To Shoes or Not to Shoes?

That is the (controversial) question.

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Pair of stylish white sneakers on doormat near entrance, above view


Pair of stylish white sneakers on doormat near entrance, above view

Photo by: Getty Images/Liudmila Chernetska

Getty Images/Liudmila Chernetska

“Do you mind taking your shoes off?” should be an innocent question, right? Rhetorical, even. But what if your guest does mind? Maybe they’re embarrassed because they're not wearing matching socks or haven't had a pedicure in a while — or maybe they come from a “shoes on” home and just do not see the big deal.

Regardless of what somebody does at their own home, when they walk into somebody else’s space, they should follow the host’s lead. Well, at least that’s what I thought until I read an etiquette question on the New York Times and fell down a rabbit hole reading the comments. The issue is so divisive that there are more than thirteen hundred comments.

Navigating the question of Shoes Off vs. Shoes On

What I once considered a harmless point of personal preference has become a source of heated debate. From women on reality TV complaining that removing their shoes at a castmate’s house ruined their look to Reddit threads discussing the topic, apparently the shoes off vs. shoes on debate isn’t so straightforward.

If you’re like me, when you arrive at somebody’s home for the first time, you pause by the doorway, looking for a clue as to what kind of household you’ve entered.

Perhaps there’s a hint somewhere a clearly visible shoe rack or even some sort of literal sign. If it’s not obvious, I almost always ask the host’s preference.

While some people are indifferent, others may deem it ill-mannered, and many are strongly anti-shoe in the home. Before I lived on my own, I didn’t have a strong opinion on the topic. I grew up in a “you do you” type of home where shoes were neither encouraged nor forbidden. However, now that I’m living in New York City, I’m walking around dirty streets daily and I can’t help but think about the mysterious sidewalk liquids (and solids) that I’ve inevitably stepped in. The thought of dragging in traces of who knows what into my home makes me uneasy.

How to (subtly) get guests to take off their shoes

When I have guests over, I, of course, want them to ditch their shoes at the door, but I also want to make sure they feel comfortable. Even the act of asking someone to remove their shoes can feel awkward at times. Luckily, there are some (mostly) subtle ways of letting your guests know to remove their shoes, while making them feel comfortable in doing so.

  • Having an entryway bench is essential for your guests to have space to sit and remove their shoes.
  • Ample shoe storage will help make sure nobody is tripping over sneakers upon arrival.
  • Since shoe covers may not be in fashion for everyone, offer your guests a pair of cute fuzzy socks to wear in place of their outside shoes.

Is keeping your shoes on in the home bad for your health?

While the decision to take off your shoes in your home is ultimately a personal preference, it may be a better choice for your health. Wearing your outdoor shoes inside can introduce a world of germs into your home, from traces of feces and harmful bacteria like E. coli, to lead and contaminants from your soil.

So, if you don’t mind a routine deep clean, feel free to keep your shoes on, but health-wise, it may be best to leave them at the door. In the words of environmental chemists who spent a decade examining indoor contaminants, "Leaving your shoes at the entry mat also leaves potentially harmful pathogens there as well.”

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