May 07, 2023

Best Shoe Deodorizers of 2023

We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article. Why Trust Us?

The best tools to stop odors, kill bacteria, and renew your shoes.

I hate to break it to you, but your shoes probably stink. That's okay–it means that they’re well loved and well worn–but it also means that they could use a bit (or maybe even a lot) of shoe deodorizer.

When your feet sweat, the moisture trapped in your socks presses flush against the interior of your shoes, which creates the ideal environment for odor-causing bacteria to thrive. The situation is exacerbated if you’re running in rain or over dewy grass, soaking your shoes and turning them into petri dishes. Odor ensues. What's more, that rancid smell is actually more than just an odor.

"What some people don't know is that actual smell is bacteria, and it's living inside your socks, shoes, and on your feet," says Luke Lombardo, an RRCA-certified running coach and Ironman triathlete. "Not only is it important to get rid of that nasty smell that's on your running shoes, but it's also imperative that you kill the pesky bacteria living in your shoes."

If you don't address it, that bacteria could lead to an infection over time. To deodorize your shoes, first allow them to dry completely. Then, remove the insoles, stuff the shoes with some newspaper, and let them hang out overnight in a well-ventilated area. Next, start using odor-reducing and germ-killing sprays or inserts regularly.

If you’re overwhelmed with all the options out there, we’ve got you covered.

Shoe deodorizing products tend to come in one of five forms: sprays, pods, balls, pouches, or powders. Any and all of these can do the job pretty well, though pods, balls, and pouches tend to lean into merely absorbing the smell while sprays and powders are usually the best choice for killing the bacteria that causes odor in the first place.

For newer, less sweaty shoes, the former can get the job done just fine. But if you’ve got older shoes that soak up sweat on the reg and have a particularly bad case of funk, stronger sprays or powders are a better pick.

To eliminate the possibility of subjectivity and consistently replicate stinky running shoes (without risking exposure to harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus), we found our testing solution in the form of Bavarian Limburger—one of the most pungent cheese varieties out there.

However, that's not the only reason we chose it: While body odor has many sources, one key player is Brevibacterium linens, a rod-shaped organism found on human skin that makes feet stink. In a kind of gross—yet cool—coincidence, this same bacteria works to ferment Limburger, which helps explain why it really does smell quite a bit like a sweaty foot.

We tested a total of 23 odor eliminators—pods, balls, pouches, powders, and sprays. To simulate a hot and sweaty shoe post-run, we warmed Limburger cheese in a microwave and let it sit out to work up a potent stink.

Next, we placed individual 60-gram wedges inside airtight Ziploc bags with one of the odor-eliminating contenders. And then we waited. After about four hours, and again after 24 hours, we opened the bags and took a whiff, comparing them to the smell of an untreated piece of bagged Limburger as our control. The products below are the 11 that best cut the cheese—stink, that is.

Battling stinky clothes, too? Here's everything you need to strip your laundry and get it smelling clean.

Tester Smell Score: 5 out of 5

This top-performing spray not only works fast—knocking out mold and bacteria like MRSA in just ten seconds—but it also smells really good. Our testers noted that it completely eliminated the odor of the cheese without adding the scent of chemicals. "Subtle, almost fruity smell," one tester said. "I’d make a candle out of this."

Tester Smell Score: 3.5 out of 5

Hex's versatile spray is a do-it-all "Febreze for runners"—we’ve used it on pretty much everything we’ve managed to get sweaty. (That includes not only our socks, shoes, tech tees, and running shorts, but also our car seats, foam rollers, and couch cushions.)

Since activewear fabrics typically use super tightly-woven threads, Hex designed its formula specifically to penetrate those stubborn fibers that really trap stink. Based on our testing, we found it starts working quickly and also helps keep new odors away for longer periods.

Tester Smell Score: 5 out of 5

These amazing little bean bags received top marks from every one of our testers. Since the beads are activated by heat, we suggest tossing them in your shoes while they’re still toasty from a run for the best results.

Even at room temperature, Gear Halo's pouches wicked moisture, eliminated nearly all stink, and smelled clean and fresh. "This actually smells really nice!" one tester said. "It's a pleasant, lightly floral scent with no trace of the cheese."

Tester Smell Score: 4.5 out of 5

If you’re put off by harsh chemicals, this formula from Rocket Pure draws on a half-dozen natural agents, like alcohol derived from organic cane sugar, citrus extracts, and cedarwood oil, to inhibit bacterial growth (and moisturize your feet). Plus, all three scents are downright awesome.

"I’m smelling something mild, yet clean and fresh," one tester said of the peppermint and eucalyptus scent. "It's hard to place, but I can hardly smell the cheese behind it."

Tester Smell Score: 3.5 out of 5

There's no denying that traditional powders can be messy. But Foot Sense uses an arrowroot-based, talc-free formula that's safe, effective, and smells great—so we didn't mind if some spilled outside of our shoes. (Since it's made without toxic chemicals, you can shake it on your feet outdoors or over the bathtub without worry to minimize clean-up time.)

It's not as powerful as some of the potent sprays we’ve tested, so you’ll likely need to reapply more frequently, but we loved this powder's supreme ability to eliminate excess moisture, as well as its lemony-lavender aroma.

Tester Smell Score: 3.5 out of 5

Using essential oils instead of chemicals, this spray can cut down even the strongest odors wafting from a post-workout shoe or gym bag. Plus, if there are other places you want to de-stink, it can freshen up your house, car, bathroom, or wherever you want a pleasant, natural smell.

You’ll just have to use it often: Although a spritz of Lumi went a long way initially, some smells started to creep back after 24 hours.

Tester Smell Score: 3.5 out of 5

FunkAway does a great job of not just covering up smells but eliminating them with its OM Complex formula, which traps odor molecules and breaks them down.

While this spray made quick work of the cheese smell in testing, it had an almost overpowering aroma. "Very potent," said one tester. "A little flowery, but mostly I smell strong cleaning supplies."

Tester Smell Score: 4 out of 5

While our testers were split on whether they actually liked the smell of Sweat X, they agreed that it did a stellar job of eliminating the scent of the Limburger. (Some thought it was reminiscent of deodorant or shampoo but another got strong whiffs of plastic.)

That said, the smell wasn't nearly as overwhelming as some of the other sprays. Plus, Sweat X also helps remove blood, dirt, and grass stains.

Tester Smell Score: 4 out of 5

These long-lasting deodorizer balls from Lock Laces keep your shoes, bags, or locker fresh with minimal effort from you. Simply twist open the vents and drop one or two in. (Just remember to reseal these balls when you’re done—they’ll keep working for longer if you do.)

One tester found the Drops extremely effective, but others thought the super strong "laundry detergent" scent did more to mask odors than truly eliminate them.

Tester Smell Score: 3.5 out of 5

"Wow, this one surprised me," said a tester. "It didn't smell like any extra scent was added to cover the smell of the cheese. It just got rid of the bad odors."

Peel off the adhesive backing on these space-age patches and stick them in your shoes, where they’ll zap smells with an activated carbon cloth. (That's the same tech NASA uses aboard the space station to clean the air.)

A soft top liner sucks up moisture, and a porous, carbon-based layer on the bottom works to absorb odor while you run.

Tester Smell Score: 4 out of 5

You can confidently keep "odor reducer" on baking soda's laundry list of uses—it's the main ingredient behind these powerful pods from A&H.

In testing, we especially liked that their design felt more durable than some of the flimsier plastic balls. Overall, the scent was mild with hints of clean laundry, and we didn't notice any traces of harsh chemical smells. The only negative is that one pod will last 60 days tops.

Nick Hilden is a writer and fitness enthusiast who has written gear reviews and about health, fitness, and lifestyle in general for the likes of Popular Science, Men's Health, Thrillist, the Daily Beast, the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, Afar, Salon, Vice, Healthline, and many others; a dedicated runner, gym rat, and all-around health nut, he is constantly looking for new tools and methods of improving his wellness regimen.

Before joining Runner's World, Gabrielle Hondorp spent 6 years in running retail (she has tested top gear from shoes, to watches, to rain jackets which has expanded her expertise—and her closets); she specializes in health and wellness, and is an expert on running gear from head-to-toe. Gabi began her journalism career as a Digital Editorial Fellow for Runner's World and Bicycling Magazine, and has since advanced to a Runner's World Editor specializing in commerce. She has a double degree in English and Media and Communication from Muhlenberg College where she also ran cross country and track.

How to Get a Faster GPS Signal on Your Smartwatch

The 10 Best Treadmills for 2023

The Best Running Shoes of 2023

The Benefit of a Good Sports Bra for Performance

The Best Hydration Packs for Runners

The Best and Most Comfortable Running Socks

Not Sure What to Wear on a Run? This Tool Can Help

Shop Amazon's Secret Running Gear Sale

Why You Should Wear Trail-Specific Running Apparel

ForeverRun Nitro: Puma's Most Supportive Shoe

The 12 Best Running Shorts for Women

The Best Running Shirts

Battling stinky clothes, too? Here's everything you need to strip your laundry and get it smelling clean.