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I have a leather shoe which is starting to have a very unpleasant smell. I'm wondering if anybody had any success cleaning this kind of shoes using baking soda with white vinegar as it's mentioned on the webpages I've found by googling (Washing the inside of a leather shoe). Or can I use just normal soap to do it?

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    I want to mention that leather (unlike canvas) stores the athlete's foot fungus. That could be the cause of the smell. Once you've cleaned out the smell, it may benefit you to spray the shoes after each use with an antifungal like Tinactin or Lotramin. – BrettFromLA Jan 31 '18 at 19:27
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    @BrettFromLA If smell is a concern, then it's more from bacteria than fungi. – LаngLаngС Feb 2 '18 at 15:26
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Using vinegar and baking soda together as a DIY cleaner is not such a great idea, although not a that bad one.

Vinegar alone can be used as a cleaning agent:

The Best Cleaning Recipes You Can Make With Vinegar: While vinegar is safe for most surfaces, it isn't safe for every surface. Avoid using vinegar on natural stone countertops and floors, like those made of granite, marble, and quartz; it will etch the stone. You should also avoid using vinegar on unsealed grout or grout that needs to be resealed again. Waxed surfaces are a no-no, too.

Opinions are mixed about whether vinegar is safe to use on wood floors. If you decide to try it, dilute the vinegar in an equal amount of water and do a test spot before tackling the entire floor.

This also applies to leather items, with some caveats:

Can You Use Vinegar to Clean Leather?
Leather, a natural material, needs to retain some moisture to maintain softness and flexibility. Vinegar can be a strong cleaning agent, but it can also dry out leather items. Mix together two parts linseed oil and one part white vinegar to create a leather cleaning/conditioning solution that cleans even as it helps keep the leather soft. Apply the mixture to the leather with a soft, clean cloth, and let it sit for approximately 12 hours. Buff the leather with a clean, dry cloth -- it will be cleaner and softer once the treatment is complete.

Some testimonials about vinegar with leather are here.

Baking soda alone is also usable for dealing with smelly leather:

Get Bad Smells out of Leather Seal the leather in a baking soda solution. Baking soda is great for absorbing bad odors and it is safe to use on leather. You will need baking soda and a pillowcase or a zip-lock bag that is big enough to fit your leather item.5 Place the leather item in the pillowcase of the zip-lock bag. Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the surface of the leather. You can also sprinkle the inside of the leather item to remove any odors on the inside of the item. Tie the end of the pillowcase or seal the zip-lock bag. Let the item sit in the baking soda overnight, or for 24 hours. Remove the baking soda by using a small vacuum or a clean cloth. Brush the baking soda off gently to avoid scratching the leather. Repeat the baking soda process until the bad odor is gone.

Both substances are known to be good alternatives to buying commercial leather cleaners. So, a certain logic might opt to combine two powerful recipes into one for added benefit?
One problem with combining vinegar with baking soda is solved by applying high school chemistry: baking soda neutralises vinegar and forms a salt (and gas). You will not want that on or in your leather. Theoretical consideration aside, this has been tested:

What Really Happens When You Mix Baking Soda with Vinegar? The Good Housekeeping Institute did test the theory of using baking soda and vinegar on a drain a few years back (their recipe: 1/2 cup baking soda + 1/4 cup salt down the drain, followed by a cup of heated vinegar, let stand 15 minutes, then flush with hot tap water). They found that the combination did a fairly good job of deodorizing (the baking soda) and cutting through grease (the vinegar). So Forte said they recommend it for, say, a bad-smelling drain or to remove light grease buildup, but not as a replacement for a commercial drain-clearing product or a plumber. So as long as you're using it for maintenance and not expecting it to solve a truly clogged drain, it will help freshen and keep drains flowing for you.
But surely, all that fizzing when you combine the two means that something is happening? When I asked Bolkan if the fizzing did anything, the short answer was no. "There isn't really any added cleaning power, as the difference is only noticeable on a microscopic level," he says. But Forte thought the bubbles might actually have a benefit: "I think the foam actually helps! It causes the mixture to cling, just like a foaming cleanser you'd use on your bathroom walls — if it were a liquid, it would slide right down, but when it foams, it gives the vinegar a chance to work on the pipe walls before you flush it down," says Forte.

The Truth About Baking Soda and Vinegar The combination as most people make it typically leaves you with a mildly acidic solution, milder than plain vinegar. But the foam might keep your mildly acidic solution in place longer for applications like the drain or grout on your wall, where a spray wouldn't have a chance to work. So if you are someone who's committed to making your own cleanser and is not turned off by the smell of vinegar, this combination may work for you. "Just take it with a grain of salt," Forte says. Or in this case, a grain of baking soda.

It might be your goal to decrease the strength of highly acidic vinegar with baking soda. But that takes away some of its cleaning powers and does not add anything other that is really useful.

More explicitly:

The Vinegar Myth: Vinegar as a Natural Cleaner Dos and Don’ts
Myth #3: Baking soda and vinegar are a dynamic duo of green cleaning power!

This myth is a relatively new one to me as well! I mean come on, looking at that amazing fizzing action – that has to be an equally amazing natural cleaner, right?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

The reaction of the vinegar and baking soda does create a fun fizzy reaction, but that reaction actually breaks the solution down into basically water with a little bit of sodium acetate, a.k.a. salt.

So it’s really just a light salt water solution. Again, not so great for deep cleaning around the house, huh? (Note: baking soda is still a great natural abrasive cleaner.)

Vinegar and baking soda can still be used for that pupose and combine their powers, though: Start with vinegar, then use baking soda. That way the baking soda will also attenuate the smell of the vinegar.

Concerning soap:

As already evidenced by the information hiding behind the link in question, soap is also a possible cleaning agent, but a milder, low concentration detergent than real soap might be even better. One very simple recipe, as endorsed by a shoe manufacturer:

To clean the interior of a shoe:

• Combine water with a few drops of detergent and baking soda to form a paste. • Wipe the full interior of the shoe with the paste and allow to dry for 15 minutes. • Wipe away the dry paste with a clean rag.

General points to observe:

Some odours can be very ingrained. If you cleaned the shoes and they still smell after several rounds of treatment, short of professional conditioning, you might want to fill porous bags with soda or activated charcoal, ground coffee leftovers (not too wet, much more dry than wet), optionally adding some interesting molecules. Most of these really suck up a lot of the aroma.

Modern saddle soap is probably the best advised soap to use on leather. Saddle soap is diluted detergent with some oils and wax mixed in. Depending on the leather, 80% on the market today is chromium tanned or otherwise acid-tanned, alkaline soaps react with those tan-leftovers and lead to damage in the long run. pH-neutral tensides are preferable, like Alkyl polyglycoside. Alternatively use a baby-(non)soap, those are usually pretty mild.

  • I've put one table spoon of baking soda only on the insole yesterday (link). 24 hours later (2 hours ago) I've checked and the shoe still smells bad. I should probably try the solution you've proposed (put the shoe inside the a bag and sprinkle the baking sode inside and outside) of the shoe. – Hakim Feb 4 '18 at 16:32
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    @h4k1m Some odours can be very ingrained. If you cleaned them and they still smell after several rounds of treatment, short of professional conditioning, you might want to fill porous bags with soda and activated charcoal, ground coffee leftovers (not too wet, much more dry than wet), optionally adding some interesting molecules. Most of these really suck up a lot of the aroma. – LаngLаngС Feb 4 '18 at 16:42
  • What's the reason for putting the shoe inside a zip-lock bag? Is it because the baking soda needs no fresh air to efficiently absorb the smell? Also, concerning the last part in your answer, what can of detergent should be combined with the baking soda to clean the interior of the shoe? – Hakim Feb 4 '18 at 17:01
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    Main reason for zip lock to prevent the stink from traveling to other items (and reduce potential spilling). – Modern saddlesoap is diluted detergent with some oils and wax mixed in. Depends on the leather, 80% on the market today is chromium tanned or otherwise acid-tanned, alkaline soaps ract with those tan-leftovers and lead to damage in the long run. pH-neutral tensides are preferable, like Alkyl_polyglycoside. Alternatively use a baby-(non)soap, those are usually pretty mild. – LаngLаngС Feb 4 '18 at 17:20
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Baking Soda and Lime:

There is another method for smelly shoes, as well as athlete's foot. A family recipe of using lime juice with baking soda by mixing them into a paste that is smeared into the shoe and then is allowed to dry. Another way that was used was to put the paste on the foot, and between toes, with the sock put on after and worn inside the shoe.

I never tried it myself, but I witnessed that it worked both on the smell of the shoes, and on the athlete's foot condition as well. Afterwards, the treatment was discontinued, as if there had never been a problem.

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