Years ago, to spare my downstairs neighbors from the sound of clumping footsteps, I asked my guests to remove their shoes.  I noticed that the feeling in my place benefited from the practice of leaving the “street” at the door. The vibe seemed somehow better; my floors remained cleaner longer and subject to less wear and damage.  Other people I know did the same for a variety of reasons, including a vague emulation of the practice of taking one’s shoes off before entering certain holy places and mosques. There were a good number of people who rolled their eyes at shoes off policies. Andy Warhol presciently summed up the matter with “to shoe or not to shoe”.

I’m not sure any of us really thought specifically about what the shoes we wore might actually bring into the house.

I’ve since learned that there some fiercer reasons for taking shoes off indoors, namely, the grim realities clinging to the bottoms of street shoes. They include dust, various kinds of feces from dog to bird to human, and leafy debris that harbors some really scary bacteria. In short Your shoes bring anything you’ve been walking in out there into your home (and in a city, that is a lot of weird stuff).

According to Jonathan Sexton, an environmental microbiologist and research specialist at the University of Arizona, the average shoe harbors “hundreds of thousands of bacteria per square inch.” University researchers found 9 different strains of bacteria in shoe bottom swab samples, among them the notorious e.coli (some e.coli strains are harmless for sure, but some may be the nasty ones that cause severe stomach and intestinal problems); Klebsiella pneumoniae that can cause damage to lungs and lead to pneumonia; antibiotic resistant Clostrdium difficile that can cause colitis;  Staphylococcus aureus that underlies a wide range of skin infections, and more worryingly, infections of the blood and the heart.

Still there is a case to be made that for healthy adults there is little risk unless they spend time on the floor where they might come into contact with harmful bacteria, and even then, it would take a concentrated dose. Children crawling around on the floor are far more susceptible.

Mira Keras

For me the benefits of shoes-off home far outweigh the inconvenience to visitors. I avoid all that nasty street stuff, and the vibe IS palpably better and more serene. My home stays cleaner, carpets get less wear, painted wood floors avoid scratches and pocks, and there less noise from the impact of shoes and high heels (for myself and for my downstairs neighbors). It feels good to walk barefoot.

And I like making signs to gently tell my guests to take their shoes off. Here’s a appropriation of one of Warhol’s gorgeous shoe works…

Andy Warhol


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9 replies on “Please Take Your Shoes Off! What’s Really On the Bottom of Your Shoes

  1. Long time proponent of the Shoe-Free Household here, in fact, of a shoe-free life whenever possible. Our feet were not meant to be encased in shoes all our waking hours! Free the feet! Walking barefoot also improves balance and allows the skin to breathe (which will eliminate foot odor).

  2. Glad to see this posted on The Improvised Life. Mysteriously, after the New York pooper scooper laws came in, everyone stopped curbing their dogs, that is, they no longer felt they had to lead their animals into the gutter to do their stuff. As a result, the sidewalks are now all filled with stains and bits of dog poop that don’t make it into the bag, to say nothing of remnants of urine. Dodge it the best you can, it is still on the bottoms of your footwear when you get back home.

  3. Maybe have some socks or slippers for folks to slip on. We might have cold feet or a hole in our socks!

  4. I DO, thanks for reminding me. I should have mentioned it. (Maybe I’ll do a post on it…)

  5. love this!
    just one comment though–Staph Aureus is in everyone’s nose. it’s everywhere. not a problem…though the others could be..

  6. The sad truth is that I have seen people expelling things from every place possible on the body…

  7. I love this post and am a no shoes in “my house” woman. I have large gorgeous white area rugs and want to keep these clean!! I want to walk freely with nothing on my feet when possible in my home. I am finding a few people are difficult, especially where I just moved the maintenance man gave me a hard time. I did just purchase shoe cover’s and will say I do not feel this is my responsibility to provide, they are not cheap especially if you’re on a fixed income. I don’t know what he has on the bottom of his sneakers/shoes 🤢 and don’t want him walking on my carpets. One day I had the owners here along with men from Anderson windows; 5 men in total walked into my apartment on my carpets. Not one was respectful enough to ask if they should take their shoes off.

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