Barefoot Reading: The Smelly Truth About Going Shoeless

Slipping off your shoes and going barefoot can be a freeing experience. Whether you’re at the beach, lounging at home, or even walking around the grocery store, many people love the feeling of toes unconfined. However, this comfortable custom can have some unexpected consequences – especially if you’re an avid reader.

For book lovers, curling up shoeless with a good book is a simple pleasure. The ability to flex your feet and wiggle your toes while you get lost in the pages makes reading feel more natural and relaxed. However, leaving your feet uncovered while reading comes at a cost that you may notice once you put your shoes back on: stinky feet!

Our feet have more sweat glands than anywhere else on the body, which allows them to sweat profusely. When enclosed in shoes and socks, this sweat can’t evaporate. Taking your shoes off allows air to circulate and the sweat to dry. However, this also gives the bacteria on your feet the perfect damp, warm environment to start multiplying and emitting foul odors.

The longer you spend with bare feet, the more these bacteria flourish. Curled up reading with feet exposed not only gives the bacteria time to grow, but traps the smells right by your nose. A few pages into the latest thriller, and your feet are brewing up a stench fierce enough to match the novel’s villian.

Moist environments are breeding grounds for bacteria that cause odor, which is why damp shoes and socks smell worse than dry ones. Going barefoot means constant exposure to open air, keeping feet damp for these bacteria to thrive. Pair this with the increased sweat production that comes from being still for long periods, and barefoot reading becomes the perfect formula for fungal odor growth.

Certain fabrics can make the problem even worse. Resting bare feet on carpeting or upholstery while reading allows microbes to accumulate in the fibers. These materials absorb sweat and oils from the feet, creating lasting foot stench and discoloration. The rough texture of carpeting also causes more flakes of dry, dead skin to slough off as you read. More dead skin equals more food for the odor-producing bacteria.

While air exposure does help dry sweat, it also exposes feet to more dust and dirt. Curled up on the couch with a book allows all kinds of microscopic particles to collect on bare soles and toes. More dirt equals more things for those smelly microbes to feed on. Fungi thrive on the amino acids in sweat and dead skin cells, so letting feet marinate in dust while you read provides a perfect all-you-can-eat buffet for microbes.

Fortunately, there are ways to enjoy shoeless reading without inducing a fungal feeding frenzy:

  • Wash feet thoroughly before and after any barefoot reading sessions.
  • Apply an antifungal foot powder to help control moisture and odor.
  • Place a thin cotton towel between feet and furniture/carpet.
  • Limit reading sans shoes to 30 minutes or less at a time.
  • Alternate between bare feet and clean socks to minimize odor growth.

While kicking off your shoes and digging your toes into the carpet as you turn pages may sound idyllic, doing so too long can create a smell situation reminiscent of Roquefort cheese. With a few precautions, you can still indulge inbarefoot reading without overwhelming friends and family with whiffs of sweaty literary bliss. Just be sure to rinse off the dust, dirt, dead skin, and microbes after each shoeless reading session. Your feet and your book club will thank you!