By Sean Zucker —
Whether they’re a new acquaintance, old friend or even family member, being asked to remove shoes when entering someone’s home can feel pretty annoying. However, new research shows these neat freaks may have been seeing something the rest of us missed.
Remaining laced up all day inside might be comfortable and convenient but it’s apparently also super gross. At least Mark Patrick Taylor, the chief environmental scientist at the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) of Victoria, Australia, certainly believes so. He recently wrote a column for The Conversation, a nonprofit academic journal, urging everyone to kick off their boots before heading indoors.
“We are environmental chemists who have spent a decade examining the indoor environment and the contaminants people are exposed to in their own homes,” he writes. “On the question of whether to shoe or de-shoe in the home, the science leans toward the latter.”
As evidence, Taylor points to two major studies that he spearheaded. One regarding the amount and make-up of indoor dust published in Environmental International and one focused specifically on indoor microplastics in dust from Environmental Pollution. Both reflected the Australian EPA’s work involving the measurement and assessment of exposure to a range of harmful substances found inside homes including antibiotic-resistant genes, disinfectant chemicals, perfluorinated chemicals, radioactive elements and microplastics.
To fully gauge the prevalence and severity, researchers utilized the 360 Dust Analysis from connected community science programs VegeSafe, which provides baseline data on harmful chemicals in garden soil. They also relied on DustSafe, which provides baseline data on harmful chemicals in household dust.
The findings show that there is a strong connection between the contaminants that are in yard soil and what’s inside most homes. This includes potentially toxic metals, such as arsenic, cadmium and lead, infectious germs that are very difficult to treat and cancer-causing toxins like asphalt road residue and endocrine-disrupting lawn chemicals.
What’s more startling is that Taylor warns that it is generally impossible to see these harmful invaders with the naked eye. Most of these contaminants are also both odorless and colorless. While speaking to NPR about his team’s findings, the environmental chemist explained that simply trying to avoid encountering nasty containments outside won’t provide the indoor protection needed. Something unpleasant and possibly dangerous is still likely to tag along and sneak inside on a shoe.
“Now, even if you’re, you know, dodging dog poo on your footpath—it’s like an obstacle course—the likelihood you’ll stand in that or some bird poo or some other feces—you will bring it into your house if you don’t leave them outside. And then that sloughs off, forms part of the dust in your house, which then can get remobilized.”
Of course, when it comes to feces-related diseases, E Coli is usually the first thing that comes to mind and the most feared. Taylor confirms there is good reason for this as 96 percent of shoe bottoms could have trace amounts of the dangerous bacteria.
But it’s not all doom, gloom—and dog poop. Taylor, in fact, offers a simple solution. “What I suggest is that you have an outdoor mat and an indoor mat. Take your shoes off outside and, of course, you can just pick them up and then put them inside on a shoe rack.”
However, there is one caveat to this practice. “The main thing is people have to remember to clean their mats. Can’t leave the mat out there for three years. It will become ineffectual. You need to wash it and knock all the dirt out. It’s about minimizing,” he explained.
In short, take off shoes before entering a home and wash mats regularly to prevent germs from shoeing in.