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NAT GEO * Is a shoe-free home really better? *

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NAT GEO * Is a shoe-free home really better? * Empty NAT GEO * Is a shoe-free home really better? *

Post by Paul Wed 10 Jul 2024, 12:18 pm

NAT GEO * Is a shoe-free home really better? * Scree603


Is a shoe-free home really better? Scientists may have an answer.
Experts break down the arguments for and against leaving your shoes at the door.




ByErin Blakemore

January 24, 2024





If you’ve ever visited a new friend at home, you may have encountered the dilemma of whether to keep your shoes on—or offer to remove them at the entrance. It’s an awkward social ceremony steeped in cultural traditions and personal preferences, not to mention concerns about the appearance or smell of exposed feet. But by taking your shoes off, you could be doing your host’s health a favor. Here’s why scientists increasingly recommend leaving your outside shoes at the door.

Who removes their shoes at home?


No wonder it’s awkward for some to slip off their shoes before going inside: The issue of indoor footwear is divisive and culturally fraught. Removing one’s shoes before entering a home is “a symbolic act of crossing the boundary between the public and the private,” [url=https://www.google.com/books/edition/Dialogue_in_Foreign_Language_Education/CwwrDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=shoes off in the home cultural]writes[/url] intercultural communications scholar Lucyna Aleksandrowicz-Pędich. In some spaces, like mosques, that boundary divides the sacred and mundane. But the shoes-off practice is widespread throughout the world, with different permutations and varying justifications.
In southeast Asia, for example, heating systems, furniture, and even architecture nudge along a shoeless indoor culture. In New Zealand, going barefoot is common both indoors and outdoors, while most Germans wear a pair of dedicated “house shoes” inside the home instead of the ones they don outside.
Within the U.S., shoe removal is slightly more contentious. A CBS/YouGov survey conducted in 2022 found that 63 percent of Americans say they remove their shoes at home, but just 24 percent ask their guests to follow suit.

What do the etiquette experts say?


There are as many reasons to remove (or keep on) shoes as there are people, ranging from a desire not to track mud or dirt indoors to showing respect to your host. Could etiquette experts have the answer? Not exactly: They’re as divided as the American public.



“Asking guests to take off their shoes is tantamount to saying that you value your flooring more than their comfort,” writes the team behind Miss Manners, while etiquette authority Peggy Post believes “a hostess is within her rights to ask guests to remove their shoes.” American etiquette generally values making others comfortable, which means the shoes on-or-off debate often falls to the head of a home.

Is there a scientific reason to keep your shoes on inside? 


While the etiquette experts are split, scientists have plenty of evidence to support the idea that shoes bring undesirable filth indoors—but the immediate dangers of that dirt to human health remain murky.


A 2023 analysis found that more than half of all indoor dust particles originate outdoors, and researchers warn that everything from lead to fecal matter can hitch a ride on shoes. “Indoor dust had higher median and mean trace metal concentrations for every element analyzed compared to corresponding garden soil,” the study noted.
Some of the pathogens you track inside can be deadly. A 2017 study analyzed the bottoms of 280 participant’s shoes and found that 26.4 percent were positive for Clostridium difficile. Also known as C. diff, the bacterium is highly contagious, causing colon inflammation, diarrhea, and stomach pain, and is associated with repeat infections. C. diff [url=https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431054/#:~:text=difficile infects approximately half abe directly attributed to C.]causes[/url] about half a million infections—and 29,000 deaths—in America each year. An even more damning 2022 study looked at C. diff on healthcare workers’ shoes, matching the strains of bacteria found on their shoes to the strains suffered by hospitalized C. diff patients in 74 percent of cases.
Carpets can be especially welcoming to outdoor dirt. “Carpets are reservoirs that act both as a source and a sink for indoor dust,” noted a large group of environmental experts in a 2019 study that looked at the implications of carpets for indoor chemistry and microbiology. It concluded that inhalation or ingestion, not absorption through the skin, is the likeliest pathway to carpet-contracted illness. But the full degree of risk to human health is still being studied.

Some scientists and doctors dismiss the idea of removing shoes indoors for health or safety reasons such as foot injuries, which spiked during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as people spent more time at home, and the chance of contracting a skin condition like athlete’s foot, warts, or MRSA. Then there’s the sheer strain barefoot walking can put on the feet, spurring dry, cracked heels, and leaving barefoot home dwellers susceptible to falls and orthopedic injuries.

The case against indoor shoes


Pathogens, potential injuries, foreign material—all could be seen as an argument to keep your shoes firmly on your feet. But many environmental experts argue that there’s a simple way to reduce those hazards even further: Simply remove your outdoor shoes before going inside.
“You can take basic steps to minimize the dirt getting into your home,” says Mark Patrick Taylor, chief environmental scientist of the Environment Protection Authority in Victoria, Australia. Taylor, who was involved with the 2023 study that found most indoor dust originates outside, says that it’s worth sidestepping the risk of pathogens and contaminants by making sure they never get inside the house in the first place. Noting that indoor dust from outside dirt will make its way onto furniture surfaces and even into food and beverages, Taylor says it’s better to be safe than sorry. “You don’t want to ingest micrograms of feces from your neighbor’s dog,” he notes.
Ready to try ditching your shoes at the door? Taylor recommends getting two door mats, one that stays just outside your door and one within. Can’t afford new mats? Towels work as well, he says, as do buckets of water or wipes for dirty bare feet. Once inside, Taylor says, try a pair of dedicated house shoes or slippers, and occasionally wipe down their soles.
“Your home is your castle,” says Taylor. “It doesn’t take a lot of money or time to take simple, efficient steps. Nothing lost. No harm done.”
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