Summertime is sandal time in my household. When the sun is blazing and temperatures soar, it takes every effort to beat the heat, and my regular sneakers don’t do me any favors. Whether we’re going to the beach or heading to the store, I’m rocking the open toes all day if I want to stay comfy.
But after a long day of adventuring, you can imagine my sandals are far from fresh when I finally kick them off. Relying on them daily, I have to stick to a dependable care routine to avoid the aggravation and embarrassment of smelly flip-flops. If you’re struggling to keep your footwear ready for use, I’ll break down how to deodorize sandals and techniques to prevent smells from ever being an issue.
Why Do My Sandals Smell?
Stinky sandals can make a situation awkward, but it’s hardly a unique problem. While factors like age and gender may affect the microbes that appear in your shoes, all feet develop bacteria and fungi that can make footwear stink.
Between the dead skin cells and sweat our feet produce, we give microbes the environment and nutrition they need to thrive. And while sandals are already bad at hiding smelly feet, certain styles will be even worse about emitting a foul odor.
Some synthetic components, such as polyester straps, hold onto stubborn smells more than natural options. Other materials, like rubber, can’t absorb moisture effectively. Instead, the mix of sweat and bacteria sits on the surface, allowing odorous compounds to stink up the room.
How to Deodorize Sandals
At some point, you’ll pull out your summer footwear only to have that familiar funk hit your nostrils. You might grab your sandals for the first beach trip of the season and have to deal with rank storage odors. Or, maybe you’ve been wearing your flip-flops daily, and the overuse is starting to show via rancid, sweaty smells.
Whatever the cause, you likely don’t want to waste unnecessary time or effort on a pair of smelly sandals. For speedy, dependable results, here are nine ways to make your sandals smell fresh and stay ready for your next outing.
Baking soda’s mild alkaline formula absorbs moisture and counteracts the acidic odors common to sandals and flip-flops. An easy-to-use, easy-to-find solution, it works with any footwear style, from EVA rubber sandals (EVA is a polymer that produces “rubber-like” materials) to suede shoes. It can have an effect in as little as an hour, but try to leave it overnight for the best results. Here’s how you can use baking soda to keep your sandals smelling clean:
- Sprinkle baking soda liberally over the soles of your sandals
- Let the sandals sit overnight (or at least a few hours) to deodorize
- Shake out the baking soda
Tip: Many materials, like rubber and cork, can tolerate a baking soda scrub for added cleaning power. Mix baking soda with water to form a thick paste, and gently work it into the sandal with a soft brush. Let it dry before cleaning it off.
Odor absorption is one of the many amazing uses for vinegar around the house, making it a readily available and low-risk option to clean stinky sandals. The acetic acid in vinegar bonds with odor molecules to kill the smell. It’s safe on most materials, though you should avoid oversaturating natural fabrics like suede. Follow these steps to eliminate irritating sandal and flip-flop odors:
- Mix water and distilled white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio in a spray bottle
- Spritz the sandal soles with the vinegar solution
- Let the sandals air dry
Tip: Vinegar makes an excellent follow-up to baking soda for an added layer of cleaning. Spray the solution after deodorizing with baking soda to remove lingering powder and make your sandals look new.
Everyone has a freezer, and it’s arguably the easiest way to combat stinky sandals. Freezing won’t kill bacteria and fungi that make shoes smell. But it will deactivate them, giving you ample time to have fun before your footwear gives off a noticeable stench. Plus, the feeling of chilled footwear on a hot summer day may be worth the effort, whether your feet smell or not.
Freezing is safe for any sandal material. Slip your smelly sandals in a plastic bag before tossing them in the bottom shelf of your freezer overnight. Make this a practice whenever you get home, and you may never have to worry about stinky flip-flops again!
We’re always learning about the merits of essential oils in the fight against bacteria and fungi. Their all-natural power offers a straightforward solution to quickly remove odors from shoes moments before putting them on. Essential oils are safe on most materials, though dark or tinted varieties may stain leather and suede. Some of the most effective oils for combating microbes include:
- Tea tree
Individual essential oils offer antimicrobial traits, or you can combine certain oils, such as thyme and oregano oil, for synergistic effects. With numerous effective options, you can mix and match your favorite scents whenever you need to refresh your shoes. Here’s an example of how you can make a deodorizing solution with essential oils for your stinky sandals:
- Mix witch hazel and water in a 1:1 solution in a spray bottle
- Add 10–15 drops of essential oil
- Shake well, and spray the sandal sole
- Let the sandals air dry
Tip: Mouthwash is another fix for funky flip-flops that also takes advantage of essential oil compounds. Products like Listerine use ingredients including menthol and thymol as active antiseptic agents. To treat smelly shoes made of synthetic materials, mix mouthwash with water in a 1:2 ratio. Soak your sandals for about 15–20 minutes before rinsing and leaving to air dry.
Soap and Water
Cleaning sandals with soap and water is wise if dirt stains and grime accompany those foul odors. Although this isn’t ideal for leather sandals and will never work on suede, it’s a straightforward deep-cleaning method for shoes that take abuse. Try these steps when you need to improve the look, smell, and feel of your sandals:
- Mix a few drops of dish soap in a bowl of warm water
- Saturate a clean cloth with the soapy solution, and wring out excess water
- Rub the sandals with the damp cloth (use a soft toothbrush to scrub stains gently)
- Rinse the soap from the shoes with a cloth dampened with plain water
- Leave to air dry
Tip: Check the sandal’s care label to see if they can go in the washing machine. Rubber and memory foam sandals can usually take a soak without issue. If you have a whole family’s worth of stinky sandals and flip-flops to clean, a spin through the washing machine on a delicate cycle with cold water will typically take care of the problem while demanding minimal effort.
Rubbing alcohol is a potent cleaner and disinfectant you can use instead of dish soap and water. You only need a small amount for quality results, and it will evaporate much faster than most cleaning solutions. It’s an excellent choice when you need a quick fix for smelly sandals before heading out the door. Suede and leather sandal material appreciate the softer touch, but you can use this on any style without issue by following these steps:
- Pour rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle, and spritz the sandals
- Wipe the soles down with a clean cloth
- Let the sandals dry before wearing
Tip: Add a few drops of essential oil to the mix for a pleasant-smelling layer over the rubbing alcohol.
Fresh Air and Sunlight
Air-drying stinky sandals in a breezy, sunny spot can be the finishing touch for any of the aforementioned cleaning methods. With the disinfecting power of its UV rays, the sun can further deodorize your sandals as they dry.
To varying extents, all sandal materials are prone to damage from too much direct sunlight. Rubber and memory foam flip-flops will shrink after a few hours in the sun, while suede, cork, or leather may fade or break down. Leave your sandals in the sun for at least 30 minutes, when possible, for effective disinfection. If the manufacturer advises against putting your sandals in direct sunlight, dry them in a shady area instead.
DIY Overnight Deodorizers
We point out baking soda and vinegar as the go-to DIY deodorizers, but you have numerous household items that can freshen your shoes. Test out these convenient ways to remove sandal odors:
- Coffee grounds: Add used coffee grounds to a thin sock or pantyhose to form a makeshift sachet, and place it in the shoes overnight
- Kitty litter: Use kitty litter in a stocking or pantyhose material to absorb moisture and odors from your sandals
- Orange peel: Place lemon or orange peels in your footwear to replace the sandal smell with a citrus scent
- Vanilla extract: Add a few drops of vanilla extract to a wad of paper towels to stuff over the soles and impart a sweet aroma
- Newspaper: Though slower to take effect, newspaper’s fibrous makeup and carbon content make it a useful odor and moisture absorber, especially in enclosed spaces like stale closets or smelly refrigerators
- Dryer sheets: Wipe the sandal with a dryer sheet, and leave the sheet over the sole until you’re ready to wear sandals again
Odor Eliminating Products
Skip straight to fast-acting shoe deodorizers when you need reliable and immediate results. Sprays and powders are inexpensive, targeted solutions to quickly overcome your particular odor issue. Here are some of my top recommendations:
You might also like this article: 7 Best Shoe Deodorizers to Stomp the Stink
Tips for Cleaning Different Types of Sandals
Most sandal deodorizing options are usable to some extent on any material. But different styles have unique preferences, and they’re worth heeding if you hope to keep your sandals fresh and undamaged.
- Avoid exposure to hot temperatures and direct sunlight to prevent shrinking
- Use the washing machine or dishwasher for simple, hassle-free cleaning and deodorizing
- Wipe with baby wipes for a quick and easy refresh
- Do not leave leather shoes in direct sunlight to prevent damage and fading
- Use saddle soap, like Kiwi Saddle Soap, to clean and soften leather sandal parts
- Minimize water exposure to prevent damage
- Sprinkle with baking soda daily to keep the Birkenstock sandals fresh and odor-free
- Follow instructions for treated vs. untreated leather, as finishes add durability and are easier to clean
- Avoid heat and sunlight to prevent melting, warping, or shrinking
- Check the care label before washing, and use mild detergent and wash temperatures
- Dab on small amounts of vinegar or rubbing alcohol to deodorize without oversaturating
- Avoid getting suede overly wet, as water can stain and damage the material
- Keep suede out of direct sunlight to prevent fading and cracking
- Use a suede brush to clean dirt and odor-causing grime
- Consider using a cork sealant to protect the sole from deterioration and water damage
- Use a soft-bristled brush to gently clean away dirt before deodorizing
- Deodorize cork with a baking soda paste or rubbing alcohol
- Avoid drying with high heat sources to prevent brittleness and cracking
How To Prevent Stinky Flip-Flops and Sandals
You won’t need to worry about cleaning and deodorizing your sandals constantly if you take steps to prevent smells from settling into them. Clean feet and smarter choices around how you use and store your sandals can ensure you never get caught off-guard by a nasty sandal odor.
Clean Your Feet
Cleaning your feet daily may be necessary if your feet are particularly prone to sweat and bad odors. Consider an antibacterial soap like Truremedy’s body soap infused with tea tree oil, rosemary, and other natural odor fighters. And while washing your feet is beneficial, keeping them clean during the day is equally vital to avoid odors. That means switching out socks regularly and no bare feet in public areas like the pool or fitness center.
Don’t Use the Same Sandals Every Day
While you’re switching out your socks, assess your sandal and flip-flop collection. Foot odors are a tricky problem to solve if you wear the same set constantly. Footwear stays at its freshest when it has a day or two to breathe and dry. If odors are an ongoing issue, grab a couple of extra pairs to see the difference a sandal rotation can make.
Use Foot Deodorant
Foot deodorant like Dr. Scholl’s Odor-X spray is a convenient option to ensure freshness no matter what you wear on your feet. Baby powder or a foot powder like Gold Bond will also work, but they’re impractical for sandals. Unless you don’t mind the puffs of powder that come with every step or the socks-and-sandals look, you’re better off with a spray or antiperspirant foot lotion for sweaty feet.
Choose Natural Materials
When possible, choose natural breathable designs like leather or cork. Not only are these more comfortable in many cases, but they’re also less susceptible than synthetic materials to building and holding onto bad smells.
How Do You Disinfect Sandals From a Thrift Store?
Making secondhand sandals safe to wear is easy with a washing machine and hot water, but many sandals can’t handle that kind of intensive cleaning. For delicate footwear, use a tried and true disinfectant spray like Lysol, focusing on the soles and straps where sweat accumulates.
Say Goodbye to Stinky Sandals
Sandal odor may make you rethink your footwear before heading out the door, but many don’t realize the numerous simple solutions hiding in plain sight around the home. With these tips, you’ll never have to worry about stinky sandals ruining your good time. Follow proper foot hygiene and sandal storage practices to prevent odors, and take your pick of these easy, convenient, and effective deodorizers to ensure your favorite flip-flops stay in the rotation.