Certain foods and drinks have been associated with increased sweating and a very distinct body odor — curry and vodka, for example. So it’s strange to hear people claim that vodka, of all things, can have the opposite effect on stinky feet and armpits. Joan Rivers once said, “I always spray my costumes with vodka and water. It’s an old Broadway trick — two-thirds water and one-third vodka… spray your armpits and you’ll never smell again.”
What People Are Saying About Vodka & Foot Odor
A reader wrote in to the Chicago Tribune, claiming that she sprayed a mix of half-vodka, half-distilled water and a few drops of orange essential oil under her breasts and arms instead of deodorant. “I started using this when I kept reacting to every other deodorant and have found the spray works especially well for itchy rashes,” she said.
The author of the column responded that he had heard of using vodka as a home remedy before. “Another reader tried it against a fungal infection,” he said. Apparently, this reader suffered from foot fungus for 30 years and “solved it” by wiping his foot with a vodka-soaked cloth each night. Three months later, he noticed his toenails were growing in pink, so he kept doing it. After 13 months, all his toenails were cured of the dreadful fungus and he has kept the fungus away for several years by using the vodka cloth several nights a week.
In a Yahoo! article, a writer proposes “saving money by using vodka on your clothes to cut down on dry cleaning bills.” We’re not too sure how that would really save money, as vodka usually costs more than your average laundry detergent — and you’d still have to pay for dry cleaning unless you want to show up at the next soiree reeking like the village drunk. But she claims that vodka kills microbes that cause odor on clothing.
Over at The People’s Pharmacy — a treasure trove of bizarre natural home remedies for foot odor — a contributor mentions preferring vodka on the skin, rather than the more potent rubbing alcohol and messy milk of magnesia.
Even Dr. Oz is in on this strange cure. “Apply vodka or white vinegar to your underarms, because the alcohol in vodka and the acid in vinegar help to kill the bacteria,” he says.
Is There Any Truth To The Vodka Cure?
Can vodka really kill pathogens? First, we must consider how body odor happens. Most sweat (perspiration) is comprised of water and salt deriving from eccrine glands. Yet, the most insidious sweat comes from apocrine glands and is comprised of a more fatty secretion that bacteria on the skin’s surface just loves to gobble up, which causes the pungent odor we smell from our feet and armpits.
The basic notion is that vodka can kill bacteria by making the fats on the outer protective membranes of bacterial cells more water-soluble, so they lose structure and fall apart. The alcohol then enters the cell and denatures proteins inside the bacteria to neutralize the smell. It sounds genius, right? The only caveat is that, in reality, it takes a special set of conditions for this little science experiment to work. We need to ask the smart questions, such as: “What concentration of alcohol is needed to kill microbes?” Furthermore, “How long should it be applied to kill ALL bacteria?”
A science columnist says that high ethanol concentrations do a good job at killing off nasty bugs. Jonathan Golob writes, “Fifty to sixty percent ethanol can take out most bacteria. Viruses require a higher punch—80 to 90 percent ethanol.” However, he adds, “Vodka is typically 80 proof, a mere 40 percent alcohol—not enough to kill off disease-causing bacteria or viruses.”
Then, of course, there is the problem of how quickly bacteria colonizes and repopulates. When asked if vodka could kill bacteria inside the body, WebMD consultant Dr. Rod Moser, PhD, commented, “In a laboratory Petri dish, I am sure that the alcohol in the vodka would kill some or all of the bacteria.” However, the body is not a Petri dish in a sterile lab setting, he adds. It would take a really well-immersed bath in vodka to alleviate all germs and odor. “There are many parts of the throat that vodka would not even touch. These areas would rapidly re-contaminate the non-gargled areas so any partial benefit that you might achieve would be mitigated,” he says.
Other Options For Curing Stinky Feet
Even though science has debunked the myth of using vodka to cure stinky feet, you’re still welcome to try and report back to us. To cure stinky shoes, we recommend using our UV light shoe sanitizer, which is clinically proven to kill 99.9% of the microbes in your footwear in 45 minutes.
PS. Merry Christmas! Here’s a thought: Soome say using vodka in your Christmas tree water kills bacteria.