FiveFingers are great shoes for running, hiking, and general lounging. I believe that running barefoot has improved my fitness and also general running ability -- even with conventional shoes. But they possess an interesting characteristic that my wife loves to remind me of: they stink. Not just a little stink. These are a "put those things out on the patio and go take a shower" level of stink.

Vibram states that you can wash your FiveFingers in the washing machine and then air dry. This gets rid of the stench for a short period, but it usually comes back after wearing the shoes a few times. If I wear Injinji socks with the shoes it keeps the stink away, but that's not going to be practical once Minneapolis emerges from it's arctic winter.

For the sake of my marriage, what's the best way to keep my FiveFingers from stinking?


16 Answers 16


The odor is standard (although possibly more acute) bacterial foot odor. Spraying them with Lysol after use will make them go longer without needing washed, as will putting them in a (very) mild bleach/water mixture. Basically anything to kill the odor-causing bacteria (laundry detergent is typically not anti-bacterial), washing them in the sink with an anti-bacterial soap by hand is more effective than the laundry. You'll probably still need to wash your feet (or hit them with the Lysol/bleach as well).

Other possible suggestions to kill the bacteria (and thus eliminate the funk) are:

  • vinegar (white)
  • UV light
  • air them in sunlight
  • 1
    I tried a vinegar bath on my shoes and it helps out immensely in keeping the stink away. I put the shoes in a plastic container with a pretty heavy vinegar/water mixture overnight. The next day I wash them in the machine but dump the rest of the vinegar mixture in too. I later air dry them outside. It helps out immensely. Drying outside is key to keeping away the vinegar stank. They still get smelly, but it's not nearly as bad anymore. Thanks!
    – Pridkett
    Commented May 5, 2011 at 17:11
  • I've been just soaking mine down with Lysol when I take them off and it seems to curb the smell. Also, I always wear socks with mine, not sure how much that's actually helping, however. Commented May 9, 2011 at 18:50
  • Isn't vinegar going to be detrimental to the fabric and other materials? Commented May 18, 2012 at 16:43

I would highly recommend checking out "The Definitive Guide to Cleaning Vibram Five Fingers" on birthdayshoes.com

I can personally attest to the success of daily wiping of the feet with tea tree oil, and soaking the shoes in a basin with a few antibacterial denture tablets (2 in each shoe for a small basin, more for something larger). For really nasty stank, an overnight soak may be warranted. Rinse well, then make sure that the shoes dry completely before wearing them again. Stuffing them with paper towel to wick moisture and then putting them in front of the vents at the bottom of the refrigerator works well to dry in less than a day. I don't know if regular denture tablets work the same, but generic antibacterial tablets seem to do the trick. Plus they leave your shoes smelling minty fresh. I'm sure they'd also taste minty if you were so keen to try.

My experience comes mostly from washing Merrell Barefoots, but I've tried denture tablets on VFFs and it seems to work equally well. By rotating between 2 pairs of shoes and following a tea tree oil regimen, the shoes tend to stay within an acceptable odor spectrum for 3 to 4 weeks before needing to be soaked again.


I've never had similar problems in my Vibrams, but then I wash them after almost every use (if I did something like running to get sweaty - I also love them for weightlifting which doesn't cause me to sweat nearly as much).

Think of it this way: you're wearing them directly against your skin and they'll be in contact with any sweat or dampness. Would you keep re-wearing the same pair of socks for several days without washing them?

  • How do you wash them? For how long and how many times a week do you do it?
    – LachlanG
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 2:46
  • 1
    I just throw them in the washing machine with the rest of my clothes, then hang them up to dry overnight (they dry quick). Maybe once a week, b/c I don't use them every day. I imagine that you could just hand wash them in the sink with a little dishwashing fluid too, if you didn't want to do a whole load of laundry.
    – G__
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 2:51
  • I found even washing mine every time they'd eventually stink. Both for the Surge and KSO Models. KSO Trek don't give me a problem though.
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 6:31

They're machine washable, just wash them regularly.

Vibram FiveFingers® footwear is machine washable. Use gentle, warm water cycle with liquid or powdered detergent. Hang to air dry.

From: http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/faq/

  • Clearly you've never dealt with the level of stink we're talking about here. At some point they get so bad that regular washing just doesn't cut it.
    – Pridkett
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 15:27
  • Haha, no I guess I haven't :D Not with shoes at least. I had this happen with tshirts though when I was doing muay thai, when even after washing it would still smell bad. I figured that if the smell persists it probably means that bacteria does as well so I found that just using hotter water solved the problem for me. I can see that being a bit risky with the 5Fs though so maybe soak them in warm water with detergent/bleach/anti-bacterial "something" before washing? GL :) Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 17:38

Use deodorant on your feet before you wear them. Prevents them from stinking in the first place. My boyfriend has 2 pairs and they stunk so bad and then the guy at REI suggested that and they have never stunk again. They smell because your feet sweat, so stop your feet from sweating.

  • Will deodorant on your feet cause any problems (to your skin) over time or prolonged use?
    – user241
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 11:55
  • @MattChan: Visit "How can I keep my feet cool and dry?". Take a look at the question. In the question, the words "on the soles of my feet" contain a link. Click the link. :) Also read freiheit's answer there for a tip on wool socks. Maybe you could cut toe holes in some wool socks, or maybe you could use a stitch remover to open up the socks' toe seam? Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 0:37
  • @MattChan: Please note that having stinky feet and shoes can reduce quality-of-life for you and others. As well, moisture can lead to blisters. I'm not sure, but I suspect that moisture may also increase your risk of toenail fungus (which is difficult or impossible to cure). Darrigrand et al. found that antiperspirant on the feet reduces blisters. But because the effect didn't reach statistical significance, what they saw may have been caused by random chance. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 0:45
  • @MattChan: Please also note that there exist $20 antiperspirants labeled for use on the feet. The inactive ingredients might differ from those of underarm antiperspirant; I haven't researched the matter. The active ingredient is likely to be an aluminum compound which is either identical or related to the aluminum compounds found in underarm antiperspirants. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 0:46
  • Just to point out - Sweat is odorless. It is either skin contaminants in the sweat, or the bacteria that follows that create the odors.
    – JohnP
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 3:14

As others have said, WEAR SOCKS if you can. (Personally I can't wear the socks while running because they wedge painfully between my toes.)

Two unorthodox yet natural cleaners of my VFF's:

1) The ocean. Wear your VFF's surfing or otherwise have them in the ocean for some 30 minutes, and they'll be clean as a whistle.

2) Playa dust at Burning Man (a.k.a. alkaline silt). This dust gets EVERYWHERE, and you feel certain it can do nothing but ruin your VFF. On the contrary; after being in the dust for a week, followed by a regular machine wash, a beat-up old pair which I was on the verge of trashing was suddenly as clean as the first day I bought them!


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.

  • And the hot water does not damage the five fingers? Commented May 18, 2012 at 16:44
  • I'd be careful with the hot water; I've heard reports of it damaging the glue and making the shoes fall apart. I think the printed tag says to machine wash either cold or warm, but I can't verify that; the tag's worn off of mine.
    – fire.eagle
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 22:23

Machine wash as normal and air dry but put baking soda in them and shake and let air dry. the smell has never come back.


My solution was to buy the KSO Treks, even though I don't like the soles as much. The kangaroo leather just doesn't stink up the way the synthetic materials do. Trek LS would also work, although again, same issues with the sole bein unideal. I'm not sure why they don't make a kangaroo leather model with their traditional sole.

So far, and I've had my pair of KSO Treks for over a year, there's no stench in them at all. My previous two pairs of VFFs ended up being useless due to the stench after 6-9 months.


I too have had to look at ways to combat the odor. First, I just ignored the problem and continued to wear my VFF's while running and working out at the local gym. It was until one day a trainer recommended OxyClean detergent. She kindly made the comment about my VFF's could be washed using this detergent. I've been washing them once a week, and it seams to work in combating the stink. Secondly, she recommend wearing injinji socks to soak up the sweat since the footbed liner is very thin on top; which is placed on top of a rubber sole. The sweat just has no place to go. I don't care for the socks myself when wearing the VFF's. It does help in keeping the feet drier.


I wash in a low-water front loading washing machine every few days (1-2x per week). I also use a Tea Tree Oil liquid for the soap. I use a pre-wash cycle with the tee tree oil in both times and no other detergents. Once done they come out and go right in front of a fan to dry. I've been doing this for a year with my shoes as well as my two daughters' and we wear them all the time. I mean all day to work, around the house, yard work, and running - that kind of all day.

When not near home to do that I'll go sit in a hot tub or swim in a pool for a while. The chlorine content will kill the bacteria off. In fact the first time I encountered the stink that is what we did as we were in a hotel in a different state. Worked beautifully.

Wearing socks helps reduce the speed of the buildup, so if you can wear them try that in addition to cleaning them regularly. MY oldest daughter tried that and it did reduce it. She could get away with washing once a week or so. My youngest daughter and I can't stand them so we just wash twice a week. After over a year, lots of miles and washes, nary a day going by without being worn my Vibrams (Bikila LS) are still hanging strong with just some of the reflective tape peeling off.

Another thing I've tried is isopropyl alcohol, 70% solution. Soak them for a few minutes in that, then let dry in front of a fan. Works well.

The dry in front of a fan I have found to be crucial. Times when the fan wasn't available they would pick the smell back up quickly.


Wow, VFFs are so environmently unfriendly if they need a machine wash so often, plus all that effort after the wash. I sweat well above average, and have experienced the same stink issues with my Komodo Sport VFF. I have hit upon an environmentally friendly solution that actually works, thanks to Grandma :)

I just wash them in tap water after every use, sun dry, and then pop one half of a used (squeezed out) lime or lemon into each shoe overnight. By next morning, the stink is 95% gone and the shoes are ready to go. Works every time. Good old Grandma!


I have shoes that I've worn for many years without problems. The key is to allow the shoes to dry out completely between usages. I have shoes that are over 10 years old that still don't stink because I switch them out daily. They also wear longer when they're fully dried between usages.

  • I think you're talking about conventional shoes. VFFs are a little different, why I don't exactly know but they seem to get funkier much quicker than normal shoes.
    – LachlanG
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 2:44
  • The odor is a function of the bacteria and/or fungus that grows on the shoes. The odor can't happen when the stuff can't grow.
    – Dave
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 18:12
  • VFFs are very different because of the proximity of the shoes to your actual feet. They're typically worn without socks and stick very close to your feet. The problem for me, and many, is that they start to stink after only a short run. Letting them sit out for a day or three before using again does not seem to fix the problem.
    – Pridkett
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 15:40

Toss them in the wash as needed. If they get a real nasty smell that doesn't come out, soak the VFFs for 30 minutes in a mixture of oxy clean and hot water and then toss in the wash.


The simplest way to kill the odor causing bacteria is located in your kitchen. Just put your shoes in the freezer. The bacteria can't survive the sub-zero temperatures. This really applies to any shoe that has an odor issue.

  • 3
    Actually, this is NOT true. Putting things into a freezer does NOT kill the bacteria. It makes them dormant. If freezing things killed bacteria we could freeze meat and then not have to be careful about handling it after it thawed because the bacteria would be dead. Freezing will temporarily reduce the smell until the bacteria wake up again, but then it's back to normal.
    – Pridkett
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 17:13
  • It works and is effective for killing the bacteria that produce foul odors. Not all bacteria are the same. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 18:47

Adam Nuttall added a comment to this question linking to my answer to another question and I just updated that answer based on recent experience so thought I would post an answer here that included my update.

In the past I have suggested spraying a low-fragrance disinfectant spray like Oust into your shoes after each run and adding a small amount of bleach when washing Fivefingers to reduce odor, but now I would like to add another suggestion.

I ran in VFFs for years and I would take them off during each run and run 1 to 3 miles barefooted to work on my form, then put them back on and finish my run. Several months ago I purchased a few pairs of Injinji socks and started wearing my Vibrams with socks like I would any other shoe. I decided to give up barefoot running so that I would not have to take off the shoes AND the socks AND put them back on in the middle of my run. I had been running exclusively in VFFs for over two years so I didn't really need to work on my form any more. Since then my Vibrams have not had any odor problem in excess of what I would expect from any other shoe, so I suggest buying some toe socks to go with your Fivefingers.

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