Stepping into our homes should be like walking into our own little oasis away from the world. But have you ever considered that the shoes you wear outdoors may be harboring invisible intruders? Chances are, that answer is, “Not really…” And you’re not alone! However, this is a crucial piece of awareness to have! From bacteria and pathogens to toxins and allergens, our footwear can unwittingly introduce a host of unwelcome contaminants. That is why you shouldn’t wear shoes in the house.
It makes sense when you think about it. Between walking through the park, strolling down city streets on the way to work, or grabbing dinner at your local grocery store, your shoes are in contact with various surfaces. They’re also in contact with whatever else is on those surfaces.
Your shoes will pick up whatever was on the ground and bring them along for the ride. How kind, right? Then you track those shoes into your homes, meaning that those contaminants will as well. And this occurs daily, which does not lead to a healthy and happy home!
Here’s what you must know about why you shouldn’t wear shoes in the house to keep your indoor environment and air quality safe.
Framing the Problem For Why You Shouldn't Wear Shoes in the House
So, what’s the big deal with contaminants entering the home? It’s massively impactful to our health!
The average person spends around 90% of their time indoors, meaning these spaces play an enormous role in our health and well-being. If they’re packed full of contaminants, that can have serious negative consequences for our wellness.
One factor that’s important to consider in this equation is modern building practices. The push for net-zero energy efficiency has led to tighter-built buildings with minimal airflow between indoor and outdoor environments. The result is that most contaminants that make their way inside the building will remain until they are actively removed.
A consequence of having higher levels of these contaminants is poor indoor air quality. On average, we breathe 20,000 breaths a day, and most of those inhalations are taken indoors, where some pollutants are often 2–5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Air is one of the most significant routes of exposure we face. What’s in our air matters. If it’s filled with particles like mold spores, mycotoxins, pollen, viruses, or bacteria, that can directly impact our health.
Air quality isn’t the only issue, though! The types of contaminants also influence why you shouldn’t wear shoes in the house, but we’ll get into that later.
The Health Impact
In this situation, the health issue arises from the size of the airborne particles. They’re so small that they can be inhaled into the body and enter our lungs. Some particles are so small that they bypass our body's self-defense mechanisms and enter the bloodstream. The EPA classifies these particles as particulate matter and further breaks them into two segments:
- PM10: particles that have a diameter of around 10 micrometers or less.
- PM2.5: fine particles with a diameter of around 2.5 micrometers or less.
- Trouble breathing normally
- Watery eyes
- A scratchy throat
- Runny nose
- Irritated sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
That’s also not including the adverse health effects of the particles themselves. Escherichia coli, for example, is known to cause intestinal and urinary tract infections. Mycotoxins can cause wide-ranging health effects, including “liver cancer, kidney cancer and damage, intestinal barrier function disruption, immune modulation, and poor fetal development.”
So, the question is, how do these contaminants make their way inside? One route we often don’t consider is right on the bottom of our shoes.
Why You Shouldn't Wear Shoes in the House
When they hitch a ride in our footwear, they not only contaminate the surfaces of our home, but they will also collect where our dust collects. When this dust is disturbed, it will become airborne, and all of those contaminants then have the potential to enter our lungs.
he Potential Contaminants
Our shoes can introduce various contaminants to our indoor environments, ranging from viruses, chemicals, bacteria, mold, and more. The more they’re allowed to build up, the higher our level of exposure will be. This is the key factor to keep in mind regarding our continued wellness.
Pathogens on your shoes can range widely. Salmonella and Listeria are a few potential hazards, both of which are linked to food poisoning. Staphylococcus is another, which is the bacteria behind Staph infections. According to a 2016 study, many more bacteria can catch a ride on our footwear.
Another study found that up to 96% of shoe bottoms carry E. coli, and up to 80% of shoes could carry various bacteria.
As the study states, “Some of the bacteria found on the shoes included Escherichia coli, known to cause intestinal and urinary tract infections, meningitis, and diarrheal disease; Klebsiella pneumonia, a common source for wound and bloodstream infections as well as pneumonia; and Serratia filaria, a rare cause of infections in the respiratory tract and wounds.” The study then found that the “transfer of bacteria from the shoes to uncontaminated tiles ranged from 90% to 99%.”
One researcher from the study stated, “The common occurrence (96 percent) of coliform and E. coli bacteria on the outside of the shoes indicates frequent contact with fecal material, which most likely originates from floors in public restrooms or contact with animal fecal material outdoors,” said Gerba. “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.”
So, when those particles get on your shoes, the likelihood of them spreading is high. That doesn’t exactly spell health for our homes and is another reason why you shouldn’t wear shoes in the house!
Chemicals, Toxic Substances, Etc.
A 1999 government-funded study showed that weed killers and other pesticides applied to lawns could be tracked into homes by people and pets up to a week after treatment, causing unnecessary exposure, particularly to children. As the EPA states, pesticide exposure depends on the chemicals themselves but can range from the nervous system to the respiratory system to the hormone or endocrine system, so we definitely don’t want them in our homes.
Lead is another issue for our home’s health. The EPA states, “Lead from paint, dust, and soil in and around your home can be dangerous if not managed properly.” One suggestion they have for avoiding this issue? Leave our shoes at the door!
Another study found that track-in was one of the main drivers of lead brought into the home, which could then become part of our dust and lower our indoor air quality.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals, can be brought into the home on our shoes. One study collected one hundred and seventeen street-sweeping samples and found 37 PFAS across all samples and a maximum number of 26 PFAS at one site. Exposure to these chemicals can have wide-ranging adverse effects on our bodies and health.
Finally, mold spores and mycotoxins are another form of indoor contamination that we can track in on our shoes. High levels of mold spores and mycotoxins are not only bad for our indoor air quality, but they also increase the risk of microbial growth developing in a home.
Provided with a food and water source, many species of mold can grow within 24-48 hours. As soon as the colony is established, it will begin releasing spores and fragments into the surrounding area, drastically impacting the indoor air quality and health of the environment.
Some species can also create mycotoxins when threatened, further contaminating the space and air. Exposure to high levels of these particles can cause wide-ranging chronic symptoms.
Aka, another reason why you shouldn’t wear shoes in the house!
The Solution to Why You Shouldn't Wear Shoes in the House
So, we know why you shouldn’t wear shoes in the house. Fear not, though, because there are actions we can take to avoid this contamination situation!
Use a Doormat
Placing doormats both outside and inside your entrance can significantly reduce the amount of dirt and debris that make their way indoors. Opt for heavy-duty, bristle-style mats outside to scrape off larger particles and an absorbent mat inside to capture any remaining moisture and contaminants. Regularly clean and maintain these mats to ensure their effectiveness.
From there, leave your shoes in their designated safe space.
Create a Safe Zone
Taken as a whole, it’s absolutely in our best interests to leave our potentially particle-ridden footwear at the door. This is an easy and effective way to promote a healthier indoor environment. Considering how much time we spend in these indoor spaces, it’s essential that we actively work to ensure they’re supporting our wellness and not negatively affecting it. This is an often overlooked aspect of health.
Wash Your Shoes
Some shoes, particularly sneakers and athletic footwear, can be machine-washed or hand-washed with a botanical laundry additive. Check the manufacturer's care instructions to see if this is an option. Regularly cleaning your shoes not only helps maintain their appearance but also removes potential contaminants.
Cleaning is a phenomenal way to reduce particles in indoor environments, including any that accidentally got tracked in on shoes. Sometimes, you run late and sprint inside to grab your cell phone. Life happens!
To reduce contaminants, regularly clean the surfaces in the home. Use the HEPA vacuum on all possible surfaces in every room, including floors, couches, chairs, inside cabinets, and any other area you can reach, then follow up with the botanical cleaning products and microfiber towels.
HomeCleanse offers a variety of cleaning kits and products to help ensure your home is clean.
By adopting these measures, you can significantly reduce the introduction of contaminants into your home, leading to cleaner indoor air quality and a healthier living environment for you and your family.
A Piece of the Puzzle
Life is all about learning, growing, and adapting. Knowing why you shouldn’t wear shoes in the house is a key piece of the puzzle in living happier and healthier lives. By being mindful of what your shoes can bring into your living space, you can take proactive steps to protect your home and your family. Establishing a shoe-free zone at your entrance, regular cleaning routines, and investing in doormats can go a long way in keeping your indoor environment cleaner and safer. Sure, it’s a small change, but it can make a big difference!
So, the next time you step inside, consider where you and your shoes have been and the invisible guests they bring. By recognizing potential hazards such as this and taking action, your home will be the oasis you wish for it to be.