Growing up, my Trinidadian immigrant parents always made us take our shoes off upon entering our little apartment. It always came from a place of cleanliness and respect. I just assumed that was what everyone did because it was all I knew, despite seeing people on TV doing the very opposite. As I got older I started to see that maybe what my parents did was only specific to certain cultures, although working with and knowing other kinds of people–in cities like New York–you sometimes are asked to take your shoes off to preserve flooring or carpet. But, there are even more real reasons to skip the kicks when you enter your home.
There is good bacteria and there is not so good bacteria. According to a study conducted at the University of Arizona who examined germs on shoes – found an average of 421,000 bacteria on the outside of shoes, with nine different strains of bacteria. Among the harmful strains found on shoes included Escherichia coli, otherwise known as E coli, which can give you intestinal infections, diarrhea and in rare cases, meningitis; Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause urinary tract infections; and Serratia ficaria, which can cause respiratory infections.
So, how does all that bacteria get there? “We walk through things like bird droppings, dog waste and germs on public restroom floors, all of which are sources for E coli,” says Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., a microbiologist and professor at University of Arizona. “The unique thing about the shoe environment is that other things you walk on like leaves and debris, can serve as food for the bacteria and help them grow.” That means potentially harmful bacteria can survive on your shoes for days or even weeks, Dr. Reynolds says. And that bacteria can be tracked onto your floors and carpets. Eh, not a very pleasing idea. Especially if you have pets or little ones who spend time on the floor, eventually making their way to you.
Not only bacteria, but toxins are trampled in with your footwear. A study by the Battelle Memorial institute, a nonprofit research group found that toxins from treating your lawn can easily be tracked into the house, and a study from Baylor University found that people who live near asphalt roads sealed with coal tar have an increased risk of cancer from toxins. The toxins, they found, settled inside the house as dust particles.
“Think about rain water in the street,” says Dr. Reynolds. It can have gasoline in it and chemicals, and those get on your shoes and can be brought into your home.” But, she cautions, the danger of this exposure to toxins would be long-term, and you would most likely have to be exposed many times over the course of your life in order to get sick.
“Dirt isn’t harmful on its own,” says Dr. Reynolds, but you probably want to keep it at a minimum, especially if you have toddler grandchildren who play on the floor. “Kids often put their hands in their mouths, or have toys on the floor and put them in their mouths,” she says. One more plus to keeping your shoes at the door: It can cut down on how often you have to clean.
For those of you, like me, living in an apartment building…walking up and down in shoes can be noisy for fellow neighbors. You can eliminate drama or noise complaints by just removing your kicks.
5. Comfort & Health
If you don’t have a health issue that requires you to utilize the support of shoes to alleviate pain, your feet will do better outside of shoes than in. The ability to just wiggle your toes will not only feel good, but allow for better breathing and circulation. Not to mention, it just automatically feels relaxing!
Also, studies show that children who habitually go without shoes have fewer cases of flat feet, as well as having stronger feet with better flexibility and fewer podiatric deformities. Allowing your foot muscles to do their thing helps them stay strong and flexible.