Smelly Sock Solutions: Merino Wool Is the Answer

Hiker about to pull off his shoes, cause his socks aren't smelly

For a situation that’s totally preventable, stinky socks and the pungent footwear that go along with them seem to be something we cast a scornful look (and wrinkle of the nose) at and attempt to insult or hide. But banishment or shame aren’t the most skillful ways to go, especially with the socks of someone close to you, not to mention your own.

So why don’t we tone down the Twitter-flame-war-level hot takes, and address this thing with some straight up vulnerability and honesty. We’re all adults. We can do that, right?

That Stank Is Natural

Yes, we went and wrote that. What you’re experiencing is natural. The faint-inducing vapors in the mudroom, that room-clearing effect of kicking your feet up on the coffee table might seem like the spawn of an alien invasion. But the science is clear. That rank smell is the result our bodies’ natural cooling system being turned against us. Hear us out on this: it’s going to get a little icky before we explain how Merino Wool helps to prevent stinky socks.

Hiker with feet up showing off her non-stinky, odor-resistant merino wool socks

Sweat has a pretty specific purpose. How it works involves thermodynamics, one of those complicated-sounding things with a simple explanation. Basically, moisture on our skin transfers body heat to the surrounding air, helping us cool down. That’s why the harder you exert yourself, the more you sweat.

Our feet have the highest concentration of sweat glands in the body — on the order of 250,000 between your left and right, pumping out upwards of a pint a day. And our feet have naturally-occurring bacteria on them to help break down all that sweat, too.

So on paper everything is working as planned: your feet are producing all that sweat, and bacteria are present to deal with it. Then what causes smelly socks?

The dreaded oniony scent begins when our bodies’ natural cooling cycle runs into a bottleneck— excess sweat and bacteria get trapped and start building up. All sorts of fun sciency-stuff kicks off then, including fermentation and the release of noxious toxins that spread to the sock, and whatever footwear it’s in.

When the Natural Gets Not-So-Natural

The cause of this nasty bottleneck comes in several forms. Google “why are my socks smelly,” and you’ll get a lot of explanations. And when it comes to socks, these problems are the polar opposite of Merino Wool’s high performance qualities.

Here are the four biggies.

1. Overheating: First, there’s overheating caused by synthetic fibers that don’t thermoregulate according to the wearer’s and the environment’s climate. That’s simple: more heat equals more sweat.

2. Moisture buildup: Then there’re socks that aren’t absorbent: if sweat stays on the skin, it’s going to accumulate and fester into that off-gassing smell no one wants. The best socks for stinky feet, then, must help your feet stay dry. 

Hiker wading through a stream, getting their socks really wet

3. Non-breathable: Next up are socks that aren’t breathable — poor circulation equals a hot, damp environment, ideal for odor-causing bacteria to go rogue, like Gremlins fed after midnight.

4. Odor-friendly: Lastly, there are socks that don’t manage odor; if you can’t manage that funk, then, well, we know the outcome: smelly feet.

Check any, or all, of those boxes, keep wearing the same boots or shoes without properly drying them out, and you’ve got a potential meltdown on your hands. Well, feet, but you get it. That’s the tough love part of the story. Good thing there are some simple and easy smelly sock solutions.

Stinky Feet? We Got You.

Group of hikers seated on tailgate drying off their socks after a long day

In our quest to understand what causes stinky socks, we’ve learned that you need a sock that doesn’t let heat, moisture, or odor build up, and has legit breathability. Where could we find a sock that does all that? When in doubt, ask a sheep.

Turns out, wool is the go-to for moisture and odor management. Merino Wool flips that list of critical sock malfunctions, leaving you prepped for liftoff without the locker-room-smell implosion.

Merino wool anti stink hiking socks next to hiking boots

First up is thermoregulation. That’s Merino Wool’s natural super-power, and it works by absorbing and drawing moisture away from your skin when you heat up, effectively cooling you down. That process helps breathability; air flow that Darn Tough further boosts by designing activity-specific socks. One, two, three: check, check, and check.

Lastly, the complex fiber structure of Merino Wool acts as a penalty box for nasty foot odors, locking them up where they can’t multiply and spread, and are only released on washing.

And when we do get off on the, ahem, right foot, you’re set for smooth sailing, even on longer voyages.

Person diving into a lake, with their merino wool sock clad feet just sticking up

“I notice that I can bring only a couple pair of socks on a multi-week trip and get away with it,” says Jake Blauvelt, Darn Tough’s globe-trotting pro snowboard ambassador. “I can wear the same set of socks multiple days in a row and not have any odor because of Merino Wool doing its thing! My suitcase is that much slimmer, and my travel companions are that much happier to have a sidekick that’s a little less stinky.”

Let Merino Wool Do the Work

Here’s the take away: feet sweat. They were made to do that. Feet that don’t get the chance to sweat and then dry out produce the inevitable stench. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially when it’s an easy problem to address.

If you’re wondering how to get rid of smelly shoes and socks, it’s simple: wear moisture wicking Merino Wool. 

Person pulling on a pair of anti stink merino wool socks

We can and do say Darn Tough makes “odor resistant socks.” Studies show a preference for the smell of wool over cotton, and an overwhelming lean toward the smell of wool over synthetics, after wear.

But since we’re fans of stating the obvious, it’s just as accurate to say Merino Wool socks keep your feet drier, regulating temperature so you don’t overheat, and keep smells cordoned off until laundry day. That’s the magic combination for making sure you don’t have to reach for an elaborate fix in the first place.