Shoes at the door are a feature of homes in many parts of the world. And that’s a habit that can help you protect yourself and your young children from a variety of pollutants.
By Wendy Priesnitz
Keeping your home’s floors clean with an active family can be a lost cause. But a crawling baby or toddler does tend to make you try harder. When babies crawl, their movement across floors, especially carpeted surfaces, kicks up high levels of dirt, skin cells, bacteria, pollen, and fungal spores. A study released in January of 2018 found that crawling infants inhale a dose of bio bits in their lungs that is four times (per kilogram of body mass) what an adult would breathe walking across the same floor. And, due to their small body size, babies aren’t as good as adults at dealing with this onslaught of pollutants.
The easiest way to protect your crawling little ones is to wipe your shoes at the door, then remove them while in the house. Shoes worn outside track in grit, dust, lead, lawn and garden pesticides (even if you don’t use them yourself), wood smoke and industrial toxins, animal excrement, mutagens, dust mites, and allergens. The professional cleaning industry estimates that we track 85 percent of the dirt in our homes in from the outside on our shoes or on the paws of our pets. One study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that indoor shoe-wearing was a larger source of children’s pesticide exposures than eating non-organic fruits and vegetables.
According to a report called The Door Mat Study, lead-contaminated soil from the outside causes almost all the lead dust inside homes. Using door mats cut toxic lead dust inside the home almost in half. Taking shoes off at the door cut the lead dust by 60 percent. Doing both actions — door mats and shoes off — over a five month period got rid of 98.5 percent of the toxic dust. (“Reducing Lead Exposure from Remodeling and Soil Track-In in Older Homes,” by J.W. Roberts, D.E. Camann and T.M. Spittler, presented at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Air and Waste Management Association, June 1991)
So invest in a good quality doormat. These days, it’s relatively easy to find mats made of recycled rubber and tire scraps. And create a place just inside the door for people to store their shoes. Try a nice-looking cloth doormat, a flat wicker basket, or a bench with a shoe rack on the bottom. (Of course, depending on where you live, you’ll want something that is specially designed to collect muddy or snowy footwear.)
Fortunately, leaving shoes by the door is a growing trend (there is even a blog dedicated to it: www.shoesoffatthedoorplease.blogspot.com) and the choice of attractive shoe storage furniture is widening. Make sure little children wear shoes with Velcro or pull-ons to make the constant off-and-on easier.
Even if your family is comfortable leaving their shoes at the door, what do you do about visitors if you live in a culture where it’s not customary to remove your shoes before entering a home? Some people feel that it’s being too familiar or informal to take off their shoes in someone else’s home. You might be squeamish about having bare- or smelly-footed guests in your home (or worry that they’ll stick to the jelly spilled on the floor at breakfast!). If that’s the case, invest in some washable slippers in a variety of sizes and leave them by the door. Or gently suggest that visitors bring their own slippers because your floors might be cold. Or post a sign: One company that supplies engraved rocks to gift and garden stores claims its “Kindly Remove Your Shoes” rock is its number one best seller. When you explain that you’re trying to keep your floors clean for your crawling baby, most people will happily comply.
You could also try telling your family and visitors that while leaving their shoes at the door they are also dropping the problems and tensions of the outside world before entering the haven of your home.
Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Child Magazine’s editor, a journalist with over 40 years of experience, the author of 13 books, and the mother of two adult daughters. An earlier version of this article was published in Natural Child Magazine.