Service of Removing Shoes Indoors for Cleanliness or Health

April 20th, 2017

Categories: Hygiene, Shoes, Thinking of Others, Tradition

I have always removed my shoes when entering my or anyone else’s home or apartment if I’ve just walked in mud, snow, or if my shoes are rain-soaked. Water and muck don’t mix well with wood floors, clean carpets or fine rugs. If I don’t have a pair of dry shoes with me I’ll walk around in socks or tights.

This practice almost broke the back of an otherwise blossoming relationship. It angered my boyfriend and his visiting family members who thought my request that they do the same when they visited me in inclement weather was irritating, irrational and absurd. I’d been told I couldn’t refinish the floors anymore and was therefore facing an exorbitant cost to replace potentially ruined wood and I didn’t want to accelerate the carpet cleaning schedule. So I put my foot down.

It’s far too late to say “aha!” but it turns out that while my reasons were related only to the health of my apartment and its fine rugs—and not to my wellbeing or that of my family—taking off your shoes when indoors is “good hygiene,” according to Ezequiel Minaya. In his Wall Street Journal article, “Is it Healthier to Remove Your Shoes at Home? It’s considered polite in some households, but are there more practical reasons for going shoeless inside?” turns out the answer is YES.

He wrote: “Shoes are a menagerie of microorganisms, sometimes carrying dangerous bacteria, says Kevin W. Garey, chairman of the department of pharmacy practice and translational research at the University of Houston. Bacteria can be very hardy.”

Unless you’re vulnerable—already ill, very old or young–you probably won’t get sick from the bugs that walk into your home. “But avoiding pathogenic bacteria that can cause illnesses from diarrhea to meningitis is easy, Dr. Garey says. Just take your shoes off. ‘It’s amazing how far humans travel during the day, and all that walking drags in germs and bugs,’ he says.”

Dr. Garey has recently published a study on Clostridium difficile—known as C.diff—that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported caused 29,000 deaths in the US six years ago from almost half a million infections. He found 2,500+ samples in the Houston area alone of which more than 25 percent collected in homes was on the soles of shoes. “And that’s just one bacterium. In an earlier investigation, Dr. Garey examined past studies to learn if ‘shoe soles are a vector for infectious pathogens.’ The answer was a resounding yes,” wrote Minaya.

The reporter added that researchers in other countries found a significant amount of Listeria and E.coli on shoes.

Do you ever take off your shoes when you visit others or when you walk in the door at home? If yes, is it out of tradition—as in Japan or Turkey—or for comfort, cleanliness or health reasons?

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10 Responses to “Service of Removing Shoes Indoors for Cleanliness or Health”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    My parents’ best friends, who they traveled with from Europe and established new lives here in the united states, were very neat. They seemed to always have white carpeting. That’s where I first encountered the concept of just socks for everyone, and no shoes! It felt good, it was special, and became a ritual!

    More recently I had Japanese friends who provided slippers at the door for visitors! I thought that was thoughtful and charming.

    It’s fine going barefoot, but I think one is more likely to get fungus infections that way!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder if the slippers your Japanese friends had at the door were disposable or had they been used before by someone else? I would have trouble with second hand slippers and would prefer going around in my socks or tights.

    I recall putting cloth covers over my shoes when entering a historic house with fine wood floors. I think I also did that in a mosque in the middle east.

    One of my aunts had white wall to wall. She lived in Connecticut. I never knew how she could keep it so clean. We didn’t take off our shoes at her house though had it been a nasty day, I would have as I would for anyone. As we’d arrive by car, carrying a clean, dry pair of shoes was not an issue.

    You wouldn’t get a fungus infection if your foot was covered. Funny that the Wall Street Journal article didn’t mention that!

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    Personally, I cringe when I see guys in the gym walk barefoot, and get on the scales barefoot… yuck.

    And by the way the supplied Japanese sandals were worn with socks! Don’t want any fungus, directly or even indirectly!! It’s called athletes foot itch for a good reason…

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I could be wearing five pairs of socks…I don’t know why I’m happy to walk on someone’s floor without shoes [but with socks/tights–not barefoot] yet not want to slip my foot into someone else’s sandal or slipper. Creepy. There must be paper disposable slippers available at low cost on line.

  5. hb Said:

    I know it is a non-sequitur, but the first thing which came to my mind when reading your most recent post was a feeling I had last Sunday in church. Since my parents never went to church, I didn’t either. As a result, I grew up devoid of ingrained religious beliefs. However, I do go occasionally with my wife to her church, especially on festive days such as Easter.

    This time, for some reason, as my mind tends to wander during the services, I was struck by the congregation saying in effect that it believed in the one true God and that all others were false. Now, it struck me that an awful lot of Christian faiths also say something like that, that it is one of the excuses Moslems use to justify killing infidels, and that the concept is deep in the roots of Judaism as well. Of course, the problem is that if yours is the only true God, then mine must be false, and vice versa, and what about all the people who believe in multiple Gods? Are theirs invalid too? I don’t think so.

    The shoes in the hallway question, is a little like the one true God problem. When I first came to New York, I was trained that, in deference to one’s neighbors, one should not leave clutter in the hallways outside one’s door. Fire laws also prohibited the practice, at least then according to house rules of that long ago apartment building. (Of course, NY fire laws did not apply to good continental hotels where if you left your shoes outside your room door in the evening, they would come back cleaned and polished in the morning.) I still go into my apartment before disrobing. We can’t both be right, can we?

    I think we’d all be better off if we “forgot about” the one true God business as well as the rights and wrongs of apartment building hall cluttering. There is no future to being right on this one. Besides who knows what is right? Nobody.

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    My husband is Japanese, and although he has lived in Manhattan and Boston for years we still take our shoes off when entering the house. All Japanese houses have a shoe cabinet decorated with flowers or such like a glove table in the entrance. Many have a step up to facilitate removing shoes without bending too much or seating for support. My understanding has been that it is for cleanliness and also respect. Japanese households are much stricter than mine. Different slippers are used to enter the kitchen and still different ones for the bathroom! I often feel slightly apologetic offering the Japanese style house slippers that we have on hand for guests in various sizes. That is the usual practice in Japan and may extend to traditional public places, shrines, museums and even restaurants with tatami mats where one sits on the floor. Some guests opt for their socks or hose. One is not supposed to go barefooted either because that is not considered terribly clean. Unfortnately some people might find it silly, but I think it is rude and inconsiderate to protest to your host or hostess. More complicated is that workmen may refuse to observe it because their job regulations mandate keeping enormous boots on for their protection.
    The practice of having generic shoes available is usual, and I found it odd at first. Yet they always seem barely used and I think it best to think of them as borrowed umbrellas.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    First off, the fire laws are the same today. Buildings don’t want stuff preventing tenants from clearing out of hallways and down stairs in an emergency.

    That goes for shoes and umbrellas too–so put the wet shoes in the kitchen or bathroom or in the hallway in an area protected by a towel or plastic to save carpet, rug, or floor from damage. There’s no right or wrong. In my case, there’s just a request that friends and family not ruin my house or belongings.

    I don’t quite see the relationship between religion and whether shoes should be left on or off before entering a home in bad weather. Maybe the shoe thing has to do with compassion, i.e. “I don’t want to ruin your floors with my messy shoes.” But as you brought it up, I think that the “one true church” concept has built into it these days a great deal of flexibility and elasticity. Many priests, rabbis and ministers are active in ecumenical movements. It’s a beautiful thing to see. Google Pope Francis and ecumenism–it might surprise you.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am squeamish about the silliest things. Here’s where it may come from: When we were kids we went to Jones Beach on Long Island and at one of the parking areas was a pool, showers and lockers to store clothes. They also rented bathing suits. This seemed horrible to me. I’d rather go swimming in the ocean with shorts and tee shirt than rent a bathing suit! Later I had friends who took me bowling. I so hated renting bowling shoes. It was disgusting to me but I did it. I am sure I’d get used to borrowed slippers. The tradition makes sense. It would just take me a while.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Common sense and good manners dictate taking off footwear encrusted with mud, snow or other elements which may be harmful to carpets/floors inside the home.

    I am not a fussy housekeeper, would never consider having white rugs, so perhaps some of the above mentioned offences have gone unnoticed. Just as well, since it would be very upsetting to be losing friends over this issue.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m lucky. In my current apartment there are thick rugs in the hallway so that much of the muck and mess is gone by the time folks reach my door. At my house there’s tile by the door which is more forgiving than wood or carpet. I’ve seen heavy plastic covering the floor in some lobbies and if there were a persistent problem, such as the one I described in the post, rather than cause a fuss I’d look into buying such a covering which I’d put out when expecting people who cared more about making a statement than pleasing me.

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