Infectious disease specialist Mary E. Schmidt warns that the coronavirus could survive on rubber, leather and PVC-based soles for five days or more, the Huffington Post UK reported — and has even suggested that individuals don shoes that are machine-washable.
Depending on what materials are used to make a shoe, the pathogen can remain for days on the upper part as well. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that COVID-19 can survive on plastic for up to two or three days, meaning shoes featuring plastic components are also risky — though that’s not a primary concern for some doctors.
“The sole of the shoe is the breeding ground of more bacteria and fungi and viruses than the upper part of a shoe,” emergency physician Cwanza Pinckney tells HuffPost.
A 2008 study by microbiologists at the University of Arizona found that the average shoe sole contains some 421,000 bacteria, viruses and parasites. However, Pinckney reminds us that many of these microorganisms “influence and allow us to develop immunity.” So, in many ways, they could be helping us stay healthier.
Nevertheless, public health specialist Carol Winner says taking your shoes off before entering the home is a smart measure for anyone.
“If you can leave them in your garage or in your entryway, that would be ideal, as you don’t necessarily have to leave them outside,” she tells HuffPost. “The idea is to just not track them throughout the house.”
Schmidt adds concern for children especially, and advises parents to be especially mindful of how children handle their shoes.
“You have to hide the shoes from small children to ensure they don’t touch them,” she says. “Teach them not to touch shoes unless they are designated indoor shoes, as shoes are the dirtiest objects we have in our homes, other than the toilets.”
Winner attempts to quell fear, telling individuals to focus more on personal hygiene and hand-washing, rather than what’s living on the bottom of their shoes.
“There is no evidence to say that the coronavirus comes into the house from shoes,” she says. “Pragmatically, they are on the body part furthest from our face, and we do know that the greatest risk of transmission is person to person, not shoe to person.”