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How to Save Your Shoes from Mud, Sand, and the Sweat of Summer

Ariella Elovic

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Summer means a lot of things to people — cookouts and beach vacations and ice cream sandwiches, what's not to love? But summer also means heat and sudden downpours and outdoor weddings, all of which can wreak havoc on your shoes and lead to these familiar summertime footwear woes.

What to do if your shoes stink to high heaven

Let's start with the big one: your stinking feets. I know! It's embarrassing to talk about, but it's even more embarrassing to remove your favorite little canvas flats and smoke the room out with your foot odor. If it makes you feel better, this is a super common problem. I really promise that you're not alone in your stench.

Foot odor is caused, in part, by dead skin build-up—adopting a good foot-care routine will go a long way in keeping odors from building up in your summer shoes. Have you ever looked inside a pair of sandals or flats that you wear without socks and seen dark-colored schmutz lurking around in there? That's probably dead skin. Ewww I know, I'm sorry! But once you know what it is, you can deal with it, and that's why I'm under a professional obligation to gross you out.

In terms of keeping your feet in tip-top shape, scrub them well using a washcloth and good deodorizing soap. This will slough off dry or dead skin before it can take up residence in your shoes. You should also dry your feet very well after bathing, and consider the use of a foot powder like Gold Bond or a foot antiperspirant like Odaban.

Now that we've got your feet smelling great, or at least a little greater than before, we can turn our attention to your shoes. If you noticed that build-up that I mentioned, you should give the footbeds a quick scrub to remove that stuff—one good way to do so is to use a pre-moistened cleaning wipe. Any kind will do ya! The idea is that products like baby or face wipes are low-moisture, and won't result in sodden shoes. You could also use an old toothbrush or nail brush dampened, with a small amount of mild soap applied, to slough away the dirt and skin that's collected in the shoes.

To further eliminate odors (and keep them at bay), get yourself a good odor-neutralizing shoe spray, like this one from Dr. Scholl's, or a set of sneaker balls. Oh right, and you have to remember to use it! That's the most important part.

What to do if your summer shoes are unbearably grimy

Now that we've gotten the insides of your shoes all spiffed up, it's time to turn our attention to their exterior.

If your fabric shoes have gotten a little dingy or have a few dirt marks, try dampening a sponge or rag and applying a small amount of a mild detergent like dish soap, liquid laundry detergent or baby shampoo, then give the exterior of the shoe a good going over. For more stubborn stains, use a laundry pre-treatment spray and scrub at the affected area with your sponge, or put them in the washing machine (cold wash, gentle cycle, air dry).

For leather shoes, use a tiny amount of saddle soap to remove dirt and grime.

What to do when you’ve gotten stuck in a rainstorm

This is a weird thing to say, but one of my favorite things about summertime are the crazy dramatic rainstorms — I love a weather event! But I love it much, much less when I get stuck in said weather event and my shoes get totally soaked.

We talked about what to do with a pair of sodden shoes when we talked about winter shoe care (remember winter?! Yeah, no, me neither.) so this will just be a quick refresher: Grab a few sheets of newspaper, ball them up and stick them inside those shoes. The paper will absorb moisture, as well as smells. Any lingering stench can be treated with one of those odor-neutralizing sprays.

What to do when your heels sink into a wet lawn

Summer is wedding season, which also means that it's the season for tottering around on grass in high heels. Most of us can probably relate to the experience of taking off a favorite pair of heels only to find that your stems are covered in mud and lawn clippings. If this happens to you, let the mud dry rather than trying to treat it while it's wet—dirt will brush away much more easily than mud. A dry rag is a great tool for brushing dirt and dried grass away, and any residual staining can be treated by using the techniques for treating grime on shoes.