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Killing the Stink: An Assemblage of 23 Methods to Tame Stench of Your Vibrams

Posted by on Jan 26, 2011 | 10 Comments

You’ve experienced the situation.  You’re running along your favorite trail.  You see an attractive member of the opposite sex sitting on a bench leafing through a magazine.  The sunlight is striking her just right, giving her a radiance that can only be described as angelic.

As she sips her caramel mochacinno, you approach with supreme confidence, knowing your blithe sense of humor will win her over.  You approach the bench.  In a show of peacock-like exhibiting, you place one foot on the bench and perform some sort of stereotypical runner stretch.  She glances over with an obvious look of interest.  You are about to deliver your A+ pickup line “Baby, I am damn thirsty and you smell like Gatorade.”

Just as you are about to open your mouth, you catch a whiff of a smell.  The first reaction is sweetness.  For a fraction of a second, you think it could be coming from the Heavenly being sitting on the bench.  That illusion is immediately crushed when your smell receptors accurately gauge the odor.  You suddenly begin violent dry-heaving at what can only be described as the smell of a rotting corpse littered with tiger feces.  Oh, add in a healthy dose of landfill and wet dog.

In disgust, your dream girl jumps back, gathers her belongings, and hurriedly runs to the safety of a nearby crowd.  You are left on the ground convulsing in a pool of ass-stink, once again foiled by the funk of your Vibrams.

If you own a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, you know the stink.  Your head was nodding while reading the story above. You know the pain of attempting to eliminate that odor.

If you DON’T empathize, stop reading immediately.  You are one of those freaks that:

1) Don’t use Vibrams enough to allow the stink to develop,

2) Sterilize your feet before every use AND religiously wash the Vibrams after every use,

3) Are a freak of nature that somehow has feet that either do not sweat, or

4) You live in a microbe-free bubble.

I’m working on the assumption you are NOT one of the above, therefore your Five Fingers have or will develop this god-awful vomit-inducing stink.  Over the last few years, I’ve tried many methods to eliminate the odor.  This is a record of my attempts.  I graded each method on an “A to E” scale.  “A” methods worked extremely well.   “E” methods did not work at all.

Lysol:   C

Lysol seems like it should work well.  After all, it is a fairly harsh chemical.  It DOES kill the stink momentarily, but the effect only seems to last a few hours.  Furthermore, the Five Fingers then smell like Lysol, which is offensive it its own way.

Dryer sheets:  D

The idea is to store dryer sheets in the Vibrams when not in use.  This did little to kill the stink.  I even tried wearing the VFFs with sheets inside.  While my feet did smell marginally better after I took the shoes off, the shoes themselves still reeked.

Leaving in the sun:  B

This idea worked fairly well.  After two days basking in the summer sunshine, the shoes had little to no stink.  Unfortunately, the stink returned as soon as I wore them again.  Furthermore, the sun bleached the colors and probably reduced the life of the upper materials.

Washing in the washing machine with normal detergent:  C

The washing machine killed most of the odor once the shoes dried.  Like other methods, the smell returned.  This method would get a slightly higher grade if the scent didn’t leach to other clothing  I now have a tech shirt that emits a hint of Vibram stink because I washed them together.

Washing in the washing machine with special moisture-wicking detergent:  C

There was no discernible difference between this and regular detergent.

Submerging in water overnight:  E

I don’t know why I tried this, but it didn’t work at all.

Vinegar:  B+

I mixed about 10 parts water to one part vinegar and submerged the shoes overnight.  This one worked pretty well, except the VFFs smelled like vinegar.  I can’t stand the smell of vinegar; it is almost as bad as the original stink.

Baby Powder:  D

Sounds good, right?  After all, it works on the baby’s butt.  Wrong!  This was a horrible idea.  Not only did it do nothing to kill or mask the odor, the powder puffed out of the shoe like smoke.  While some may appreciate this effect, it was an annoyance at the gym.  It was difficult to do scissor jumps in a pool of baby powder.

Carpet cleaner:  D

Same as baby powder, only a different smell.

Baking Soda:  D

Okay, any white, powdery substance seems to work about the same… not very good.

Pet Odor Remover Spray:  C

This actually worked temporarily… until the substance dried.  I used this on my KSOs for about two weeks on a daily basis.  While it sucked having damp shoes all the time, it did reduce the odor as long as they were wet.

Febreze:  C+

Febreze worked pretty much like the pet odor remover, though the effect would last slightly longer after the shoes dried.  Still, the first time they were worn after treating resulted in a return of the odor.

Freezing:  B

This actually worked pretty well.  I would just pop the shoes in the freezer after use, then take them out about an hour before using again.  The smell was reduced long enough to prevent gagging during runs or workouts.  There were two significant negatives: First, the smell transferred to the food in the freezer.  If you try this, keep the VFFs in a sealed bag.  Second, icy shoes are not pleasant to wear if you forget to remove them long enough to thaw.

Boiling: D

If freezing worked well, why not boiling?  The logic was simple- the boiling would kill the microbes that cause the odor.  In practice, this required a lot of work, resulted in a few burns, and only worked about as well as submerging the shoes in room-temperature water.

Baking:  D-

Using the same microbe-killing logic as boiling, baking in the oven seemed like a good idea.  I used a moderate setting (200°), lined a cookie sheet with salt to prevent rubber-on-metal contact, and baked the shoes for about 30 minutes.  Not only did it fail to eliminate the odor, it amplified it and spread it around the entire house.  This was one of the worst ideas I tried.

Microwaving:  D

The results were the exact same as baking, just less house-stink.  I tired this with wet and dry shoes; neither worked.  Applying heat of any sort is not a good solution.

Hand Sanitizer:  D

I tried this using two methods.  First, I slathered hand sanitizer on the interior of the shoes and let them fester overnight.  The result- no significant reduction in stink.  I also tried applying it to my feet (kill the microbes at the source) before wearing.  This worked a little better, but was a temporary fix at best.  If this were done at the beginning of the shoe’s life, this may be more effective.

Toe Juice:  B

I was given this product as a sample awhile ago.  It’s intended purpose was to help condition skin.  I didn’t see a significant change, so I stopped using it after a week or so.  Since I had it sitting around, I decided to test it on the VFF stench.  I used it the same way I used the hand sanitizer… I applied it to my feet prior to wearing the shoe.  Much to my surprise, it worked pretty well.  I really think this stuff would kill all stench if it were used when the shoes were new.

Rubbing Alcohol:  B-

I used two methods to test this.  First, I submerged the Five Fingers in a vat of alcohol.  This worked very well, but I suspect it will significantly reduce the life of the shoes.  I also tried applying it to my feet prior to wearing the shoes.  It did not work nearly as well as the hand sanitizer or Toe Juice.

Bleach:  A… sort of

I mixed 10 parts water with one part bleach, then submerged the shoes in the solution overnight.  This worked great, but ruined the color of the shoes.  I also think it will seriously damage the durability, too.  Using this method, I was able to kill the stench for about a week.  I would NOT recommend this method, however.

Effervescent Denture Cleaner:  A

I submerged the shoes in a five gallon bucket of water, then dropped in four or five denture cleaner tablets.  The shoes brewed overnight.  This solution worked as well as bleach and didn’t appear to harm the shoes.  This has become my preferred method of killing the odor.  I use generic denture cleaner as it is significantly cheaper than the name-brand stuff.  If combined with treeating your feet prior to using the shoes, this may completely eliminate the stench problem.

Tequila: D

Since tequila is pretty effective at removing the contents of my stomach, maybe it would be good at removing the odor.  As it turns out, this theory was incorrect.  Instead of my shoes smelling like a morgue with an improperly-house trained dog, they smelled like the couch in the basement of a frat house.  And I wasted a lot of tequila.  Even El Toro is expensive, damn it!

There you have it- a record of my attempts at taming my Five Fingers.  What other methods have you tried?  What has worked?  What hasn’t?

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10 Comments

  1. VFF Smell Management | runningitis
    January 29, 2011

    […] those Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) users out there, Jason from Barefoot Running University has posted a list of methods to tame the stench of your vibrams – I like to call them VFF Smell […]

  2. the4and5
    January 26, 2011

    These things are a gift from the gods. I use them and a squirt of the Febreze Sport, and it seems to do the trick.

    http://www.stuffitts.com/

  3. Janice Nicholls
    January 26, 2011

    I’d stick with the tequila…only drink it yourself this time. With enough tequila, you won’t notice the stench!

  4. Windi
    January 26, 2011

    Sadly, I’m one of those freaks that sterilizes her feet before putting on my Bikilas. I wash my feet with Ivory soap, dry them, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer on them, and put cornstarch mixed with baking soda into them while waiting for my feet to dry. I wash them once a week. I didn’t do this until one day they got really stinky.

    I don’t do this with the KSOs I wear every day, though. I wipe my feet with a wet cloth if they look dirty, and I put a little cornstarch in them, but that’s it. They get washed once a month. I soak both pairs in a sink filled with warm water and a scoop of Oxy-clean for a couple hours, then I wash them with Purex detergent and a half scoop of oxy-clean, and I rinse twice.

  5. Gilles
    January 26, 2011

    Did you ever try mirazyme oder eliminator? or do you plan to?

  6. Viper
    January 26, 2011

    I wish someone would have told me about the stink before I bought these last fall. Mine haven’t developed an odor … yet. I’m waiting with dread.

  7. Frances aka "Barefoot Fresca"
    January 26, 2011

    Not clear from above — Did you use the Febreze for Sports? This one — http://www.febreze.com/en-us/pages/collection.aspx?category=sport&TID=e080e693-5f25-4c25-a99c-bff31ee7f44a

    This one worked on my flip flops but haven’t tried for Vibrams yet.

  8. Scooter Schneider
    January 26, 2011

    Here is another option you haven’t listed. As a SCUBA instructor and Avid diver I have been tormented with the infamous Wet-suit stink that closely relates to the VFF stink. I found an overnight treatment made the VFFs smell great for a few days.
    http://www.sinkthestink.com/

    Interesting find on the Denture Cleaning. Who would have thunk it.

  9. Tweets that mention Barefoot Running University » Killing the Stink: An Assemblage of 23 Methods to Tame Stench of Your Vibrams -- Topsy.com
    January 26, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ultrarunning Matters and Projekt Barfota, Jason Robillard. Jason Robillard said: RT @barefootjason Killing the Stink: An Assemblage of 23 Methods to Tame Stench of Your Vibrams http://bit.ly/hx2b5C […]

  10. Joe Wrigley
    January 26, 2011

    I wonder whether nappy (diaper) sanitizer would work. It’s intended for cleaning/sterilizing cloth nappies.

    In the UK, we have Napisan and others. In the US, you appear to have Mio Fresh, Nappy Fresh and probably others.

    It works for getting the smell of poorly baby shit out, so maybe it can deal with Jason-Funk ;-)