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??)
• Chlorine (throw them in a swimming pool overnight; smell is gone in the morning)
• 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!