Any sports player can tell you that if there’s one cost to staying in shape, it’s a rough case of smelly shoes. After all, it’s called “athlete’s foot” for a reason. While anyone can have shoe odor, athletes are more susceptible to foot infections, sweaty feet, and the foul-smelling footwear that results.
A stinky pair of basketball shoes isn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable in polite company. Save yourself from a rank odor the next time you open your gym bag by following my ultimate guide on how to get the smell out of basketball shoes and keep it from becoming a recurring problem.
How To Get Smell Out of Basketball Shoes
You can take several routes to tackle stinky shoes. Quick and straightforward sprays offer temporary but immediate relief. Deodorizing powders and packs are set-and-forget odor eliminators to ensure your shoes smell fresh the next time you wear them. Among the various fixes are disinfectants to kill the root of the odor and fragrant ingredients to please the senses. And no matter the style you prefer, you can pick between several DIY and commercial solutions.
Even something as simple as leaving your shoes in the fresh air after a game may be enough to make your sneakers smell amazing (or at least tolerable). For convenience and efficiency, here are my top techniques to remove odor from your basketball shoes.
Top Solution: Baking Soda
Baking soda is messier than some smell-eliminating solutions and slower-acting than others. But when you need a handy and effective shoe deodorizer, it’s inarguably one of the best choices. Almost every home has baking soda hiding somewhere in the kitchen. And given its ability to neutralize acidic odors and absorb excess moisture anywhere it sits, it’s seemingly a perfect remedy for a pair of smelly sneakers.
How to Deodorize Basketball Shoes With Baking Soda
- Liberally sprinkle baking soda inside the basketball shoe
- Optional: Add a few drops of your favorite essential oils for a fresh scent
- Leave the shoe to deodorize for a few hours or sit overnight
- Knock out the baking soda before using the shoes
Tip! You can also use baking soda in a sachet if you don’t want to deal with the powdery mess. Pour baking soda into a coffee filter or old stocking and tie it off with a string or rubber band. Toss a few of these in each sneaker, and they’ll get your shoes smelling fresh without the cleanup afterward.
All out of baking soda? Household items like cornstarch, coffee grounds, and cat litter make excellent deodorizing substitutes for baking soda. Use them in a DIY sachet, adding essential oils as desired, and your shoes should shed most of the funky smell after several hours.
Activated Charcoal Bags
While baking soda’s convenience makes it my first choice for eliminating a bad smell in your basketball shoes, it pales in comparison to activated charcoal in terms of effectiveness. Activated carbon’s high surface area sucks in odors and holds them tight, removing foul-smelling compounds with superior efficiency.
Any charcoal pouch will deodorize its environment, but I recommend a product like Marsheepy’s Bamboo Charcoal Bag for stinky shoes. The slim deodorizer is the perfect fit for sneakers. Drop them in each basketball shoe in the evening to freshen your sneakers overnight, and they’ll be ready the next day. Pouches last up to two years, and with a six-pack bundle, you’ll have a set for several pairs of shoes.
Essential oils are all-natural solutions offering the dual benefits of supplying pleasant fragrances and destroying odor-causing microbes. Clove oil, for instance, provides potent antimicrobial advantages as a viable treatment for athlete’s foot fungus. But many other essential oils have proven their antibacterial and antifungal properties, including:
- Tea tree oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Lemongrass oil
- Thyme oil
- Lemon oil
- Lavender oil
- Peppermint oil
Add 5–6 drops of your favorite essential oil to ½ cup of water in a spray bottle. Shake the bottle well, and spray the inside of your basketball shoes. Let your shoes dry in a well-ventilated space, and the only faint odor you should notice will be the lingering essential oil.
Like baking soda, distilled white vinegar is one of the most convenient and safest DIY options for deodorizing a pair of smelly shoes. Though not the most dependable disinfectant, vinegar can inactivate many bacterial and fungal strains that make shoes smell bad. The acidic compounds bond with odor molecules to further reduce the stench.
To fix your smelly basketball shoes, mix distilled white vinegar with water in a 1:1 ratio in a spray bottle. Spray the insides of your shoes, and allow them to dry. The vinegar smell will fade as the solution evaporates, leaving you with stink-free shoes.
Hydrogen peroxide is a top solution for removing stains on shoes and eliminating smells inside them. It oxidizes microbes of all kinds, destroying bacterial and fungal cells to kill bad shoe odors. Add some to a spray bottle, spray the inside surfaces of your basketball shoes, and the smell will be gone when the shoes dry.
Roughly 5% of the population suffers from excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, with the feet being one of the most common places to experience it. Foot powders are a go-to method for many with the condition, offering a solution for feet, socks, and footwear. For athletes, they’re a safe way to prevent odors in well-worn basketball shoes.
You have countless commercial powdered options to deodorize shoes, including baby powder. From experience, I suggest a product like Foot Sense. The shoe powder uses all-natural ingredients like arrowroot powder, baking soda, and essential oils to absorb excess moisture, kill odor-causing bacteria, and leave a fresh scent without causing unnecessary irritation.
The 70% isopropyl alcohol you have in the medicine cabinet will kill the bacteria in your shoes alongside most of the smells they create. Pour rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle, and spray the insides of your shoes. The alcohol will evaporate quickly, giving you dry, odor-free shoes in no time.
Commercial solutions to remove odor from shoes range from deodorizing leave-in insoles to daily scented sprays. While numerous products in each category can deliver results, the following are a few of my top picks for maintaining a pair of basketball shoes:
- Shoe spray (KIWI Shoe Deodorizer): fast-acting sprays to quickly deodorize recently worn basketball shoes
- Sneaker balls (Sof Sole Sneaker Balls): versatile, convenient drop-in balls typically lasting 1–6 months
- Cedar shoe tree (Stratton Cedar Shoe Tree): aromatic moisture absorbers that can last a lifetime
Want more tips, insights, and recommendations to make that nasty shoe odor a thing of the past? Check out our rundown of this year’s best shoe deodorizers to keep every pair smelling their freshest.
Basketball Shoe Stuffings
If you don’t have any activated charcoal packs or sneaker balls to stuff in your shoes, don’t sweat it. You still probably have something to shove in your shoes to relieve an off-putting odor. Here are a few household items you can put in your basketball shoes overnight to have them smelling clean by the morning:
- Wads of newspaper
- Dryer sheets
- Unused tea bags
- Orange or lemon peels
- Bar of dry soap
Each item typically only works for a few days at most. If you constantly resort to DIY stuffing for your smelly shoes, I advise investing in a more effective, longer-lasting commercial product.
Freezing Your Shoes
Even if you have nothing to put in your shoes to deodorize them, you still have one last option to eliminate that stink – your freezer. Freezing shoes will suspend the odor-causing microbes in the material to give you a respite from the smell. Put your basketball shoes in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer overnight. Your footwear should stay fresh while you use them the next day.
Can I Use a Washing Machine To Clean My Basketball Shoes?
Some basketball shoes may tolerate time in the washing machine, which may be noted on a care label. In general, I don’t recommend it. Harsh detergents and excessive water exposure can damage materials like leather, and the dryer’s high heat can warp the rubber sole.
When you have to eventually deep clean smelly sneakers to rid them of the funk, handwashing is the safest and often most effective approach. Use a mild detergent or dish soap to avoid damage, and don’t add too much to your cleaner, as it will require more effort to rinse.
How to Handwash Basketball Shoes
- Remove the shoe laces and insoles, if possible, to handwash separately
- Use a soft, dry toothbrush or shoe brush to remove surface dirt from the entire shoe and a toothpick to pull out any pebbles the soles may have picked up on the court
- Add a few drops of mild dish soap or detergent to a bowl of warm water, mixing well to make a lightly sudsy mixture
- Use a cloth or soft brush with the cleaning solution to gently wipe the shoe’s inside and outside surfaces
- Wipe the shoe again with a damp cloth to remove the soap residue
- Let the shoe air dry completely before wearing
Why Do Basketball Shoes Smell So Bad?
Basketball shoes aren’t naturally smelly. Like any other shoe, it isn’t the sneakers that stink but rather the feet that fill them.
Sweaty feet offer heat, moisture, and food for the countless bacteria that live there. Brevibacterium are a primary source of foot odor, feeding on dead skin. Staphylococcus epidermidis consumes leucine in sweat to produce smelly isovaleric acid, while Propionibacteria create vinegar-y propionic acid. Combining them all gives us a nauseating bouquet of mercaptans and other acidic foot odors to overwhelm the nostrils.
By reducing the sweat, you can reduce the odor. It isn’t an easy task with basketball shoes, footwear that typically comes into play during rigorous, sweat-inducing activity. In these situations, proper foot hygiene and preventative strategies are more critical than ever to keep your shoe odor issues as mild as possible.
How To Prevent Smelly Basketball Shoes
The first line of defense against a funky shoe odor is a proper pair of socks. You’ll generally want a blend of breathability, moisture-wicking qualities, and durability to manage typical wear.
Though breathable, cotton socks absorb sweat and retain heat, increasing the moisture around your feet and fueling those smell-creating bacteria.
It’s usually better to wear socks with synthetic blends, like polyester and other quick-drying, moisture-wicking materials. Merino wool similarly moves moisture away from the feet to let it evaporate while staying breathable to reduce the amount of foot sweat.
Tips for Avoiding Shoe Odor
Beyond ensuring you’re wearing the most odor-resistant socks possible, you can change your routine to prevent an unpleasant odor from building up and ruining your basketball shoes. Follow these tips to keep sweat down, bacterial growth at bay, and your feet smelling their best:
- Carry your basketball shoes in a gym bag with an activated charcoal pack
- Change your socks before exercising
- Wear flip-flops in the shower and locker room
- Wash your feet daily with antimicrobial soap
- Dry your feet thoroughly after washing
- Air out your shoes outside at the end of the day
Daily cleaning can help keep your shoes smelling as pleasant as possible. And for footwear that sees considerable wear, like basketball shoes, it will substantially impact their looks, performance, and longevity.
What Should I Do if My Shoes Still Smell After Cleaning?
An odor and moisture absorber should handle the issue if you’re still struggling with smelly shoes after cleaning with soap and water. Stuff your shoes with newspaper while air drying them to maintain their shape and wick away moisture. If they’re mostly dry, a layer of baking soda, an activated charcoal pack, or a shoe deodorizing powder will manage any remaining sweat and suck up the lingering smell.