquid which coats a body will evaporate when exposed to moving air (especially when running) causing the body to cool.
So the good news is that your body is functioning properly, and those 250,000 sweat glands per foot are producing their fair share of about a pint of salty fluid each day! But before you rush to devise some plan for converting that liquid into a zesty sports drink, consider the source of your foul smelling feet: bacteria.
Allow me to introduce you to a couple of sweat eating friends who inhabit your body: Mr. Corynebacteria and his partner Señor Micrococci. This dynamic duo of the warm and damp ingest organic substances found in your skin, along with your sweat, and produce (through the magic of metabolism) a certain malodorous by-product which are causing your running shoes to "reek".
The cure for what ails you is to evict the stink producing bacteria from your feet, socks and shoes by reducing the amount of sweat left in your shoes after you run. Store your shoes in a cool, dry place and remove the sole insert, and the bacteria will go hungry.
There are sprays and powders you can apply to hasten the drying process, but I have found that keeping them in a cool dry place is quite effective, and I find most of the powders and sprays to smell equally offensive as does "bacterial stink".
I like to put one of those "dryer sheets" in each shoe after I run. These tend to mask any smell that might linger, while serving as an absorption medium for any transient "sweat steam" which could have invaded my running shoes following a particularly intense workout.
Be warned that the same condition which causes "stink foot" can lead to a condition known as tinea pedis, or "athletes foot", a fungal infection which would make this "Dear Stinky" letter lead directly to a "Dear Itchy" letter you don't want to receive, and I wouldn't want to have to write.
Run long and taper.