by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health
Is your home a shoe-free zone? More to the point, should it be?
Iâve been contemplating this issue, in part because weâre up to our ankles in the muddy season here on the East Coast (made all the worse by my daughters in their soccer cleats). I canât help but wonder what besides mud comes in on their cleats, or for that matter, our everyday shoes. After all, whatever the time of year, the streets are a virtual dumping ground for animal feces, dropped and decaying foods and possibly pathogens in… ahem… various bodily fluids.
I started asking people about shoes in their homes and quickly discovered that many people have rules. For instance, I spoke with an acupuncturist who endorsed keeping shoes on because, he says walking on cold floors is bad for the muscles. Not so, said another acupuncturist who is also a podiatrist — he assured me that cold floors wonât hurt you but does advise wearing shoes or slippers to keep feet comfortable and protected, since he sees an awful lot of needless foot injuries. And speaking of that, another vote in favor of footwear came from a restaurant-owning friend — she told me that the very first rule for chefs-in-training is to keep shoes on when preparing food. It makes sense — if you happen to drop the knife when slicing and dicing in bare feet, the damage to your toes could be permanent.
Sock It to Us…
Iâll give you the dirt on wearing outdoor shoes inside in just a minute — but let me first note that whatever you wear or donât wear on your feet inside the house, put safety first. Socks may protect your feet from dirt — at least partially — but they can be slippery, too… so slippers may be the best solution. Look for a pair with soles that will grip the floor.
To get the inside story on the filth on shoes, I called microbiologist Philip M. Tierno, Jr., PhD, author of The Secret Life of Germs and director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center. Dr. Tierno says absolutely the ideal is to take your shoes off at the door. “The street is a repository for all sorts of really disgusting things,” he says, “and when you step in them while walking, your shoes accumulate those things… and bring them into your home.”
Though he said this issue hasnât been studied, Dr. Tierno points out (rather poetically) that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. For example, say you step on sputum from someone who has the flu — do you have any doubt that your shoes could then transfer the pathogens to your rug where you or your child later sits? That shoe debris probably wonât kill you, says Dr. Tierno, but it can definitely make you sick.
Dr. Tierno acknowledges that in this country, guests generally expect to keep their shoes on. He has advice on how to be sure your house stays sanitary in spite of visiting soles…
- Hard floors with area rugs are preferable. These are easier to clean than wall-to-wall carpeting — another problem is that the padding under wall-to-wall becomes a repository for numerous germs, bacteria and more that seeps through over time.
- If your home is carpeted and outside shoes are worn inside, sanitize the carpeting weekly with an alcohol-based spray (Lysol works well) and vacuum with a strong machine equipped with a HEPA filter to keep whatâs sucked up from flying into the air. (This applies to area rugs as well.)
- Clean floors regularly with a disinfectant. Dr. Tierno believes that conventional cleaning products are most effective, but if you use only “green” products, be sure that the one you buy contains thymol, a component of thyme oil, the only green ingredient strong enough to do the job, he said. Products that contain thymol include the brands Seventh Generation and Benefect.
- Clean up food and drink spills immediately to prevent decay and having resulting germs or bacteria tracked into other areas of the home.
Dr. Tierno reminds us to always wash hands after sitting on the floor or rug, especially before eating, drinking or touching your face. And, while not advocating that we all turn into “clean freaks,” he added one more bit of advice that I will be sharing with my family: That famous “five-second” rule is a no-no — if food falls on the floor even for just a second or two, it belongs in the trash, not in your mouth. You donât know what shoe carrying what germs has walked on that spot!