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Rain Boots, Shoes, Sneakers, descending sizes

Your shoes may be bringing more germs into your house than you’d like to think. 

A study conducted at the University of Arizona found that while footwear may protect our feet on a walkabout, it returns home covered in things like fecal contamination and other microbial nightmares. 

Researchers gave new shoes to 10 test subjects and told them to wear them for two weeks as they went about their daily lives. When the shoes were returned and sampled, tests showed they were carrying scary amounts of bacteria including Klebsiella pneumonia, which causes wound and bloodstream infections as well as its namesake disease; Serratia ficaria, a cause of respiratory and wound infections; and old friends like E. coli, which can lead to meningitis as well as intestinal and urinary tract infections. 

The results indicated that the test shoes had had frequent contact with fecal matter, and the gross-factor doesn’t end there. Researchers also found that any bacteria that’s on our shoes when we arrive home gets tracked into our homes to contaminate floors every step of the way. Transfer rates of bacteria from test shoes onto surfaces like tile and carpet ranged from 90-99%. And unhealthy microbes aren’t the only concern. Shoes also transport pesticides and other toxins inside and are the source of 30-40% of the toxic pollution our homes contain. 

That’s atrocious under any circumstances—simply dropping something on a contaminated floor can expose us to dangerous pathogens and poisons. But if you’ve got little ones at home, it’s even worse because they spend so much of their time crawling and playing on floors and engaging in constant hand-to-mouth behavior. 

Don’t let your shoes walk all over your family’s health. Keep homes clean and families safe using these tips: 

• First and most importantly, always remove your shoes at the door and ask your guests to do the same. 

• Here in muddy Vermont, that’s an accepted tradition. But if you feel uncomfortable about asking guests to go barefoot, buy a selection of cheap guest slippers and keep them in a box by the coat rack. 

• Use doormats. The EPA recommends a system that uses a grate-like scraper outdoors followed by a highly absorbent mat inside the door and a third simpler finishing mat just beyond. Wash these mats regularly. 

• If you can, wash your shoes with detergent. The University of Arizona study found that this reduced bacterial counts by 90% or more. Wiping soles with vinegar and letting them air dry can also help 

• Vacuum and mop floors frequently. A solution of warm vinegar and salt will help kill bacteria naturally. For non-wood floors, combine one cup of white vinegar with one gallon of warm water and a tablespoon of salt. For hardwood floor, use half a cup of vinegar and omit the salt. 

• Wipe your pets’ paws when they come in from the great outdoors. 

Taken together, these strategies will go a long way toward stopping bacteria and other shoe-borne pollutants in their tracks. Make them the first steps you take on the road to a healthy home.

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!