Why your legs smell like cheese? Bacteria give your shoes four different smells

The smell of the feet has four main varieties: sweaty, cheese, acetic and cabbage. And no matter how well and regularly a person washes, he will not be able to get rid of this smell. It’s just that some people have it more pronounced, while others have it less pronounced. And depending on lifestyle, legs can smell differently. So what’s the reason why legs smell? There are so many different bacteria on our legs that scientists have not fully figured out. However, they have identified several germs that are responsible for 4 specific odours.

Why do our feet smell?

There are 4 kinds of bacteria, each responsible for a specific odor. These are corynebacteria, micrococci, propionic acid bacteria and staphylococcus. They respectively cause the following odors:

  • Metantiol is the key component that gives Cheddar cheese its recognizable aroma.
  • Acetic acid is the result of sugar fermentation and is better known as simply “vinegar”.
  • By-products associated with rotting, such as propionic acid and butyric acid, can make your feet start smelling like cabbage.
  • And the most common leg-related chemical, isovalerian acid, is responsible for the smell, which we call “sweaty”. Our noses are up to two thousand times more sensitive to this chemical, so many of us can recognize it even at the slightest concentration.

Few species of bacteria have learned to survive on the human foot. Most of them are friends, despite their scent, and our partners throughout life. Hundreds of millions of bacteria live happily on our feet, which they consider ideal: warm, humid and offering endless amounts of nutrients in the form of dead skin cells.

Why do we need bacteria on our feet

These bacteria appear in humans soon after birth and remain with us for the rest of our lives. They are also an essential part of keeping our legs healthy.

Bacteria release oils that help keep the skin soft, and enzymes that destroy dead skin and remove dry, flaky areas as well as calluses. These bacteria also provide a barrier against microbial pathogens. By linking them to specific areas, they have mechanisms to repel pathogens. These bacteria produce a number of protective molecules called antimicrobial peptides that search for and kill any invader. These molecules are similar to antibiotics, but the pathogens cannot develop resistance to them, so the effectiveness of protection is not diminished.

To have healthy legs, we need these “good” microbes that work hard for us. It may be difficult to assess their presence with our eyes, but we can always smell our sneakers to make sure that our feet are in “good microbial hands”. If we smell a familiar smell, even if it is not pleasant, we can be sure that we are keeping this microbial population.

How do we get rid of the smell of our feet?

Although the smell of your feet is usually a sign of your general health, it does not help much in your social life. Fortunately, there are ways to make friendly bacteria happy while maintaining a minimum of ‘scent’. One option is to use talcum powder or charcoal on the inner soles. They both absorb stinking chemicals and prevent them from spreading in the air. This way the bacteria will continue to live on your feet and protect against harmful germs, but smell less.

There are other natural compounds, including cytral, geranium and lemonene, which are known to help remove the familiar smell of your foot. These chemicals change the way bacteria produce by-products, primarily preventing the formation of isovalerian acid. They can be found in common foot creams and foot care products that are sold in pharmacies.