She raises her eyebrow and gives me the look. “What? What!”, I respond, exasperated.
Wordlessly, she looks down at my shoes.
Ahhh, yes. My shoes. My daughter isn’t registering her disapproval about my choice of footwear, she’s registering a comment about the fact that I even have shoes on, at all. Indoors. Inside. Namely, indoors, inside her home.
I traipse back to the front door and dutifully remove them. Secretly, I’m thinking: “This?! From the kid who thought nothing of having a dozen mud-rimmed pals traipse through the house to the rec room? This?! From the kid who warehoused fermenting half eaten bowls of cereal under her bed. This?! From the kid who could not, under penalty of death, be made to comply with the ‘No dogs on the sofa’ rule.
“Now, we care about cleanliness? Now, we care about hygiene? Now, she wants my shoes off at her front door?”
Who’s running the vacuum cleaner?
I guess it all depends on just who’s running the vacuum cleaner.
Anyway, I do it. I take off my shoes. And I’m getting in the habit of it. I might even implement the rule at my house.
People often ask: On or off? Almost without exception, I answer: On. It’s mostly habit. But it’s also somehow slightly political. The implication is: I trust your shoes; I trust you.
The science, however, says that I shouldn’t.
According to a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, regardless of where you live, shoes worn indoors are a vector for pathogen transmission.
Studies done in both household and public settings reported comparable contamination of shoes. One study found that 40% of shoe bottoms samples collected from households were contaminated with C. difficile. Listeria was found to be prevalent in 40% to 80% of shoe bottoms samples. The deeper the tread on the shoes, the higher the concentration of contamination. Salmonella also registered on the tested shoes.
Keep doctors (with shoes) out of home
And here’s a tip: Don’t let a doctor with shoes on into your house. In fact, as a community service, you should probably insist on a sheep dip for medical personnel. Shoes worn in hospital settings, including the operating room, revealed elevated counts of all sorts of nasty bugs, especially staphylococcus, but also including really nasty MRSA.
Rural settings don’t provide insulation from this problem.
A 2009 longitudinal study performed in a rural Alaska community had people put on sterile boots and then go on a walk. The study found that 70% of the participants’ sterile boots became contaminated with coliforms, of which 40% were E. coli. All of those contaminants ended up on the floor.
Increasingly, we view the outside world as a threat. Post pandemic, people are practicing a lot of “performance sanitation” — the earnest, but haphazard, spraying and wiping of dumbbells and yoga mats. The jury is out as to how effective any of that is. Perhaps the removal of shoes qualifies as the better effort? Our recent reacquaintance with hand-washing has, on its own, tamped down influenza transmission. Maybe a “Shoes Off” policy makes sense, too?
Evil, world-wide sock cartel?
I have one friend who is dead set against it. She claims the whole “lose the shoes” agenda is just part of an evil, world-wide sock cartel’s insidious plan. I explained the science to her. She didn’t care. Then I played my trump card and told her that it would mean a lot less vacuuming.
She said meh, she likes vacuuming; when she vacuums, she can’t hear the voices in her head.
So I’ll make an exception to my new rule: I’ll leave my shoes on when I go to her house.
Just in case I have to run.
QUESTION: What’s your indoor shoe policy? Shoes on, or shoes off? Email Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane MacDougall is a Canadian journalist who has worked in the newspaper, radio, TV and film industries. Her columns have appeared in a variety of publications in Canada, including the National Post, as well as in the U.S. (She is also a trained chef who recently appeared on Sara Moulton’s PBS show, Sara’s Weeknight Meals.) You can email Jane at email@example.com and visit her website at https://janemacdougall.com.