The Definitive Guide to Cleaning Vibram Five Fingers a.k.a. How to Get the Smell out of your Vibrams!
Vibram Five Fingers can stink. Indeed, "VFF stank" — the "Vibram Five Fingers of Funk" — is such a pervasive problem that VFF fans so afflicted with smelly Vibram Five Fingers are often left wondering, "Are those strangers looking at me because I'm wearing five-toed shoes or because my five-toed shoes reek?"
The funkiness of Five Fingers (and how to eliminate it) was one of the first discussions on the Birthdayshoes.com forum back in June 2009, a thread that has since grown to thirteen pages of "solutions," soaks, pre-washes, and other inventive means of getting the odor out of everyone's favorite five-toed foot gloves.
In an effort to consolidate all the methodology under one roof, and with the understanding that these methods fall within the realm of self-experimentation, below you'll find a veritable compendium of information about how to clean your Vibram Five Fingers.
Vibram Five Fingers are Machine Washable and Pre-treated to Fight Bacteria
Before jumping in, the definitive guide to cleaning Vibram Five Fingers wouldn't be complete without covering the basics:
- Vibram Five Fingers are treated with "Aegis," an "anti-microbial structure" that basically lances bacteria—like a sword—seriously! (How Aegis works video here). Though impaling little bacteria is a high-tech solution to keeping VFF sanitized, it seems the technology may wear out over time (Perhaps the bacteria dies but the odor remains! Who knows.).
- Every Vibram Five Fingers model (Classic, Sprint, KSO, Flow, Bikila) is machine-washable, including the kangaroo leather varieties (Trek, Moc, Performa, Performa Jane). Remember: it is explicitly not recommended that you put your Five Fingers in the dryer (let them air dry).
On the Origins of the infamous Vibram Five Fingers stink
Most folks wear their VFFs without any socks to preserve the barefoot feel and VFFs typically have permeable fabrics that allow things from the outside to get inside. As a result, after a few weeks of sweating and stomping through the mud, VFFs may acquire an odor that is tough to shake. Forum member, allawayr, gave a more scientific explanation of the process:
I think the problem is that a lot of gunk builds up inside the toe pockets. Even if you kill the bacteria (brevibacteria, propionibacteria), the sulfurous and odoriferous compounds they produce are still going to be there (methanethiol - think blue cheese - and propionic acid - think Swiss cheese). So, even if you kill the bacteria, you leave the smell.
Also, every time you put your foot into VFFs, you essentially re-inoculate your VFFs with these bacteria.
It's worth noting here that stinky feet are a by-product of wrapping your feet in dark, sometimes dank environments — footwear. Though there are other "critter risks" that result for being barefoot all the time, feet exposed to the air don't typically stay moist as they do in shoes — and Vibrams are, after all, still shoes.
Prevention is the Cure? Clean (or treated) Feet.
If you're putting balmy, sweat-soaked, or dirty feet into your Vibram Five Fingers, you could be setting yourself up for immediate failure (and an onset of VFF stink!). For this reason, many advocate the preventative measure of always starting out with freshly cleaned feet. As Derek / Zeitheld put it, "So maybe, the solution isn't washing our shoes, it's washing our feet."
Grunt - If I am going to put them on after a long day of wearing boots or normal shoes, I first swipe my feet with one of those pre-moistened antibacterial towelettes. I make sure to get in between the toes and around the nails and then let my feet dry for a couple of seconds. The process takes about a minute and seems to work well so far.
rutibegga - My favorite shoe/foot odor combat tool is tea tree oil. My partner has some WAY funky-smelling feet, so I purchased a bottle of the [tea tree oil] and had her wipe it on her feet before putting shoes on every day. No more funk.
Cleanthes - I've found something that seems to completely stop the smell in my VFFs: PediTech. This spray is supposed to kill the bacteria that cause smell, and it's really worked for me. You spray it on your feet, rather than in the shoes, and after an initial week of treating them every day, it only takes one spray a week to keep the effect. I've been using it for four days. It's getting hot here, and although my feet sweat, there's no smell at all now.
Though keeping your feet clean and bacteria-free in the first place should help stave off the onset of stink, for many it's still only a matter of time — and when that stink sets in ...
"Apply directly to your Vibram Five Fingers" — Treat and Defeat the VFF-stank!
Assuming your Vibram Five Fingers have gotten funky, it goes without saying that the first course of action is to simply wash your VFFs and if you know you have smell-prone feet, you might consider washing your Vibrams often.
That said, if you find your Vibram Five Fingers becoming smelly almost immediately after a wash, that's a sign you need to up the ante on your cleaning protocol — you may need to take additional measures. To that end, VFF fans members use a bevy of sprays, powders, and soaks to kill the stink and keep the funky smells at bay:
Bango Skank - [spray] Kiwi Fresh Force. This stuff is pretty much the awesome. I use it everyday before I put them on and every night after I take them off. It's basically an upside down aerosol can that you insert into the shoe and press down on and it will spray excellence far into your VFF's nether reaches. They sell it at Target and Walgreens.
balsam0 - [spray] This is what I do. Wash once a week and if they smell bad enough Febreze them when not in use. I typically do this before I go to sleep at night. It isn't 100% effective but it seems to keep the smell to a minimum.
ElGiganteJake - [spray] ZorbX is awesome. I spray them down and let them air dry once a week. Greatest invention ever.
JerryD - [powder] I have been using regular corn starch baby powder in both pairs of my VFFs for the past week and I really like the difference it makes. The powder really helps to minimize the sweaty feeling in the toe area of the shoes and has also cut down on some of the funk.
koffeekev - [spray, powder] everyday I hose out the VFF's I am wearing and use a product called Green Works by Clorox. I have it diluted in a spray bottle so I just spray the insole and outer material and scrub everything with my fingers, rinse and hang them on the clothesline...then later...I've started to use a light coating of Gold Bond powder and it seems to be tackling the problem very well.
MikeSims - [soak] My favorite solution as of right now is SimpleGreen Pro3 with fungicide. I got it at Home Depot. It's heavy duty stuff so be sure to dilute per the directions. Shoes smell good, odor stays gone MUCH longer. I soak for only about an hour or so and then sun dry/air dry.
On the Efferdent Soak Solution
A specialized soak that has gotten some attention is Efferdent tablets — like those you'd use to clean your dentures! Apparently, the anti-bacterial effervescence of Efferdent tablets works wonders on Vibram Five Fingers!
InBetweenMyToes - [soak|Efferdent] Vibram recommended Efferdent tablets on their FaceBook page. Unfortunately, they didn't provide specific instructions, and from some of the comments left, there are differing results. I gave it a try Sunday night and detailed my experience here. Although it seemed to do the trick, I will likely [throw] in an extra tablet during my next soak.
xz123 - [soak|Efferdent] Soak them in vinegar for 15 minutes, rinse, soak them in water with several effervescent denture tablets for 15 minutes, rinse, wash them with normal washing stuff, rinse, stuff with paper, let them dry. It's still not perfect (a few days in warm weather sans socks and they get quite smelly again), but sufficient for now.
AlexMontilla - [soak|Efferdent] I can vouch for efferdent tablets! I follow the instructions, except I drop one tablet inside each shoe. After air drying in the sun, there is no more funk! I throw them in the wash whenever I wash my clothes, & use efferdent cleanings in between washes.
innocuous - [soak|Efferdent] Last night, I tried efferdent for the first time. I let them soak in warm water for 1 hour. Thereafter, I put them in the washer on spin for 5 mins to accelerate the drying. When I removed them from the washer, they smelled great. The best since my first week in them. I'm now a convert to efferdent.
Cleaning Methodology — Pre-Washing, Hand Washing
Some Funky Five Fingers wearers use combine pre-washes and soaks with machine- or hand-washing and rinsing:
Tina - [Pre-wash spray] I sprayed mine with Oxi Clean (with hydrogen peroxide), let them sit for about half an hour, then put them in the wash. The smell comes right out.
tfitz2001 - [Pre-wash soak] Half a cup of vinegar to the gallon of hot water is what I soak my KSOs in once per week. An hour in that and then a normal hand wash is all that they need to stay unfunky.
rva98014 - [Pre-wash soak] This weekend I tried using "Bac-Out" by Biokleen, a natural enzyme-based deodorizer. I soaked the KSOs in a small tray containing a mixture of water & Bac-Out for 30 minutes ... I don't recall the exact proportions but my guess would be about 70/30 water to Bac-Out. Then I rinsed them with fresh water and put them in front of a fan to air-dry. They ended up smelling much better.
dwd5150 - [Pre-wash soak, Post-wash Coffee Beans!]First I soak the footbeds with Amaze detergent booster/stain remover (I bought it at London Drugs) as per directions on the box. After that I wash them in the machine as per usual, and then hang outside on the line to dry. After they are dry, I fill up the footbeds with...wait for it...coffee beans! May sound crazy, but it works for me!
Zombee88 - [Pre-wash spray] I've been also trying to find a cure for stinky Vibrams, I own a pair of flows, and I use them 5 times a week, for the gym. At first the smell could easily go away with regular washing, but after a while, it got worse and worse, I did a little bit of scouting around online and I did find a product called NATURE'S MIRACLE. I wanted to first try this, before actually trying the Oxi Clean products. So I went out to PETCO, (but I believe any pet store will have them) and got it. Came back home and got the stinky flows onto the sink, Sprayed ... the inside, and also the outside material. I let them sit for 30 mins then threw them in the washer. Hung them outside to dry, and as of early this morning the smell is gone.
RichardLillard1 - [Pre-wash scrub] I think the best way I've found is with the homemade oxiclean. Because I am making it myself, on the spot, I can adjust the amount of each of the two components for whatever I need it for. In this case, I use a good amount of baking soda and just enough hydrogen peroxide to make a sort of wet sand-feeling paste. This is a great scrubbing agent and gets the dirt and grime out of the soles very easily. I typically scrub, then let them soak in the oxi-solution for a bit, then rinse with extremely hot water.
And for a truly epic combination of pre-washing, soaking, and spraying, check Rex_Kwon_Do's strategy:
Other ways to clean your Vibram Five Fingers
If the above methods don't work for you, consider these one-off solutions:
rutibegga - When they get gunky inside, I just take them into the shower and wash them out with Dr. Bronner's (again, tea tree oil in the soap.)
iain - Wash mine weekly with Ecover hand wash, it does the job. I do take the time to give them a good scrub in the inside of the toes. But it takes ages for my KSOs to dry. Normally a day and a half which means I don't have VFFs to wear Sad I have had them dry in a very warm airing cupboard a few times and it still takes at least overnight.
Charles T - I've done 3 summers in KSO's and have only used Dr Bronner's Tea tree oil soap to soak and hand wash them like once per week with very, very minimal smell, unlike when I treated them with some odor eater spray crap that funked them up for a while and seemed to leave a coating on my foot until I could wash all of it out.
IRunTrails - I have a similar problem with the technical fabrics found in a lot of running clothes. I've been using Penguin Apparel Care's Sport Wash detergent. It's supposed to restore the wicking properties of the fabrics (don't know if it does or doesn't really) and it also gets rid of the funky odors. I just wash my VFFs with the rest of my running gear and that takes care of much, if not all of the smell. I let them air dry after a normal trip through the washer.
McLoki - Washed my kso's and classics today in Tide Totalcare. It cleaned fine, but no better than regular Tide in my opinion. It did do an EXCELLENT job on the smell though. Even if we choose to stop using it on our clothes, I will continue to get a small bottle of it just to clean my VFF's. Its just that good.
morgan_4875 - I wear mine in the shower when they get smelly or dirty. and now i have no more stink and they still look new. oh, and ive had em for over two yrs with excessive use.
What industrious cleaning guide would be complete without some application of cleaning tools? The most obvious tool for scrubbing your Vibram Five Fingers would be an old toothbrush (just make sure you don't get it confused with your new toothbrush!). That said, if you really need some scrubbing power, you might have to go electric:
Didn't Work! Smell-Removal Failures
Of course, not all cleaning methods seem to work — even some of the "tried and true" approaches mentioned above. Here are a few sad tales of Vibram Five Fingers funk removal failure:
RobbieD - I have just tried Mirazyme on my KSO's, Followed the instructions - NO Change - Still Smell Skanky!
desaulniers - Dr. Scholl's Odor Destroyers Foot & Sneaker Spray Powder is no match for spending a day running around and breaking a sweat in my VFFs.
MikeSims - I've done the diluted vinegar trick and it was a short term solution.
tfitz2001 - I did use bleach for a bit in the beginning. A capful per gallon. But I noticed that the fabric was getting stiffer, so I stopped soon after starting that regiment.
iamcam - I just embrace the funk!
kakez - Oh well. I [washed] my VFFs in the sink and well it didn't really work. I mean.. I just washed them in the sink for a second time the other day with a mixture of one wash with laundry detergent, one wash with dr. bronners peppermint, and another wash with laundry detergent.. Now they smell like feet and peppermint, and while the feet smell isn't quite as STANK as before, it's not an aroma I'm proud of, and actually makes me sometimes avoid wearing them because of it.
Hawkeye - I tried the efferedent denture tabs to clean my vffs and while the funk is gone and doesn't smell, it turned the rubber sole of my black classics kind of blueish-gray in places. It's not too noticeable, but it's definitely a mottled/splotchy ghosting. So maybe don't try efferedent with the listerine like I did. I only had it soaking for a couple of hours, which also might have been a factor. I'll probably still use it though. I did notice that the slimey gray stuff was still on/in the yellow footbed, but it didn't smell. I might follow up the efferedent with a quick scrub from a toothbrush to get the slime out.
innocuous - For the past few months, I've been soaking in vinegar for 30 mins, which did a good job, but left a vinegar smell, which I think actually masked the funk (as opposed to kill it).
So there you have it, a crowd-sourced rundown on how to get the stink out of a well worn pair of Vibram Five Fingers. No doubt there are other cleaning and odor-removal methods out there at large in the Vibram fan community, so if you have a particularly effective way to de-stink your VFFs that you'd be willing to share with the community, please share it below in the comments!
Many Thanks to the following forum members, in order of appearance (more or less):
JerryD, allawayr, ZeitHeld, Grunt, rutibegga, Zyzzyx, Cleanthes, Rex_Kwon_Do, koffeekev, MikeSims, Bango Skank, balsam0, ElGiganteJake, inbetweenmytoes, xz123, AlexMontilla, innocuous, Tina, tfitz2001, rva98014, dwd5150, Zombee88, RichardLillard1,jcarneytx, toastergirl, dardo, iain, Charles T, IRunTrails, McLoki, morgan_4785,ap19, RobbieD,desaulniers, iamcam, Hawkeye