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.
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…