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Is Wearing Your Shoes Inside Your House Bad for Your Health?

House Beautiful logo House Beautiful 4/16/2023 Brittany Anas

Whether you wear shoes in your home usually comes down to personal preference. Kicking off your sneakers at the end of the day can be a creature comfort that also extends the life of your carpeting and makes mopping your hardwood floors an easier chore. But cozy vibes and aesthetics aside, should you leave your shoes at the door for the sake of your health? Spoiler: If you want to keep feces, bacteria, lead, pesticides, and other potentially harmful other chemicals from entering your home, it’s probably a good idea.

Jill Litt, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, recommends people take their shoes off before entering their homes in order to reduce tracking in dirt and feces (yup, from dog poop) that your shoes inevitably pick up when you’re out and about. But how germy, really, are our shoes? A University of Arizona-led study in 2008 set out to quantify just that by swabbing new shoes worn by 10 participants over the course of two weeks. On average, 421,000 units of bacteria clung to the outside of the shoes. E. coli, which is known to cause intestinal and urinary tract infections and other health problems, was prevalent in the samples. (The small study wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal; it was supported by a shoe company testing out machine-washable shoes.)

One thing parents should keep in mind: Hand-to-mouth contact is one of the primary ways children get exposed to toxic substances and infectious disease agents, Litt points out. In urban areas with high levels of lead-based paint (older homes built before 1978), researchers have found high levels of lead in dust in the home and one of the main sources is dust tracked in from outside. Research has also shown you can even bring in pesticide residue from gardens via shoes, Litt says.

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“The factors that influence how these particles and dirt move through the indoor environment include climate, design of the entrance, and whether there are exterior mats and interior mats,” she says. (Shoe and boot scrapers can help keep germy intruders out, too.)

The highest concentration of debris is in the interior entryway, and levels go down as you move from this area, Litt explains. Carpeting, though, retains a lot of dust, she points out, and unfortunately vacuuming is very good at dispersing those particles rather than just removing them.

If you’ve got some dirt spots or pesky white stains from salt and de-icing chemicals that are extra stubborn to remove from your flooring, try some at-home cleaning solutions, suggests Alicia Sokolowski, the president and co-CEO of AspenClean. Here are a couple solutions Sokolowski recommends trying. (Note: Note that it's always a good idea to test any cleaning solution on a small, inconspicuous area before using it on a larger stain or surface.)

  • Vinegar and water: Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the mud or dirt stain and let it sit for a few minutes. Use a clean microfiber cloth or sponge to scrub the stain gently, starting from the outside and working your way inward. Rinse with clean water and blot the area dry with a clean towel or cloth.
  • Baking soda and water: Mix baking soda and water to form a paste. Apply the paste to the stain and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub the stain gently, and then rinse with clean water. Blot the area dry with a clean towel or microfiber cloth.

Now’s probably a good time to add a doormat to your shopping cart, too. Curb appeal plus germ reduction? Win-win.

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