Science Questions

Why do feet smell?

Tue, 20th Nov 2012

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Ryan in Norwich asked:

Why do feet smell?


Sharon -   I'm no expert on smelly feet, I have to say, Chris.  But the way that you smell is often down to the way that your bacteria metabolise the organic matter thatís actually secreted from your body.  So for example, smelly armpits and smelly feet are due to bacteria breaking down components of the body's secretions.  And so, it is down to that I'm afraid and perhaps washing your feet to get rid of the bacteria might be good.

Chris -   Why feet specifically rather than other bits of the body?

Sharon -   Well, thatís interesting.  I'm not sure I know the answer to that.

Chris -   Stewing in trainers, lots of sweat, dead skin?

Sharon -   Yes, I think old trainers probably have a lot to do with it.  Certainly, new trainers donít seem to smell as bad as old trainers, so I'm no expert on smelly trainers, but I think that you could say that itís down to the flora, the bacteria that are on your feet.

Chris -   Sharon, thank you.  So basically, itís down to the microbes that are living on you and in between your toes, and they're consuming the dead skin that you're turfing out.  I think itís something like 40,000 skin cells a minute that leave the body.  Itís 1Ĺ stones in dead skin over a lifetime that we accumulate, just dead skin that we slough off into the environment.  Then there's all of the sweat that we squirt out.  I think itís 1Ĺ litres of sweat a day that gets squirted into your socks.  You sort of cook up this lovely bacterial banquet in your shoes.  And because the air can't circulate, the bacteria do flourish and some people will have smellier feet than others.


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