These days we are all very motivated to keep our homes as healthy as possible. Stores have sold out of hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and disinfectants; people are washing their clothes as soon as they get home from public places, and good old fashioned hand washing has become all the rage. And we support smart hygiene and safe cleaning and disinfecting practices. However, there is one source of germs and chemicals that enter our homes that most of us remain unaware of: our shoes…and they may be tracking plenty of these unwanteds into our homes.
What are your shoes tracking in?
No one likes mud tracked across a clean floor, but new research has shown that shoes track in much more than just dirt. A study by the University of Arizona analyzed the bacteria present on the inside and outside of people’s shoes and found an average of 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside of the shoe and 2,887 on the inside! And we’re not talking about harmless bacteria either; the most common form was E. coli, the fecal-borne bacteria that causes those infamous intestinal and urinary tract infections, meningitis, and diarrheal disease; Klebsiella pneumonia, a lesser-known bacteria which is a common cause of wound and bloodstream infections and pneumonia; and Serratia ficaria, which rarely causes respiratory tract and wound infections.
The fact that many of these bacteria come from human and animal feces should be enough to make you fling your shoes off at the door. But what made this study really interesting was how long these bacteria remain on people’s shoes. Per professor and microbiologist, Dr. Charles Gerber, “Our study also indicated that bacteria can be tracked by shoes over a long distance into your home or personal space after the shoes were contaminated with bacteria.”
Another study found Clostridium difficile bacteria on shoes, which causes diarrheal disease, while other investigations have found things like pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, and heavy metals are commonly tracked indoors by shoes and can remain in carpets for months or years (even after vacuuming)1, 2.
Now to address the elephant in the room: can coronavirus be tracked in on shoes? Since the virus is so new, we couldn’t find any published research on the topic. However, we did find a quote from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which said the amount of virus on the average person’s shoes is likely to be small. Yet, they still recommend changing your shoes at the door when arriving home3.
But will wearing shoes indoors really make you sick?
If you’ve been wearing shoes indoors your whole life, you’re probably wondering why all these bacteria and toxins haven’t made you sick. And it’s a fair question. Researchers believe it all depends on your health, your age, and how often you clean.
For example, it’s been shown that pets, babies, and children are much more vulnerable to things like heavy metals and pesticides, because they spend much more time close to the floor. There’s also the very real possibility that these things have affected you, like when that mysterious stomach bug hit, or your lab results came back high in lead or pesticides but you didn’t know to put two and two together.
Also, the indoor air quality in your home is directly linked to the health of your respiratory and immune systems4…which is why we highly recommend Tossing the Toxins and adopting a no-shoes-indoors policy.
How to clean up your floors and adopt a no-shoes-indoors policy
First thing’s first: it’s time to stop wearing outdoor shoes indoors. The easiest way to do this is to place a shoe basket, either outside your door or directly inside your door, and label it: “Shoes”. That way, everyone remembers to kick their shoes in the basket upon entry. You may also wish to designate a pair of “indoor shoes” for every family member. This is especially important for children, who may slip on hard floors when wearing socks, or elderly family members who may not be comfortable without shoes.
The other thing to think about (post-COVID-19, of course) is visitors. After all, not everyone is comfortable taking off their shoes—especially if they’re not wearing socks and/or have a foot condition. There are a few ways to go about this, you can give them a heads-up over the phone (highly recommended for extended visitors), ask them politely to take off their shoes upon arrival, put up a cute sign (there are dozens of clever ones online), make your shoe basket super obvious, and/or tell them ahead of time you have a no-shoes-indoors policy. It’s also a good idea to have some clean socks handy to lend and/or have your Branch Basics All Purpose ready to spray on soles (for those who just can’t give up their footwear). Above all, be polite, be sensitive, but stick to your guns—especially if you have little ones crawling or running around.
To clean and detoxify your floors, we’d highly recommend deep cleaning your carpets and rugs by either renting a carpet cleaning machine and using it with Branch Basics Concentrate in a 1:48 dilution (1 teaspoon Concentrate per cup of distilled water*), using a Dry Steam Cleaners which kills germs in 2-7 minutes, or hiring a professional, non-toxic carpet cleaning service. For deep cleaning instructions of all other types of floors, check out Branch Basics Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Floor Cleaning (it’s easier than you think).
In conclusion, adopting a no-shoes-indoor policy will not only reduce your exposure to harmful germs, pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals, but it will also help keep your house cleaner and your family and pets healthier.