For many people, keeping your shoes on in the comfort of your own home comes down to personal preference. However, there are legitimate reasons as to why footwear should be kept to outside use at all costs. And the majority of the arguments for removing them are completely disgusting.
When it comes to taking your shoes off in your home or somebody else’s, many of us have very specific rules. And while some see it as common courtesy to remove footwear, others might shudder at the mere thought of revealing their feet in front of other people.
Meanwhile, those in favor of removing footwear when stepping into a house often cite hygiene issues as their main concern. After all, we spend our days treading on dirty sidewalks that can be covered in all manner of noxious nasties. And for some, the thought of dragging them into the safe haven of someone’s home is almost too much bear.
But on the other hand, those who choose to wear their shoes indoors may simply feel more comfortable with their footwear on. After all, they can hide all kinds of unpleasant sights, from unkempt toenails to holey socks. Furthermore, foot conditions like verrucas and athlete’s foot remain safely away from view.
And the topic is particularly controversial when it comes to the issue of wearing or taking off your shoes when visiting someone else’s home. Indeed, in many instances, it is only polite to respect your host’s wishes. However, some argue that it’s rude to ask people to remove their footwear before they enter your house.
In 2010 podiatrist Kate Millns told Mail Online that having visitors leave their footwear at the door is likely to cause upset. She explained, “Asking people to remove their shoes is giving your guests unnecessary stress, as most people like to keep their feet hidden. It’s more hygienic to make them keep their shoes on, especially if they are not wearing socks or tights.”
Furthermore, Millns pointed out that some guests may have genuine health-related reasons that require them to keep their shoes on. She added, “If people are elderly, it’s more stressful as they might have [tailor-made insoles] in their shoes and feel uncomfortable standing and chatting without them.”
However, in the same Mail Online article, etiquette expert Jo Bryant added that guests should honor the wishes of those entertaining them. She said, “It doesn’t matter whether you like being asked to take your shoes off, it’s a matter of respecting the host. Look for signals – if there is a pile of shoes in the hall, offer to remove yours.”
Meanwhile, the great footwear at home debate is hotly contested. Indeed, it even formed the storyline of one memorable episode of Sex in the City in 2003. The episode sees Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw attend a baby shower at a friend’s apartment. And there the host, Tatum O’Neal’s Kyra, makes all guests remove their shoes.
Meanwhile, Carrie reluctantly removes her Manolo Blahnik heels. But when she goes to retrieve them upon leaving, she discovers they’re gone, and has to go home in a pair of old gym shoes. But she later confronts Kyra about the incident, who offers to reimburse the cost of her footwear as a goodwill gesture.
However, when Carrie tells her the shoes cost $485, Kyra shames her over what she sees as an excessive purchase, which she says is a product of a frivolous singleton life. She says, “No offence Carrie, but I don’t think we should have to pay for your extravagant lifestyle. I mean, it was your choice to buy shoes that expensive.” And Carrie responds, “Yes, but it wasn’t my choice to take them off.”
But Carrie may have had no reservations in removing her footwear if she’d been raised in Japan. Indeed, it is tradition in the country to take off your shoes before entering houses and many other indoor spaces. The custom began in the Heian period, which occurred from 794 to 1185.
Back then, traditional sandals called zoori, and clogs known as geta, would often become covered in mud. As a result, it likely became practice to remove them in order to prevent homes getting dirty. This was of utmost importance, since it was commonplace to eat, sleep and sit on the ground, or perhaps on straw mats.
Removing shoes is so common in Japanese culture that most homes feature a so-called genkan. This small, sunken room is in the entrance of the house, and is specially built for taking off footwear. It often contains a geta-bako, which is a small cupboard used for storing pairs of shoes.
And if guests choose to place their shoes on the floor, it’s custom to face them away from the house, pointing out towards the door. When visitors step up out of the genkan, they should change into a pair of slippers, which are often stored on a rack. These are the only items of footwear to be worn inside, but they come with a special set of rules.
If, while inside, a guest encounters a tatami – a traditional straw mat – they should take off their slippers before walking onto it. That’s because only bare feet or socks are allowed on these surfaces. Similarly, some hosts may request guests to wear another set of slippers in the bathroom, and only there, for hygiene reasons.
Meanwhile, the Japanese are so strict on their no-shoes-indoors policy that the custom stretches beyond the confines of the home. Students must remove their footwear at school, and worshippers at temples and shrines do the same. Some restaurants may even ask diners to leave their shoes at the door, and traditional inns and hot spring spas are also sometimes footwear free.
But while Japan might have some fairly strict rules regarding the wearing of footwear indoors, the country is not alone in its aversion to shoes in certain scenarios. In Thailand, for instance, visitors must remove footwear in temples and homes. And in Arab culture, showing the sole of your shoe is considered an insult.
So are these nations and cultures onto something? And is wearing shoes inside the home an unnecessary way to introduce unwanted grime and germs into an otherwise clean environment? Yes it is, according to scientists from the University of Arizona, the University of Houston and England’s Nottingham Trent University.
Indeed, according to a 2008 study carried out by Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist from the University of Arizona, wearing shoes indoors can expose your home to swarms of dangerous bacteria. That’s because our footwear can carry lots of nasty germs. In fact, Gerba and his team found 421,000 units of bacteria on the exterior of the shoes they tested and nearly 3,000 on the inside.
In the study, which scientists carried out in conjunction with footwear brand Rockport, they discovered strains of bacteria which included Escherichia coli. The pathogen can cause meningitis, diarrheal disease and urinary and intestinal tract infections. As such, it’s not the kind of thing you want present in your home.
Another bacteria found on the shoes tested in the study was Klebsiella pneumonia. This can cause infections of the bloodstream and wounds as well as pneumonia. Scientists also found Serratia ficaria, which can sometimes cause wound and respiratory tract infections. And the transfer rate between all the discovered bacteria to previously uncontaminated tiles was a worrying 90 to 99 percent.
Speaking on the findings of the study, Gerba speculated on the grim origins of the bacteria found on footwear. He told the Ciri Science website, “The common occurrence… of coliform and E. coli bacteria on the outside of the shoes indicates frequent contact with fecal material. [This] most likely originates from floors in public restrooms or contact with animal fecal material outdoors.”
Worryingly, Gerba added that germs can travel far on our feet. And this makes it easy for us to unwittingly carry dangerous bacteria inside. He continued, “Our study also indicated that bacteria can be tracked by shoes over a long distance into your home or personal space after the shoes were contaminated with bacteria.”
But amid the horrifying revelations, Gerba and his team did have some good news. That’s because they found that washing the shoes used in their study on a relatively cool cycle with detergent could reduce bacteria numbers by up to 99 percent. However, it may be easier to simply remove footwear at the door to prevent introducing harmful bugs into your home. That way, you eliminate the need to wash your shoes on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, research carried out by the University of Houston found equally worrying results. In a study which took place between 2013 and 2015, scientists at the university’s college of pharmacy looked into the prevalence of Clostridium difficile across 2,500 collected samples. And their findings were astounding.
The study found that positive results for Clostridium difficile on more than a quarter of the shoe souls tested. The finding was particularly worrying as the bacteria – sometimes known as C. diff – can produce a number of toxins. The most worrying of these can cause diarrhea and pseudomembranous colitis – a sometimes deadly inflammation of the colon.
Clostridium difficile is found in fecal matter, and is transmitted to humans orally. Indeed, a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that an estimated half a million Americans contracted Clostridioides difficile in 2011. And of them, 29,000 died as a result. The research estimated that 40 percent of C. Diff cases started in community health care settings like nursing homes and nearly a quarter originated in hospitals.
And Clostridium difficile isn’t the only bacteria that originates from feces which can be detrimental to health. With that in mind, Nottingham Trent University science lecturer Michael Loughlin said it was specifically these kinds of germs that we should be worried about spreading through our shoes.
In 2018 Loughlin explained to The Independent, “Microbes exist all around us and will become attached to surfaces they come in contact with. The bacteria found on shoes will have come from what we walk through, so really clean your shoes if you have walked through [animal] fecal matter… as they may contain bacteria that could harm us.”
As a result, Loughlin said that there was no need to be worried about bringing bacterias into the home via footwear. Unless, of course, you’ve been unfortunate enough to tread in animal feces. He continued, “It is all about managing risk. And the risk posed by bacteria on the soles of shoes is very low.”
And Dr. Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona study agreed that people should be most concerned about dragging excrement into their homes via their shoes. The scientists claimed that it’s easy to come into contact with animal or human poop. This is thanks to irresponsible pet owners and public restrooms that are far from sterile.
In an interview with Today Home in October 2018, Gerba revealed the prevalence of animal waste in our everyday environments. He explained, “If you wear shoes for more than a month, 93 percent will have fecal bacteria on the bottom of them. We found E. coli, too.”
Gerba added that wearing shoes indoors could easily transfer dangerous bacteria into our homes. That poses a particular problem when there’s young children in the household. That’s because they are prone to putting items into their mouths. However, Gerba pointed out that the presence of various germs could affect people of all ages.
Speaking to Today Home, Gerba explained, “Shoes make microorganisms fairly mobile, and you’re tracking that all [around the house].” Footwear with treads are particularly effective in spreading germs, pollen and mold, as they can linger in the crevices. Gerba added, “If you’re immunocompromised or have allergy issues, it’s a good idea to take your shoes off.”
And colleague Jonathan Sexton, a laboratory manager at the University of Arizona, echoed Gerba’s conclusions. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he commented on how shoes pick up dirt and grime each time we wear them. He said, “Essentially, when you wear your shoes in a house, you are bringing in everything you stepped in during the day.”
However, if you still don’t want to take your shoes off, Gerba suggests choosing your flooring wisely. Carpets, for instant, harbor mold and bacteria, which can build up as time goes on. He told Today Home, “A hard floor is easier to clean and disinfect.”
Meanwhile, washing shoes according to their instructions remains one of the most effective ways to reduce bacteria, Gerba continued. However, that seems like a lot of effort just to be able to wear them inside the house. So it might help to invest in an antimicrobial doormat if you want to keep your shoes on indoors.
These specialist mats contain antibacterial additives, which destroy germs and bacteria and therefore prevent them from entering your home. The doormats stop germs from spreading and can also neutralize odors. Moreover, they are particularly effective in care environments like hospital and care homes, where potentially dangerous pathogens are more prevalent.
So no matter what side of the fence you sit on when it comes to keeping your shoes on, or taking them off, when you get home, there are ways of ensuring the germs you pick up outside stay there. However, if you want to be completely sure you’re not dragging any nasties into your beloved abode, it’s probably best to simply leave them by the door.