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Does Wearing Shoes in Your House Actually Track Dirt and Germs Inside?

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Taking off my shoes when I enter anyone’s home is such a habit that I don’t even think about it anymore. I grew up in a house where we always left our footwear at the door, and even now I often forget that there are plenty of people who don’t! I was told at the time that we did partially for cleanliness reasons, but I always wondered: Does wearing shoes indoors actually track dirt and germs as so many people claim it does? Could diseases like Covid-19 be transmitted? And does it affect your health?

Luckily, I wasn’t the only person who was curious. It turns out that scientists have conducted several studies over the years looking into how many germs are on our shoes and whether or not they pose a significant health threat if we wear them around the house on a daily basis. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that they’ve found fecal bacteria, E. coli, and Staphylococcus aureus (which causes staph infections) on virtually all shoes. One small study into COVID-19 transmission also found elements of the coronavirus on shoes. In other words, there really is some grimy stuff on your footwear!

The better news, however, is that all of these particles are found in such tiny trace amounts that they’re incredibly unlikely to make you sick, especially if you’re generally in good health. “For a healthy individual, bacteria on shoes likely pose no or minimal risk,” Kevin Garey, a professor at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, told LiveScience about his research into the matter. The two groups of people who may need to take more precautions are small children (who spend more time on the floor to begin with) and people who are immunocompromised. Even then, just cleaning your house regularly — wiping down surfaces a few times per week, mopping floors weekly, and washing rugs, pillows, and linens every few weeks — does the trick to keep these particles at bay.

That said, even if you now know that wearing your shoes indoors won’t significantly dirty up a space, you should still take them off if you’re in someone else’s home and they ask you to. It’s always a good idea to respect other people’s rules, and maybe they just like to feel a little bit cozier when they’re home!

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