7 Easy Ways to Clean your Marching Band Shoes

7 Easy Ways to Clean your Marching Band Shoes

I remember the first time I picked up my B flat clarinet– it was about half my size, and I had no idea which end was up. I figured it all out, of course, by the time I got around to high school marching band. By then I could run through the scales, play songs I couldn’t have even dreamed I’d be capable of back in the day, and so on.

Something that I didn’t anticipate– having to fix smelly marching band shoes.

I mean, seriously! Band camp was already kind of the hardest thing I’d ever encountered in my freshman life. Eight-plus hours of marking our drill in the intense July summer heat. Running through the music and marking our sets on the dry, cracked asphalt. Not gonna lie, I went through three liters worth of water before lunch every day of band camp.

I mean, of course I rehearsed in more regular, plebeian tennis shoes, but for actual performances? We had our old man shoes.

Oh, you know what I’m talking about. The Dinkles.


Or, as I liked to think of them back in the day: “The stupid shoes I have to wear for hours on end and will one day burn when I graduate.” I actually didn’t end up burning ‘em just because they held so many memories, and a big part of that was also the fact that they didn’t stink like they did back when I first started to wear them as a freshman.


It’s not like I even wore them for days on end, but rehearsal, pep band, and football performances combined added up to about six or so hours of standing in the same darn pair of shoes. Standing, or marching– usually at a brisk 180 beats per minute. 

At the end of long nights on the field, I truly wanted little to do with my stupid marching band shoes. I would peel them off of my sore, tired feet with joy after every single football game, then I’d leave them in my band locker at school, go home in my crocs, and call it a night.

It wouldn’t be until the next parade, game, or full rehearsal that I’d realize that they were still just as smelly as the moment I’d taken them off. What gives?

I know a lot more about fixing smelly shoes now than my freshman, high school self did, and I can share with you the secrets I learned along the way to deodorize my marching band shoes-- for good.


Table of Contents

    1. Keep it Fresh with your Freezer

    2. Baking Powder POWER

    3. New Smells (good ones) with Newspaper

    4. Clean out your Shoes with Clean Socks

    5.Smells So Great with Fresh Soles

    6. BOOM Clean Smell with Black Teabags

    7. LUMI’S Natural Shoe and Foot Powder

    1. Freezer

     The cold never bothered me anyway-- but it did fix my stinky shoes


    What do you do with all of the leftover sandwiches and pizza (thanks band parents, always and forever) from the dinner before the game? Freeze it all, duh.

    Same with smelly shoes, alright? 

    I know, I know– you’re thinking that sneakers simply do not belong in the freezer. I’m going to tell you, right now, unequivocally, why they do, and why you should chuck your marching shoes in there pronto.

    So did you know that it’s not your feet or even your sweat that causes your shoes to even smell in the first place? Well, now you do.


    The terrible rank radiating up from your sweaty feet and shoes is actually a by-product of bacteria that thrives off of the moisture in your sweat and also the dead skin cells on your feet. Basically, your feet and sneakers are like a Costco food court for some really rank bacteria. It really sucks, I know.

    In order to stop the scent from exacerbating to completely untenable levels, we need to stop the bacteria in its tracks. Before you can get back to those eight to five steps, the bacteria needs to take a step back from you and your marching band shoes.

    Freezers help us do this in a super easy way. Just like when plants and animals slow down in the winter– think hibernating bears or any plant that’s not a pine tree– the cold temps in the freezer can slow down the bad bacteria’s growth (I know, I know– it’s gross to think that it’s growing at all, but just ignoring it sure isn’t going to do anything-- simply waiting around is literally more pointless than trying to tune the piccolo section).

    Leave your marching band shoes in the freezer when not in use. Promptly after they leave your feet, keep them in the frosty locker, rather than your undoubtedly overcrowded locker at school. 

    No joke– I shared with a mellophone at one time that had a seven-pound case– and that was on top of the several gym shorts, folders of music, old Taco Bell, and frying pan (don’t ask). Cramming smelly shoes in there on top of everything else just kind of sucked. 

    For real, just leave your shoes in the freezer– we both know that there’s no space at school.

    2. Baking Powder

    Power through the stank with baking powder


    Baking powder? More like baking POWER because this stuff seriously packs a punch when it comes to deodorizing your smelly shoes.

    So we chatted about how sweat and dead skin cells fuel the bacteria– not great. What if we were to deprive the bacteria of their food source? 

    Obviously, we’re all going to sweat– especially in the opener and the closer parts of the marching show. Or parades? Good grief, don’t even get me started on those hot, August and September days where we marched for hours on end in parades and showcases. So. Much. Sweat. And sunburns. I mean, you can always tell someone is a band kid if they’ve got the weird tan lines, ya’ know?

    But then the bacteria have a literal flood of sweat to snack on, which sucks for us, and we don’t want that.


    In order to keep the bacteria from getting stanky, we need to deprive them of that sweat ASAP. Like, as soon as you get out of uniform– or ASAYGOFU, if you will– because before then you should be at set, and ready to listen to marching orders, dummy. I don’t make the rules– I just stood at the ready, even though I was a sweaty hot mess, until the drum major blew the whistle to call everyone to release.

    3. Newspaper

    Newspapers make way for new smells (that don't smell like old cheese)


    Another item ready and on hand that is super amazing at absorbing sweat is your daily newspaper. Really, any moisture and the newspaper is able to trap it in.


    It’s crazy interesting too, because it’s not even the fact that it’s paper that makes it so absorbent! 


    Newspaper specifically, you see, has this secret little ingredient– a special trick up its sleeve, if you will. “Sizing,” is a variety of glazing that printers use to make newspapers water repellant. This comes in extra handy when we forget to bring in the morning paper and there’s a downpour. 


    I mean think about– any bit of water on most paper, and it’s smudge-city. Newspapers counteract the effects with its “sizing.” I mean, it’s won’t make your newspaper completely waterproof, but it sure does help– seriously, without sizing, the moment we got soggy weather, all of our newspapers would be about as useful as a tie-dyed t-shirt. 


    So how does it work? The sizing absorbs the moisture and then holds onto it like Alcatraz– no escapee water on its watch. The sizing slurps up the water like a sponge, then hangs onto it tightly, and the newspaper beneath gets to remain, for the most part, dry as a bone.


    In order to use newspaper to deodorize your shoes, grab some newspaper, and tear it into small pieces. Crumple the pieces small enough to shove into your marching shoes, and leave overnight or as long as your shoes aren’t in use.


    Just make sure to replace the newspaper between performances, because the newspaper will only be effective for so long before ya’ need some fresh sizing to fix your smelly shoes.


    4.   Clean Socks

    Clean socks for da' win


    Ok, Ok– hear me out on this one. I know that it may seem glaringly obvious, but clean socks, ma’ dear, stinky reader. Clean socks will totally kick the stank’s butt.


    I bet that right now you’re thinking something along the lines: Dang that’s stupid. DUH I should be wearing clean socks if I don’t want to smell like foot funk!


    I hear ya’ loud and clear, but for real, I kid you not, I just saw my little brother dig his dirty marching socks out of the hamper because he was in a rush for tonight’s first football game.


    We all need those really specific, nondescript, calf-high black or white socks to blend beneath the overalls, and if we forgot to wash them from the last performance… well, I mean it’s not like anyone will be breathing too heavily and be able to smell your stinky shoes– oh wait, you’re going to be surrounded by musicians who have to be able to play freakishly loud notes for an entire football stadium to hear, and they’ll be sucking in as much air as they can hold with every inhalation, and there’s no way that you’ll be able to hide the fact that your marching shoes reek like a brass mouthpiece that hasn’t been cleaned in literal years. 


    So just make sure to keep the plain socks that’ll appropriately blend with your uniform clean and you should be fine. Better yet, get several pairs of those plain socks, and keep them on hand.


    Not gonna lie, I kept a set of fresh socks in my clarinet case for years, and I’m just now taking them out. It certainly always pays to be prepared!

    5. ​​Replace the Soles

    Do you know how hard it is to find a royalty-free picture of shoe soles? It's more difficult than a high C on a trumpet, m'kay?


    Ya’ wanna know what sucks? Your marching shoes themselves actually harbor a ton of the bacteria that produce the funk. I mean, socks are a great barrier and all, but they’re not a perfect shield, and some of your sweat gets on the shoes, and then into the soles, and then your shoes basically become a mecca for the stinky lil’ guys.

    And marching shoes can’t exactly be washed. I get it– for the most part, they’re made out of this weird synthetic, leathery material and there’s just no heckin’ way that they’d survive a trip through any kind of washing machine, no matter how gentle the cycle was. Forget stinky marching shoes– you’d have no shoes at that point, or at least no shoes that could ever pass muster.


    The inner sole is in the part of the shoe that touches both your foot and your shoe. Basically, soles are the shoe’s “sock” and most shoes will let you take them out. If you’d care to try, some of those removable soles could be chucked into a washing machine (set on the most gentle cycle possible, of course). Or you could wash them by hand, should you so choose.

    Another option could be to simply replace the soles of the shoes after the marching season is done. I mean, typically you get four years, and frankly I only went through two shoes; two sets of shoes in desperate need of a good shining, albeit, but still only two sets of shoes, nonetheless. It wouldn’t have been too much of a problem to replace their soles every so often, and it would have, frankly, annihilated the foot funk. Truly, it’s not like you’d be buying a new set of soles for your smelly marching band shoes every other football game or parade. 

    6. Black Tea Bags

    Go after that tea like it's 1773 and you live in Boston


    But I get it– buying new soles for your funky footwear could totally bite into the budget, and being an instrumentalist ain’t cheap. Reeds, valve oil, cork grease– it all can get expensive! I once knew an oboist who had to make her reeds by hand and they cost her thirty dollars a piece, and she went through at least three a week (yet another reason why I chose the clarinet, which fortunately is capable of producing lovely tunes with cheap(er), industrially produced reeds I could get at the local music store).


    Black tea bags can be a much cheaper alternative. For all I know, you may already have some just hanging around in the pantry, waiting to be used to deodorize your smelly shoes.


    Let’s get down to business– black tea has tannins, and bacteria totally isn’t a fan. Tannins are naturally in a butt-ton of plants (like pomegranates, for example), and can actually be found in some pesticides. Essentially, tannins protect plants from predators. They’re astringent, which means that they’re a kind of chemical that shrinks or constricts body tissues. They’ll be able to constrict the living daylights out of your smelly bacteria, and BOOM foot smell is totally vanquished.


    Fun wee fact, but this whole “astringent thing” is basically why your mouth gets that funny puckery feeling after drinking black tea.


    All you have to do is boil a couple of tea bags, and then slide them on into your marching shoes.


    Tip for the wise and weary though– make doubly sure that they’ve cooled down a bit before sticking them in. A lot of marching band shoes are made up of synthetic materials, which tend to contain plastic and plastic kind of melts when it gets too toasty.


    Don’t melt your marching band shoes– that would suck more than playing a run at 180 BPM in the closer at the end of a ten-minute show (*read* when you’re ready to pass out and/or barf– nobody is concerned about which, and we all know that if you pass out, everyone will just keep going and march over your prone body).


    7. LUMI’S Natural Shoe and Foot Powder


    Or if you want something simple, you could easily go for LUMI’s simple and amazing Natural Shoe and Foot Powder to clean up your marching band shoes.

    LUMI’s Natural Shoe and Foot Powder is a simple, natural solution to deodorizing shoes that you’ll never want to give up once you’ve learned how effective it is. LUMI is a small, family-owned business that makes all of its products in the US, sources clean, high-quality ingredients, and it also makes sure to never ever test on animals (unless you count the annoying freshmen in the drumline as animals– I mean have you seen them when there’s a spread of pizza before a game? They can be absolutely terrifying).  

    LUMI’s Natural Shoe and Foot Powder is absolutely some of the best stuff out there for preventing foot odor, all because it prevents moisture (which, if you’ll care to recall, is feasting material for the smelly bacteria). Those awesome high-quality and clean ingredients that I mentioned earlier? We’ve got lined up for y’all kaolin clay, zinc oxide, bentonite clay, and more, which also happen to be great for your skin (treat yo’self, alright?). 

    Not convinced just yet? Well, LUMI’s Natural Shoe and Foot Powder has earned a 4.6-star rating on Amazon, and over 600 individual five-star reviews. Sandi here talks about how it works to save shoes that had been worn for hours on end:


    Go Sandi!


    And we all know those pesky football games almost always go into overtime, and your poor marching shoes are all the stinkier for it. 

    But literally no worries! Use LUMI’s Natural Shoe and Foot Powder and deodorize those shoes for good!

    Ok, let’s just run through everything one more time, because as we in the world of marching band know, when it comes to reps during rehearsal, all we ever hear is “Let’s do it again–  FROM THE TOP!” *Cue frantic sprinting to the first set* 

    To start us off we have the freezer– where all good things come from. I mean come on, inside that frosty treasure chest you could have pizza rolls, leftover casserole, ice cream, and/or not-so-stinky marching band shoes. All of the best things this universe has to offer, basically. Just stick your shoes in there when they get smelly, and enjoy the fresh scent of Dinkle popsicles.

    Second off we have baking powder, which will absorb your sweat like there’s no tomorrow, and deprive the sucky bacteria of all of its moist, snackable fodder. Simply pour a little bit of baking powder into each shoe and let it do its thing.

    Newspaper essentially does the same thing with its “sizing” component that’s not only good for preventing feathering on damp newspapers, but also for taking in the moisture just hanging out in your shoe, waiting to become stank. Roll up a couple of small balls of newspaper, and stuff it all into the shoes.

    Clean socks will also put a dent in the dang bacteria’s plan for complete and utter shoe domination, as you make sure to wear ONLY clean socks for performances. You know what? Also, you should really wear clean socks to rehearsal. I know that after school our shoes can be a little toasty from having our feet inside of them all day, but that’s where a spare set of (once again: CLEAN) socks could be super helpful in the war we’re waging against the wack wafts emanating from your shoes.

    Replacing the soles of your stinky shoes will also do the trick, and it’s as easy as slipping the funky soles out and sticking a fresh set in.

    Black tea bags also work, as you boil a couple, and then let them hang out so that their astringent little tannins can go after the smelly bacteria. You could also totally boil yourself a spare black tea bag, and have a nice cup of tea while your shoes are deodorized.

    But if you want an even easier option use LUMI’s Natural Shoe and Foot PowderIt truly works to eliminate your foot odor for good.


    When you use LUMI you’ll be ready to put on a good show from the moment you hear “Shift push one!”

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