Posted on Aug 29, 2019, 6 p.m.
Some people don’t, some people strictly do, but what does science have to say about wearing your shoes inside your home that you have been wearing outside of your home.
Perhaps you take your shoes off at the door for relief or you don’t want to track dirt across clean carpets and floors. This is a common practice around the world, mostly for manners, although it does stop spreading dirt and some bacteria around inside your home. But according to experts, there is even more pressing health risks that are often overlooked.
Charles P. Gerba of the University of Arizona investigated how many and which kinds of bacteria may linger on the bottom of the shoes by tracking new shoes which were worn by 10 participants. After 2 weeks, the researchers found that coliform bacteria such as E. coli were extremely common on the soles of the shoes, which is known to cause intestinal and urinary tract infections, meningitis, and other illnesses.
“Our study also indicated that bacteria can be tracked by shoes over a long distance into your home or personal space,” Mr. Gerba said in a statement, who adds that the findings made him change his own habits, “It kept me from putting my feet on my desk.”
It is possible to transmit germs from footwear if you touch your shoes and then your face or mouth, or drop food on the floor and then eat it, or by small children crawling or playing on the floor who most often put their hands in their mouths or anything found on the floor.
According to Donald W. Schaffner of Rutgers University there are other potential health hazards which are more important such as other people being sick, food being prepared and stored properly, and reptile pets that can carry salmonella.
Dr. Aaron E. Carroll of Indiana University reminds that sponges which retain water and food particles are a cesspool of bacteria, and outside of the home objects and surfaces are seldom washed such as money, ATM buttons, gas station pumps, and playground equipment.
Most experts emphasize that washing your hands with soap and water remains the most important health practice.
Lisa A. Cuchara of Quinnipiac University says that fecal bacteria can most certainly be transferred from your shoes to your floors at home, but “for most healthy adults, this level of contamination is more of a gross reaction than a health threat.” This however does not mean it can’t make you or a small child sick.
The floor in a public restroom has around 2 million bacteria per square inch, while a toilet seat has on average 50 million per square inch, these are not very inviting numbers. “Think about that the next time you place your purse or knapsack on the bathroom floor and then bring it home and put it on the kitchen table or counter,” says Cuchara.
For those of us that have dogs, we don’t wash our dogs paws everytime they go in and out. However, dogs don’t walk in and out of public restrooms, and if they do walk in fecal matter we do wash their paws. Dogs track dirt in and out of the house regardless of how clean you keep them as it gets trapped in their fur, but dirt can be somewhat healthy.
Some theories suggest that some elements of outdoors may help to stimulate the autoimmune system, particularly in children via dirt. Physical interaction with a dog during the first year of life can reduce the risk of asthma by 13%, interaction in a barn/farm can reduce it by 50%, according to Jack A. Gilbert of the University of California.
“When we find out about all the microbes in our environment, we can get a bit squeamish, but we’re not getting sick all the time,” says assistant professor Emily Ledgerwood of Le Moyne College, who lets her daughter help weed the garden and pick produce then eat without first washing her hands, but will make her wash them after cracking eggs.
Most experts agree that it is best to remove shoes when entering the home if there are young children, those that are sick, or those with allergies because pollen can be transferred to floors. If you are visiting a home it is etiquette to abide by their wishes, even if you don’t see shoes at the door manners should dictate that you ask the host if you should remove your shoes.
“In cases where your immune system is compromised — people who have cancer, have undergone an organ transplant, have an infection — then there is much more of a reason to take your shoes off when you come home,” Ms. Cuchara said.
“Removing one’s shoes upon entering a home stems from the respectful observance of religious practices that have been integrated within the cultural fabric and expected ‘to-dos’ of each of these countries and, of course, for reasons pertaining to hygiene,” says Benjamin Hiramatsu Ireland of Texas Christian University.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.