A few weeks ago, while stuck in a scroll-spiral, I stumbled across a discussion about wearing shoes inside the house. It wasn’t even about shoes inside. It was about laundry. In the post, the woman folded massive piles of kids’ clothing on her living room floor, and her comments section BLEW UP about having clothing on the floor. The discussion quickly turned into an attack on her and her homekeeping with the gist being: Do YOU wear shoes in the house?!?! No, because floors are gross. Don’t put clean clothes there! Now you have to rewash them!
Um. OK, then.
This is a topic that I’m weirdly interested in and have been for a long time because people seem to care a whole lot. Passionately, really. This particular post blew it out of the water for me. I read through literally hundreds of comments, and some were like me (“This is really not a big deal…”) and some were extreme (“I don’t have people over to my house because I’m so disgusted by what they could track in.”)
It’s OK to wear shoes in the house. It’s also OK not to wear shoes in the house. There’s data to back up both sides.
Let’s dig into why I don’t freak out if you wear shoes in my house (and why I don’t care if you do… or if you want me to take my shoes off at your house… and so on…).
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Should you wear shoes around the house?
Most people who choose no shoes cite dirt and contaminants being tracked into the house as their number-one reason.
It’s a valid reason, too, since shoes can carry everything from feces to lawn chemicals to all kinds of bacteria. One study found huge amounts of germs and chemicals on the bottom of participants’ shoes. That University of Arizona study is cited in just about every article I read; the problem with that study, though, is that it only included 10 participants over a two-week period and the research was never actually published in a peer-reviewed journal. That might be because it was such a small sample size or it might be because it was conducted and funded at the behest of a shoe company launching machine-washable shoes. Regardless, that data is used over and over, even though it’s not rigorously vetted or replicated.
The New York Times looked at shoes in depth, speaking to experts across all fields of study. The findings? There are way grosser ways of contracting bacteria in your home than wearing shoes indoors.
Outside the home, there are objects and surfaces that are frequently touched but seldom, if ever, washed, such as money, A.T.M. buttons and gas station pump handles, he said, adding, “Focusing on people’s shoes feels like focusing on the wrong vector.”
Another expert quoted in the piece mentioned all the places we set down our purses or knapsacks while in public… only to set them on our kitchen counters as soon as we get home.
And more: “Considering the benefits of modern-day sanitation, vaccinations and health care, the likelihood of getting sick from our shoes is ‘infinitesimally small as to almost be unwarranted,’ said Jack A. Gilbert, a professor in the department of pediatrics and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.”
(Curious aside: As we all learned from the pandemic, washing hands is the single most important thing we can do to minimize the spread of germs, and I’m curious: Do no-shoes folks wash their hands after removing their shoes? I never have before, but I feel like that’s a practice that would be good to implement before a no-shoes rule.)
The big takeaway from the research: Sure, your shoes can track in contaminants, but compared to the other contaminants you encounter each day, it’s probably not the one to freak out over.
But let’s keep going. What about pet owners? Should pet owners take shoes off inside the house?
Should pet owners wear shoes inside the house?
Later in the NYT piece, Dr. Carroll continued, referencing his Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Loki, “We don’t wash the dog’s paws every time he comes in the house, and I don’t want to think about where he’s been walking.”
I don’t wash Coop’s feet when he comes inside. I don’t wash the cats’ paws after they use the litter box.
I also clean my floors–often–and wear my shoes inside the house. I’d rather keep the stuff they track on my shoes instead of my bare feet, and as a pet owner and a mom, I’m committed to keeping my floors clean.
(Another curious aside: One thing I’ve never understood from the no-shoes-indoors camp is the argument about how you keep the floors cleaner. If you’re not wearing shoes, is that really a reason to not clean your floors regularly? Don’t bare feet track sweat and other yucky stuff? Don’t your pets track litter and outdoors grossness that then gets on your bare feet and spreads on your floors? How often do you clean your floors, really? Please reply. I need to know.)
My take on shoes in the house
I’m more comfortable with my shoes on. I’m constantly running around, and wearing shoes is more comfortable for my feet, my ankles, my knees, and my hips. Lots of podiatrists recommend wearing shoes–even if you swap your outdoor shoes for specific indoor ones–to protect your body from shin splints, heel and ankle pain, falling arches, and so on.
I also don’t want anyone to slip and fall in socks. We experience enough falls at our house–my eldest daughter has a neurological condition that affects her balance–and shoes really help minimize and mitigate falls.
Plus, other people’s bare feet kind of gross me out. Like, some people actually go barefoot through the airport. Blech. I’d rather all that junk be on my (removable!) shoes than on bare feet that touch the couch, the bed, the bathroom and kitchen floors, etc.
I clean our floors often. I use a stick vacuum daily, our ancient Dyson for deeper cleans, and I mop at least weekly and spot-clean daily. (I share some ideas and tips on keeping floors clean below.) A super popular lifestyle blog asked this question and made the argument for keeping shoes off indoors. One of the reasons? So you don’t have to use disinfectants on your floors. Personally, I think disinfecting your floor is incredibly important. I get her desire to cut down on toxins, but that feels like a baby-with-the-bathwater situation to remove shoes but not disinfect.
I also wash our shoes often. The girls both have machine-washable sneakers (Violet’s and Astrid’s), and I wear and LOVE these machine-washable sandals spring, summer, and fall. I toss our shoes in with a towels load (to cut down on the clunking noise) and have never have a problem.
When you should definitely not wear shoes in the house
If your host or hostess asks you to remove you shoes, politely follow their request.
If it’s culturally appropriate to remove your shoes, like it is in some religious practices or geographic regions, then remove them.
If someone has extreme allergies, it might be best to leave shoes outside entirely and swap to house slippers.
If there are crawling children in the home, some shoe-free spaces are probably warranted because, again, that hand-to-mouth contact is a doozy.
If a cancer patient lives in or visits the home, you should probably take off shoes. Their immune system is already shot, so minimizing all contaminants is for the best. Although, to be totally honest, I don’t think this ever occurred to me the year I was on chemo, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be more thoughtful than I was. 🙂
How I keep our floors clean
I run my stick vacuum just about every single day, often more than once. We have this cordless Shark vacuum that is lightweight, maneuverable, and pretty quiet–key if you have a dog who flips out at the vacuum. It’s power is… medium. If you have lots of carpet in your house, this wouldn’t be my first suggestion.
I also run our ancient full-size, corded Dyson. It was a wedding gift in 2005 and is no longer available, and I know it needs a replacement part that’s no longer made, so it’s on its last legs. But it’s SUPER powerful. You can’t beat it. I use it upstairs where we have carpeting. I dream of a replacement, but it’s not in the budget. The one we have is the purple Dyson Animal that was made before they switched to the ball technology, but I think this one must be the closest to it that’s available now.
Sweeping / Swiffering
Not my jam usually because I find vacuuming to be more effective, but I do have a broom and a Swiffer on hand for super quick cleanups. Actually, I mainly use the extendable Swiffer for ceiling fans, almost never floors.
Then–and this is my favorite task, tbh–I mop. I love my super convenient spin mop. I love how easy it is, and I love how big of a difference it makes in our entire house to have freshly-mopped floors.
We have two surfaces: manufactured hardwood and vinyl. For the hardwood, I use the GoCleanCo method of a tiny scoop of plain, original powdered Tide in hot hot hot water. For the LVP, I use vinegar diluted with hot water.
To polish–and I know this is controversial, so you do you–I use this Method product. We all love how it smells and it works for a quick spot-clean or an overall shine.
Clean floors + machine-washable shoes and we’re all good being shoes-on (or shoes-off, your choice!) in our home.
Should you let others wear shoes in your house?
Ultimately, how comfortable do you want your guests to be? How comfortable do you want to be?
Wearing shoes in the house is fine. So is not wearing shoes in the house.
I allow people to choose in my home and have found most adults reluctant to kick off their shoes while most kids toss ’em in a pile and run off to play. Either way, I’m fine with it. You do you… at my house and at yours!
If you do choose to have guests remove their shoes, there are some super cute doormats on Etsy to politely reinforce your message. Check out this funny option, or this polite one. I really like this one, too, and if we were a shoes-off home, I think that’s what I’d get.
Although, even though we’re shoes-on-or-off, wiping your feet is just good practice. I ADORE this one, even though it’s pet-specific instead of shoe-specific.
Washing your hands with soap and water is still the most important health practice. If you’re not, say, touching the bottom of your shoes and then eating from your unwashed hands, licking the floor, or keeping your shoes on your kitchen counter, you’re fine.
What do you do in your house? Shoes or no shoes?
I’d love to know, plus your reasons! As I said, I’m fascinated by how strongly and passionately people feel about this question! Please share in the comments below. 🙂