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11 CHEAP Ways To Make Your Shoes Smell Better

11 CHEAP Ways To Make Your Shoes Smell Better

Climbing shoes have a habit of stinking, a lot. If your rock climbing shoes smell but you don’t want to spend a lot of money on expensive/fancy products to fix it, here are the top 11 ways to make your shoes smell better for cheap.

The cause of shoe odor is usually the mix between sweat and dead skin that helps bacteria grow in your shoes. The bacteria growth is what smells, so preventing bacteria growth or killing the bacteria is the best way to get rid of the smell.

Of course, the cheapest way to solve this problem is to ignore it and #EmbraceTheStank. Or according to my favorite Reddit recommendation, I found while doing research for this post, make some money from the stank (queue elbow nudge and winky face)

Wouldn’t it be great to go to a local sandwich shop and get a sandwich with Local Pedicheese? 

As for the rest of us who would rather get rid of the shoe stank, check out these recommendations that hundreds of climbers are already doing. 

I also included a bonus tip (#12) that is completely free and you may be surprised how many climbers use it so read through to the end of the post or scroll – I know how you do.

1. Tea Bags

Black Tea in tea bags has been a super popular way to get rid of the smell in your climbing shoes. The popularity probably because you may already have it in your house/van and if you don’t it is super inexpensive at your local grocery store. Compared to other types of tea, black tea has tannins, which helps kill bacteria that cause your shoes to smell. In addition, your shoes are left with a refreshing black tea smell. Some climbers make their own black tea bags with loose leaf tea and mix in spices or oil such as orange extract to adjust how the shoes smell.

Here is what you do:

  1. Put the tea bag in boiling water for 2-3 minutes 
  2. Remove the tea bag and let it cool 
  3. Place it in your shoe for about an hour for a natural shoe deodorizer

2. Newspaper

A newspaper in your shoes absorbs any moisture that harvests bacteria and causes the stank. In addition, any bacteria that would grow will more likely grow in the newspaper so the smell goes with the newspaper in the trash after use. In addition, newspaper can also help keep your climbing shoe toes form while they aren’t on your feet, making it a loved and functional solution for many climbers. 

A newspaper is practically free since you can usually find one in a nearby recycle bin or at your front door each morning (that is still a thing). In addition, you can show that stupid story how you feel about it by shoving it into your stinky climbing shoes.

Here is what you do:

  1. Identify the stupid story you want to put in your climbing shoes
  2. Crinkle the newspaper/stupid story into a ball
  3. Shove the crinkled newspaper into your shoe, all the way to the toe space so that the entire space of the inside of you shoe is filled with newspaper
  4. Remove the newspaper before your next climbing session
  5. Repeat the process with a new piece of newspaper

3. DIY Shoe Insert: Cornstarch, Baking Soda & Essential Oils 

DIY shoe inserts are a great option if you want to put in a little more effort into making your shoes smell great and without a lot of cost. You can also create a large batch of these shoe inserts and place the extras in a ziplock bag until you need them.

This type of insert is made with items that you probably already have in your kitchen, but if you don’t already have them they are super cheap at your local market; cornstarch, baking soda, essential oils and an old sock you won’t miss. I recommend using Melaleuca and Peppermint essential oils because they smell refreshing and is great at removing bacteria.

Melaleuca (also known as Tea Tree) is an antiseptic and kills fungus, which is a very common cause of climbing shoe odor. Peppermint is a refreshing smell and also a cleaning product so the combo of Melaleuca and peppermint creates a great smell and also makes your feet feel energized.

Here is what you do:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine equal parts of cornstarch and baking soda and mix them together
  2. Mix in a few drops of melaleuca and peppermint (amount is based on the potency of the oil. If you get a knock-off brand from Walmart, you will need to use 15-20 drops more than if you used doTERRA or Young Living essential oils that are super potent)
  3. Clean your old socks so they don’t smell (socks that are longer than your ankle work best)
  4. Add the mix to the socks and tie the top of the socks so it doesn’t leak
  5. Place the Inserts inside your shoes while you aren’t using them

4. Antiseptic Wipe After Each Session

Some climbers have pointed out that just like cleaning your underwear regularly instead of when they get stinky, you should also clean your climbing shoes on a regular basis. Using an Antiseptic wipe on the inside of your climbing shoe after each climbing session is a great way to remove any bacteria and keep your climbing shoes clean on a regular basis. Antiseptic wipes are super cheap and can usually be found in the medical section of your local grocery store or pharmacy. You may be able to get away with using an antibacterial wipes found in the cleaning section as well. If you use antibacterial wipes, please let us know if it works for you.

Here is what you do:

  1. After each climbing session, wipe down the inside of your climbing shoes with an antiseptic wipe
  2. That’s it.

5. Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets not only smell great, but they also can also make your climbing shoes smell great (at least better than before) by your next climbing session. Dryer sheets absorb moisture and odor, making it a very cheap and effective shoe deodorizer. Since there are so many “flavors” available in dryer sheets, I recommend a citrus smell because that will be invigorating compared to a relaxing lavender smell.

Here is what you do:

  1. Place a dryer sheet in the sole of your shoes while you aren’t using them (some climbers recommend using half a dryer sheet, so use your best judgment based on how bad your shoes smell)
  2. Sometimes you can use the dryer sheet for a couple of days, but they should be replaced when they lose their smell or become overly dry

6. Lysol

Lysol spray is super cheap and it works like a charm. Lysol kills bacteria that may make your climbing shoes stank and leaves a nice smell behind. The only concern with this method is that you may inhale or ingest Lysol if you don’t pay attention or get your face too close to whatever you are smelling. As long as you are paying attention, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Climbing gyms and rental centers spray their climbing shoes with Lysol (or Lysol-type spray) and it works for them so you know it will work for you too. This is what I do with my shoes after every climbing session, and my climbing shoes always smell great. 

Here is what you do:

  1. Spray the inside of your climbing shoes with Lysol after every climbing session 

7. Chalk Up Your Feet

Climbing chalk’s main purpose is removing moisture, which is necessary for the stank causing bacteria to grow. Chalk isn’t the cheapest product, but most climbers already have it so you don’t have to buy anything in addition for this stank fix. Though this is more of a preventative to keep shoe smells at bay, absorbing the moisture will also help with current shoe smelling too. Just like when using chalk on your hands, you need to clean all of the chalk from your feet after each climbing session so that your feet don’t get dried out.

Here is what you do:

  1. Prior to sticking your feet in your climbing shoes, apply a nice layer of climbing chalk to the bottom of your feet
  2. Clean the chalk off of your feet after your climbing session

8. Vinegar

Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and will kill any bacteria in your climbing shoes that may be causing odor. Sometimes, climbers leave the vinegar in their shoes too long and a residual vinegar smell may plague you for weeks so if you use this trick, don’t leave the vinegar in your climbing shoes for too long. 

Some climbers soak their entire shoe in a vinegar mix but some people have concentrated the vinegar on the inside of the shoe. I recommend soaking the entire shoe so that there isn’t anywhere the bacteria can survive and it is less messy.

Here is what you do:

  1. Mix 2 parts vinegar with 1 part hot water
  2. Soak your shoes in the vinegar mix for 1-2 hours
  3. Remove your shoes from the mix and rinse them with water
  4. Let your shoes air-dry

9. Orange Rinds

Orange rinds make for a great smelling shoe. Orange peels contain oils that are naturally antibacterial so it kills mold and bacteria that may be causing your climbing shoes to stink. In addition, while the orange rinds absorb bad odors it also infusing shoes with a fresh scent. 

Since orange rinds aren’t commonly sold on their own, this trick works best if you frequently eat oranges. Otherwise, try the baking soda and cornstarch DIY shoe insert recommended above with Orange essential oil and Peppermint.

Here is what you do:

  1. Place the orange peels on the soles of your shoes (you can cut the peel into little pieces to get more sole coverage
  2. Leave the shoes for 24 hours
  3. Remove peels before you start climbing
  4. Repeat each time you eat an orange

10. DIY Shoe Inserts: Old Socks & Aromatic Wood Shavings 

Shavings, also known as small wood chips that are aromatic or smell like red cedar work best for these DIY inserts. All you need is an old pair of socks, preferably thin socks that are longer than ankle length and wood shavings. Wood shavings absorb moisture and mildew, which causes the smell and can be a great shoe smell fix for you. 

You can usually get wood shavings from a local hardware store or you can also break apart wood chips from your garden or grab a bag for cheap on amazon.

Here is what you do:

  1. Clean your old socks
  2. Place a handful of the shavings into your old socks
  3. Tie the top of the socks so the shavings don’t come out
  4. Place the inserts in your climbing shoes when they aren’t being used.

11. Freezer Method

Putting your shoes in the freezer is a great way to kill the bacteria in your shoes that may be causing the smell/stank. According to this research article looking at the effects of freezing bacteria, some bacteria is able to survive in water, so it is important that your shoes are dry for this method. In addition, the process of freezing and thawing assists with killing bacteria so if it doesn’t work after one freezer session, repeat the process a couple of times to get rid of any left-over bacteria that survived the process. 

Some climbers complain about the freezer method causing their freezer to stink but there is an easy fix – place your shoes in a tightly sealed container or zip-lock bag so that the stink doesn’t “infect” the rest of your freezer.

Here is what you do:

  1. Place your climbing shoes in a freezer friendly zip-block bag or Tupperware
  2. Place your climbing shoes in the freezer
  3. The following day remove your shoes from the freezer/bag/container
  4. Repeat this process as needed – some climbers do this nightly.

Bonus Tip 12: Wear Socks While Climbing

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this article about whether or not you should wear socks while climbing (here is that article). I was surprised, at first, how many climbers wear socks while climbing because I thought that socks decreased your performance. It turns out that there is little evidence to suggest that wearing socks made a difference in climbers performance and you can get the added benefit of decreasing the climbing shoe stank (as long as you wear clean socks each time you climb). 

Everyone already owns socks, so wear what you have and it is completely free. If you want to buy socks specific for climbing, find a thin pair of socks. Disclaimer: Socks work best if your shoes are tight so that they don’t cause slipping.

Here is what you do:

  1. Wear clean socks while climbing
  2. Wash your socks after each climbing session…


If you don’t share the common belief to #EmbraceTheStank then you may be looking for a solution to your smelly climbing shoes. There are, of course, plenty of shoe inserts that you can buy, but they are usually over $10/each and usually have to be repurchased every month or two.

Of course, the best way to make your climbing shoes smell better is to prevent the stank. In case your shoes already stink, however, above are 12 ways to make your climbing shoes smell better on the cheap. 

Young sportswoman wearing sneakers before climbing training