How to Disinfect Your Shoes
Every day you pick-up all sorts of nasty bacteria and germs on your shoes. It’s unavoidable and it stands to reason the more you walk around, your exposure increases. That’s just a fact of life - one you might not give much thought to.
According to a study of bacteria levels on footwear conducted by Dr. Charles Gerba, microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona's Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, there is an average of 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside of the shoe and 2,887 on the inside.
The good news is that the presence of certain bacterias was reduced by 90% after washing the shoes with a simple solution of detergent and water.
Now, that’s great for washable shoes, but what about leather shoes and leather soles which don’t do too well in a washing machine? How do you disinfect your shoes without damaging them?
Yes, I know, you are probably sick and tired of hearing about bacteria and viruses. But, knowledge is power and I hope this article will clue you in on the most common types of germs found on shoes, and give you the tools you need to combat them before they can cause harm to you and your loved ones.
Infants, toddlers, senior citizens, pets and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to getting ill from bacteria on the floor and other surfaces.
Bacteria on Shoes
Before you can get down to the nitty-gritty of how to disinfect the soles of your shoes, boots and sneakers, you should first understand about some of the bacteria that clings to them.
NOTE: This is general information and is in no way meant to be medical advice. Seek medical attention if you experience any type of unusual discomfort.
Coronaviruses - We’ve all heard a lot about this class of viruses, which includes hundreds of strains which all attack the respiratory system. Watch out for dry coughing, sore throat, elevated fever, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, rashes and in extreme cases, shortness of breath, loss of speech or mobility.
E. Coli - you have probably heard of this nasty bugger before, but you might not know that it can cause meningitis, urinary tract infections and horrible digestive issues.
Coliform bacteria - being the main family unit where E. Coli comes from, other strains of bacteria can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, and/or flu-like symptoms.
Serratia ficaria - this bad boy can cause respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, damage to the skin and arthritis.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) - most commonly picked up in hospitals, you may know this bacterias as Staph, the skin eating disease, which manifests most commonly as an extreme rash or an open wound.
Enterococcus faecalis - you will know you’ve been infected with this bacteria if you experience abdominal and pelvic infections, urinary tract infections or enterococcal meningitis (an uncommon form of meningitis).
Listeria monocytogenes - this bug goes for the nervous system and can cause headaches, a stiff next, disorientation, a loss in balance or convulsions.
Clostridium difficile or C. Diff - is another germ that attacks the digestive system and causes colic, cramping, nausea, loss of appetite and dehydration.
As you can tell, none of these are mild and you really want to do everything possible to avoid transferring bacteria from your shoes into your home, and by default into your body. Or the bodies of loved ones, including your pets.
Dr. Gerba’s research discovered something else that is quite disturbing, and be warned, disgusting to say the least: 96 percent of the shoes studied had fecal bacteria on them, which means they were actually dirtier than than a toilet seat. To make things worse, some viruses can actually stay on shoes anywhere between several hours to several days.
Eye opening, isn’t it? But it's no reason to despair. By utilizing any or all of the following tools you can disinfect and sanitize shoes with little effort.
Shoe Disinfection Methods
Different tyoes of shoe uppers, heels and soles will hold bacteria in different ways. Illustrative of this point are the findings of another study on Listeria conducted by a team of experts at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna which found the following detection rates per shoe type:
14.3% winter boots, 13.3% hiking boots, 5.9% sport shoes and 5.1% for brogues (which is indicative for dress shoes). No Listeria spp. were found on shoe soles that had smooth treads, while Listeria spp. were detected on 19.5% of medium depth tread shoe types and on 9.4% deep tread shoes.
Of course, the first line of defense would be to take your shoes off at the door and keep them in a dedicated space, as explained by my colleague Gavin in his thought provoking article on the subject. But, what do you do then? Just leave them to stew until you wear them again? Yes, you can do that and hope the germs will vanish by themselves. However, there’s no guarantee that will happen; even if it does, there will still be some residue.
You can eliminate most - if not all - bacteria by following these easy techniques to disinfect your shoes. Remember to wear a pair of disposable gloves dedicated to this task, and to wash your hands immediately after.
Keep in mind that some of these methods might cause damage to leather shoes. Although leather soles are usually tougher than leather uppers, they should still be treated with care, and nourished with a leather conditioner to keep them in good condition. Rubber soles, as seen in the image above, and rubber heel caps will put up with these substances much better, but still need to be handled carefully.
Suede uppers are naturally more sensitive to all sorts of treatment, and you really want to avoid any non-suede specific cleaners from coming into contact with your suede garments. For tips on cleaning suede shoes, sneakers and boots, see my article How to Care for Suede Shoes.
Keep reading to find out some of the best ways to combat bacteria and germs on footwear:
Disinfectant Wipes - You might already have these on hand, which is a good thing. Disinfectant wipes are convenient to use and usually kill up to 99% of bacteria. Simply clean the soles, heels and edges of your shoes with the wipes. The solution in the wipe will evaporate rather quickly so no real drying time is required. Although you can use shoe regular wipes, there’s no guarantee they will actually kill the bacteria.
Detergent Solution - Put a capful of laundry detergent in a spray bottle and fill it with water. Shake to mix well and to dilute the detergent. Keep the bottle in your shoe area and spray the soles and heels after you’ve removed your shoes. Leave to dry on a newspaper or paper towels.
Isopropyl Alcohol - It’s the same idea as above, except that you won’t dilute the alcohol. Keep a spray bottle full of 70% Isopropyl Alcohol on hand and spray the soles of your shoes. I’ve been using this highly effective method for months on leather and rubber soled shoes, boots and sneakers and I haven’t seen any signs of damage to my footwear.
Disinfectant Spray - You want to reach for a specially formulated shoe disinfectant spray, not the ones you would use on your household surfaces. They will kill the bacteria on the outside of your shoes, and deodorize the interior. So fresh!
Disinfecting Floor Mat - You may have seen these sanitizing door mats in front of stores or restaurants - or if you work in industrial food preparation. They are a powerful tool in the fight against spreading disease. The ones suited for personal use usually have two panels. You place your cleaning solution in the first one which is usually made of rubber or PVC. The second panel is outfitted with an absorbent foam which allows you to dry your shoes before entering your home or office.
Ultraviolet Shoe Sanitizer - You can find portable or stationary UV sanitizers which eliminate germs and bacteria on the inside of your shoes. Basically, you insert the device into your shoe, plug it in and let it work it’s magic.
Even in the best of times it’s a good idea to do all you can to help combat dangerous bugs. Without becoming obsessive about it, you can implement easy solutions which go a long way in the battle.
Please let me know how you take care of your shoes by leaving a comment below.
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