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Should shoes be removed at home?

By The Health News Team | March 28, 2023
Shoes on doormat

Do you have a “no shoes in the house” rule? Everyone has their own opinion on the matter. Some people expect household members and visitors to remove their shoes at the door, others couldn’t care less.

In many cultures around the world, removing shoes before entering a home is the norm. According to a YouGov Surveys poll, nearly one third of Americans always check their shoes at the door. Turns out, leaving your kicks out of the home might be a good idea. Aside from tracking in dirt and mud, your shoes could be inviting some unwelcome (and gross) visitors.

What’s lurking on your soles

The tread and cracks on your soles are ideal places for bacteria to linger. When shoes come into contact with surfaces that have a high concentration of bacteria, such as public restroom floors and soiled sidewalks, that bacteria can hitchhike its way into your home.

Researchers at the University of Houston found that about 40% of shoes were carrying Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a type of bacteria that causes inflammation of the colon and severe diarrhea. Beyond theC. diff risk, there are all kinds of bacteria that could be sneaking into your home via your shoes. To put it into perspective, the average toilet seat contains only about 50 bacteria per square inch. Most public restroom floors, on the other hand, contain about 2 million bacteria per square inch.

So far, so gross. But there’s more. “In addition to bacteria and other pathogens, your shoes might also pick up allergens, lawn chemicals and asphalt toxins that could be tracked into your home,” says Dr. Alex Johnson, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

Are contaminated shoes a health risk?

It is possible to transmit germs from your footwear if you touch your shoes and then your face or mouth, for instance. However, in the hierarchy of potential health hazards at home, bacteria-covered shoes rank comparatively low. “I would say shoes are lower on the list of household health concerns,” Dr. Johnson says. “It’s likely you’ll get worse exposures from improper food preparation or storage, for example.”

For most healthy adults, the level of contamination on shoes is more of an ick factor than a health threat. Germs are all around us, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to get extremely ill from wearing your shoes inside your home. The immune system, including skin, is highly effective at keeping these pathogens from making us sick.

To de-shoe or not to de-shoe

There aren’t many downsides to having a shoe-free abode. Some people think of it as an easy way to maintain home hygiene for the well-being of household members. “If you have small children crawling around on your floors, or if you live with someone who is immunocompromised or has severe allergy symptoms, a no-shoes policy may be better,” Dr. Johnson says.

If you prefer wearing shoes at home for comfort, consider having supportive house slippers. To reduce the risk of falls in the home, older adults should wear sneakers or other sturdy shoes indoors. People with diabetes or neuropathy should always wear shoes indoors too, to avoid foot injuries that could become infected.

At the end of the day, ditching your shoes at the door is mostly about personal preference. Although the risk of illness from wearing shoes inside might be low for most people, leaving them outside can help keep bacteria and contaminants on your soles from coming along for the ride.

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