In many cultures, taking your shoes off before entering someone’s home is not only common courtesy, it’s an expected social norm. Bare feet are expected, and not taking off your shoes could be considered rude or inconsiderate. In most western cultures, however, shoes on inside the home is still the norm, even though there are important reasons to consider removing them.
When you consider that the purpose of shoes is to protect your feet and keep them from getting dirty, it only makes sense that you wouldn’t need them indoors. And when you take into account all the things the bottoms of our shoes come into contact with during a normal day, the argument for ditching your shoes at the door becomes clear.
Everyday we walk across surfaces that have been contaminated by bacteria, like public bathroom floors, and outdoors where birds and other animals defecate. A at the University of Arizona suggests that the bottoms of shoes average 421,000 individual units of bacteria. And when those contaminated shoes were used to walk across clean, uncontaminated floor tiles, the rate of transference was almost 90 percent. Bacterial species like E. Coli, which can cause severe intestinal distress and other severe illnesses and klebsiella pneumoniae, a causative agent of bacterial pneumonia, were both commonly found on shoes.
Not only are shoes prime breeding ground for living microorganisms like bacteria and viruses, have shown that they also collect environmental toxins. Lawn chemicals, like fertilizers and herbicides, chemicals from asphalt and tar, and insecticides are only a few of the environmental toxins we encounter every day. These chemicals stick to our shoes and are tracked into our homes to transfer to carpets, rugs, tiles, and laminates. Many of these chemicals have been shown to be carcinogens in lab settings.
The streets and sidewalks we use are literally covered in gas and oil. The iridescent sheen we see in parking lots or roadways after a rain is a visible indicator of the level of contamination that is around us all the time. We walk through it, not noticing, and track it into our homes where our babies crawl and kids play.
Health risks aside, shoes are just dirty. Tracking mud, dirt, leaves, and debris into the home not only means more cleaning, but if there are small children in the home, can lead to ingestion of foreign materials, like sticks and leaves. Implementing a no-shoes rule will decrease time spent sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming.
In 2007, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, published a exploring the impact of shoes on our feet in The Foot, a podiatry journal. According to their findings, the feet of modern day Europeans are dramatically altered from the feet of 2000 year old skeletons who were predominately barefoot.
The design of modern shoes, whether stilettos, wingtips, or flip flops, has changed the way we walk. In a 1999 Podiatry Management article, Dr. William Rossi declared that, “natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person.”
Improper gait manifests itself in myriad structural problems from bad posture to joint issues to chronic back pain. To reduce the negative effects of shoes on the rest of your body, experts recommend walking barefoot as often as possible.
With all the risks associated with shoes and their impact on health and indoor environment, leaving them at the door only makes sense.