Share this post

If you think leaving shoes on in the house is a nasty habit, then you’re not alone. People from all over the world – from Indonesia to Sweden – take their shoes off at the door with no questions asked.

In the UK, however, it’s a hugely divisive topic: households are either 100 per cent “shoes on” or “shoes off”, there simply is no middle ground.

But how much household bacteria is actually a product of dirty shoes?

Here at Modern Rugs, we set out to solve the age-old debate as to whether “shoes off” households really are more hygienic than “shoes on” households.

The results we found were shocking. We found “shoes off” households harboured unexpectedly similar levels of bacteria to “shoes on” homes. In fact, the main reason bacteria levels fluctuated in our study was not due to shoes at all; it was cleaning habits.

Analysis

For the test, we collaborated with UKAS accredited test facility, Melbec Microbiology. With their help, we tested eight rugs in eight different homes to see how much bacteria each household harboured.

As well as testing the effect of “shoes on” versus “shoes off”, we also took into consideration the effect of pets, children, flooring and how thoroughly participants cleaned their homes.

Rugs were placed in “high-traffic” areas, such as the hallway, to catch the highest amount of household bacteria. After three weeks, the lab tested for evidence of fungi and bacteria on 5cm2 of each rug. From the results, we were then able to isolate Staphylococci, a common household bacterium.

Staphylococci is the bacterial family of Staphylococcus aureus: the bacterium linked to the deadly “hospital superbug” Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It can also cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

 

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

MRSA Bacteria

MRSA Bacteria by NIAID

 

Test 1: Shoes off v shoes on

In the first test we looked at shoes off versus shoes on in two similar households. The test rugs were removed after three weeks and the bacterium was counted.

The results were startlingly similar: the “shoes off” home (Figure 1) contained almost identical levels of bacteria to the “shoes on” home (Figure 2): 138,000 cfu vs. 124,000 cfu.

Shoes off” home – Figure 1: 138,000 cfu

Test-1-Fig-2

Shoes on” home – Figure 2: 124,000 cfu

Test-1-Fig-1

 

Test 2: Cleaning methods

The second test was to assess how different cleaning methods affected bacteria levels. Occupants of the first home cleaned regularly, but used the same mops and cloths for multiple cleaning tasks. They also did not dry out their cleaning materials between uses. Occupants of the second home cleaned just as regularly, but used disposable cleaning products.

The results found that cleaning with the same product for multiple areas (Figure 3) increased bacteria by 68 times more than when disposable items were used (Figure 4).

Same cleaning products for multiple areas – Figure 3: 68,000 cfu

Test-2-Fig-1

Disposable cleaning products – Figure 4: 1,000 cfu

Test-2-Fig-2

 

Dawn Mellors, Technical Director at Melbec Microbiology, explains how cleaning can do more harm than good when not done thoroughly:

“The key to reducing bacteria in the home is by effective cleaning. Ineffective cleaning can actually increase numbers as it spreads bacteria around the house.

Effective cleaning usually means using the correct products in the correct order. For instance, not using the same cloth for multiple areas, ensuring mop heads are clean and allowed to dry between uses, using clean water for mopping different areas, etc.”

 

Test 3: HEPA filters

The third test assessed how effective HEPA filters on vacuums were in preventing the spread of bacteria and fungi.

We analysed two “shoes off” homes and found that those who did not use a HEPA filter on their vacuum (Figure 4) saw over four times more bacteria in their home than those who did use a filter (Figure 5).

Did not use HEPA filters – Figure 5: 207,000 cfu

Test-3-Fig-1

Did use HEPA filters – Figure 6: 44,000 cfu

Test-3-Fig-2

 

Test 4: Carpets Vs Hardwood Flooring

The last test was to see whether a carpeted environment harboured more bacteria than a hardwood floor environment. We placed a rug in two “shoes off” homes to see how much bacteria was transported onto the clean rug from the rest of the floors in the home.

The results showed that those who had carpeted floors (Figure 7) had over 20 times more bacteria in their home, versus those with hardwood floors and rugs (Figure 8).

Carpeted floor with rug – Figure 7: 83,000 cfu

Test-4-Fig-1

Hardwood floor with rug – Figure 8: 4,000 cfu

Test-4-Fig-2

 

Dawn Mellors reminds us why carpets are a natural breeding ground for most bacteria:

“As the rug is only a relatively small area, it probably would not pose a threat to your health like a damp, dirty carpet may do. If the carpet is very dirty or damp, the main threat would be for babies who may be crawling on it.

The other threat from carpets is that they harbour dust mites which can increase allergic reactions and asthma.”

You can make sure your house is as clean as possible by doing the following:

  • Use only clean and dry cloths. Avoid using the same cloth for multiple areas.
  • If your house suffers with damp, you might want to purchase a humidifier. Humidifiers prevent the spread of fungus and potentially infectious bacteria.
  • Use a steam cleaner and a mop to prevent bacteria growing on food sources.
  • Add a HEPA filter to your vacuum cleaner to stop microbes spreading.
  • Opt for hardwood floors in high-traffic areas. They can be cleaned more thoroughly than carpets, plus they harbour fewer potentially dangerous bacterium. One way to hygienically decorate a hardwood floor is by adding a stylish rug to your space.

Do you have a strict “shoes off” policy in your home? Let us know in the comments section, below!

Images (free to use):

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Fungi

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Fungi

 

Do you have a strict “shoes off” policy in your home? Let us know in the comments section, below!