Shoes Off!

“Shoes off please.” I am searching for a polite way to say this. It’s not that I am one of those obsessive people who insists on clean floors (okay, well maybe . . . ); it’s just that I am one of those obsessive people who says no to tracking dirt, pesticides, pet dander, lead, and other unhealthy chemicals into my home.

Admittedly, I am duped from time to time. I carry in products made by green washing companies who push so-called “eco” products on consumers like me, who hope to live green and chemical free. Despite my passion for the environment, I am guilty, now and again, of allowing strange chemical cocktails to enter our home (and I’m not talking about mixed drinks). Overall though, I manage to monitor our family’s cleaning and personal care products so that we’re clean, happy, and hopefully, chemical free.

In our great big world, some people believe that global warming is a myth and that the way we are treating our planet will have no effect on generations to come. A result of this kind of thinking (dismissing evidence that our environment is suffering) is that people who see no harm in dumping dangerous toxins and chemicals into the environment are making way for chemicals to mix in with our dirt and contaminate our water supply.

I think about my front yard. We live in a townhouse community in Northern Virginia where our grounds are maintained by a landscaping company. Our landscapers rely on herbicides and pesticides to give our lawns that special green glow, a practice that makes me think twice about walking around my yard with no shoes on. Letting my daughter run around outside to roll around in our grass makes me want to cringe.

While I plan to rally a campaign to “green” our lawns at our next homeowners meeting, in the meantime, I am making every effort to do what I can within the 4 walls of our home to reduce our exposure to chemicals that may make us more susceptible to diseases, including lead poisoning.

I am starting at my front door with a doormat. Sometimes I wish our mat said something like, “Welcome. Please, leave your contaminated footwear outside. Thanks!” I have toyed with the idea of posting a more polite sign next to our front door to say something like, “Pesticide Free Home. Please leave shoes at the door.” At our last major kids’ party, I posted a sign at my door stating: “Little ones undertow. Please remove shoes for their sake.” Between 20 adults and 25 plus kids, our doorway looked like the entrance to a romper room! But consider this: according to the EPA’s Doormat Study (1991), when we wipe our shoes on a mat and leave them at the door, we reduce the amount of lead dust tracked into our homes by a whopping 60%.

In addition to placing a doormat outside our front door, I have also positioned a woven rug in our foyer for shoe wearers to get a second chance to wipe their feet. My fixation on the cleanliness of our floors is a measure to protect the health of my daughter, cat, and even my husband and myself. Even when we think we’re safe inside our homes, exposure to pesticides and lead are a real danger.

What else can you do to keep herbicides, pesticides, lead, and other chemicals found in soil out of your home? Encourage guests to take off their shoes and to borrow a pair of slippers or clogs. Another great way to keep chemicals at bay is to grow an organic lawn and garden that relies on natural, organic methods for pest maintenance. Post a sign on your lawn that proclaims it “Pesticide Free!”

What do you think? Is it too extreme to ask our friends, family, and even strangers to participate in our family’s health and wellness while they are in our homes? Isn’t it the least they can do? We’d love to hear your thoughts about doormats, green and clean hangups, and greening your home. Please have your say in the comments.

Jessica Monte also blogs about natural parenting and the environment at Green Mamma and API Speaks.

Original 5 Minutes for Going Green post.

29 Responses to Shoes Off!
  1. JAM
    August 22, 2008 | 8:27 am

    This has been a hard one for us to enforce – with kids they seem to be used to being told what to do, so they comply, and we’ve noticed that people who don’t wear shoes in their own houses take them off immediately – we don’t have a sign but the pile of our shoes by the door is a giveaway. We have felt that people who are not going to be here that long, or older people, or people with laced up shoes don’t want to take off shoes. In the winter it’s compounded by the fact that we keep our heat low. We keep slippers here for my parents, since they’re frequent guests, but for others it seems hard to ask. I’d love some suggestions how to handle it as well.

  2. […] obsession with clean, green, and healthy floors, go on over to 5 Minutes for Going Green and read “Shoes Off!” Share and […]

  3. Nimic
    August 22, 2008 | 9:49 am

    It’s your house, and you certainly have the right to enforce whatever rules you see fit when people enter it. However, keep in mind that people aren’t generally walking through the grass to get to your front door, right?

    I might be a little sensitive about this subject, because I have a leg and back problem that requires me to wear special inner soles in my shoes. If I remove them for even half an hour, I start to get very uncomfortable. So whenever I go to a friends house who requires shoe removal, I end up having a conversation about my medical issues. Which makes me doubly uncomfortable.

  4. Gee
    August 22, 2008 | 11:13 am

    Where I live, it is custom to take your shoes off before entering either your own house or someone else’s. To no one, in this community, would it ever occur to break this rule, as it would be very insulting. I only ever struggle with this issue when we host visitors from abroad, but I just tell them that this is part of the culture and they immediately understand. We always have 10 pairs of slippers by the door and everyone can take them for themselves…

    I think especially in a house with a crawling baby, there is no reason why you could not ask for this. On the street, people step into all kinds of nasty things (not just chemicals) which can seriously harm your child’s health – dog poo would be one obvious example. Protecting yourselves and your little ones is much more important than what people think.

  5. Matthew C
    August 22, 2008 | 11:41 am

    Don’t be afraid to ask people to remove their shoes. They are not likely to be offended.

    (I have an whole blog about this subject)

  6. Kim
    August 22, 2008 | 12:49 pm

    Move to Alaska! OK, I kid, but still… I grew up here, and it has always just been a way of life for everyone I know to simply remove their shoes at the door when they entire a home. It’s just the way we do things (I suppose I’ve always assumed it’s because of our long winters and people don’t want snow covered shoes tracking through houses.) But still, it’s nice when I think about the fact that at least one part of my culture as an Alaskan has the duel benefit of keeping nasties- including chemicals, out of my house…and that it’s not when I’ll ever need to fight with someone over (except when we have visitors from the Lower 48.)

  7. Donielle @ Raising Peanuts
    August 22, 2008 | 1:17 pm

    I always just tell folks as I meet them at the door where they can leave their coats, shoes, etc. I don’t make it an issue or seem nasty about it, it’s just matter of fact! I wouldn’t dream of traipsing through someone else’s house with my shoes on and it almost makes me feel more comfortable, and at home, when I know where to leave my things at a friends house. Makes me feel like I’m not in the way.
    If someone does have a medical condition though, as I know a few and my MIL is in a wheelchair (think shoes on wheels) I don’t make a deal about it. As long as they are clean and dry I’m o.k. I’d hate to make someone feel as though they aren’t welcome.

  8. Jessica
    August 22, 2008 | 2:15 pm

    Thanks Donielle for pointing out that removing footwear or use of medical devices require sensitivity when approaching someone about wearing their shoes indoors.

    As much as I dislike the thought of pesticides, chemicals, gum, and dog poo getting on our floors (and into my dear ones’ systems), I also do not want to offend visitors. When we have returning visitors who express anxiety or are annoyed when I show them where to leave their shoes, I sometimes say nothing at all and simply mop up the floor the next day.

    Shoes off indoors really is a touchy subject, isn’t it?

  9. Melanie O.
    August 22, 2008 | 4:09 pm

    I live in Wisconsin and I used to live in Chicago and it’s almost automatic for people to take their shoes off at the door (maybe it’s more customary in cold weather climates). We have a nice “vestibule” where piles of shoes indicate to people to remove their shoes. Of course, there are those who resist – mostly the older generation (grandmas & grandpas!) and I don’t push the issue. If people know that I prefer that shoes come off at the door and they don’t take them off, I assume it’s for a reason that they don’t want to have to discuss. I agree, though, that it seems like common sense when you see kids rolling all over the floor that maybe you should enter my house with clean feet – meaning no shoes! But….*sigh*

  10. Cris
    August 22, 2008 | 4:54 pm

    I’ve noticed that most people seem to get the hint when they see us taking our shoes off at the door or when they see a pile of our shoes sitting on the mat.

  11. Abbie
    August 22, 2008 | 5:45 pm

    I’ve found that most people who come to my house will automatically take their shoes off because it’s a new house. Often, people will ask if they should take their shoes off.

    I think most people will be happy to remove their shoes because of your concern for pesticides, but you can always use “protecting your floors” as an excuse, as well.

    I think of it this way: I wouldn’t hesitate to ask someone not to smoke in my home. I think removing one’s shoes will head in this direction.

    Finally, I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you to not have control over the chemicals used on your lawn. I’m glad you’re going to speak up about it!

  12. Jessica (Surely You Nest)
    August 22, 2008 | 8:16 pm

    Love this post! I am right with you. I read somewhere that taking your shoes off at the door can have more of an impact than buying all organic produce. Anyways, most people do see our pile of shoes at the door and take theirs off, but it may indeed be generational (older folks tend to hang onto their kicks). I saw a sign in someone’s front window once that said something like “Crawler alert! Please remove shoes.” Some version of that might be effective.

  13. Grace
    August 23, 2008 | 1:17 am

    My entire family has always taken off our shoes before entering our house. Since that’s the way I grew up, that’s the way I’m raising my kids. We rarely have parties here at our house, so we don’t have to deal with telling too many people to take off their shoes. Our family knows to remove there shoes upon entering our home. It’s just the way we do things…

  14. Monica (Healthy Green Moms)
    August 24, 2008 | 12:18 am

    Great post and adorable picture!
    I say shoes definitely off. We don’t have many visitors to our neck of the woods but we do use this rule for ourselves. It just made sense to me with a baby crawling all over the floor that we keep it as clean as possible. Funny enough the neighboring lawns were treated today without a mention to the home owners. It had me thinking about this post all over again!

  15. This Military Mama
    August 24, 2008 | 8:43 am

    I’ve always enjoyed not wearing shoes in my home because I like my clean floors to stay clean. Then I can clean less often, win-win in my book.

    I love that it makes your house greener! I never even though of that. My hubby and I just bought a welcome mat made out of recycled materials so double the green fun!

    I plan on going to my local paint your own pottery place and making a fun funky sign that asks guest to take shoes off. I will offer a place to put them and I like the idea of offering some house slippers for them, especially during winter.

    I know it can be awkward to ask people to remove their shoes but it’s your home. You would respect their rules if you were at their home.

  16. jessie
    August 24, 2008 | 12:20 pm

    I most defintately insist on shoes off.It can be awkward asking for shoes to be removed but i feel it has to be done.My family all wear slippers in the house as it is rather cold here for much of the year and regular guests dont mind bringing their own to wear.I have to admit that i am not keen on people wearing just socks as we have slippery stairs.

  17. Em
    August 29, 2008 | 10:26 pm

    I would love to ask folks to remove their shoes before entering my house, but I have no where to put them! It’s a big sticking point for my husband too… he’s a landscaper and constantly tracking in mud, dirt, chemicals, who knows what! We don’t have a covered place or enclosed mud room to put a bench or anything, so it’s really hard to get people to remove their shoes here. (I would like to add a mudroom or screened porch VERY SOON!)

  18. Marie
    September 11, 2008 | 11:43 pm

    Yes, I think it’s much too extreme to ask people to remove their shoes while in your home. It’s the norm in some cultures and even in some parts of the United States, but it’s not the norm where you live. (If it was, you wouldn’t have to ask.)

    The health issue is one with arguments on both sides. There’s the argument you make, and there’s also the argument that people, especially kids, need to be exposed to all manner of gunk to develop their immune systems. (Normal gunk, not filthy-house gunk.)

    And I don’t get the thing about stepping on a crawling baby. People have been wearing shoes in the house forever and stepping on babies has never been an issue I’ve heard raised as a problem of any sort. Do you actually *know* anyone who’s stepped on a baby? I don’t.

    The mud and snow issue isn’t a real one, either. People with any sense know enough to take off their outer footwear when it’s messy out. People just throw that into the no shoes argument to strengthen their case.

    Many people, myself included, feel undressed without shoes. Many people, myself included, have foot problems that make walking without shoes terribly painful. (And we don’t really want to have to discuss that with you. We just want to keep our clothes … all of them … on.) Diabetics need to wear shoes. (And they may not want to discuss their diabetes with you, either.)

    Then there are people like me who have foot fungus and God-awful foot odor, despite the fact that I keep my feet scrupulously clean. (It comes from a health issue.) If you asked me to take off my shoes in your house, I’d be tempted to comply. You make me hurt, I’ll make your house stink to high heaven.

    I really don’t think there’s a polite way to ask people to take off their shoes. Just take off your own, and most of the people who don’t mind taking theirs off will follow suit. For the rest, well, that’s why you have the mats.

    If you do decide to enforce a shoe-off policy, I think you need a bench with a variety of flip-flops (washed after every use) for people to use. No one should have to walk barefoot (in someone else’s bathroom, YUCK!) or be expected to use slippers that they don’t know are clean. I think you ought to warn people ahead of time, too. I know I would refuse an invitation from a no-shoes home, just because I’d figure they cared more about their own comfort than their guests’.

  19. Jessica (Green Mamma)
    September 12, 2008 | 6:57 am

    *Marie, I agree that guests who have a foot condition that requires them to wear shoes should not be asked to remove their shoes in my home. At the same time, and perhaps you are right, if a guest is asked to remove their shoes and does not want to respect the wishes of the host, they have every right to decline an invitation into one’s home. My concern about visitors wearing shoes into my home has more to do with the fact that shoes carry in all kinds of substances picked up from outside, including herbicides and pesticides, automotive fluids, dander, lead soil residue, and much more. When my daughter was an infant, she crawled from place to place using her hands to carry her across our floors. Have you ever noticed how much a baby likes to put his or her hands in the mouth? It is non-stop.

    I put a lot of effort into keeping our home clean and chemical free. These days, my walking toddler even knows how to work a broom and a mop. Many friends and neighbors understand my point of view and are more than happy to remove their shoes. We do have 2 benches in our front entryway to allow visitors to comfortably sit down and remove their shoes.

    I hope my explanation for “Shoes Off” is helpful. The intention with a no shoes policy is not to offend but to provide a healthy home for my family. Does that make sense?

  20. Vern
    January 8, 2009 | 5:03 pm

    We grew up with shoes off in the house and my husband and I continue that in our home. I think it is absolutely disgusting to walk around a house with shoes on. I am super strict with it. We have three little ones around, too, and it has made me never back down asking someone to take their shoes off.
    Stepping on a baby? That’s not what the shoes-off is for … it’s for not getting the floors filled with dirt, chemicals, poop and whatever else people unknowingly step in with their shoes from the outdoors so that when the babies crawl around on the floors or put those toys that have been lying on the floors in their mouths they don’t ingest whatever you just stepped in outside.
    I was thinking of putting some kind of a “cute” sign on my door to make sure people knew ours was a strict shoe-free home … I’m still trying to think of something to say. One of my friends just recently hosted a party and she had a basketful of cute socks (they were red for xmas with sticky bottoms) by the door. That made everyone more comfortable with taking their shoes off and it was a fun idea.

  21. Pauline Abello
    February 7, 2009 | 5:09 pm

    I saw a cute sign on a doormat:
    “Please be a dear
    and leave your shoes here”
    I’m a calligrapher (see my website: and so I’m just going to paint this on my wall of my mudroom really cute. But if you’re not a painter– has design your own wall appliques.

  22. CAM
    February 12, 2009 | 3:11 pm


  23. Tyler
    July 1, 2009 | 2:59 pm

    just tell them to take off thr shoes becaus that is the rule I have to always have barefeet when i come inside becaus that is my mom rule but if they dont then tell them to stay outside, from Tyler 13 sprngfeild Ma

  24. rob
    July 20, 2009 | 6:58 am

    i dont think you should make guest uncomfortable on the basis of some messed up paranoia in your head

    I think its dumb that you think in your silly little worlds that you are gods gifts to cleanliness.

    If you want your house spotless, just stay in your own little planet and dont invite anyone– and for the love of god — just let people do what they want to do — they havent even entered house yet and your making them feel uncomfortable.

    My lil one likes his piwi trainers on when he goes out — and these bunch of f***ed up adams family extras made sure he cried, hes a 3 year old kid for f sakes lol

  25. MSM
    December 7, 2009 | 12:13 am


    In most homes in Japan, South East Asia and the Middle East, it is considered rude if guest bring their shoes into the homes.

    The rationale is not based so much on culture or religion but simply that it makes perfect sense that all the filth you may have accidentally walked on are kept outside your home.


  26. Jenny
    January 2, 2010 | 1:45 pm

    “Welcome, in an effort to keep our house clean, please take your shoes off at the door. Thank you!”

  27. fyet
    April 1, 2010 | 5:07 am

    like this… ^^

  28. Maruja de lujo
    September 4, 2010 | 4:26 am

    I’ve only come across this phenomenon recently, in the UK, where the ladies who invited me to their houses and told me to take off my shoes didn’t offer me the bathroom to wash my hands before I ate their food. Their concern wasn’t hygiene but wear and tear on their floors.
    I wondered why they were so keen to invite me over if they felt so strongly about their floors.
    I like going shoeless and I like clean floors, but I wouldn’t dream of making people take their shoes off at the door. It strikes me as territorial behaviour, which is fine unless you are behaving that way with someone you’ve specifically invited over.

  29. Krystal
    July 5, 2011 | 8:54 pm

    I wouldn’t say that I am a clean nazi, but I like a clean house. I have grown up a no shoes policy household, so I am trying to in force it in my own home. When my in-laws come over for the weekend, they are constantly wearing their shoes in the house. I asked my father in-law if he wouldn’t mind putting his shoes by the door, and he did. However, he was later walking outside barefoot and then came right inside. He completely missed the point. My mother-in-law when she doesn’t have her shoes on in the house, wears her socks outside and then walks back into the house. It drives me crazy! My husband doesn’t help with the issue, and says I shouldn’t make a big deal about it. This sounds bad to say, but the shoe thing makes me not want to have his parents over. What should I do???? And my carpets are tan, so they look dirty quickly.