If you’d like to come over to my house, take off your shoes. Non-negotiable, no offense intended. It’s not you, it’s your shoes. And your shoes are filthy. They have walked on the ground: in public bathrooms, at train stations, at schools and in grocery stores. You are welcome in my home, always. Your shoes are not. So please, take them off.
This might seem like an outsize request, but it’s really not. And honestly, if being in your sock feet ruins your outfit or makes you uncomfortable, then we can chat outside. I won’t even wear my own shoes indoors, and my dad is absolutely fanatical about it (you can either put on your running shoes in the foyer or when you’re sitting on the treadmill downstairs—these are your only options).
Recently, I accidentally wore my house slippers outside and into an Uber after a particularly hectic few days with minimal sleep. Luckily, I was on my way to the airport and had some street shoes with me in my suitcase. But once I got home, those slippers got a serious wipe down with Clorox. This might sound absurd, but according to a recent episode of the TODAY show, shoes can carry up to 421,000 different kinds of bacteria. Do you want that wandering around your living room? Didn’t think so.
A closer look at that bacteria in a study from the University of Arizona found everything from E. coli bacteria to Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause urinary tract infections; and Serratia ficaria, which can cause respiratory infections, on shoes.
“The unique thing about the shoe environment is that other things you walk on like leaves and debris, can serve as food for the bacteria and help them grow,” Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., a microbiologist and professor at University of Arizona, told The Huffington Post.
Now can you understand why I don’t want your shoes on my floor, let alone my couch? coffee table? BED?!
Another big reason shoes in the house are a bad idea is because the ground is covered in toxins. According to a 2013 study from Baylor University, people who live near asphalt roads sealed with coal tar are at a higher risk of cancer from those toxins. How is that possible? Because those toxic particles can be brought into the house on your shoes. This isn’t to say you’re going to develop cancer overnight—it would repeated exposure to these particles—but still, why risk it?
“Think about rain water in the street,” Dr. Reynolds told The Huffington Post. “It can have gasoline in it and chemicals, and those get on your shoes and can be brought into your home.”
Even Hoda Kotb on the TODAY Show said she thinks it’s a little strange when people ask you to take off your shoes. But let me tell you, I’d much rather you think I’m weird than risk contracting E. coli. A good rule of thumb is to take the burden off the host and just offer to take off your shoes. Personally, I think taking off your shoes should be embedded into good manners—just like chewing with your mouth closed and not picking your nose.
So when you come over, I’m happy to see you… but do me a favor, and just take off your shoes.