Since having kids, we’ve instituted a no-shoe policy in our house. My three-year-old daughter is so used to this, that she immediately takes off her shoes whenever we go to someone else’s home, and she’ll often ask me why others aren’t doing the same.
I always find it awkward to ask guests to remove their shoes and it feels like an imposition. They just arrived and here I am making a demand of them! I am aware of the nuisance, but I have good reasons for it.
Studies have shown that people track in all sorts of harmful toxins from outside the home when they walk into the house without removing their shoes. These toxins persist in the air in the form of dust, which is inhaled and absorbed by our skin as it settles on the floor and furniture. Chemicals stay in the air and on surfaces longer in our homes than they do outdoors, where the sun and rain help break down pesticide residues.
Children are more highly exposed to these chemicals. They spend most of their time on or near the floor, and can breathe in and touch chemical-laden dust or soil tracked in by shoes. Little kids who are constantly putting their hands and other objects in their mouths can ingest these dangerous particles, too. In addition, the infant breathing zone nearest the floor is less ventilated than the adult breathing zone.
Now, let me tell you a little about the toxins we’re literally walking into our homes.
These chemicals include pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on lawns and gardens (they can remain on the lawn for up to a week after application). An EPA study found that 85% of the total daily exposure to airborne pesticides was from breathing air inside the home—a result of both indoor use of such chemicals and track-in. At least a few studies have focused solely on tracked-in chemicals and their persistence in homes. For instance, a 1996 study found that the weedkiller 2,4-D used to treat lawns could persist in carpet dust up to one year. Pesticides have been repeatedly linked to cancers, tumors, and neurological disorders, among other things.
The EPA has warned that lead, mercury, and gasoline can also be tracked into our homes from soil outside that is contaminated by deteriorated exterior lead-based paint and other lead sources, such as industrial pollution and past use of leaded gasoline. Lead and other heavy metals have been linked to neurological problems, particularly in the developing nervous systems of children.
And then there is coal tar, a known carcinogen used in driveway sealants, which is tracked into homes from driveways and parking lots. Even the US government is concerned about the carcinogenic nature of coal tar and the dangers it poses to people and especially children, both outside and indoors.
These are just a few of the toxins we regularly track in with our shoes. There are many others. For instance, just this week I read in the news about a trend of young soccer players developing cancer, potentially due to their frequent contact with, ingestion, and inhalation of the black crumbs found in most artificial turf. If your and/or your kids play sports on synthetic fields, you’re tracking these potentially hazardous particles into your home, too.
I hope this post draws awareness to the hazards of wearing outdoor shoes in the home. I know that most people won’t implement such a policy–it is cumbersome and inconvenient, and we all have to make our own trade-offs. But, on behalf of those who do, I’d humbly suggest that next time you visit someone’s home, ask if they’d like you to remove their shoes. This way, it’s less awkward and guilt-inducing for your hosts, and on behalf of us no-shoes-in-the-home-policymakers, we’d greatly appreciate it.
For those who come to my home: I have slippers available so no one has to go barefoot. (As I’ve learned from my readers, it’s important to offer indoor shoes, particularly for guests with medical issues.) I hope that makes your stay a little more comfortable.
Photo Credit: SportsandHistoryReader521