For most people in the United States, it’s completely normal to come in from outside and walk around the house without taking off your shoes. For people from Europe to Asia, this would be considered uncomfortable, even disrespectful, and unhygienic. But what does science say about shoes in the house?
Without even doing any lab tests, it doesn’t take a professional researcher to know that the streets, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, and public transportation that many people encounter are not clean, to say the least. But just how dirty they are and how much of that filth gets into your house will make you think again.
In 2017, Inside Edition did some tests with none other than Meaghan Murphy, the executive editor of Good Housekeeping, who knows a thing or two about how to keep a house clean. As Murphy and Lisa Guerrero of Inside Edition walked around the streets of New York City, they saw plenty of good reasons to take off shoes.
Trash, rotting food, and even urine and vomit—all these are par for the course. “Gross factor 10!” Murphy shouted as they saw the human waste people might be walking on without realizing it. As Murphy said after seeing all the refuse on the streets, “this is the reason, right there, that I make people take off their shoes when they come to my house… because I don’t want that in my living room.”
After looking at Murphy and her kids’ shoes, the lab found lots of fungi and bacteria, including some strains that could cause serious infections. Even worse than her own shoes were those of her kids, which they had only been wearing for a week. “If you have small children in your home, anyone who is immuno-compromised, why take a chance?” she told Inside Edition.
As Dr. Nidhi Ghildayal, a doctor who specializes in infectious disease at the University of Minnesota, told Bustle Magazine, “Bacteria found on shoes can cause sicknesses of varying severity.” For pet owners who like to take their pooches on walks or for playtime in the park, they might be bringing animal fecal matter.
In addition to what you might get on your shoes at the dog park, something as simple as going to a public bathroom could bring a host of pathogens into your home. A shocking University of Arizona study done in 2008 showed that 96 percent of shoes contained bacteria likely to be from “frequent contact with fecal material.”
Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist who wrote the report, explained, “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.” It isn’t just the bathroom that can cause problems.
In addition to bacteria that can cause stomach issues, shoes can also come into contact with things that can cause allergies, such as mold, pollen, grass, and dust. All of these are likely to run down your family’s immune systems and make them more susceptible to disease.
We all know babies love to crawl everywhere they can, and young children spend a lot of their time on the floor. Knowing that infants and toddlers love to put anything they find into their mouths, wouldn’t you rather not have them come into contact with all the germs from outside?
So what’s the solution? You have lots of options, from wiping your shoes on a mat, which can help a little bit, to wiping them off with anti-bacterial wipes, or even throwing them in the washing machine. Better yet, why not buy some comfy house slippers for everyone in the family and rest assured that what’s outside stays outside!