It is best to leave your filth outside the door.
What contaminants are in your home?
People spend up to 90% of their time indoors, so the question of whether or not to wear shoes in the house is not a trivial one.
A roll call of indoor nasties
Our work has involved the measurement and assessment of exposure to a range of harmful substances found inside homes including:
- antibiotic-resistant genes (genes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics)
- disinfectant chemicals in the home environment
- the perfluorinated chemicals (also known as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” because of their tendency to remain in the body and not break down) used ubiquitously in a multitude of industrial, domestic and food packaging products
The most likely reason for this connection is dirt blown in from your yard or trodden in on your shoes, and on the furry paws of your adorable pets.
This connection speaks to the priority of making sure matter from your outdoor environment stays exactly there. (We have tips here.)
But let’s be clear. Although it’s nice to be scientific and stick with the term E. coli, this stuff is, put more simply, the bacteria associated with poo.
Whether it is ours or Fido’s, it has the potential to make us very sick if we are exposed at high levels. And let’s face it — it is just plain gross.
Why walk it around inside your house if you have a very simple alternative — to take your shoes off at the door?
On balance, shoeless wins
So are there disadvantages to having a shoe-free household?
Beyond the occasional stubbed toe, from an environmental health standpoint there aren’t many downsides to having a shoe-free house. Leaving your shoes at the entry mat also leaves potentially harmful pathogens there as well.
We all know prevention is far better than treatment, and taking shoes off at the door is a basic and easy prevention activity for many of us.
Need shoes for foot support? Easy — just have some “indoor shoes” that never get worn outside.
There remains the issue of the “sterile house syndrome,” which refers to increased rates of allergies among children. Some argue it’s related to overly sterile households.
Indeed, some dirt is probably beneficial as studies have indicated it helps develop your immune system and reduce allergy risk.
But there are better and less gross ways to do that than walking around inside with your filthy shoes on. Get outside, go for a hike, enjoy the great outdoors.
Just don’t bring the muckier parts of it inside to build up and contaminate our homes.
Mark Patrick Taylor is chief environmental scientist with Environmental Protection Authority of Victoria in Australia and honorary professor at Macquarie University. Gabriel Filippelli is chancellor’s professor of earth sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and executive director of the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute. Taylor received funding via an Australian Government Citizen Science Grant. Filippelli does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.