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3 easy ways to make shoes smaller (without insoles)

Do you have nearly new shoes in your closet that don't fit right? Shoes being slightly too big is a really common problem. It's especially frustrating if you've big feet & shoes in your size are in short supply.

When there is only a baby fingernail width between the lengths of whole shoe sizes, it's no wonder shoes can feel all wrong when they are not quite right. So here are 3 easy & inexpensive ways to make shoes that are too big fit better.

Got the opposite problem & need to make your shoes bigger or wider? Check out my shoe stretching guide instead

Make shoes tighter in the heel

Each Ballotte padded heel grip is shaped a bit like a bow tie, with strong 3m adhesive on the back

If your heels are slipping out of your shoes, you can fix this by sticking padded heel inserts in the backs of your shoes.

Heel grips are also a good solution to stop shoes rubbing the back of your heels. I've had a lifelong struggle with heel blisters & was amazed to discover recently that a common cause is shoes being slightly too big. This makes your feet move up & down in your shoes more than they should, and the friction results in sore heels.

I bought this 6 pair pack of Ballotte padded heel grips to try out. My expectations were low, because they were quite cheap & Chinese brands on Amazon can be hit & miss. But I was very pleasantly surprised.

I've already fixed 4 pairs of shoes that were giving me blisters with these heel inserts. It's exciting to finally be able to wear all these shoes instead of them gathering dust at the back of my closet.

Heel grips are versatile & work with all closed heel footwear e.g. flats, sandals, sneakers or even boots. They are easiest to place in shoes with a low closed heel, because it's obvious where to put them - you just align them with the top.

Ballotte padded heel grip close up. It's soft and bends to fit in the heel of your shoe.

With high tops or booties, it's harder to know exactly where to stick them. You can place them at the back without sticking them first, and put your foot in and see how they feel, but there's a bit of trial and error involved.

In terms of downsides, padded heel grips do make booties a bit harder to get on. Shoes feel a bit odd at first every time you put them on too, because you can feel the inserts behind your heels.

But, 5-10 minutes into a walk, this sensation goes away and you just feel nice cushioning behind your foot. I've had zero irritation or rubbing at the back of my heels since I started using these heel grips too.

So while it's not as good as having shoes that are a perfect fit, I'm now able to wear 4 pairs of shoes regularly that I thought were a lost cause. So these Ballotte padded heel grips get a big thumbs up from me.

Adding heel inserts means I can now wear these 4 pairs of shoes - hurray!

Heel Grips still working after 1 Year

April 2023 update: I'm delighted to report that my heel grips have stayed put in my shoes for a whole year!

I've worn my burgundy Ecco Soft 7 low booties regularly for 12 months now thanks to these heel grips. I'm still aware of them every single time I put my shoes on, so that strange feeling doesn't fade. But once I walk a few minutes in them I forget all about it.

I noticed a small bobbly bit around the middle of the heel grip a couple of weeks ago, and thought it might be wearing out. But I just snipped it off & it felt fine again.

When I look closely, I can also see the edges of the heel grip starting to come away from the shoe, but the heel grip still hasn't budged yet.

Close-up of heel grip in Ecco shoe after 1 year's regular wear

I mainly wear my mustard Clarks mary janes around the house. The heel grips give a nice, comfy padded feel. Again, I stuck them on a year ago and they've never come off.

The heel grips partially came off a couple of times when putting on my grey Fitflop Sumi ankle boots. Unusually, my Fitflops are lined with fabric at the heel which is trickier to stick to anything. I just stuck them back down again & they still have the original heel grips in them, but I rarely wear these boots any more.

I think the heel grips don't stay in place as well on shoes with a higher back, where your foot moves up & down more getting the shoes on and off. It's also tricky to attach the heel grips to exactly the right spot on high back shoes. It can take a couple of goes, so there can be less of a bond from the get-go.

I'm pleasantly surprised at how well my heel grips worked and especially how long they're lasting considering the cheap price. I'll report back again when they finally wear out.

Close-up of heel grips in Clarks shoe after 1 year of light indoor wear
My Heel Grips on Amazon

Try shoe toe inserts

Sizers shoe toe inserts reduce shoes by 1/4 size (pink), 1/2 size (purple) or a whole size (orange). Rounded version shown, pointed also available.

Alternatively you can pad shoes at the toe instead of the heel by putting soft foam toe inserts into the tops of your shoes before you put your foot in.

You can use toe inserts with all closed toe footwear. They are worth trying for open back styles like mules & slingbacks where you can't use heel inserts.

I bought Sizers shoe toe inserts to try them out. They come in round and pointed toe versions. I got a rounded toe multipack that lets you decrease shoes by 1/4, 1/2 or a full size. The different sizes are also handy if you have slightly different size feet (many do without knowing it). You can reuse them in different pairs of shoes & they're washable too, so if you can get used to them in your shoes, they could be a game changer.

I loved the idea of toe inserts because I thought I was more sensitive to how my heels feel in shoes than my toes. Unfortunately, I hated the feel of toe inserts in reality.

I tried them in ankle booties and flat slip on shoes and moulded them in the oven as advised for maximum comfort. But I found warming them did nothing, and it was tricky finding the best position at the top of the shoes & getting them to stay there. They felt ok at first, but the longer I walked in them the more I was aware of them. I ended up taking them out mid walk while testing both pairs.

Sizers toe inserts are made of soft flexible foam and look like colorful eyebrows

Sizers toe inserts get mixed reviews on Amazon (although Etsy reviews are better), probably because everyone's feet are different. I imagine how you walk and the styles of shoes you wear also affect things. I only tried the round toe version in flat shoes & boots. Your foot weight is distributed differently in heels vs flats and people naturally have different gaits.

Even though they didn't work for me, I'm still glad I tried them, because they would have been so useful & versatile if only I had found them comfy to wear.

Sizers on Etsy Sizers on Amazon

I didn't even know shoe toe inserts existed until I came across Sizers, but I've since found another brand called Shoolex, whose foam toe inserts are a more solid shoe toe shape rather than the Sizers "eyebrow" shape. The medium size makes shoes half a size smaller and the small size reduces by even less. I haven't tried these myself & these also get mixed reviews, but they are an alternative option to try for round or almond toe shoes.

Wear thicker socks

Wearing thicker socks can also fix shoes that are too big. It's such a simple idea which works well for boots, sneakers and other closed shoes.

My Fitflop Sumi ankle booties felt lovely underfoot but unfortunately rubbed the back of my heels after walking for about 20 minutes. Wearing thicker socks was a quick and easy fix. No more sore heels - yay!

Heavily patterned socks worked best for me. They're more dense and a bit padded due to all the extra strands from the colorwork on the inside of the socks. The only problem was that I only have one pair of these socks. It was a pain only being able to wear my boots with those socks & Bosco socks are not appropriate for all occasions either! 🤭

These cute socks make my booties really comfy to wear as the pattern makes them dense & padded. They feature Bosco, star of 80s kids TV in Ireland

But if you don't mind having extra socks of varying thickness for different shoes, this can work well. Cushioned sports socks go well with sneakers, or make loose booties extra cosy. For smarter shoes where socks will be seen, ribbed socks look good, or make a statement by rocking highly patterned socks which are naturally more dense and padded.

While you can take the thicker socks hacks further and wear 2 pairs of socks together instead, I don't recommend it. I tried this approach first and found wearing double socks felt too restrictive and compressed. Also, foot moisture could build up doing this & cause fungal problems which can be hard to get rid of.

So stick to just one pair of thicker socks, preferably made with a natural material like cotton, bamboo or wool, and let your feet breathe.

Do insoles make shoes tighter?

Yes. A popular suggestion for making shoes smaller is to use insoles, but that's easier said than done. Quality footwear brands often have their own special comfort insole or footbed technology, customised for each style. You can lose these benefits by switching to another insole or layering them.

With so many types of women's footwear & style variations, it's also hard to find a generic insole to fit just right and be comfortable to wear.

Should I keep shoes that are too big?

No. It's always best that your shoes fit well without any adjustments needed.

So if new shoes feel a bit loose when you try them on, or your foot is slipping out when you walk, just return them. Already worn the shoes? It may not be too late. Some stores even let you return worn shoes & certain brands have a satisfaction guarantee.

But if you've got nearly new shoes in the back of your closet that gave you blisters, it's worth trying these hacks. For a few dollars, you could be wearing cute shoes you thought were a lost cause. 🤞

Update History
  • April 2023: Heel grips update after 1 year of use
  • April 2022: Main review after trying 3 methods