5 Healthy Reasons To Adopt A Shoes-Off Policy At Home

Trust us: You'll want to ask guests to unlace at the door after you read this.

September 8, 2017
Linda Raymond

Think about where you’ve traveled in the hours since you’ve first pulled on your shoes today. Did you head out to the backyard? Walk across an asphalt parking lot? Visit the grocery store? Stop at a public restroom?

Throughout the course of the day, your shoes tread through a wide range of environments and experience enough wear and tear that can make them unfit for walking throughout the house. Still, most Americans do. If you’re one of them, it may be time to rethink this habit. Keep reading for the top five compelling reasons to turn your home into a shoes-free zone.

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Science Photo Library - PASIEKA/getty
Shoe soles are covered in thousands of bacteria

Even if your shoes don't appear soiled, more stuff's lurking on the bottom of the sole than meets the naked eye. A study of the presence of Clostridium difficile in various environments, including the home, revealed that strains of the leading cause of diarrhea in hospitalized adults were present in 26.4 percent of samples collected from shoe soles. That’s more, even, than the 24.7 percent of samples collected directly from doorstepsand well above the 9 percent collected from household bathrooms.

How is it that 1 in 4 pairs of shoes carry such a pathogen from the outdoors and into a home?

“Basically any surface environment can be contaminated by animal fecal material every day,” writes M. Jahangir Alam, lead author of the report that was published this January and assistant professor at the University of Houston's College of Pharmacy. “It’s hard to find any surface without fecal contamination.” (Read more on whether bleach or vinegar is a better disinfectant.) Even if you do try your best to sidestep any small pile of dog poop on your daily commute, spores from previous droppings can survive on surfaces for many months. Then, when we unknowingly walk on contaminated surfaces, our shoe soles become contaminated.

Related: 7 Steps You Should Take To Detox The Air In Your Home

“It’s a microbial zoo on the bottom of the shoe,” says Professor Charles P. Gerba at the University of Arizona, who conducted research specifically on the occurrence of bacteria on shoes for footwear manufacturer Rockport in 2008. His tests found that the average number of bacteria on the bottom of shoes is 421,000 per square centimeter after only a few weeks of wear, including coliform and Escherichia coli (or E. coli) bacteria from fecal material!

His tests also demonstrated that 90 to 99 percent of the bacteria transferred to tile flooring in the first 10 steps, effectively the distance of an entryway or foyer into the house. “Something on the floor doesn’t necessarily stay on the floor,” Gerba warns. Once inside, these bacteria can theoretically transfer onto other hard surfaces within the home and potentially infect the next unlucky household member, guest, or pet.

While you're cleaning house, check out these two easy ways to clean a cast iron pan:

muddy boots
Footwear tracks in abrasive mud and dirt

Look at the bottom of your shoe now, and it’s likely shadowed with some amount grime. Shoes not only carry everything from dust to mud into the house on their soles, but they also grind it into your flooring in a way that can accelerate normal wear and tear. “Even shoes with soft bottoms can still track and grind dirt into your floors, transforming your shoes into stylish sandpaper,” write the experts at Bona, an industry-leading manufacturer of floor care products. “As dirt and particles accumulate, you raise the risk of tiny dings and scratches on your [hardwood] floor and finish.”

In addition to dulling wood floors through abrasion, the additional dirt dragged into the house will require more intense or more frequent cleaning sessions to remove—no matter what your flooring choice. Carpet, in particular, can trap dirt among its pile in a way that makes for difficult cleaning. Unless you enlist a robot vacuum to help you hoover up dirt daily, you’ll give up hours within the week staying on top of household cleaning.

Related: 8 Natural Cleaning Recipes With Essential Oils (That Actually Work!)

walking in heels
Dejan Patic/getty
They can damage your flooring

The contents on the bottom of your shoes aren’t the only things that pose risk to your floor—the soles and heels of the shoe itself can, too. These hard surfaces can easily scuff, scratch, and dent. For this reason, most any wood flooring manufacturer—including Lumber Liquidators and Mohawk Flooring—would actually advocate a shoes-off policy in order to prolong new finish and extend the lifespan of the boards.

The biggest offender in footwear: the high heel. The smaller heel of a stiletto style causes weight to be distributed so that each step exerts more force than shoes with fuller heels would. As a result, this type of footwear is more likely to gouge wood flooring, even if brand-new and capped in rubber. A heel in disrepair is even worse. In its maintenance recommendations for hardwood floors, Mohawk Flooring specifically advises homeowners to think twice before walking across hardwood floors in heels that are damaged, as a missing rubber cap could more readily scratch, dent, or ding a wood floor.

Related: 12 DIY Ideas For Painting Wood Floors

tired feet
Martin Barraud/getty
Your feet could use a break

All-day wear of certain shoes can cause unnecessary stress on your feet by forcing your foot muscles to hold the same position for those hours. What’s worse, most shoe designs feature some sort of drawback: High heels put a lot of pressure on the front of the foot as it slides, for example, while flats offer minimal cushioning, which might result in pain throughout the foot. Flip-flops provide zero arch support and overwork your foot muscles.

Related: Why Wearing The Right Shoe Is Good For Your Health

Add to that the swelling of feet that occurs throughout the day just from gravity. “At the end of the day our shoes might feel tighter, and removing them would definitely offer some relief,” says Andrew Shapiro, DPM, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

After you step out of footwear with improper support, Shapiro recommends sliding on into slippers next, which will offer comfortable support and some protection from stubbed toes and falling objects. “We do see a lot of patients with injuries that occur in the house, such as broken toes and nail injuries,” Shapiro says, who practices podiatry in Valley Stream, New York. Not only would slippers offer a small barrier, but they’ll also offer insulation from cold for someone who has diabetes and poor circulation, since heat rises. Bottom line: Slippers are smart—as long you don’t wear them outside to pick up a paper from the porch or the end of the driveway.

Related: 7 Reasons Your Feet Are Peeling Like Crazy

running shoes
Michael Heim / EyeEm/getty
Your shoes need the opportunity to air out

The average person loses as much as a half-pint of perspiration per day through the 250,000 sweat glands in the feet. (Here are some natural tips for saying sweat free.) So, imagine having sweaty feet confined in shoes for half of that day. If your go-to shoes are not made from the most breathable materials, they’ll need as much time to air out at the end of a shift as your feet do.

Related: 6 Natural Ways To Deal With Nail Fungus

Constant dampness can mean embarrassing odor, but it also creates environment conducive to skin problems. “When you’re in a shoe all day like that, it’s warm, dark, and moist—a perfect breeding ground for fungus and bacteria,” says Shapiro. Give the footwear the opportunity to dry out, and your nose and feet will thank you.