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Stinky FiveFingers? Why? And How to Prevent It

by Agent Orange Blossom » on Jul 26, 2011 18

This is a guest post from a new friend of ours who guys by the ominious name of Agent Orange Blossom (AOB).  AOB has a very scientific and research heavy background, which makes his research into how to eliminate bad smells from VFFs so important and valuable. Before we dive right into his research and findings, here is a brief background on AOB.

Since early 2005 I have exclusively worn Vibram FiveFingers footwear from the time I wake-up to the time I go to bed.

To this date I have walked, hiked and run an average of 15 miles per day for the past 2,200 days which amounts to 33,000 + miles in my Vibram FiveFingers.

Over the years I have carefully developed great tricks and ways to get the most enjoyment from my investment in my footwear.

By trade, I am a senior partner and Chief R&D Engineer in a Science Think Tank where we develop green and brown technologies, advance communications devices, satellite components and nano-technology applications.

During the summer months I like to take a crack at music as a recording engineer in my old fashion all analog recording studio.  It’s fair to say that I am surrounded with technology from the past, present and future as I get to design pieces of hardware that do not exist yet. I think of my work environment a a very large sandbox where I go play and have fun every day !

FiveFinger Funk

I hear and see horror stories about the unbearable funk that follow some users like a nuclear mushroom over their heads and their feet…. God forbid when they take them off …. Run for your life !

I have to admit that, since my first pair back in 2005, I have never encountered such problem ever. I have taken some time to specially investigate the funk phenomenon at my lab using some of my friends’ VFF’s that have the issue haunting them. You sure do not want to wait till your partner ask you to spend the night on the back porch!

Here is the Scoop on the Funk

Foot odor come from sweat, dead skin and the Corynebacteria and Micrococci bacteria. A human foot, with it’s 250,000 sweat glands, during the course of a day can sweat up to 1/2 pint of liquids composed of the following ingredients: Fatty Acids, Urea, Sebum and many other organic compounds. Just add a little heat from your body and a couple days of wear compounded by accumulating materials and you’ve just made yourself the ultimate stink bomb. You just uncovered the bio-chemist in you!

When you wear regular shoes or sneakers with socks you don’t wear those same socks for an entire week… Socks absorb sweat & dead skin. When you wear VFF’s barefoot your footwear absorbs the sweat & dead skin. That needs to be washed or it will stink, sometimes very very badly, depending on the individual’s chemistry.

I have these simple rules:

  • I wash my feet before I get in my VFF’s
  • I jump in the shower and clean-rinse my VFF’s (with a little sud from my body-wash) at the end of the day, then let them air dry wherever there is air circulation (be creative here, a window seal in summer no direct sun, near an air vent in winter no direct heat)
  • Every 2-3 days, depending on my daily activities, my VFF’s will get a real wash in the machine and will air dry as usual
  • Always use lukewarm or cold water with regular laundry detergent when using a washing machine
  • Always dry my VFFs away from the sun or heat sources and in a well ventilated area

Never let you VFF smell get out of control. The more you wait, the more difficult it will be to get your VFF’s clean again.

Investigating Cleaning Methods

I have been investigating some cleaning methods for out of control funk.  Each product or recipe is graded as follow: from 1 to 10, as 1 is the least efficient and 10 the most efficient; A $ represents the cheapest methods and $$$$$ the most expensive.

Among other I investigated the following products:

  • Lysol
  • UV Light bacteria killer
  • Mouthwash
  • Peroxide (H2O2)
  • Vinegar / Water mix
  • OxyClean
  • Denture tablets
  • Baking Soda pockets
  • Fabric Softener sheet
  • Sportzyme by Norwex
  • SteriShoe™ shoe sanitizer

It wasn’t easy but it was fun; it took some time and I got some very interesting results on a range of cleaning methods for out of control funk on FiveFingers.

The research work and all products & footwear used in the process were funded by myself, for the sheer benefit of my own curiosity.

Each product or recipe was graded as follow:

  • From 1 to 10 as 1 is the least efficient and 10 the most efficient
  • A $ represents the cheapest methods and $$$$$ the most expensive. Enjoy and give them a try.

PRODUCT  –  Effectiveness  –  Cost per month

  • Lysol  –  6  –  $
  • UV Light bacteria killer  –  7  –  $$$$$
  • Mouthwash  –  4  –   $
  • Peroxide (H2O2)  –  7  –  $
  • Vinegar / Water mix  –  7  –  $
  • OxyClean  –  8  –  $$
  • Denture tablets  –  8  –  $$$
  • Baking Soda pockets  –  9  –  $$
  • Fabric Softener sheet  –  8  –  $
  • Sportzyme by Norwex  –  7  –  $$$
  • SteriShoe™ shoe sanitizer  –  7  –  $$$$$

The research was based on the following criteria:

  • 3 consecutive days of wear @ 12 hrs per day
  • same activities on each test pair
  • We used 6 pairs of KSO All black, Size 44
  • 1 shoe used for each test cleaning method
  • 1 shoe left out since the experiment requires 11 units

The VFF’s were carefully cleaned and processed in the same manner; the cleaning process was followed by a 12 hour drying period in a controlled environment consisting of a box 36 x 36 x 24 with the item placed on a stainless steel mesh shelf. Two fans developing 15 cfm were used with a 25 watt incandescent light bulb. The temperature inside the container was at 77.5 Deg. F. Relative humidity was contained and kept constant at 30%.

A bacteria culture was conducted in an inert medium after the drying cycle was completed. Colonies count were conducted after 24 hrs of incubation.
My thanks to 2 interns with keen olfactory senses for providing the human sniff of approval.

Analysis and results

I must say that OxyClean and the baking soda pockets were the most efficient of all the tryouts. OxyClean was used in the sink at 30% dilution with a soak in warm water for 5 minutes followed by a quick hand scrub then a rinse with clean water followed by an air dry.

OxyClean will not affect the colors of your footwear. It’s formula Na2CO3•H2O2 is composed of sodium carbonate and peroxide. It is Eco-friendly, nitrogen and phosphorus free. The baking soda pockets were used as maintenance between washes and do not replace the cleaning process.

The other systems that worked very well were a clean water rinse then dry with an Arm & Hammer softener sheet on the foot-bed (or the Baking Soda Pocket) and a regular dry period. (Other brands of softener sheets gave very poor results as in general it left a very unpleasant mixture of foot funk / flowers scented potpourri)

The denture tablets are interesting….. Soak for 4 Hrs, wash in the machine, air dry…. The result is minty fresh VFF’s provided that you have 6 to 8 hrs to fiddle with a cleaning process. For my own taste I’d rather clean in 10 minutes and enjoy a nice trail trek for the next 5 to 6 hrs. (There was still a very mild lingering of foot funk mixed with mint, post clean-up)

The UV lights systems (SteriShoe and a couple of others) are interesting, costing more than $150.00 for the system. Yes, it will kill the bacteria causing the stench but it will leave all the dead bodies on the insoles. You will still have to wash clean the accumulated dead gunk once every other week or you will be in a very slippery mess.

Mouthwash, vinegar and peroxide do work well but will not kill everything and there will still be a pesky smell remaining.

Sportzyme worked OK; it’s an expensive product that I believe to be overpriced for its performance.

Lysol was very interesting, as it did remove the smell but the bacterias were mostly still active after treatment was applied. I am told that there was a slippery feeling in the VFF’s afterward.

I am sure that, as the time goes by, there will be new tricks used to clean your favorite footwear.

Then again, I must emphasize the following:

Never let you VFFs go out of control. The more you wait, the more difficult it will be to get your VFF’s clean again.

It all comes down to Basic hygiene; Prevention and a good maintenance regimen will give you years of fun times with your FiveFingers footwear. I am not a clean freak but since I was born with only 1 pair of feet, and I hear that they are not replaceable, I’d rather take good care of them and my footwear too.

Providing that you can stand wearing socks, Injinji is a premier maker of sport toe socks & liners that works perfect with FiveFingers footwear. This solution works beautifully but if you choose not to wear socks then clean, clean, clean…. repeat … clean, clean, clean…!

What are your thoughts on the various FiveFinger cleaning methods and this research? Let us know in the comments!


Info on Culture Media for the Growth of Bacteria

©2000 Kenneth Todar, University of Wisconins-Madison

Lysol, OxyClean, Sportzyme, SteriShoe, Arm&Hammer are commercial branded products owned by their own Copyrights on which I have no claim.

More details can be found on the Baking Soda pockets on Agent Orange Blossom’s blog at

Submitted Comments

  1. Jamie says:

    I love this article! I went to camp a few weeks ago and didn’t bring anything special to wash my VFFS with, plus we were on a water limit so the only “washing” they got for 8 days was a dunk in the lake.
    I could not even keep them inside the cabin, they smelled so bad. I washed them a few days after I got home with baking soda but the stench was still enough to make me gag. My mother banned me from wearing them! So this past week I’ve been frantically trying every method I can think of to save these things. They are a whole lot better now! Used baking soda and foot powder last night and that seems to have worked the best.

  2. I tried the water an vinegar mix the other day and it worked really well! Awesome that you used at-home products as well as brands

  3. Loren H says:

    I have a question about the tea bags you use for the baking soda packets in your VFFs.
    How do you seal each packet? I have run into one type that is sealed through moisture and another through heat. I’m not sure however if either of these two would stay sealed for extended use. What is your meathod?

  4. Lexica says:

    Based on my own experience and that of my husband, I think the #1 best odor-preventer is missing from the list: WEAR SOCKS. My husband had a pair of KSOs for about a year before I got my Treks, and WOW did his feet stink. (“Omigod, what DIED in your shoes?” level stink.) When I got mine VFFs, though, I didn’t want to go sockless, so we went to REI and stocked up on Injinjis for both of us.

    Since then, no more odor. Zip. Nada. I tend not to be very smelly, so that’s not terribly impressive. But my husband? The fellow whose former nickname was Mr. Big Stinky Guy? On him, it’s extremely impressive.

    Plus, to his surprise and mine, wearing the Injinjis seems to be clearing up his (chronic for 20+ years) athlete’s foot, probably because they help keep the toes separated and drier.

    I love my VFFs and my Injinjis. :-)

  5. Loren says:

    I also have a pair of Injinjis….but I’m not a huge fan of wearing them because it really dulls down the ground feel that is already blocked by the VFF soles. I guess I’ll just have to stick to washing them once or twice a week and the baking soda packets.

  6. Sgeogc says:

    My experience wearing the VFF’s for a couple of years has been very good. I of the things, the odor was starting to get really bad. Washing them helped for awhile. When I was in the dorm my roommate also wore the VFF’s. One thing we found out later that they smelled bad when we removed them near days end. With two pairs of them in our small room caused the room to smell horrible. A few months later my roommate started to wear the Injinji socks with a new pair of VFF’s which were sized up to except the socks. I continued to wear mine without the socks and washing them for a few weeks. I was also starting out giving lectures in class and my feet tended to sweat more then normal. Not wearing socks and athletes foot starting made it ripe for odor issues. I gave the socks a try after I noticed the athlete’s foot starting. The odor level is now gone and the feeling of sweat is not noticeable after the lectures.

  7. Ken Lee says:

    This is how I clean my five fingers, it’s my little secret and it does not smell afterwards.

    After each wear of five fingers, I always blow at it with a fan. It will help dry up the sweat much more quickly and will slow down the bacteria build up. Once it start to stink or have odor. Usually 1-2 months of wear. I do the following.

    1. I put dish washing soap on the bottom to clean off the oil, dirt, etc.

    2. I put hot water into 5 finger then use Martha Stewart Clean Detergent to clean the inside. I like to keep things as organic as possible.

    3. I boil hot water and pour it into my five finger and let it sit until all the water in the shoe drain. The hot water will kill any bacteria.

    4. I let it sit to air dry at an angle.

    This had help me keep my smelling like new again and does not damage my shoe.

  8. Agent Orange Blossom says:

    Experience and laboratory tests show that it is better to keep away from hot water as it will de-laminate the glue; warm water is OK.

    The best way to keep your VFF’s clean is to jump in the shower with them and when you are done, take them off and give them a quick rinse with clean water to remove the suds then let them dry in a cool dry and ventilated area. It’s very simple, environmentally friendly and cost nothing.

  9. Ken Lee says:

    How many times did the lab test result say before it damages the shoe?

    I’ve used boiling water many times to kill the bacteria and it still works perfectly. In fact, I was doing it while writing my comment earlier. I’ve owned this shoe for over a year now.

  10. We had instances where a shoe delaminated after the first wash and exposure to hot water. We also had instances with VFF’s sole delamination left in h car during a hot summer day.

    Glues generally do not fare well with heat. VFF’s are glued together; FiveFingers are not vulcanized like rubber boots.

    Using hot water to wash your VFF’s is like tempting the devil…

    FiveFingers have been my only footwear since Jan 2005

    You can also find more information on my blog.

  11. Cal says:

    I’ve been in your situation. The same thing has happened to my VFF’s. Others that were wearing theirs VFF’s were also having the same odor problem. We did a lot of hiking and running in them at the time. Sweating in them is the main reason for the odor. If you think about it, sweat is just laying right in the insole; up against the rubber itself. Still I really like my VFF’s.

  12. Does anyone have experience using the oxyclean method on the leather kso trek? I have the brown leather tremendous, which have been contaminated with the funk from my bikilas. This happened over the course of a month, during which I wore my funky bikilas in the gym, and then changed into my treks without thoroughly washing my feet. I am concerned about the oxyclean damaging the leather.

  13. Ok, tried an enzyme cleaner…hasn’t made much difference, though I’ve only done one treatment. Also, discovered a great spray from 2Toms. It has not helped my leather ksos much, though it has kept them in check and avoided the funk progressing. However, it has worked great on my bikilas and classics! Great product… Anyone tried oxyclean on leather ksos yet???

  14. AssHat900 says:

    Baking soda and vinegar.

  15. cauri says:

    I have tried just about every solution over the past 5 years. After having given up and even considering giving up my vibrams I found the simplest, easiest solution: every morning I put 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda in each shoe and leave it there all day. My feet do not smell, my fivefingers do not smell. It’s cheap, easy and effective.

  16. Carlos says:

    My vibram, have never stunk. I never use the same, everyday I use a different pair and never had a good problem.

  17. Cal says:

    For years I have worn VFF”s sockless and still do in some pairs. Yes. I have found Injinjis to work very well with VFF”s. They keep the sweat at bay and any dead skin out of the shoe. This is what causes the odor buildup.

  18. Amber says:

    Thank you! I have a pair I’ve loved for years that I was just about to throw away, but a good scrub and soak and scrub with the OxyClean and they are essentially odor free! I’m so excited!

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