Kelly Reynolds, PhD, an environmental microbiologist and associate professor and program director, environmental and occupational health community, environment & policy department at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
If you’re always trying to get your family to take their shoes off when they come home so that they don’t track in dirt, there’s another compelling reason to do so. It turns out that taking off shoes might protect our health as well as our home. A recent study led by researchers at University of Houston found that 26.4% of shoe soles tested positive for a nasty bacterium called C. difficile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. difficile is responsible for nearly 30,000 deaths in the US each year.
And C. difficile is just one of many health risks that could be hitching a ride into our homes on the soles of our shoes. The research shows that the bottoms of our shoes carry a variety of bacteria.
It’s not just bacteria, either. Studies of farm workers have found that pesticides often enter their homes on their shoes and clothes. People who don’t work on farms are unlikely to get these chemicals on their clothing—but if they walk on or near lawns not long after pesticides or herbicides are applied, their shoes could carry cancer-causing toxins.
We don’t always know what we’ve walked through and what we’re tracking into the house. It makes sense to consider what could be getting into your home and transfer to your body from the soles of your shoes.
True, there’s a good chance that our health will not suffer even if we do track bacteria or other toxins into our homes. Most of these unwanted houseguests pose substantial health risks only if they get into our digestive systems. And most people don’t eat off the floor. But we could pick up contaminants if we put our feet up on a coffee table and later place food on that table…or if we fail to wash our hands thoroughly after touching the floor. Young children are at particular risk—they often take things off the floor and put them in their mouths.
Add it up, and it certainly seems like it’s worth taking a few seconds to take off our shoes when we get home and put them back on when leaving.