It’s happened to all of us. You get off a long flight, take your shoes off, and are hit with that unmistakable stench – smelly feet. Flying for extended periods of time can really do a number on our feet, making them sweaty, smelly, and downright uncomfortable. But why does this happen, and what can we do about it? Here’s a look at the causes of smelly feet after flying and some tips to keep your feet fresh on your next long haul.
What Causes Smelly Feet on Flights?
There are a few key reasons our feet get extra smelly on flights:
- Tight, closed shoe environment. On the ground, our feet get plenty of air circulation in open shoes like sandals or breathable sneakers. But on the plane, we wear closed shoes or boots for hours, trapping in sweat and odor.
- Inactivity. On flights, we tend to sit still for long periods of time due to limited space. All of this inactivity limits blood circulation to the feet, meaning less fresh blood and oxygen reaches the feet to cleanse them of bacteria and odors.
- Dehydration. The dry air in the cabin dehydrates skin all over, including the feet. Dehydrated skin creates a better environment for bacteria to grow, leading to increased foot odor.
- Pressure changes. Cabin pressure changes during takeoff and landing constrict blood vessels in the feet, reducing blood flow and oxygen even more. This allows bacteria and odors to accumulate.
- Tight socks and shoes. Constricting socks and shoes put even more pressure on feet and reduce ventilation.
- Bare feet on dirty floors. Airport floors harbor plenty of bacteria, which can be transferred to bare feet in bathrooms, security lines, etc. These bacteria munch on sweat and oils on feet, producing smelly compounds.
So in summary, the unique environment of air travel sets up the perfect storm for smelly feet by restricting air flow, circulation, hydration, and cleanliness.
Quick Fixes for Smelly Feet Mid-Flight
Once that foot funk hits in the air, there are a few quick things you can do for some relief:
- Take off your shoes. This allows your feet to air out and prevents odors from being concentrated inside shoes. If possible, remove your socks too.
- Use antibacterial wipes. Giving your feet a good wipe down can remove odor-causing bacteria. Make sure to get between the toes.
- Apply foot powder. The baking soda and zinc oxide in foot powders help absorb moisture and neutralize odors. Sprinkle it in shoes and socks too.
- Bring an extra pair of socks. Changing socks provides a fresh start for your feet.
- Use air vents strategically. Point air vents at your feet to improve air circulation and dry out sweat.
- Drink water. Staying hydrated improves circulation and prevents overly dry, bacteria-prone skin. Avoid alcohol, which dehydrates you further.
- Get up and stretch. Walking laps in the aisles improves blood flow to the feet.
While these provide temporary relief, truly fresh feet will require more care before and after long flights.
Pre-Flight Tips for Fresh Feet
Here are some tips for preventing and minimizing foot odor before your next flight:
- Wash feet daily. Make sure to scrub between toes and use an antibacterial soap. This removes bacteria accumulating on the skin.
- Exfoliate feet. Using a foot scrubber or pumice stone to slough off dead skin prevents odor-causing bacteria from getting trapped in cracks and calluses.
- Dry feet fully. Moisture left between toes encourages bacteria overgrowth.
- Apply foot powder. Foot powder helps absorb sweat and makes feet less hospitable for microbes.
- Wear moisture wicking socks. Choose socks made with moisture wicking fibers to keep feet drier. Change socks halfway through long flights.
- Choose breathable shoes. Shoes made of mesh or leather allow air flow and keep feet cooler and drier.
- Disinfect shoes. Use antibacterial wipes or sprays to kill microbes inside shoes that contribute to foot odor. Let shoes air out between wears.
- Get pedicures. Having calluses and toenails professionally groomed prevents bacteria-harboring dead skin and debris from accumulating.
- Consider prescription antiperspirants. Products like Carpe and Dr. Scholl’s Sweat-Guard can reduce foot sweating for up to a week.
With some pre-planning, you can make feet less smelly-prone before ever boarding.
Post-Flight Care for Fresh Feet
Once you land, be sure to give your feet some TLC to get them fully fresh again:
- Wash and exfoliate feet. Scrub away odor-causing bacteria that accumulated during the flight. Disinfecting foot washes can help kill microbes.
- Apply foot powder. Powder helps dry out any lingering moisture while making feet inhospitable for bacteria regrowth.
- Change socks and shoes. Put on a clean, dry pair to eliminate any odors lingering in socks and shoes. Let shoes fully air out before wearing again.
- Use antibiotic foot spray. Sprays with antibiotics can kill bacteria picked up on airport floors that contribute to foot odor.
- Soak feet. A warm foot soak with antibacterial essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, or peppermint can cleanse and revive tired feet after travel.
- Get a pedicure. Have calluses removed and feet fully groomed to start with the cleanest slate. Some salons offer foot detox treatments too.
- Give feet some air. Wear open shoes like flip flops or sandals to give feet air circulation after being cooped up in closed shoes during travel.
- Apply foot cream. A moisturizing foot cream prevents the dry, cracked skin that breeds odor-causing bacteria. One with tea tree oil offers antimicrobial protection.
- Drink lots of water. Rehydrating flushes bacteria from the body while replenishing dry skin all over.
A proper foot recovery regimen removes any lingering foot funkiness from the flight, leaving feet fresh, clean and ready for your next adventure. With the right combination of pre-flight preparation, quick fixes inflight, and post-flight foot TLC, smelly feet don’t have to be an inevitable side effect of air travel.