Look at Life: Domestic Shoelessness

15th July 2016

Don't Put Your Foot In It

Writes Claire Moulds

Personally, I don’t understand why asking people not to wear shoes in your home is such a huge issue. I grew up in a shoe-free home and to me the benefits are therefore obvious. My husband, however, has had to ‘learn’ – read ‘be trained’ – to ditch his shoes at the door, and still finds it extremely uncomfortable asking guests to remove theirs when they come to visit.

What I find strange is that I’m sure that if I asked most people whether they’d like me to sprinkle dirt, bacteria and other nasties throughout their home they’d answer with a resounding ‘no’ – and yet most think nothing of me walking around their house in my outside shoes, doing just that. Part of the problem is that so much of what our shoes leave behind in their wake is either tiny, or invisible to the naked eye. If we were leaving huge clumps of mud our host would most certainly have something to say about it, but because in most cases there is nothing to see, no alarm bells start to ring.

And yet they should. A recent study found large numbers of bacteria on the bottom of our shoes – averaging 421,000 units – including E. coli, indicating frequent contact with faecal matter, either from walking on the floors in public toilets or contact with animal waste outdoors. The same study also indicated that bacteria can be carried by shoes over an extremely long distance, such as into and around your home, after initial contamination.   

As well as therefore cutting down the amount of time I need to spend cleaning our floors, I’m also protecting us – and our guests – from exposure to bacteria and viruses that could cause illness. In fact, it makes me wince when, as I always do, I take my shoes off in someone else’s home while they insist on wearing theirs, and their baby crawls along behind, putting her hands directly where her parents’ shoes have just been… and then promptly popping her fingers into her mouth.

Equally, I was also brought up to take care of my things and, having spent thousands laying new carpets and floors in our home, I have no intention of replacing them any time soon. Shoes are the natural enemy when it comes to the lifespan of your flooring. From the grit caught in their treads that scratches wooden floors, to the dirt that is trampled into carpets (my friend’s cream stair runner had to be thrown out after a single house party because no amount of carpet shampoo could return it to its true shade) the damage is both cumulative and significant.

That’s not to say that I always feel comfortable taking off my shoes. There was more than one occasion when house hunting that we went for a viewing and I bitterly regretted removing my footwear, as my feet stuck to the floor and then proceeded to pick up food scraps and pet hair as we were shown around. That’s less about the shoes-on-or-off debate though and more about basic cleanliness.

I do appreciate, though, that being asked to remove your shoes unexpectedly can be uncomfortable for a guest – nobody wants to have to reveal a hole in their sock or display feet that haven’t had any TLC since their last holiday – so I always provide advance warning that we’re a no-shoe home. People can then can dress accordingly or, as most do, bring slippers. Meanwhile, for tradesmen I have invested in a huge supply of plastic shoe covers which can be worn and then recycled.        

There are, of course, the odd one or two visitors who roll their eyes, but in the scheme of things I don’t think it’s too much to ask. At least in my house they’re unlikely to have their shoes stolen à la Carrie Bradshaw in Sex & the City when she attended a baby shower at a no-shoe apartment. And, while we often think of the great shoe debate as a very British problem, it’s interesting to note that in Sweden, Austria and Norway the expectation is that visitors will always leave their shoes in the hallway before coming inside.

So, while the welcome mat will always be rolled out to greet you when you come to my place, please, please, please leave your shoes on it…

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