Shoes Off at the Door? New Reasons Why

I admit to feeling uncomfortable when asked to remove my shoes as I enter someone’s home. The awkwardness is especially true if I am wearing stockings, as I feel exposed, as if my underwear is showing, and on edge because I am quite sure that the stockings will most likely get a few snags.

If the home is Buddhist, or more culturally oriented towards taking shoes off at the door, I feel differently, as in such cultures removing shoes is a mark of respect. But when being asked to take off ones shoes is not a culturally ingrained, the request often feels off-putting to me.

Mud-room practices aside (we all expect to take wet, muddy, or snowy boots off at the door), I don’t ask others to take their shoes off when they enter my home. Asking feels like an imposition, almost a demand for a level of intimacy (or adherence to fastidious cleaning habits) regardless of who they are or why they are visiting. And some don’t like to show their feet. My mother, for example, had severe arthritis in her toes and was embarrassed about how they looked. She would have been mortified to take off her shoes in public.

What is your response to being asked to take your shoes off when you visit someone’s home? Do you ask people to do this?

Many of us, like me, have complex and confusing emotional responses to this issue that have nothing to do with — nor do they translate to accommodate — the real and best reasons behind removing shoes at the door: to maintain the health of the home.

In the 15th century one was not allowed to enter a room without taking off shoes in Holland. One can only imagine the human and animal sewage that one would walk through out in the world at that time, so removing shoes would be a precaution against illness-causing bacteria.

As municipal sewage systems took hold and animal transportation gave way to cars and trains, the health reasons behind removing shoes fell away. But new studies show that while we may no longer be tracking in as much bacteria on our shoes, we are tracking in dangerous pollutants. It may be time to return to the practices of the 15th century to protect the health of our homes. Here are some examples:

  • In a new study, and the largest ever conducted, 22 pesticides were commonly found in the dust of homes in Salinas, California. Salinas is an agricultural community, but not all the pesticides found were agricultural pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Environmental Health have found that low level chronic pesticide exposure as found in these homes can cause numerous health problems, especially for fetuses and young children. The study was by the California state Department of Public Health and researchers with the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) with the University of California, Berkeley. Protection Agency.
  • Another new study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology, found that toxic coal tar, a known carcinogen used in driveway sealants (among other places), is tracked into homes from driveways and parking lots.
  • Lead is commonly tracked into homes on shoes. Lead was removed from paint by law after 1978, and from gasoline in 1996. Lead is still remarkably prevalent, and should be removed from the environment, especially for children. Even low levels of lead can cause a reduction in IQ. Elevated levels of lead in blood range from behavior disorders and anemia to mental retardation and permanent nerve damage. Other heavy metals, such as mercury, can also be tracked in on shoes.
  • Taking shoes off at the door is especially important if you have carpets. Carpets are a sink hole for toxins of all kinds that are brought into the home on shoes and boots, including pollens, lead, pesticides, and more. The cumulative levels of chemicals can become quite significant given that it is hard to clean carpets frequently and well enough, to remove the pollution buildup.
  • Infants and young children spend a great deal of time on the floor, and due to their size they are closer to the floor, and also put toys that have been on the floor into their mouths. With their growing central nervous systems and developing immune systems, toxic chemicals can be especially damaging.
  • Pets are vulnerable to exposure because they commonly lie on the floor or carpet.

How do we ameliorate the emotional tangles around removing shoes at the door?
How make it a practice that becomes a comfortable part of modern culture?

Some solutions to make the practice more relaxed could include:

  • Having a specific place to take off and place shoes.
  • Having an array of clean house slippers in various sizes available for guests.
  • Installing a steel, or tough fiber, shoe scraping doormat at the entrance way. People can be encouraged to use these mats for their shoes if you don’t have a house rule about removing shoes.
  • Heralding the environmental friendliness of how less dirt tracked into the home on shoes requires fewer cleaning products and the perk of less time cleaning.
  • Seeing removing shoes at the door as a point of welcome, a transitional moment to recognize that you are entering a new atmosphere, even a sanctuary.

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  • Sarah Gertiser

    I take my shoes off whenever I go to my friends just because I don’t like wearing shoes in the first place and my friends are aware of this. I would have no problems w this custom.

  • mark

    I am a healthcare professional and when I do home visits i always take my shoes off at the door. It’s the polite thing to do.
    Last year we went to a few few house selling open days and we were asked every time to remove our shoes.

    This is the norm around here

  • Mark

    When visiting we always take our slippers with us to change into. Most people here have expensive carpets so wearing shoes is not an option. When I go to church homegroup meetings in people homes, everyone has their slippers to wear. Maybe this is just an English habit due to our weather or maybe we are just polite.

  • Shelley Boisvenue

    exactly Mark, even at my doctors office there is a basket of slippers to put on.

  • Mark

    That’s an excellent thing to do.I live in a semi rural area and the roads etc are usually very wet and muddy. It’s also an affluent area. So just about everyone takes off their shoes and wears slippers.
    I am a healthcare professional and my home visits last for at least an hour. I always take my shoes off and I carry a smart pair of leather travel slippers in my briefcase. I am in private practice and my clients have opulent home, it would be unforgivable to even try and wear shoes.
    Although some care workers do try and wear shoes in these homes and I have had to tell them to take their shoes off.

  • Stacy

    I always have extra slippers (they are more like beach slippers so their washable) for guests, although my floors are spotless, which is why I do not want people walking on my floors with their shoes. Also I’m from Canada where it is normal for everyone to take off their shoes at the door. My sister is now living in the states and has this issue with guests just walking straight into her house with their dirty shoes, she has now put up a sign to kindly remove your shoes when entering. She gets a lot of side-eye. Just different cultures, I guess.

  • Renee

    Yes that fungus does hurt. I had guests and I asked them to take off their shoes, one of them had very bad foot fungus, didn’t realize it until a couple of days later, I was drying the bottom of my feet and I had bubbles of peeling skin! It is confusing what to do, so I don’t have company too much and I don’t have carpets

  • Ngkos

    If you’re asked to remove your shoes before entering the house, 99.99999999999% the floor is clean and the home owner just don’t want your outside shoes who have stepped into God knows what to dirty up 3 hours worth of mopping and vacuuming.

  • Christy

    I like the idea, but often find it terribly inconvenient, and not for any of the reasons the author listed. It is great when there is a foyer that an entering party of four can fit in, and especially nice if there is a bench. I have two children and the process can be pretty involved. Also, if one removes shoes at the front door, and then wishes to go into the back yard, it’s necessary for all in the party to go back to the front door and carry said shoes to the back door. And just forget about those indoor/outdoor gatherings when you are wearing shoes that are not of the slip-on variety.

  • Alee C

    I think is rude NOT t take off your shoes when in someone’s home. the streets are FILTHY and I don’t see why bringing that into someone’s home. In any case bottom line the rule should be simple: follow the house rules.

  • debbie

    really ?? get over it…everything can be washed, floors, carpets so if it just dirt then you wash the floors when they leave…I dont want to go to a party which means I am usually dressed nice, and take my shoe off or put booties over my nice shoes…that is just obsessive compulsive and a real issue… damage to floors is another issue , I could see if woman are wearing heels and they are marking up the floor, but dirt can be cleaned!! I was invited to a super bowl party and just told we have to take our shoes off or wear booties, I’m not going, nothing makes me feel more not welcome or at home in someone’s home!!!

  • Anonymous

    I find it more disgusting to track a home’s fungi and foot problems onto my socks and then put my feet back into my clean, impeccable shoes.

    I will never take my shoes in some one’s house. It’s like an invitation to share in the person’s foot filth. You may a well invite me to rub my feet up against yours, very impolite and awkward.

    ‘If you’re worried about what you track in your shoes from the street, do like I do and keep your lysol by the door and spray the hell out of the bottom sole as you come in. Capisce?

  • Anonymous

    I find it more disgusting to track a home’s fungi and foot problems onto my socks and then put my feet back into my clean, impeccable shoes.

    I will never take my shoes in some one’s house. It’s like an invitation to share in the person’s foot filth. You may a well invite me to rub my feet up against yours, very impolite and awkward.

    ‘If you’re worried about what you track in your shoes from the street, do like I do and keep your lysol by the door and spray the hell out of the bottom sole as you come in.

  • Kate Glemm

    Personally, I feel that shrek 3 was a big let down. I Fell in love with shrek, donkey and all the the other loveable characters in the shrek universe. After watching shrek (the first one) I had a shocking nightmare that featured the producers at pixar drawing a storyboard for shrek 80. I think that if they continue producing such bad shrek movies, my nightmare may become a harsh reality. Please pass this message on so the big bad greedy producers STOP MAKING SHREK MOVIES!!!!!

  • Noshoes

    I have white floors, so it’s literally impossible to keep it clean. I was tired of scrubbing the floor almost daily, so I decided no shoes were allowed. also did it because I have a white, indoor, persian cat, and his paws were getting black and I didn’t want him to pick up anything from the bacteria brought in. I live in the U.S and it has been quite difficult getting people to understand. I actually, had my mother in law come in with her shoes and when I asked her to remove them she said… oh don’t worry, my shoes are not dirty. And so I thought… WTH, do you float/fly?

  • John

    I’m sorry, but whenever people ask me to remove my shoes..I always think they are too lazy (or too poor to hire someone) to clean the floors! Seriously that is basic house keeping! No one with proper etiquette would ask a guest to remove shoes when entering…

  • Sarah

    We always take our shoes off at the door and prefer guests do the same. However, we did not want them to be uncomfortable for any reason – sweaty feet, strange-looking feet, ugly socks, cold feet or stinky feet! So we bought a pack of boot covers — the kind that workmen (from good companies, anyway) put over their shoes/boots when they enter your home. Our guests can leave their shoes on, and our floors can stay clean and dry. Some may find it off-putting but to us, it was nicer than asking them to put on slippers that someone else might have worn. WE would know the slippers were washed but they might wonder if someone else had sweated in them. Yuck!

  • J

    And when someone doesn’t take their shoes off, I think they must have no manners to be dragging their dirty shoes (which have been walking through pavement, mud and God-knows what else) through someone else’s house.

    How’d you like me to drag shit through your home?

  • Tabitha Wernik

    I ask people to take their shoes off and if they don’t like it then they don’t need to com over, I am grossed out by someone wearing shoes in my house and we have 4 inside cats that don’t go outside and I don’t want my cats laying on the floor or rugs where dirty shoes have been

  • Maureen Demar Hall

    I wish there was an ID of where everyone who remarked was from, this is fascinating! I grew up in upstate NY, in the 50’s, and it wasn’t standard practice to remove your shoes in the house…….I ran around barefoot a lot as a kid so was shoeless inside and out, still prefer to walk barefoot in my yard and I now live in Houston! Clean floors, no foot fungus, I use no pesticides in my garden, not worried! If you’re more comfortable with or without shoes in my house, your choice, it doesn’t bother me either way! If you want me to remove my shoes in your house, fine too! Not a problem and certainly nothing to get your undies in a twist over……

  • Taraz Martinez

    I started doing this over 20 + years ago for health reasons and it has made cleaning my floors so much easier and less gross.

  • quoWadis

    In Norway, as in all Scandinavian homes I have visited, the host usually has bare feet or stockings (depending on season and heat) while in their home. When you are greeted at the door, there are always shoe racks or a designated area to leave your shoes. I can’t remember ever being asked to take my shoes of, as this the norm and what the host expects of their guests, if you however where to leave your shoes on, I don’t think a Scandinavian host would require you to strip your feet.

    Here it is the norm to take shoes of in the hall, and most do so. Scandinavians therefore would invite the guest to keep the shoes on, if the host don’t mind shoes in the house. Health aspects aside, I personally regard this as a question of etiquette; if the host don’t wear shoes, why would the guest do so, regardless of geography or culture.

  • Angela

    I have a sign on my front door that states, please remove your shoes, thank you. In my home I have slippers and flip flops, and socks for you to slip on if wish. They are easy to wash after a guest uses them. It is about 30% who use them.
    I was never allowed to wear my shoes in doors as a kid, I never did so as an adult. If I have a party with a lot of people I make an exception. I then tell people they can leave their shoes on if they wish. Some do some do not. I have wood floors so as soon as the party is over I wash the floor. Easy. I do not have carpet because I find it is a magnet for dust and dirty etc.
    To be honest I can not see how anyone would want shoes on indoors. Especially if you have children. But if that is your deal so be it. The question is why do feel so uncomfortable removing ones shoes? I have had a few people get really weird about it. They pretend to not see the sign on our door. when I ask them to remove their shoes they giggle nervously. My in laws were really not happy at first to leave the shoes at the door. Today they take them off and are at ease.

  • Angela

    I think the host should have slippers and socks to offer the guest. I do. They are easy to wash after one uses them and the people feel comfortable. That is the nice way and good manners. I certainly do not thing people should carry around socks and what not in their car, purse.

  • Angela

    “acceptable” ethnicity? What would that be? I think it is more do with the home owner personally.

  • Angela

    I think their is always exceptions. If for medical reasons as you stated. I agree it is a good discussion. I always wonder why people feel off put when asked to remove ones shoes. Besides of course medical needs.

  • Angela

    We have indoor shoes in my home too.

  • heh

    This is full of shit. Ur feet needs to breathe. How u hurt ur feets inside the house if ur floor is clean? Just walking ? Hav to be pretty shit legs.

  • heh

    U cant get foot fungus like that. Are u idiot ? And its bad to wear ur shoes all day. In my country its insultic the quest not taking shoes off.

  • Heh

    I dont like to wear shoes all day. Its not goot to your feet to wear shoes all day. Ur shoes cant breathe and when the weather is warm then its bad to your feet and I dont like to wear slippers outside, only inside. I have to ask no1 to take their shoes off when they come
    to my house. They all do it without asking even first timers and i do the same when i visit som1. I had party with 50
    ppl.They all took their shoes off. In my Country, the weather is shitty almoust all time. I have slippers for few quests who wants em. For those pple who thinks that u can get fungus for not wearing shoes in house, u are stupid. If u wear socks u cant get fungus so easily. And its more hygenic not to wear shoes and take shit and mud to house. I cant understand pple that goes outside, the weather is rainy and shitty. U dont take u r shoes off and go lie on couch or bed with shitty shoes. This is common in u.s and whining about fungus. If u have kids. They play all the time at floor, put everything they find in the mouth. Is that hygenic? Then wonder how they get ill. Dont wear shoes inside.

  • Heh

    If u have children to u want that some1 comes with muddy shoes in ur house.And the little child play that muddy floor. Littl children put everithing in their mouth. Do u keep ur hose cleaner near u and clean every step u make`? Are u stupid? If u have pet that dont go outside. Do u want ur house pet get muddy too? Goes to ur clean bed and clean sofa or couch. At the table. U dont have fucking house cleaner to do everything. So its more hygenic not to wear shoes u idiont. And in my country its rude not to take shoes off.