How to Keep Boat Shoes from Smelling [The Fix!]

Despite the sunshine and the fresh air blowing through your hair, all your family can complain about is the awful smell of your favorite boating shoes as you try to air out your feet after a long day of marine living.

Some have said the smell is bad enough to end marriages and make your children choose the other parent… well, maybe not that bad, but let’s face it — your shoes stink!

What exactly can be done about keeping your boat shoes from smelling so badly?

To keep boat shoes from smelling, wear no-show socks to create a buffer and sweat absorption layer between the shoe and your foot. This will stop your shoe’s material from absorbing your sweat which bacteria feed on and excrete waste which is the cause of the smell.

I know, it’s probably not what you wanted to hear if you were looking to shove your sweaty dogs into your smelly foot protectors, but it’s the truth.

Other methods can certainly be used to mask and hide the problem. Sprays, deodorants, dryer sheets, freezing, powders, just to name a few. However, if you are reliant upon any of these methods, you are going to have to engage in foot-care zealotry on a nightly basis to hide your shame.

If you are looking to stop the problem altogether, you must create an environment which is not conducive for foot bacteria to continue flourishing long after your feet have left the shoe.

Why Socks Will Stop the Boat Shoe Stink

When you stick your bare foot into the boat shoe (or any shoe for that matter), you are setting everyone’s noses up for disaster.

According to your two feet combined have 250,000 sweat glands and you lose a half a pint of sweat per day via your feet in normal conditions.

Now, imagine how much more you sweat while out on the water in the full heat of the sun and with your feet stuffed into boat shoes that are sometimes even made of leather, and you can bet that the half-pint in the study will increase quite a bit.

The sweat from your feet (primarily salt water) doesn’t stink as a stand-alone substance. If your sweat were able to readily evaporate and your feet could “breathe”, you would hardly have a problem (if at all).

The problem lies with the bacteria on your feet that exponentially increase in number after each shower that you take. These bacteria are called “brevibacteria” and as they thrive in your sweat-laden shoes and eat your dead skin cells, they excrete their waste all over your foot and shoe material.

Their “waste” is what you and your family smells and is a growing wedge in the relationship.

Fun fact: According to, the brevibacteria causing your funky smelling shoes are the same type of bacteria “used in the production of cheese by metabolizing lactate to lactic acid as well as metabolizing casein proteins to amine and sulfur compounds.” Admit it, you thought your shoes reminded you of something…

stinky cheese brevibacteria

Now that you know the “why” of your foot stank, let’s take a look at the fix.

By wearing a sock (preferably a no-show sock such as these seen on Amazon to avoid any fashion faux pas), you give your foot a temporary wick for the day that will soak up your sweat and actually give your foot a little breathing room. Instead of your foot being pressed up to leather or some other relatively dense substance, the sock will give that micro-layer to avoid skin-to-leather sticking.

If you check out the link above, take a look at all of the user-submitted photos in the review section to see if the socks would work with your particular style of shoe. There’s lots on there! They work on most, but not if you have a low-riding boat shoe that has a large “v-shaped” space between the tongue flap of the shoe and the side-wall.

The socks, which act as wicks, will prevent any significant amount of sweat and bacteria from becoming absorbed into the fibers of your shoes. At the end of the day, you remove the socks and once they dry out the bacteria won’t be an issue on them either.

Of course, the shoes will still have some moisture in them, regardless of the socks and dependent upon your activity level/temperature, so it is also essential to take your shoes off daily to let them dry.

Doing this at night is perfectly fine, and drying them with a cedar tree shoe insert like these seen on Amazon, are a fantastic way to wick away any residual moisture in the shoe material and leave them with a natural and non-offensive scent to block any hint of the brevibacteria “waste”.

Other Methods to Hide the Stink

If you just can’t stand the thought of wearing socks, or if you have started wearing socks but you can’t seem to undo the damage you’ve already done, there are a few things to can try.

  • Alternate between two pairs of shoes to allow each pair to completely dry
  • Throw your shoes in a bag and toss them in the freezer to kill off the brevibacteria
  • Use deodorant/antiperspirants or foot powders
  • Spray in inside of your shoe with a few spritzes of your favorite essential oil and and water (shake well and often when spritzing) to mask the smell — I like Thieves, Clove, Pine, or Cedar for shoes
  • Insert dryer sheets, air fresheners, or odor fighting insoles

Optimal Game Plan to End Smelly Boat Shoes

To sum it up, if you haven’t already made your shoes stink, then just go with the no-show socks and you’ll probably be just fine.

If you already have smelly shoes, make sure to switch to sock wearing but be sure to neutralize the odor first by freezing them or thoroughly drying them and using a spray (essential oils, or example) to knock out any remaining odors.

Having two pairs of shoes is always a great plan to allow ample drying time between each wear.

Of course, make sure to properly clean your feet with each shower and keep your toe nails in check. Any place where you give bacteria a chance to hang out, they will, and under a cozy toe nail overhang is prime real estate.

Take what you’ve learned and apply it and watch that growing wedge between you and your family disappear and soon you’ll have that boating outing that you’ve always dreamed of!

Robert Van Nuck

Robert lives in central Michigan and enjoys running, woodworking, fixing up small engines, and getting out on the water with family, of course! He is also the owner and author of

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