Socks coated in zinc oxide could ward off smelly feet, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·3 min read
Pair of feet in gray socks on a bed under a cozy blanket.
Scientists have developed socks coated with anti-bacterial nanoparticles that could ward off smelly feet. (Stock, Getty Images)

Scientists may have developed a novel solution to smelly feet.

Known medically as bromodosis, the unpleasant odour usually occurs when sweaty feet wear the same shoes for days on end.

This warm, moist environment provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which can produce a foul-smelling aroma.

Keeping the feet clean and dry, and changing shoes regularly, is usually enough to keep unpleasant odours at bay.

Read more: True cause of BO identified by scientists

For some, however, the embarrassing issue persists, prompting scientists from Mahidol University in Thailand to develop socks coated with anti-bacterial zinc oxide nanoparticles.

When tested on 148 naval cadets, the scientists found the socks significantly reduced their foot odour.

Close-up Of A Woman's Leg Near High Heels On Hardwood Floor
Sweaty feet, and wearing the same shoes for days on end, can lead to an unpleasant odour. (Getty Images)

The scientists tested the socks on cadets from the Thai Naval Rating School.

Smelly feet and pitted keratolysis, a bacterial infection that causes an unpleasant odour, are said to affect nearly two in five (38.5%) naval cadets in Thailand.

Pitted keratolysis is reportedly more common among young men, particularly soldiers, miners and athletes.

Read more: How does coronavirus dampen taste and smell?

“While completing an internship as a naval officer in the medical department, I saw a high number of foot infections in military personnel,” said lead author Dr Punyawee Ongsri.

“I wanted to find a way to prevent and treat these fungal and bacterial infections, and those conditions associated.

“Previous studies had demonstrated zinc oxide nanoparticles’s antibacterial properties, therefore our research team wanted to test the efficacy of this new technology in a real-life setting.”

Watch: Kitten hates owner’s smelly feet

The cadets wore either the nanoparticle-coated socks or a normal pair for two weeks during a field training course.

After assessing their own foot odour via a pre-determined scale, those who wore the zinc oxide socks reported a significant improvement to their scent.

As well as enduring a more intense smell, those who wore the normal socks said the odour had a negative effect on their quality of life.

Upon physical examination, the results – presented at the virtual European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology congress – found the participants who wore the nanoparticle-coated socks were less likely to develop pitted keratolysis.

The socks were also found to be safe and “compatible with human skin”.

Read more: Use your lover's T-shirt as a pillowcase to help you nod off

“Our results prove the efficacy of ZnO-NP [zinc oxide nanoparticle]-coated socks in preventing bromodosis and inhibiting the development of pitted keratolysis,” said Dr Ongsri.

“These socks could provide a new primary prevention option for both military personnel and those susceptible to these embarrassing and unpleasant conditions.

“We are continuing our research with other textiles, and hope to treat and prevent the growth of bacterial and fungal infections.”

The scientists will shortly be publishing research on how the socks affect a person’s risk of fungal infections.

The NHS already recommends people with sweaty feet wear “special anti-bacterial socks”.

Watch: Three tips to de-stink your car