Should You Remove Your Shoes Indoors?

Let's look at the pros and cons of this often controversial subject.

Are you a household where shoes are always removed before entering the home? Or do you prefer to wear shoes inside your house? Have you ever been taken aback when a friend insists you remove your shoes before entering their home (especially when you’ve just spent a lot of money and even more time picking out just the right pair)? In the U.S., asking your guests to remove their shoes before entering your home can cause reactions as opinionated as if you’d just asked them to outline the peace process in the Middle East. Why? In America, we often applaud people for maintaining traditions of their culture, yet we’re quick to criticize another family’s habits (especially when it infringes upon our own). We are often a society of over-thinkers and over-analyzers, and sometimes we rely too heavily upon the pseudo facts that fill our Facebook feeds. Although whether or not shoes should be removed before entering the home is rife with controversy (if you don’t believe me just search for “remove shoes indoors” and read the polarized opinions), I prefer a more calm approach. So let’s look at a few facts and figures so you can make your own informed decision about this topic.

1. Remove shoes to avoid bacterial contamination: True or False?

True. Shoes harbor germs and bacteria and it’s been proven in multiple scientific studies. Of course, you might think that your shoes are magically wiped clean of bacteria because you don’t walk on dirty city sidewalks or across a cow field, but the fact of the matter is that bacteria is everywhere. (In fact, farmers know exactly how easy it is for footwear to spread disease from animal to animal. The routine of washing or disinfecting shoes when traveling from one farm to another helps keep animals safe from bacterial infections.)

Bacteria is really good at “sticking” to the soles of shoes. Microbiologist Charles P. Gerba, a professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, studies how humans spread microbes. He swabbed 26 shoes worn by test subjects for more than three months and identified nine microbial species that can cause “intestinal, urinary, eye, lung, blood and wound infections.” The Baltimore Sun reports that “Coliform bacteria – originating in fecal matter – were found on the outside of all but one of the shoes, and the samples averaged 421,000 bacterial units per square centimeter sampled. (Each unit is enough bacteria to reproduce and grow a new colony.) Seven of the shoes had picked up Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria.” Public restrooms are a huge source of fecal bacteria, but so are bird, dog and animal droppings that we inevitably step in while walking on sidewalks, parks and other outdoor surfaces. So although your shoes may not look dirty, they most likely are, and you can help create a healthier home environment by leaving dirty shoes at the door. Some shoes may be able to be washed in a machine however there hasn’t been enough research to prove that this gets rid of harmful bacteria.

2. Remove shoes when babies and small children are present: True or False?

True. If you’ve ever had crawling babies in your home you know that their tiny hands explore all surfaces, predominantly the flooring, and those hands quickly go from the floor to the mouth. Most parents like to say “a little dirt don’t hurt” and although that can be true, especially for adults who have developed some immunity, it’s not entirely true for the above mentioned bacteria, which can actually hurt small children. Professor Gerba tested just how much bacteria is left on the floor once people walked inside a home across clean tile flooring. He found that 90 to 95 percent of the colonies were left on the tiles. “Every step they took, we sampled after them – 10 to 20 steps,” he said. “We could still find plenty of organisms on every footstep.” Germs and bacteria love entering our bodies through the mouth, and kids can bring their hands to their mouths as much as 80 times an hour while playing. A good practice is that if you have small children in the home, politely ask guests to remove their shoes, especially if your guest will be entering play areas or the baby’s room. Just like asking a guest to wash their hands before holding the baby, it’s a smart way to stop the spread of harmful bacteria.

3. Remove shoes to protect floors: True or False?

True. Shoes, even flat-soled shoes, are really good at tracking in small bits of sand, dirt and rocks, which can easily scratch floors as well as make a mess of carpeting and rugs. Like sandpaper, this grit can travel from the front or back door right across the wood flooring, creating tiny scratches or leaving debris stuck in between grout lines. Carpeting can get especially dirty from shoes. Mud or soil get stuck in the small grooves of the sole, depositing messes on the fibers that may be difficult to remove. If you don’t want to remove your shoes before coming inside the home, purchase a good quality outdoor mat to help trap mud, soil or dirt from coming inside. Additionally, placing another rug just inside the home will offer one more layer of protection for flooring. Another solution is to dedicate specific shoes for outdoor work, like mud boots or work shoes, that you always remove before coming inside. Establish good habits like wiping shoes, or removing really dirty ones, before coming inside the home and your floors will thank you.

4. Remove shoes for better foot health: True or False?

True. Modern shoes can make our outfits look amazing, but podiatrists agree that many of them are making our feet miserable.Considering that our feet have 26 bones, 33 joints and 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons, we need to be kind to our feet. From bunions to corns, ingrown toenails to plantar fasciitis, it is possible that our feet could use a break. Walking barefoot has advantages like increasing our balance, massaging the whole foot, and increasing muscular strength. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, foot health is integral to a person’s overall health and feet have many nerve receptors that send signals to the central nervous system. Reflexology has been in practice for over 5,000 years, and anthropologists have conducted research regarding the multiple health benefits of barefoot cultures. Regardless of your views on reflexology or barefoot running, removing shoes can positively contribute to good overall foot health, especially when walking around your own home. Since most of us can’t exactly be barefoot outside the home, inside the home is a great place to kick off your shoes.

5. Remove shoes to honor culture: True or False?

True. Many cultures remove their shoes before entering a home, temple or indoor area like a classroom. The reasons behind this are as varied as the cultures themselves. Just like removing a hat before eating at the table, shoes are removed before entering holy places, like a mosque or temple, as a sign of respect.  In other cultures, removing shoes reflects a practical choice. In Japan, where much of life is centered on or near the floor, you would never want dirty shoes touching tatami mats or other indoor spaces. In many countries, homes are purposely built just up off the ground, which helps with ventilation, temperature regulation, and keeps homes free from soil, mud, floods or pests. In addition to practical reasons, there is a psychological effect of raising a home off the ground. It signifies that you are entering another, more private space, and removing shoes means that you’re leaving the outside world behind. Regardless of your own cultural background or beliefs, if you are a guest in someone’s home or a guest in a holy place, it is often considered to be good manners to remove your shoes so just ask if you aren’t sure of the tradition.

Asking guests to remove shoes: Yes or No?

Of course, this decision is entirely up to you and your household. I think it’s always the role of a host to make guests feel comfortable. If you are normally a shoes-off type of home, but you notice that your guests may actually have trouble removing their shoes, need their shoes for health reasons, or you think asking them might cause more disruption than not, consider temporarily forgoing your tradition. Of course, I’d reconsider this if anyone who tries to enter with particularly muddy shoes (for example, home improvement professionals are used to removing shoes inside or using shoe booties) or someone with damaging shoes (we’re looking at you 5-inch high stilettos).

So what type of household are you: shoes on or shoes off? Have any influencers like living in another country or city changed your stance on this topic? Let us know in the comments below!

For more information on Professor Gerba’s study, read the full article here http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2008-05-08/features/0805080063_1_bacteria-gerba-coliform

If you’re interested in the debate of wearing shoes versus not wearing shoes, especially while running, you might want to read this fantastic article here http://neuroanthropology.net/2009/07/26/lose-your-shoes-is-barefoot-better/

Anne Reagan

Anne Reagan

With a background in furniture and antiques, Anne has spent the last several years writing about home improvement and interior design. An avid traveler, she loves to collect pieces that tell a story and in her off hours she can be found hunting for vintage furniture and textiles.

21 Comments

R. James McClure

I am convinced that this is a good move. For now on my home will be a shoes off household.

Rhonda Pierce

Shoes come off at the front door. I have no problem taking my shoes off at others homes.

Mark

Excellent post. We are very strict about shoes not being worn in the house. The family all have their slippers by the door and we change into them when we get in. Guests remove their shoes, close friends and family have slippers to wear. Consequently our lovely wooden floors and carpets remain in pristine condition

queenopearls .

Wonderful arguments for taking off shoes. Two things I would like suggestions about: 1. When you have a dog and 2. Making the shoe storage pretty and not stinky.

Anne Reagan

Great questions! I, too, have a dog and it’s difficult to keep their paws clean. I’m not sure if research has been done on bacteria brought inside the home via dog paws. As far as shoe storage, that’s a really great problem to solve. I think you’ve inspired me to write about it! thanks

Dorien Morin-van Dam

I keep a basket with rags to wipe my three dog’s feet near the back door! And a basket with clean socks for my kids’ friends to wear; we live in the south and everyone wears flip flops and has dirty feet! So the socks keep my floors clean; I just tell them to dump the socks in the ‘dirty’ basket on the way out. If you have a system, it works!

karenbjaz

I agree PackmanJim. Direct quote from HopkinsMedicine.org: “When researchers studied the effects of cumulative exposure to both bacteria and mouse, cockroach and cat allergens, they noticed another striking difference. Children free of wheezing and allergies at age 3 had grown up with the highest levels of household allergens and were the most likely to live in houses with the richest array of bacterial species. Some 41 percent of allergy-free and wheeze-free children had grown up in such allergen and bacteria-rich homes. By contrast, only 8 percent of children who suffered from both allergy and wheezing had been exposed to these substances in their first year of life.” Exposure to dirt is beneficial even at young ages. Friends I know who grew up in really clean environments are also the most allergy & asthma prone. You are only protecting your floors & carpets.

Anne Reagan

Great point, and there are studies that show the bacterial world of our own homes can be beneficial. I read that article as well and I think it’s important to point out that the study was based upon bacteria and germs that already existed within the home (the home ecology) and it was specifically studying the causation of these bacteria and germs as it relates to allergies and asthma (not other bacteria-caused illnesses). I suppose one could assume from reading this article that the mothers of these babies were also exposed to these germs while pregnant too, and what influence does that have on the baby (if any)? The most important take-away from this article, in my opinion, was the timing of the exposure. In other words, the bacterium you grow up with may work differently in your body than the bacterium you are exposed to later in life.

But really, my article was simply to point out that no matter where you live (farm, suburbs, city) your shoes track inside the home things that can contribute to greater wear and tear on the flooring (like sand, dirt, mud, gum, etc.) which may lead to the need to replace carpeting or flooring more frequently. Additionally, it is possible that our shoes can bring inside potentially dangerous bacteria that isn’t safe no matter what you were exposed to as an infant (namely E. coli). I think the jury is still out on what, exactly, causes allergies and I definitely believe that “a little dirt don’t hurt” but I’m still going to wash my hands when I come in from outside and before I prepare a meal.

If anyone else would like to read the full article mentioned you can find it here http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/newborns_exposed_to_dirt_dander_and_germs_may_have_lower_allergy_and_asthma_risk

Thank you again for your comment!

synrgii

“the jury is still out”,,,not at all! The microbiome projects have proven conclusively that our total genetic material within are actually 90% from other critters. We are only 10% “human’ and that the people with the healthiest blends of gut flora (the part of us that produces 80% of our immune system, neurotransmitters, digestion, lymph system, etc) are the ones that do NOT use hand sanitizer and soap and all that other nonsense. They just eat the plants. They may even eat raw meats, etc. Yall are brainwashed into this “germ” nonsense.

Marcus Carlson

This one-sided written debate is so pro-“shoes off” that it isn’t a debate at all. What about foot funguses absorbed by damp, sweaty socks? Might that be considered? And while I have no proof, I assume most American families actually do wear shoes in their home.

Marcus Carlson

Wow, you’re right. I didn’t think of that. I’m leaving my shoes on from now on!

Anne Reagan

Athlete’s foot (athlete’s foot is actually a combination of foot fungus and nail infections) can be a serious issue for some people and according to medical experts, it’s most commonly transferred from person to person in warm, wet, humid conditions like locker rooms, swimming pools or shared showers. This fungi loves dark, damp conditions like the inside of socks. Sweaty socks should always be changed (or switch to absorbing socks) and old shoes should be replaced (shoes can harbor fungi and actually cause a reinfection). It’s also recommended to choose shoes that reduce humidity or occasionally take off shoes. If someone in the family is diagnosed with athlete’s foot it’s recommended that the infection be medically treated right away and that the other members of the family take caution with their own feet.

Austin

I have a bit different take on the article. My wife is from Thailand, it’s their culture to remove footwear before entering the home. To me, I like the idea.

PAK

I like having shoes removed regardless of the pros and cons. I feels good to me and it does make a difference on how dirty our wood floors get before each weekly cleaning. It just feels right to me.

Grotty

We are actually discussing this on a friend’s FB page this week. Being Canadian, from Ontario, we always removed shoes when entering our homes. Its just what we did. Completely bizarre to us that people don’t. I mean, you remove a jacket, why not shoes?

Deidre Lord Cervini

I allow people to wear shoes in my home. I am a nurse and I leave my shoes that have walked miles in the hospital in the garage.

I broke my foot years ago and now must wear footwear. I was a barefoot girl before the break. I am only comfortable walking with footwear now.

I miss being barefoot!

Frank

I know that it appears that the direction in the USA is to go “shoe less” indoors, and from all the online evidence flaunted by the “pro shoe less” folks, it is simply amazing that we’ve been able to persevere for so many centuries! But the movement is large and it is growing, so I guess old timers like me will have to conform, but when doing my research, I came across a blog from 2013 that I feel sums it all up pretty clearly, but knowing some of the shoe less folks, they’ll classify it as something like Hillary lying about Benghazi and her email server. Check it out if interested:
https://mabelkwong.com/?s=shoes+on+off+house&submit=Search

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