Are your shoes making your family sick?
We have all heard about the benefits of removing our shoes before entering our homes and perhaps some of you are ahead here because you already implement this strategy. For the rest of us, however, it seems a tedious prospect especially considering how frequently the members of our busy households are coming and going. Perhaps on occasion we even roll our eyes at the ever-vigilant friend that insists everyone remove their shoes before entering. However, if you knew that by taking off your shoes every time you enter you were reducing your home’s bacterial and toxic load significantly, would you consider it?
It turns out that besides the soles of our shoes being inherently gross (because, well, they are shoes), they carry all manner of disgusting stuff. For starters, think of the places your shoes have been throughout the day. Perhaps to the doctor’s or dentist’s office? Maybe to the hospital to visit a friend? Did you use a public restroom or take your dog for a walk? Maybe just through a parking lot on the way to the grocery store? Though the areas you have been throughout the day appear clean, there are countless germs in all of these spaces, to say nothing of bird droppings, dog waste, herbicides, fertilizers, fuel and pesticides, that the soles of our shoes pick up. Researchers at the University of Arizona conducted a study and found on average 421,000 different bacteria on shoes. Specifically, coliform bacteria (from feces) was found on 96% of shoes and E coli on 27%. Some of the bacteria found in the study are responsible for urinary tract and respiratory infections and unfortunately all of these bacteria and toxins transfer to our home’s flooring surfaces. As if this isn’t bad enough, Men’s Health says that carpet already contains about 200,000 bacteria per square inch making it much dirtier than your average toilet seat.
While many of us vacuum our homes frequently, vacuums simply aren’t able to reach the bottom of the carpet where the bacteria can thrive and even feed on the human skin cells, pollen, pet dander, food and dirt from daily living. Every time the kids sit and play or anyone walks on the surface of the carpet, the bacteria (including colonies of E. coli, salmonella and staphylococcus) is disrupted and brought closer to the surface. (Maybe a good time to rethink the 5-second rule?)
What can be done about this biohazard brewing in our homes? Besides leaving those shoes at the door, get your carpets steam cleaned. The University of Arizona researchers found that steam cleaning removes the various types of bacteria described above. (If you are interested in getting those shoes clean, too, they found that washing them in detergent worked.) Men’s Health recommends hiring a company at least once per year to do a deep steam cleaning, though others recommend greater frequency especially if allergies and respiratory disorders are an issue. (It should also be noted that some carpet companies will not honor your warranty unless professional cleaners are hired every 12-18 months, so be sure to check those warranties.)
As you prepare to have those carpets steam cleaned, be sure to hire a company that does not utilize harsh soaps or carbonated chemicals, which can introduce additional toxins to your home. Environmentally savvy companies, like Alpine Specialty Cleaning, use truck-mounted steam cleaners with 100% natural detergents, like BioKleen, providing a safe, non-toxic environment for your family and pets. And don’t limit yourself to just carpet since bacteria can flourish in hard surfaces including tile and grout.
Lastly, what to do about having friends remove their shoes when visiting your newly cleaned home? According to a variety of articles and websites, the leading suggestions are to mention in the invite that shoes aren’t worn in the home so guests can plan accordingly. A few others suggest providing slippers or socks to make guests comfortable.