No one's work boots smell like fresh flowers after a long day, but steel-toe boots and other kinds of safety boots can be especially prone to lingering odors because they're heavy and because metal conducts heat, both of which may make your feet extra sweaty, creating a moist environment inside your boots where bacteria can flourish. You may want to deeply clean the inside of boots every so often, but simply deodorizing them after every wear is the best way to keep steel-toe work boots smelling (relatively) fresh.
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How to Clean the Inside of Boots
Cleaning the inside of boots is a slightly risky proposition. A lot of cleaning products will damage leather boots or stretch them out. If your boots are just slightly smelly, you may want to skip cleaning altogether and just skip right to deodorizing. However, if your work boots are really grimy inside, a thorough cleaning may be necessary.
You can use the same process to clean the inside of boots with steel toes as you would use to clean the inside of boots without them. The presence of the protective material in the boot's toe shouldn't affect how you clean the leather. Start by removing the laces to open the boots as much as possible. Take out removable insoles and scrub them by hand with soap and water.
Next, mix a little bit of mild, low-pH shampoo in a bowl with water and use a soft brush to scrub the soapy water throughout the inside of each boot. A mild cleanser that's designed for leather shoes may also be used to clean inside work boots. Use clean, damp cloths to absorb as much of the shampoo or cleanser residue as possible. This is generally preferable to submerging your work boots in water to rinse away the suds. Let the boots air dry overnight.
Deodorizing Steel-Toe Boots
Baking soda is the go-to solution for deodorizing smelly shoes because it absorbs moisture and odors, and it shouldn't harm the material of your boots. Simply sprinkle some baking soda inside the boots at night and shake it out in the morning. Even better, fill a pair of old tube socks or stockings with baking soda and stick one of these reusable deodorizers in each boot overnight. Alternatively, buy a few deodorizer bags, which look like bean bags but are generally filled with activated charcoal to wick moisture and absorb odors. Stick one or more bags in each boot as soon as you take them off.
Deodorizing sprays are another option. A store-bought deodorizing spray may be safe to use on your steel-toe work boots, or you can make a DIY deodorizing spray with rubbing alcohol or vinegar, water and essential oils. Use any deodorizing spray sparingly; you don't want to spray enough that the interior of the boot is saturated with liquid.
Finally, control the odor inside your boots by investing in cedar shoe trees. They're designed to help boots keep their shape, but even more importantly, the cedar works to absorb and neutralize odors. Keep adjustable cedar shoe trees in your boots when you're not wearing them.
Preventing Future Odors
There's no magic trick for preventing odors in your steel-toe boots. The more you wear them, the more your feet are going to sweat and the more they're going to smell. Changing your socks throughout the day may help, though. Make sure to always choose thin, noncotton work socks and never wear your boots barefoot.
Giving your boots time to air out between wearings may also help control odor buildup. If you can afford a second pair of steel-toe boots, try alternating them so each pair gets at least a full day to dry out.