At home, my family prefers to be barefoot. When we walk in the door, we shed the confines of our footwear because it's more comfortable, not to keep the floors clean. (With two adults, two kids and two cats, our floors don't stay clean for long.) And we tell guests to leave their shoes on or take them off — whichever they prefer.
But the no-shoes policy might become a firm rule for everyone entering my house. After all, there's a good reason why many cultures and countries, including most of Scandinavia, China, Japan, Hawaii, Thailand, Turkey, India and much of the Middle East, have traditionally outlawed wearing shoes inside the home.
For a recent study, Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, wore a new pair of shoes for two weeks, then analyzed the results. He found that 420,000 units of bacteria made themselves at home on the soles and another 3,000 units of bacteria landed inside the shoes. He repeated the experiment with 10 participants and got similar results.
Here's a sample menu of some of the disgusting bacteria found: E. coli, known to cause intestinal and urinary tract infections; meningitis and diarrheal disease; Klebsiella pneumonia, a common source for wound and bloodstream infections as well as pneumonia; and Serratia ficaria, a rare cause of infections in the respiratory tract and wounds.
"The common occurrence (96 percent) of coliform and E. coli bacteria on the outside of the shoes indicates frequent contact with fecal material, which most likely originates from floors in public restrooms or contact with animal fecal material outdoors," said Gerba. "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."
Gerba worked with research specialist Jonathan Sexton, who wanted to find out how effectively that bacteria contaminated the surfaces with which it came in contact. A volunteer wore shoes and walked over several uncontaminated floor tiles. More than 90 percent of the time, the bacteria transferred directly onto the clean tiles, Sexton said.
In addition, this 2011 study found that our shoes track in dermatophytes, which are fungi that can cause infections of the skin, hair and nails.
So basically, the bad news is that by wearing shoes out in the world and continuing to wear them around your home, you're tracking in excrement, fungus and potentially deadly bacteria.
The good news is that Gerba found that washing the shoes in the washing machine with a little detergent reduced the bacteria by 90 percent. But of course, not all shoes are washing machine-safe. Might I suggest a Clorox wipe on those soles?