You can switch to natural cleaners, run an an air filter, and even use probiotics in the name of improving your home’s microbiome, but if you wear shoes in the house it may be undoing all your efforts. It took some time and research convince me, but there are many reasons to have a no shoes rule in the house. (And ask your guests to leave their shoes at the door too.)
Why a No Shoes Rule Is Best
It’s not always easy to “train” every member of the household to take off shoes each time they come in (especially if you have kids going in and out constantly like I do), but it is possible with (a lot) of reminders.
Although overly sterile environments and harsh antibacterial cleaners have their own problems, it’s not just good, clean dirt shoes are tracking into the house.
Here are some of the reasons why we follow a no shoes rule at our house:
Keeps Toxins Out
Toxins enter the house in a number of ways. They can make their way in through the air (indoor air is actually more toxic than outdoor air), in the household products we use, and especially on the bottom of our shoes.
A study performed at Baylor in Texas found that a chemical found in coal-tar-based pavement sealant was in homes that were adjacent to asphalt treated with the sealant, indicating that it was tracked in on shoes. The study also found that those who lived adjacent to asphalt pavements with coal-tar-based pavement sealants were at an increased risk of cancer. Most of the increase was in children.
Another toxin that can make its way into our homes is 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid, an ingredient in many herbicides that kill broad-leaf weeds but not grasses (like lawn turf and cereal grains). 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid was found in homes where this lawn chemical was applied to the lawn either professionally or by the homeowner. The study found that the most likely cause of the chemical making it indoors was activity level of children and pets and wearing shoes inside (vs. taking them off at the door).
If you use herbicides currently. consider making the switch to a natural lawn.
Reduces Harmful Bacteria
It’s not just environmental toxins that make it into the home on the bottom of our shoes, it’s harmful bacteria too. One study found that 421,000 units of bacteria on average are on the outside of the shoe (and 2,887 on the inside, yuck!). These scientists also found that shoes commonly harbored coliform and E. coli bacteria on both the inside and outside. Ninety six percent of shoes that were tested contained this harmful bacteria.
The scientists believe that the source of bacteria is most likely public restroom floors or outside areas where animal feces are present. The study found that shoes transferred bacteria to home floors anywhere from 95 to 99 percent of the time. Washing shoes with detergent reduces bacteria by 90 percent, but this isn’t possible with all shoes depending on what they’re made of. Leaving shoes at the door seems to be the easiest and best solution.
Considering many people go to a public restroom and then to other places (a restaurant, their office, etc.), it would make sense to consider most places we go in a day contaminated by harmful bacteria. Especially hospitals. In one study, C. difficile (a potentially dangerous bacteria that causes diarrhea and is increasingly resistant to antibiotics) was found on 64 percent of shoes from clinicians and non-healthcare workers.
Cuts Down on Dirt (and Housework)
I don’t worry if my kids get some dirt in their mouth while playing outside (as long as it’s not clearly contaminated), since dirt can contain many strains of beneficial bacteria which help build the immune system.
But, dirt in the house is another story. As a busy mom, I don’t have time to sweep and wash floors multiple times a day. When you have little ones who crawl around on the floor (and even eat things off the floor!) it makes sense to keep the floors as clean as possible — especially because of the other harmful substances that can come in on shoes.
Not tracking in dirt (and toxins) with our shoes is an obvious solution.
Improves Foot Health by Going Barefoot
In Asian cultures it’s customary to remove shoes before entering the home. There are a few reasons for this, one being that they see barefootedness as good for the feet (and overall health). The Chinese have been practicing reflexology for centuries and believe that being barefoot helps stimulate pressure points on the feet for optimal health.
Modern science backs it up too. A review found that wearing shoes can constrict the structure and function of the feet. Those that walk barefoot are more likely to use the entire foot in an anatomically correct way. Not wearing shoes also helps you be more aware of your stance and can improve gait.
It’s not always possible to be barefoot outside (if shoes can bring all of these contaminants inside, our feet probably could too) but choosing to be barefoot while at home can help avoid many of the issues of wearing shoes.
How to Get Guests to Remove Shoes
While Asian cultures see it as rude to wear your shoes inside, in America it can get tricky to know what to do. Taking your shoes off at another person’s house without being invited to (unless your shoes are visibly dirty) may be considered rude. In our society many consider shoeless-ness casual “dress” and more appropriate when you know the person well.
On the other hand, it may feel awkward to ask a guest to take their shoes off. Here are some tips for letting your guests know you’d like them to take their shoes off (without offending them):
- Set an example – One way to know if you should take your shoes off when visiting a home is to take a cue from the family you’re visiting. If they take their shoes off at the door, it’s probably best to take your shoes off. So, at your own house, make it clear at the door that everyone takes their shoes off by creating a space for shoes. Whether it’s a boot tray, a large entry mat, or something else, give your guests a clue.
- Consider offering slippers – If guests feel uncomfortable going shoeless, consider offering a pair of slippers or house shoes that they can wear.
- Give them a heads up – If you’re expecting a guest, let them know ahead of time that you’d like them to take their shoes off. It can help avoid catching your guest off-guard (with mismatched, hole-y socks perhaps?). A quick “We usually take our shoes off at the door to keep out dirt, just to let you know” isn’t too forceful but gets the message across.
Why Take Shoes Off at Home? Bottom Line
Taking shoes off before entering your home will help reduce toxins and harmful substances from entering the house. We spend so much time choosing the right cleaners, furniture, and beauty products, it makes sense to do one extra simple thing (take shoes off!) that can make a huge impact on the health of the home and family.
Do you wear shoes in your home? Why or why not?
- Proximity to Coal-Tar-Sealed Pavement Raises Risk of Cancer, Study Finds. (2013, March 21). Retrieved from https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=128514
- Nishioki, M. (n.d.). Distribution of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid in Floor Dust throughout Homes Following Homeowner and Commercial Lawn Applications: Quantitative Effects of Children, Pets, and Shoes. Retrieved from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es980580o
- Study Reveals High Bacteria Levels on Footwear. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ciriscience.org/a_96-Study-Reveals-High-Bacteria-Levels-on-Footwear
- P., & Damian McNamara ID Practitioner. (2017, July 14). C. difficile travels on the soles of our shoes. Retrieved from https://www.mdedge.com/infectiousdisease/article/142261/healthcare-acquired-infections/c-difficile-travels-soles-our-shoes
- Barefoot vs common footwear: A systematic review of the kinematic, kinetic and muscle activity differences during walking. (2015, June 03). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966636215004993