Did you wear sandals today or tromp around your yard barefoot? If so, the bottoms of your feet might be noticeable dirty. But what about when you're walking around in a city?
When it comes to avoiding city juice (aka the wet grey slosh and unknown debris), many know to not to wear open-toed footwear — but the question of rinsing them before bed isn't just about socks vs. sandals? It's about whether or not dirt transfers to your sheets.
Feet can be bacteria magnets. With 250,000 sweat glands, they produce around a half pint of perspiration each day. That’s a lot of sweat swamping around those feet. If you live in a humid climate and do a lot of walking, particularly in sandals, your feet might also be picking up a lot of dirt and general street stuff. Does washing those feet help keep your sheets cleaner?
“The short answer is absolutely,” says Charles MacPherson, a household operations expert and founder of Charles MacPherson Associates, based in Toronto, Canada.
While there are not many stats on how much dirt we bring inside, there is a systematic review about the bacteria our shoes track in. In conclusion: our shoes are a hot spot for infectious pathogens and there is no consensus on the best way to decontaminate your shoes, except maybe not wear them in the house.
Now imagine your feet in sandals, bare skin against the elements. Bare skin, which you can’t just “take off” at home.
“The bottom of your feet are actually dirty, compared to if you had a pair of socks on and a pair of running shoes,” says MacPherson. “If we are taking off our open shoes, chances are our feet are dirty. And we’re putting those dirty feet in the bed. Are we bringing that into the bedroom or not?”
A 45-second rinse is an easy comprise
If you get in bed with one person who is adamant about clean feet under the covers and another who gets in to bed with dirty bottoms, there’s bound to be some discussion. But feet washing shouldn’t be the make-or-break convo of your relationship.
“Although it is gross to think about what could be on your feet, I can’t think of an actual good medical reason for why the average person must clean their feet before bed,” Dr. Jason Havey, a podiatrist in Minneapolis, says.
That being said, “If it makes you feel good then do it, even if it’s only a placebo effect, it’s worth it,” Havey says. And if the placebo effect is no more arguments, then it may be the easiest 45-second compromise ever.
Plus, you or your partner may realize you really enjoy rinsing your feet before bed. “Some people don’t have a problem with dirt, and some people do,” MacPherson rationalizes.
“I personally believe that if I wash before I go to bed, even if it’s what I call the 45-second rinse, my clean sheets stay cleaner, and they’re more enjoyable to be in,” he says. “I have no scientific proof that it’s true, but I feel that way.”
To which, Havey agrees. “For some people, just knowing you have clean feet getting into bed can likely help you be less anxious about it,” he says. And we all know how racing thoughts can build up and delay sleep.
Of the many reasons to try a sleep divorce, feet isn't high on the list. So, if a quick wash routine helps to quell any arguments with your bedmate and avoid the classic problem of going to bed angry, then those 45-seconds are worth it, right?
Your soles don’t go commando? Wash your feet anyway
After talking to two podiatrists, a rather sweaty tale emerged: washing your feet is not a I did or didn’t wear shoes debate. After a day baking in socks, your feet might collect even more bacteria than a day in sandals.
“We have a huge microbiome that is part of our natural flora, which is not an issue if your skin is breathing. When your skin isn’t breathing [because they’re in socks and shoes], the sweat, moisture, and flora is able to grow and expand,” says Dr. Najwa Javed, podiatrist and founder of E'MAR Italy.
If you ever have that “I just want to rip my socks and shoes off” feeling at the end of the day, that’s normal. Your feet want room to breathe after being trapped in that bacteria-breeding environment. Especially if you are standing in those shoes all day long.
Aside from washing off the gross debris, cleaning your feet before bed can help with:
- Removing sweat: For people with hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, in their feet, this extra step of caution may help reduce bacteria growth and athlete’s foot.
- Removing dry, flaky, skin: Nobody loves tucking into a bed with skin flakes all over, and nobody loves having to change their sheets more often than they need to.
- Regulating body temperature: A cool foot bath can help lower your body temperature, which is one of the signals that help your brain to sleep.
- Reducing anxieties (and pain): Washing and then soaking our feet in Epsom salt can help with starting the relaxation process and moving your state of mind away from fight or flight.
Quick note: if you have tinea pedis, better known as athlete’s foot, and diabetes, washing your feet is recommended protocol to avoid worse problems like foot ulcers.
There is proof that pre-bed rituals — and a bath or shower — can help with better sleep. But think about your feet, which do a lot for you. They pound the pavement, take the brunt of our weight, and with over 8,000 nerve endings, there’s a reason they’re a focus for reflexologists.
So even if it isn’t a must-wash situation, you may just want to show those tootsies some extra love before bed.
And if you decide not to wash your feet, well... it’s the shoes that harbor most of the bacteria anyway. Let’s draw the line at kicking your shoes up onto your sheets and agree to take them off at the door.