The Vibram Stank, The FiveFinger Funk

May 21, 2010

I’ve been wearing Vibram FiveFingers (ie, Barefoot Shoes) for about a year now. And I love them. Ever since I can remember, I’ve hated shoes and socks. HATED. One of my earliest memories is a feeling of frustration and rage welling up within me at having to put on some extremely uncomfortable shoes, around the age of 4. I hated feeling like my feet were bound up and restricted. Maybe it’s because my feet grew so fast (I’m a size 10 at 5’7, ugh) and my shoes were just always too small for me. Anyways I pretty much only wore Birkenstocks and flip flops growing up, year-round (you can get away with that in Southern California). I also have genetic issues with my feet, and in high school had to have bunion and arch surgery. Not cool. Anyways, I used to love Birkenstocks, but they got really stinky. And now I love Vibrams, and unfortunately, they get stinky too. Not cool. So I did some research, along with some personal experimentation, and I’m gonna tell you what has stopped the stank for me.

First off, the stank is from bacteria. It’s like B.O. The bacteria feeds on dirt and the dead skin cells that build up inside the bottom of the shoes, since you’re not wearing socks. If your Vibrams are stankin’, I’ll bet the inside of your shoe is brown or black. And I bet you can scrape off some of the dirt/gunk with your fingernail.

That stuff has gotta go, or the funk will remain firmly in your FiveFingers. One guy online suggested you just shower with your Vibrams on, scrub your toes around inside with a tiny amount of soap, and let the running water rinse them out. His recommendation is to do this about once/twice a week, and let them air dry.

This is a great tip. It’ll save the wear’n’tear that occurs when you throw VFF’s in the washing machine, and it’s probably more effective since your feet are doing some scrubbing. But you should really use a brush to scrub the inside of the soles and get all of that gunk out. So I’d recommend wearing them in the shower once a week, squirting some soap in there and squishing it around, and then taking them off and scrubbing the insides. This might sound time-consuming, but I wear my Vibrams every day (to work, to concerts, to bars, running, hiking, etc) and it’s worth it not to have a horrendous stank.

I also have a natural salt spray deodorant from Whole Foods that I’ll spray in there, and/or on my feet. I believe it’s just water and salt, and that the salt interrupts the bacterial growth. I don’t think this would be effective without washing the shoes out first, but hopefully it’ll slow down the return of the stank.

So that’s my advice.

Other suggestions on various Vibram discussion boards include:

• Distilled white vinegar. This was the most popular solution. Clean the shoes, soak them in vinegar anywhere from one hour to overnight (can use 25% vinegar to 75% water ratio, but the more vinegar the better), let them dry, and then wash them again. The second wash is to get rid of the vinegar smell. This kills the bacteria and keeps the smell from coming back quickly. People who tried this said after rinsing the vinegar smell was negligible unless you actually put your nose to them, and even so, it’s a much more tolerable smell than “The Vibram Funk.”

• “Trader Joe’s Cedarwood and Sage All-Purpose Cleaner” and “Earth Day Products’ Everyday Stain & Odor Remover” (the recommendation was to use one spray, let it sit, then rinse and repeat with the second spray.

• Antimicrobial Febreeze
• Menthol-based foot powder
• Gold bond powder
• Bleach (Colorsafe??)
• Borax
• Chlorine (throw them in a swimming pool overnight; smell is gone in the morning)

• Odoban
• Win Laundry Detergent
• Out Multi-cat Urine Odor Destroyer

Of course, your other option is socks. If you want to wear Injiji socks (which I’ve been using for about 4 years and wear any time I’m forced to wear “normal” shoes), you can do that too. I’ve heard from an inside source that Smartwool will soon be making toe socks also. But even wearing socks inside my VFF’s makes my toes feel squeezed, so I don’t like to wear them anymore.

Good luck with the funk, and happy bare-ishfooting!

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5 Responses to “The Vibram Stank, The FiveFinger Funk”

  1. Noel said

    Oh yes, they REEK after 3-4 days for me. I have never had foot odor before these shoes, even when wearing thick, insulated hunting-boots all day. They never smelled bad at all. These VFF’s smell horrible after 3-4 days. I try to swim in them at least once or twice a week in the evenings. My theory is the chlorine kills any bacteria. Luckily after hanging them up inside, they are dry by 8:00 the next morning to wear to work. No smell for ~3 days then.

    • lunasealife said

      Hi Noel!

      I’ve found that scrubbing the insides of them with some soap & a brush works best – that paired with the natural/salt deodorant. After I scrub them they don’t stink for a few weeks!

  2. Dan said

    I wear mine all the time, to work,… as well. Mine became funky, and washing, soaking, chlorine water, none of it worked. Then I soaked them in a mix of listerine and water. then washed in the washing machine. worked great. smelled a little like listerine for a couple days, but didn’t just cover up the funk like can happen with vinegar. I figured if it kill the germs that cause bad breath, why not the same for stinky feet?

  3. sublimus said

    Bad smelling feet: Reasons

    If we think closely, feet are one of the most ignored parts of our body and in fact, foot care is not among our preferences. Just sit back and think when was the last time you did something for making your feet better except for clipping your toe nails and buying new socks and expensive shoes. Even buying new expensive shoes has nothing to do with providing comfort to our feet but it is only to show the world that we are successful. With this kind of attitude there are thousand things that can go wrong and bad smell emanating from our feet is one of them.

    Feet odor is a very common problem. Most of you would be surprised to know that one in every three persons of the world has this problem. This makes around 2.7 billion people on this planet that have feet odor problem and yet we do not take it seriously. We do not think even about what can bad feet odor causes be, let alone trying to eliminate this odor. The media and internet is also responsible of this careless attitude towards feet because we see products and information about anti-aging and skin rejuvenating products, hair makeovers but we are not informed about causes of bad odor from our feet or any other foot care subjects.

    The smell emanating from our feet is caused by the combination of sweat and bacteria. As you know bacteria are germs and they are present everywhere. Our feet are also home to round about 250,000 sweat glands which produce quite a considerable amount of sweat every day. The bacteria combines with our sweat and produce a smell that we feel as bad odor coming from our feet that goes away when you wash your feet. But it is embarrassing and you cannot keep washing your feet all the times at all the places.

    Now the question might be that the presence of sweat and bacteria is all along our body so why do only feet smell when other body parts do not? The use of perfumes, body deodorants and other fragrant products on our upper body and the same not being done with our feet might be one answer to the question why our feet smell whereas other parts do not. The next reason is that our hands and face are quite well ventilated which does not allow the sweat to stagnate and get mixed with bacteria to start smelling. On the other hand, feet remain trapped in closed shoes and socks for better part of the day this lets the bacteria work with our sweat without ventilation to make our feet smell.

    Bacteria thriving in warm and moist places might be another reason for smelling feet. When we sit in air conditioned rooms, our upper body is not exactly in damp or warm place and therefore, bacteria does not thrive as well there but the story is different with our feet. Our feet are in shoes for long hours which allow bacteria to thrive and work on our sweat to cause bad smell. This is why our feet smell whereas other body parts do not.

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