Shoes Off at the Door? New Reasons Why
December 28

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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  • http://www.ebeautyandgrace.com Elaine Springer

    Truly informative piece. Many thanks for the reminder.

  • Mark Irish

    i love the idea that upon entering someone's home we are, indeed, being welcomed. everyone i know that requests shoes to be rrmoved at their door treats their home as a sanctuary — and i actually enjoy giving it that level of respect. it is a gift to be asked to enter their home and it is a give i can offer in exchange to acknowledge their gift to me. thanks for this article. we do not request the removal of shoes at our door, but i now think we should. it's a new year, right? a new level of respect for our spaces. MARK IRISH

  • Carolt2248

    I think one should be told in advance if this is a requirement of the host/hostess, so one can bring along appropriate socks or foot gear. And what about germs on the bottom of the feet? Sweaty feet? Are foot baths near the door the next step?

  • Rgw76

    In Canada, it is a custom in almost every home I have visited, to remove your shoes at the door. It is especially important during the winter months when snow/grime is everywhere. I don't have a problem with it.

  • Purlgurl1

    I've been to many homes in Canada, the USA, Europe and have never not taken off my shoes. We may have more modern sewage systems but the outdoors are still filthy – puking teenagers, pesticides, dog poo, urine, engine oil… you name it. I think it's gross that people walk around their homes in their shoes. If you're going somewhere where you might have to take off your shoes, wear nice socks.

  • Purlgurl1

    You could always just carry slipper socks in your bag. It's really not that big a deal.

  • http://nerojohn91.buzznet.com/user/ Dorothy Presley

    Comfortable and informative article. Thanks for the quality content and I hope you improve your blog frequently as I`m thinking about this topic. I`ve already bookmarked this article. Thanx!

  • http://www.facebook.com/silk.eotd Silk Eotd

    I just found out that this isn’t common practice in the U.S. and it surprised me. Yes, I’m Canadian and you don’t usually have to ask anyone to remove their shoes when they visit, it’s just the common practice and considered to be a polite gesture of respect for your host and their home. I have even so much as insisted on removing them when friends have told me I can keep them on, it is just THAT ingrained that I should show my respect by removing them at the door. How interesting that many Americans have a completely different teaching on this, I never knew that but it makes sense now why American friends get so upset when I insist on removing my shoes when I visit them. lol

  • http://twitter.com/LivHappyWC Denise Ruggio

    Here is a product that can help keep your carpets free of germs! If you bring your baby’s stroller into your apartment, this is a must have! http://www.babystrollerwheelcovers.com

  • Elijah

    I was always uncomfortable not wearing shoes, even in my own home. That is, until I lived in Asia for 7 years! I got over it. Now I feel very odd any time I do wear shoes in a private home. I have no interest in going back.

  • M

    Oh, but we can all share verrucas yey!

  • Anonymous

    “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.”

    When you are asked to take off your shoes before entering ones home and you do not, that is a sign of disrespect, regardless of whether the person requesting it is of “acceptable” ethnicity to make the request.

    I would never demand anyone take off their shoes, but I never wear shoes in my home and always invite people to take off their shoes if they would like. To me it’s similar to an invitation to take off one’s coat – an invitation to relax and feel “at home”.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah….I don’t know what kind of house visits are being made in stockings. If it’s a business party, I would be a bit weirded out if there was a request to remove shoes (you don’t request people wear business attire but no shoes, that’s just weird) but I would be equally weirded out if I invited people over for a friendly party and they showed up in heels and stockings….

  • Anonymous

    while I agree taking shoes off isn’t a big deal, not everyone carries bags, or has room enough in their bags for slippers

  • Anonymous

    For what it’s worth, I’m American, and always invite people to remove their shoes and, when at a newish friend’s home, really hope they ask me to take off their shoes. I’ve never actually met anyone that’s not wanted to take off their shoes – but I have seen a number of people on the internet act appalled at the mere suggestion.

    Then again, it may make sense that there are pockets of acceptance in America – it probably depends on both your family’s non-American national descent as well as your circles’. In some cultures the inside of the home would have been dirt-floored, and taking shoes off inside wouldn’t make sense and, of course, in other cultures the insides would be much nicer and shoes should have been removed.

    My dad had a dirty job and would always take his shoes off upon coming home, and my mom wore high heels, so naturally they came off as soon as she came home. When I got older, many of my friends were of different “shoes are just taken off inside” ethnicities, so I’m just in the habit. But perhaps I wouldn’t be if my parents worked different jobs or I had different friends.

  • Stacy

    I have a large wicker basket right next to the door everyone kicks their shoes off in. That being said it is still awkward for me to ask others, even family members (non-residential). I would have no problems if someone asked me and my kids are so accustomed to it they just take them off as soon as they enter anyone’s home.

  • Sarah Horsford

    I have gotten into the habit of removing my shoes from being in Asia. It is a great custom to adopt into our culture, for health and aesthetic reasons

  • Fanatoli Guyoff

    Eww sick. Don’t put your stinky feet on my floors

  • really?

    what if theres a dog poop on my boots? will u not let me remove my shoes? or will u not let me in? what is more ewwww?

  • Fanatoli Guyoff

    If someone put poops on your boots you should really try to wash them off, that’s not good for anyone to have poop on the boots

  • babyj

    then keep a pair of clean socks in the car. This is also good when you go shopping and want to try on shoes but decided to flip flops or slip on shoes!

  • Lisa

    Im uncomfortable taking my shoes off in people’s homes. Most people don’t have very clean floors, and often have cold tiles or floorboards. And I think of things like tinea…gross! Other places say you wear thongs in the shower for that reason.
    And to offer guests slippers or thongs is just as bad. I was brought up to not share shoes. And im not packing a pair of smelly slippers in my handbag thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Now we also traipse in radiation which is in snow and rain.

  • PatHart

    Interesting discussion. Several items come to mind:
    1.. Diabetics are told not to go barefoot because of the possibility of picking up an infection…may be critical in the summer.
    2. In cold weather climates, people sometimes forgo their boots–so it is definitely necessary to remove shoes upon entrance to someone’s house.
    3. Sometimes tile/hardwood floors are COLD! Even with socks, it can be uncomfortable. (My toes CRAMP when cold)
    4. Shoes are worn for support sometimes. My arches aren’t as sturdy as they used to be, and walking around without shoes is painful sometimes.
    5. We had friends who hosted an evening social, and the high heels destroyed their hardwood floors.

    6. I had a person come to my house who had been working in the garden, and she left her shoes on and tramped mud all over.

    As I said, a good discussion!

  • Kagaku

    Eleven years ago I moved to Japan and immediately took to the idea of removing your shoes before entering ones home. Everyone here does it and like the article pointed out, it keeps the home cleaner. Your feet get a break from confinement and the rugs/house stays cleaner. I think it is a win-win situation and if you do not want to remove your shoes, don’t go there or bring some house shoes or if you are embarrased by your toes, put socks on. I do not know anyone who opposes to you wearing socks in the house.

  • Shelley Boisvenue

    never have I ever worn shoes in someones house, my mother would have shot me!! and never have I had anyone leave their shoes on entering my home, its just not done around here.

  • The Mighty Quinn

    I grew up in the Southern US, so I spent my childhood in bare feet and it has always been comfortable for me. When I moved to NYC, whenever at friends, I was always easily identified as a Southern because of my bare feet. I have only been asked a few times to removed shoes in someone’s home, but find most Americans are not comfortable with it. I spent some time in Asia, wear you always leave your shoes at the door, in Thailand, even when you go into stores or restaurants. This article really helps you to examine and expand your boundaries.

  • Rona Griliches Isaacs

    I guess it may be cultural as well as generational. I’m an “older lady” – 4th generation American The females in my females were cleanliness freaks in their housekeeping. And yet, it was unthinkable to request that their guests remove their shoes upon entry into their homes – it would have been considered a rude request…….and it was the same in my home too. If any guests want to remove their shoes, I clearly state it’s not a requirement, as I believe the comfort of my guests are paramount. Yup – I guess it’s cultural and generational.

  • Anonymous

    My podiatrist recommends anyone over 12 wear shoes, even indoors, to keep their feet from hurting and developing a propensity for hurting. Because of that I keep a pair of shoes exclusively for wearing indoors, changing into them when I come home. Walking around many hours in socks or barefoot is not supportive of your feet.

  • Zsolt Halupa

    learn something new everyday.. i’d think someone was raised in a barn if they walked into a house and just assumed it’s okay to have your shoes on regardless of culture (asian cultures it wouldn’t even be a question).. i’d say 85% of the time it’s a given (shoes off).. 10% if there isn’t any carpet in the house, and the person who lives there is walking around with shoes on, you’d just follow their lead.. 5% of the time the place is so filthy that it’s a universal understanding to leave your shoes on.. in fact, that’s the only instance where it would almost be insulting to the guest if the host expected you to leave them on..

  • Zsolt Halupa

    let me get this straight, you’d rather me walk around your (hopefully clean) house, with my dirty outside shoes (after I’ve been walking on god knows what, in the streets, in subways, sidewalks, parking lots etc.. especially in the city..) than on my clean socks that haven’t touched the dirty ground..

  • whatiusedtobe

    wow. everyone needs to relax. how important is this?

  • Fanatoli Guyoff

    yes, socks carry foot fungus, street dirt does not. I have no problem vacuuming and mopping weekly, and washing the carpets every 6 weeks. I like to do that anyway because it keeps the house looking nice. Washes out any dirt from the street, but it only takes 1 exposure to get someones nasty foot fungus. …and If you’re unlucky enough to get it in your nail bed, it’s almost impossible to get out.

  • Sfork

    Sounds more like job security to me.

  • T-money

    “Pets are vulnerable to exposure because they commonly lie on the floor or carpet.” Really, don’t they walk around shoeless all day?

  • T-money

    and lay on grass and streets….then we rub them like crazy and never wash our hands.

  • Canadian gal

    I live in Canada and while I don’t attend any home based business parties, I have seen many business people remove their shoes. Realtors remove their shoes when showing a house (as do the potential buyers) and any business person who enters my home also removes their shoes (anyone from life insurance agents to the cable guy). It’s just how it’s done here!

  • Stacy Davis-Ruff

    Not a normal practice where I live and I have never asked anyone to remove their shoes when they visit. I sweep everyday and do not consider it a bother. The one home where it was asked for me to remove my shoes had gritty, dirty floors and either my socks were filthy when I left or I had to brush crumbs off my feet constantly. I feel that as hosts we want guests in our home comfortable, so I would never ask anyone to remove their shoes. What is next? Leaving paper towels in the bathroom so people don’t use the guest towels and leave germs on them? Plastic on the furniture in case someone farts or they get dirty? Paper plates at a dinner party so I don’t have to wash them? Asking family to remove their shoes is one thing but I can’t imagine a way to have manners and guests at the same time.

  • Stacy Davis-Ruff

    Where do you live? I find that fascinating that there are places where it is a given to remove your shoes.

  • Anonymous

    we remove our shoes. Our kids immediately remove their shoes at friends’ homes. I sweep several times a day – I don’t want the world coming past my threshold via peoples’ shoes thank you very much. You can leave all the germs at the door! If you are offended, don’t visit!

  • Shelley Boisvenue

    Ontario, as you enter our mudroom its automatic to remove your shoes.

  • Debi Van Cleave

    I think it’s nasty when people wear shoes inside a house. I hate it when people come over to my house and don’t get the hint (all the shoes in a row in the mud room, me in my stocking feet) and don’t take their shoes off. Really dirty when you think about what’s outside.

  • Deuce Prez

    As a Muslim, we pray on our floor….in the living room and in the carpeted basement. Whatever it stepped on outside of my home, I’d prefer to keep it there (outside of my home, that is)!

    We even have signs posted at our doors, informing people to remove their shoes upon entry.

  • Shelley Boisvenue

    then you carry your own slippers, and as for cold tiles, in other words its either winter or fall so you’d obviously have socks on, just make sure you wear thicker socks when out visiting.

  • Shelley Boisvenue

    you wash your carpets every six weeks??? not recommended by carpet manufacters, and not good for your carpets, you must have to change them often? and if you have foot fungus then I’d hope you’d bring your own slippers or inside shoes to wear (slip ons)

  • Shelley Boisvenue

    my podiatrist recommended good sturdy slippers inside a home and to be barefoot when ever able to let the air get at your skin

  • Fanatoli Guyoff

    It’s fine, I’ve had the same carpet since I moved in 8 years ago and it looks brand new. If you do it as often as I do you can use very little water in the process and not have to go over areas a lot. I hit it with a very mild non toxic home made soap with the machine set to the lowest level output, then with a rinse, and I’m done. Takes me only slightly longer than vacuuming truth be told and my white carpet is very vibrant white. True about the slippers but I can’t control what people bring in. Most people would be embarrassed to tell you they have fungus, and many people have minimal levels of fungus and don’t know it (because their immune system keeps it at bay). I’d rather rely on my own hygiene habits than others.

  • Zsolt Halupa

    that sounds so gross in all aspects i feel very fortunate that i’ve never encountered some shit like that.. public service announcement.. you better not come over my house if you have foot fungus period. lol

  • jacqui

    I once left my shoes at the door and ended up in hospital after a red backed spider crawled in to my shoe while I was inside!

  • Discoballman

    Get a grip!
    If you don’t want to take your shoes off at someone else’s house, go home!

  • 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?