Science Questions

Can you catch foot odour?

Sun, 8th Mar 2009

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Your Questions and Swallowing Swords


John Chapman asked:

Can you catch foot odour?




Kat - Foot odour is primarily due to the bacteria that live just around your feet. If you've got sweaty feet, if you don't keep them clean you're going to have a massive build-up of bacteria. Technically if you rubbed your feet you would transfer the bacteria but then they would need to have the right conditions like sweaty, dirty feet. One thing that can make your feet smell a bit is having athlete's foot. That is a fungal infection and you can catch that. You can pick it up in changing rooms, you can pick it up by rubbing your feet against someone's who's got it. That might make your feet a bit whiffy and you could catch that.

Dave - Would different bacteria smell different? Maybe you can catch a different set of smelly bacteria off someone else?

Kat - Different bacteria do have different smells. There's all kinds of bacteria in the world that have different properties and it's all about the gases that they produce that make you smell. They may react differently on your skin if you have different levels of things in your sweat. I don't want to talk about this any longer!

Chris - A few foot-related facts. Your feet actually squirt a litre-and-a-half of sweat into your socks every 24 hours. You're shedding something like 40,000 skin cells every minute or so over a lifetime that adds up to one-and-a-half stone of dead skin. If you take the surface area of your body and feet are a proportion, that's a lot of dead skin just off your feet. If your feet are stewing in a nice sweaty pair of trainers that don't allow them to breathe what you've got is bacteria, warm, wet and food and that's what causes the bacterial banquet that makes the smelliness.

Kat - Wash your feet, change your socks.


Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

My wife is very petite and has dainty little feet. The only problem is they stink! She likes to warm her feet on mine in bed so what I would like to know is this:

Since the smell is produced by millions of bacteria and since bacteria are so easy to transfer from one surface to another can I 'catch' foot odour from her? Also does foot odour indicate that there are airborne bacteria emanating from smelly feet and does this mean that it is possible to 'catch' foot odour just from being in the same room? John Chapman, Wed, 25th Feb 2009

I guess you could catch foot odour Chemistry4me, Wed, 25th Feb 2009

She should wear cotton socks and not wear shoes without socks... perhaps try some antifungle cream that helps feet that smell.. usually a fungus problem... they can look just fine but still have a fungus that antifungal for a few weeks can rid of.. Keep feet dry and change socks often to keep feet dry . Don't wear socks twice.. change a couple times a day until she has it under control.. but bear feet in shoes can make foot odor worse!

If she has a slight case of Athletes foot odor the cream will help if she is diligent about using it! Also rubbing her feet with yours can give it to you if you pick up her fungus.. from a bathmat or shoes or her dainty little feet etc...
Karen W., Wed, 25th Feb 2009

The bacteria are only half the story; the balance of the different components in the sweat is the other half.
It's perfectly possible that your feet and your wife's have much the same varieties of bacteria but they are, in effect, eating a different diet so their by-products will be different.

It's not the weather for sandals at the moment which is a pity because fresh air will help. Bored chemist, Wed, 25th Feb 2009

Thanks guys. What about the idea that the bacteria might be airborne, using the smell as some kind of vector, or at least travel buddy? Any thoughts? John Chapman, Thu, 26th Feb 2009

I am no Scientist or Doctor so this is only my opinion. I think if she were to be using  a ped egg or some similar foot scraping device to smooth the calouses etc then perhaps the bacteria could become airbourne in the fine powder of dead skin shed from the foot after sanding..etc... then it could possibly be inhaled ..I think... and shared towels used o feet can spread bacteria.. but the odor itself carring the bacteria..I really doubt.. but perhaps someone with better knowledge could tell us. Karen W., Thu, 26th Feb 2009

But the fungus will release spores that you can certainly breath in!!  Chemistry4me, Thu, 26th Feb 2009

You think??? Kinda like a mushroom fungus??? the certainly do... I really don't think foe real? Lol..
Where is our fungus expert? Karen W., Thu, 26th Feb 2009

I think the 'smell' molecules will be far smaller than a bacterium, and so it's very unlikely that the bacteria will be wafting along with foot odour.  I could be wrong, as many bacteria are airborne... BRValsler, Thu, 26th Feb 2009

I think the simple empirical answer might well be if you could catch it, you would have done. Bored chemist, Thu, 26th Feb 2009

John Chapman, Thu, 13th Aug 2009

Pawwww, what a pong! Don_1, Thu, 13th Aug 2009

Purr-fectly captured. The smell just has me feline sick. Chemistry4me, Thu, 13th Aug 2009

Actually Ive always wondered. Why is it we have noses that run but feet that smell?  Im a Geek on the Edge, Sat, 29th Aug 2009

I say, I say, I say!
My dog's got no nose.
Your dog's got no nose? How does he smell?

And seriously - I agree with Karen. Cotton socks is (are?) the answer.

I used to have a wee bit of a problem with pongy feet, or so my darling wife - always prone to a little exaggeration - claimed.

I was in the habit of wearing socks that were made from certain indestructible man-made fibres - take your pick, there are lots to choose from. I can't remember why I tried this now, but I switched to cotton, as pure as possible (sometimes they are not so easy to find).

Bingo - no more pongy feet! No more complaints from darling wife. The only problem is, they tend to wear out a lot more quickly, but I think it's worth it to maintain matrimonial bliss.

I wondered if something in the manmade fibre was acting as a "pong" catalyst, but maybe it's just that the cotton wicks the moisture away faster. My feet are never cold. Some might call them sweaty, but I think they are perfectly normal, and, actually rather attractive. I'll put up pix later.

BTW, you know those fringy leather things cowboys wear on their jacket sleeves and backs? (I think bikers have them too.) I always thought they were purely decorative and that the cowboys that wore them were not afraid to get in touch with their inner self, as it were. Just shows you how wrong you can be. The fringy things are there to evaporate moisture so their jackets dry off much more quickly when the cowboys are out riding the range doing their cowboy stuff. Whatd'ya know?  Geezer, Sat, 29th Aug 2009

As promised

                 Attractive Geezer foot Geezer, Sun, 30th Aug 2009

Whoa! You've got three hairs on your hallux! Chemistry4me, Sun, 30th Aug 2009

Oh dear. Doesn't everybody? Geezer, Sun, 30th Aug 2009

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society