To Remove Shoes, or Not to Remove Shoes? That is the question

I recently read a blog piece by a young woman who described her horror and disgust that a guest entered her home without removing his shoes. All she heard was white noise as her brain fixated on the possible unwanted matter that the man’s shoes spread through her home. Dog feces. Round-Up. Mud. Leaves. Grass clippings. Spit. Cat piss.

She could not believe the man had been so clueless and insensitive to her indoor no-shoe policy. I get where she’s coming from, but I struggle with the whole indoor shoe ban. For one thing, it’s inconsistent, at least here in Redding. Some hosts enforce it, while others don’t.

If you go to a fancy party in someone’s home, where everyone’s dressed up, I wouldn’t expect to see guests with their shoes off, unless they’re playing Twister. If shoes are removed before entering homes for sanitary reasons, then why aren’t shoes removed when entering businesses for the same reasons?

And not to be too gross, but it’s occurred to me that some people’s feet may not be the kind of bare feet you’d want in your home, if the feet have a fungus, or are filthy, or extremely sweaty, or if they have an odor issue. In those kinds of scenarios, the best thing for everyone would be if the icky feet stayed firmly inside their shoes. But pity the poor person with those feet trying to save face while sparing the hosts from the not-ready-for-prime-time feet.

Of course, I remove muddy shoes before coming inside. Duh.

Doni and son Joe leave their outdoor work shoes outside.

I’ve never asked guests to remove their shoes. The way I look at it is that if the bottom of my guests’ shoes are super dirty, then it’s no big deal. I’ll just wash the floors after they leave.

The first time I was asked to remove my shoes in a home I was about 7, and visiting a school friend’s grand house with wall-to-wall white carpet. I remember feeling embarrassed, as if I were too unclean to walk upon all that gorgeous white carpeting.

The second time was decades later. I went to a couple’s home to interview a man about a story for the newspaper. He was Japanese. I recall plush, pale carpet, and that the man’s wife indicated that I should remove my shoes and place them by the front door. I was provided a pair of woven slippers to wear.

I was wearing a pants outfit. My shoes had a heel, which elevated the pant hem. But in flat slippers, the pants’ extra fabric dropped and sagged like polyester elephant skin around the tops of my feet. I remember feeling embarrassed that my nylons weren’t in the best condition, and wished I’d worn a new pair, not the snagged ones. I wondered if my chipped toenail polish could be seen through the toe of my borrowed slippers.

I don’t have a shoe-removal policy in my home, but I know many people who do, and when in those homes, I comply. But I confess that I’ve never really gotten used to the practice, and I sometimes feel a little off about it. If I’m entering a no-shoe house, that means that I’m either going to be going barefoot inside the home, or wearing whatever stockings are covering my feet, or wearing some footwear provided by the hosts. Padding around in bare feet inside someone else’s home feels hyper casual, like I’m not fully dressed. Padding around in a pair of slippers that have been provided by the hosts, worn by many people before me, ranks right up there with sleeping in someone else’s sheets.

Yes, I do realize that at any given moment there are far greater problems in the world than whether to remove shoes when entering a home or not, but this shoe-removal thing is on my mind since my twin brought me a gift this week.

I recoiled. “For me?! Why?!”

My sister said the slippers were civilized, and they’d help keep my floors clean. She explained that I should keep the pink slippers for indoors only, poised by the door to be of service after I removed my outdoor shoes.

She pointed to evidence; dusty footprints by the front door, and said that wouldn’t have happened if I’d only worn my outdoor shoes outdoors, removing my outdoor shoes the moment I reach the front door.

The footprints are most noticeable when the sun hits that front door in Doni’s house.

I was touched by my sister’s gift of pink slippers, but frankly, I didn’t like them. I said they looked like sick-people slippers. She disagreed and said they looked like spa slippers. I showed her my favorite around-the-house footwear, a pair of stretchy black faux-Mary Jane slippers I take with me when traveling, and especially on airplanes.

Neither pair would win a beauty contest, but they are functional.

I’m willing to give it a try to wear outdoor shoes only outdoors, and indoor shoes only indoors, at least in my own home. I keep messing up, wearing my inside shoes outside to water plants, and then I realize that I’ve left my outside shoes by the front door. So confusing!

No surprise, my twin has a no-outdoor shoe policy in her home. She has a little note by the entryway that asks for people to kindly remove their shoes, and a basket for people to deposit their footwear. I think she adopted this policy after visiting Norway, where it’s expected that people will remove their shoes upon entering a house. Likewise, I’ve been to the Czech Republic many times over the years to visit son Joe, and every home has shoes by the door, and people wear slippers inside. That’s what I did when I was there. I adapted. When in Rome …

For me, I looked at that shoe-removal practice as a nice idea, but literally foreign. On the other hand, my sister adopted it as a grand hygienic concept. I’m aware that she looks down on me for allowing outdoor shoes in my home, but I also notice that until the pink slippers showed up, she was fine wearing her outdoor shoes inside my home.

I know my twin’s fixation on the whole indoor-shoe thing, and why she brought me those Pepto Bismal slippers: She’s still nursing a grudge from last winter when I accidentally tracked dog poop from her front lawn that I’d inadvertently stepped in with my cute winter dress boots, into her house. I don’t know when I’ve seen my sister more irritated.

I say that if she doesn’t want dog poop imprinted inside her home, she should do a better job keeping dog-walkers off her lawn.


But I wonder:

What if someone really famous — like Oprah — came to a no-shoe house? Would she be expected to remove her shoes, too? And if not, why should the fact that someone’s famous make a difference?

Or what if someone arrived to a no-shoe home wearing shoes that were vital to outfit? Should they still be removed?

How about if I’m getting ready to go out and am wearing a nice outfit that includes some cute strappy shoes with buckles and zippers, am I supposed to get all dressed up, pad to the front door with my slippers on my feet, and my cute shoes in my hand, and then balance like a flamingo on one foot as I change into my dressing shoes at the threshold? It just feels weird.

Plus, I have two entrances, which means keeping indoor shoes ready in both locations. Even just two people in a home can end up with a front-door shoe pileup in a hurry.

Personally, I feel relieved when I go to someone’s home and learn it’s OK to keep my shoes on. But I often have guests in my home who automatically start stripping off their shoes at the entrance, and we have a little dance where I’m saying, really, you can keep your shoes on, and they’re say, no, really, we don’t mind.

I may be overthinking this whole thing. But in the meantime I ordered a second pair of those little stretchy Mary Jane slippers, and I think I’ll keep them in my purse for when I go to someone’s home that has a no-outdoor-shoe policy.

Until then, I’m getting a pedicure.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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52 Responses

  1. Avatar Tim says:

    Spending time on a ranch, beach house, or winter cabin will quickly teach anyone to leave their shoes at the door, but that doesn’t have to be the case in the burbs. I still remove shoes at my house, but I don’t expect guests to. Then again, I haven’t made the bold choice of plush white carpet.

    When entering a new friend’s home for the first time, a wall or cubby lined with shoes in the entryway/foyer/mudroom is a good clue to look for. If expected to remove my shoes, I increasingly appreciate a Mr. Rogers bench as I get longer in the tooth.

  2. Avatar Marcie Vega says:

    I have a no shoes policy for my husband ONLY. LOL!

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    I had never heard of a no-shoes policy until we lived in Anchorage. There, virtually everyone removed their outdoor shoes when entering a home. We just got used to the practice and continued it back in California. It’s not a hard and fast rule because I wear outdoor shoes from the front door to the room where I keep my indoor shoes which are simply more comfortable than my outdoor shoes.

    Odd story: we had a favorite Japanese restaurant in San Francisco where people removed their shoes upon entering. A story was published in the Chronicle about a woman who had a prosthetic leg and went to said restaurant. The shoe was an integral part of the prosthetic; so she would hardly be able to walk if the shoe were removed. The restaurant insisted she remove her shoes; so they had no choice but to leave.

    • It’s not a big deal, but I go inside and outside a lot, so it strikes me as funny to be stopping each time to switch shoes each time.

      I’ll get used to it.

      And that poor woman at the restaurant. Surely an exception could have been made.

  4. Avatar erin friedman says:

    I love the IDEA of keeping outside dirt outside. But practically — real life for us meant kids and their friends and big dogs in and out all day long, it seems like too much work. Even now that it’s just the two of us, the dogs are still dragging dirt in. Of course, I also have a sign on my refrigerator that says “A clean house is the worst sign of a wasted life” — so I may not be particularly qualified to weigh in on this one. 🙂

    • Dang, Erin, you did it again; mentioning something I meant to address: pets.

      I’ve been to homes with strict no-outdoor-shoes-inside policies, yet they have dogs and cats that freely come and go, walking on the same outdoor surfaces as humans. Maybe the people don’t care because the footprints are smaller?

      (I like your refrigerator sign. 🙂

  5. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    Having a Japanese daughter-in-law means I done been eddy-ucated!!! And, of course, when in Japan, as being in Rome, one follows the custom. And every home has a shoe cabinet and slippers by the front door. I’d say if one is going to insist, one should provide. I have no problem with the shoe removal, but even tho’ I take my shoes (and jewelry, mind you) off the minute I hit my front door, I can never seem to get organized enough to keep a pair of slippers by the front door. . . . So, I pad around in my gummy, ugly bare feet. It’s my house and I’ll pad if I want to . . . . or something like that!!

    • Yeah, I think that’s a good idea to provide a bench for sitting to remove shoes, and a place to put them, and even a basket with a variety of slippers. (That might be interesting. For example, I wear a size 8, and son Joe wears a 13. And then, what about kids? Speaking of kids, for some reason, from the time my grandkids were little, as soon as they hit the front door of my house they’d take off their shoes, which I’d ask them to put by the front door to avoid the trip hazard of far-flung shoes. Their parents don’t ban outdoor shoes inside their home, so I don’t know what that’s about. I have knitted slippers for them when it’s cold. Otherwise they go barefoot.)

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        My mother knitted at least a dozen pairs of slippers in different sizes so they would be at the ready for guests by our front door in Anchorage. I’d launder them after they had been worn by a guest so there would be no sharing of whatever.

  6. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    I personally think the no-shoe policy is the equivalent of plastic covers on the sofa – tacky. It says, “You’re too disgusting to be allowed to touch anything in my home, which is a showplace you aren’t worthy of.” But that’s me and people can enforce whatever weird rule they choose in their home.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I feel compelled to amend that sentence to, “You’re too disgusting to be allowed to touch anything in my home, but you can walk shoeless into our bathroom which may or may not have pee-splashes around the toilet but we don’t care what you think…” (depending on the other occupants of said showplace!).

    • I like that I don’t have to remove my shoes in your home, Barbara.

      • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

        Not too long ago we were guests at the home of a couple who asked us to remove our shoes… they provided some sort of slippers (I can’t remember just what) but it did occur to me…. who before us wore these slippers? And once we were indoors, I didn’t see any reason we should have had to take them off. No carpet(s) and not especially clean (again, whose else wore those slippers?). It was off-putting.

  7. Avatar Linda Cooper says:

    Yikes! I never realized that a shoe removal policy was a “thing,” so I’m eagerly following. I do mindfully wipe my feet on the doormat before entering, and wouldn’t enter if my shoes were muddy or wet. I’m wondering if those paper booties workers put over their shoes would satisfy. I could carry a pair in my already loaded purse. Meanwhile, I can so relate to the shoes flung by the grands as a tripping hazard.

  8. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    At my mother’s as well as when I lived in my apartment, I kicked off my outdoor shoes eventually and walked around in my socks (or barefoot in summer). We always had slip-on shoes by the door for those quick trips to the mailbox or out to the car to get something. It wasn’t a policy, it was just more comfortable to not wear shoes in the house. But guests weren’t asked to remove shoes. A lot of them did, though. I’ve never thought about it until now. I wonder why they did?

    When I moved to Scotland my husband was surprised that I didn’t have slippers. It seemed to bug him, so… I got slippers. Specifically moccasin-type slippers. Mine have a soft sole, Sem’s have a hard sole, so he ends up wearing his outside now and then, but I don’t – I’ve got those handy fake crocs (don’t judge me!) near the door for just such take-the-trash-out occasions. But if we’re wandering in and out for whatever reason, we leave our outdoor shoes on until we’re finished doing whatever we’re doing outside, and then we switch back to our slippers.

    The truth of it is, though, if I lived on my own I would just go around in my socks or bare feet, indoors. Because when I’m on my own there aren’t the same water splashes all over the kitchen floor, or post-shave pools of water around the bathroom sink… but since I live with a somewhat slapdash man, wearing slippers is essential if I don’t want to go around in wet socks!

    I never asked anyone to remove their shoes upon entering any place I’ve lived. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to do so! It seems kind of rude – but I guess it seems equally rude to leave shoes on, to the people who think they should be removed. But I will make two more observations:

    1. Do I want to be barefoot or in my stocking/sock-feet in someone else’s bathroom? NO I DO NOT. Nor do I want to wear slippers that other guests have worn (unless I know for sure they have been washed).
    2. I used to host a group of people every couple of weeks at my apartment. One woman always took her shoes off – and she never wore socks. The insides of her shoes were black with dirt, as were the soles of her feet. And she was always slightly sweaty. Without fail she would RUB HER DIRTY FEET back and forth on my beige carpet, while at the same time she generally lifted her sweaty hair off her sweaty neck and rested her head against the back of my nice wing-back chair, actually blotting her hair- and neck-sweat on the nice fabric. I didn’t have a lot of chairs so I always sat on the floor, and somehow always ended up being within a few feet of her nasty, manky, sweaty, dirty feet. I had to fight down the dry-heaves (and the annoyance) every time.

    Then again… well, I used to make sure I had bottled water for those who wanted it, and she regularly took a bottle and then dropped it on the floor when she finished it, leaving it there rather than putting it in my recycling bin (like everyone else did), actually stepping over the empty bottle on her way out. That is, after going to the kitchen to help herself to three more bottles of water before she left. So perhaps she is an extreme case, with regard to people who don’t know how to follow the rules of a polite society!

    Yeah I don’t miss you at all, Janet!

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Yikes! And you invited her back again and again?

      • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

        I had no choice, Beverly! It was a small group from a yoga class I attended and helped with, which met on a different evening from the class because it was just discussion rather than yoga. So really anyone could come – there were about six of us plus the teacher, and the rest of them were lovely. Just not Janet!

    • Sorry, but I laughed at the thought of Janet rubbing dirty feet on your beige carpet. (Maybe her feet were itchy … ) Wow. I’d be hard-pressed to want her back in my house. I’d be curious what her home was like. I have a hunch …

      • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

        I’m sure they were itchy because of the FILTH on them! *Shudder*

        I was in her home once. Once, and never again. There were clothes strewn about all the rooms, random stuff everywhere, chaos, dirty dishes all over the place. Best part? She had only moved in a month before.

        It’s not even like I just dropped in on her unexpectedly. She knew I was coming, and had a few days advance notice. And still her place looked like that?!?!

  9. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Maybe it’s time to bring back the “mudroom” which used to be in most houses.

  10. Avatar Doug Mudford says:

    I always abide by the owners admission rules…I get to decide if the price is too high. The idea of bare or stockinged feet touching anything in my house makes me itch. There are mats outside and inside all our entries…please use them and welcome.

    • Yup. Same page. I agree.

      And there’s a reason why some public places require footwear … because that many bare feet could be a health hazard. (I made that last part up. I’m just guessing.)

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        “No shoes, no shirt, no service” signs are posted for a reason. Unless you’re of the Jeff Foxworthy bent who says, “No shoes, no shirt, no problem!” Which reminds me, a friend was in he gynocologist’s office, and one patient was there barefoot. Yuk.

  11. Avatar Candace C says:

    So this is embarrassing but I’m just going to say it In case anyone else feels the same but doesn’t want to say. Some of us were blessed with “less than pretty” feet. Not to put too fine a point on it but “ damn, those are some ugly toes” comes to mind. Having to bare feet or don an opened toe slipper in the company of others can be mortifying for those folks. No judging please.

    • Well, good point. And in those cases it puts the guests in a potential position of feeling uncomfortable. That’s why I love my little foldable Mary Jane slippers. I can have them in my purse and whip them out in the event I’m in a no-shoe house.

  12. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    A neighbor decided to have a flock of chickens that were allowed free run in the yard during the day. They decided not to wear their outdoor shoes in the house because they didn’t know what might be on the soles. They also had a 100-pound Lab, and he was allowed in the house even though he played with the chickens and also was walked in the woods. A little unsure on the concept.

    • Well, yeah, that’s the pet thing Erin addressed earlier. (I have a hummingbird named Needy outside my kitchen window. No little bird feet inside, no dog hair, no litter boxes. I highly recommend pet hummingbirds for those very reasons. And, they’re fun to watch. And I think they’re grateful.)

  13. Avatar Candace C says:

    “Footnote” Guess I bared my sole in public. (sorry, couldn’t resist, this one’s for you Hal)

    • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

      When asked to take off my shoes in someone’s home, I tend to regret not shaving my toe knuckles.

  14. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    In my perfect dream world, I would live in a white house with white furnishings and everything would be perfect and lovely. WAKE UP! I have a messy life full of kids, animals, and tired humans dragging in from work or the grocery store or wherever. We grill outside and carry drinks and foods across the carpet. We eat in front of the tv. And even though we think we are being careful…we’re so not! LOL

  15. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    We’re giving up on carpet of any kind. We had laminate installed in our Redding cottage and will do the same up here. The thought of moving all the large furniture pieces for the project – plus we want to paint the interior which will also require moving the contents – is daunting. Which do we do first: have the painters in or laminate installers, or can they both be here at the same time? I need a nap or a glass of wine just thinking about it.

  16. Avatar Judith Salter says:

    I don’t like the no shoe policy but abide by hone owner rules I’ve never forgotten how red faced I was when I removed my shoes only to see a big run in my tights on my toes. I have dogs in my own home and I always shake my head when grandkids remove their shoes at my home. Dog hair becomes a fashion accessory!

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      The wonderful David Frey who used to announce the Westminster Dog Show says of his household, which is full of dogs, that dog hair is considered a condiment.

  17. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    This shoe thing is just beyond me. I mean, it took about thirty years of being invited to gatherings to figure out that I shouldn’t lie down and take up the entire sofa.

    • Avatar Candace C says:

      Hal, LOL

    • Avatar Linda Cooper says:

      Dear Hal Johnson. I was thinking that I have been remiss in my social life. Having never experienced the shoe thing. Bravo to you for thirty years of being invited to gatherings. For me, I was thinking, wow. I need to get out more. We just went crazy, and bought a white couch. You are invited to lie down on it any time. Just saying. Husband’s blueberries already making an impact.

      • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

        “Bravo to you for thirty years of being invited to gatherings.”

        Of course, I mentioned nothing about the *frequency* of those invitations, but they did come a little more often after I broke myself of Bogarting sofas.

  18. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    I once dumped an entire bowl of mac and cheese between the arm of the couch and the cushion, so I’m not super fussy about shoes in my house. I take them off when I come home because I hate wearing shoes, but when I’m a guest I usually wing it. If it’s a party or something, I leave them on.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Inquiring minds want to know if you ate the mac and cheese, at least the top part, anyway…?

  19. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    I love learning different people’s customs. I have two friends who life in rural areas….horses, sheep, dogs, chickens etc. Everyone takes off their shoes in the house. One friend was born in Hawaii where it is a tradition. I make sure I’m wearing the right shoes when I visit. Slip on shoes like clogs work well. (Maybe that’s why everyone in Norway and Sweden wear such great clogs!) Our Swedish neighbor always kicks off his clogs at the kitchen door.
    We left our outdoor shoes at the door in our home in Shasta because of all the bird excrement, plant matter, dirt, mud and bug matter we didn’t want to bring inside. We never asked anyone to remove their shoes. I’ve never been to an urban home where I was asked to remove my shoes, but I certainly would be more comfortable if I knew this rule ahead of time. (Oh wait, I did visit your sister and kicked off my shoes.) “Vegan potluck, no perfume because of the hostesses allergies and we leave our shoes at the door.” would work for a more formal visit. Thanks Doni. I loved the article and I loved reading people’s posts about this.

  20. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    I call it “prepared to be offended” when you don’t share with guests uncommon rules of your space. It is neither insensitive or disgusting to be unable to read the mind of a host. Formal attire or casual? Let’s talk.

  21. Avatar Carrie Dokter says:

    I learned more information about feet than I thought was out there. Lol Can’t help but feel sorry for “Janet” though. Lol

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      No reason to feel sorry for Janet, Carrie – she seemed to be oblivious and perfectly content in her ickiness. It’s my carpet that should have gotten the sympathy! 🙂