Whether you wore sandals out and about today or just grabbed the mail without putting shoes on, your feet can pick up a lot of dirt over the course of a day. And if you live — and walk around in — a busy city with puddles of city juice (aka the wet grey slosh and questionable muck), there might be more than just dirt down there. Have you ever wondered whether dirt, germs, and bacteria from your feet can transfer to your bed? Here’s what you should know.
Should you wash your feet before sleep?
Feet can be bacteria magnets. With 250,000 sweat glands, they produce around half a pint of perspiration daily. 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 pick up a lot of dirt and general street stuff. Does washing your 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 is part of your body.
“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.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just sandals that can make your feet dirty: Socks and shoes can make your feet warm and sweaty. “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 are able to grow and expand,” says Dr. Najwa Javed, podiatrist and founder of E'MAR Italy.
MacPherson says we should all ask ourselves one question: “Are we bringing that into the bedroom or not?”
The benefits of washing your feet before bed
First, relax: You don’t have to wash your feet. “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,” says Dr. Jason Havey, a podiatrist in Minneapolis. But foot washing can be a great start to your bedtime routine.
Aside from washing off the day’s dirt and debris, cleaning your feet before bed:
Helps to get rid of foot odor
During the summer, sweat or humidity can make your feet wet and warm, which can quickly cause foot odors. Before tracking those stinky feet into the bed, give them a quick rinse. The benefit will pay off tomorrow when you’re not bringing that odor into other shoes. Plus, for people with hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, in their feet, this extra step of caution may help reduce bacteria growth and athlete’s foot.
Removes dry skin
For the health and look of your feet, a quick rinse, followed by some moisturizing body lotion, can tackle dry skin and feel great. As a bonus, it could help with flaking skin in your bed, which keeps your sheets more sanitary.
Reduces joint and muscle pain
After a long day, some warm water can ease foot pain, whether due to joints, muscles, or other issues. Sit on the side of the tub and soak your feet for a few minutes in warm water. Epsom salt can help, too
Regulates body temperature
A warm foot bath can help lower your body temperature by cooling your feet as you get out of the warm water. That cooling temperature is one of the signals that tells your brain bedtime is approaching.
Reduces anxieties (and pain)
“For some people, just knowing you have clean feet getting into bed can likely help you be less anxious about it,” says Havey. “If it makes you feel good, then do it; even if it’s only a placebo effect, it’s worth it.”
Quick note: if you have tinea pedis, better known as athlete’s foot, and diabetes, washing your feet is a recommended protocol to avoid worse problems like foot ulcers.
How to properly wash your feet before hitting the bed
Believe it or not, there is a right way to wash your feet, and it doesn’t just involve letting the shower water rinse the tops of them and calling it a day. It’s not too involved: It only takes a few minutes to get those tootsies in tip-top shape.
Wash and dry your feet completely
A shower is fine for washing your feet, but you’ll want to make sure you are washing in between each toe as well as the tops and bottoms of them. If easier for balance purposes, you can do this before or after the shower with a washcloth and some gentle soap and water. You’ll want to towel off those feet thoroughly, too. Completely drying your feet is just as important as washing them since damp feet provide a warm and wet breeding ground for bacteria, especially if you shove your wet feet straight into socks and shoes.
Examine your feet
Now that they’re clean, you’ll want to examine your feet for any cuts, wounds, dryness, swelling, or cracked toenails. Sandals and other open-toed shoes expose our feet to just about everything on the ground, from pebbles to shards of glass. Feet are our workhorses, but wounds on our feet are easy to infect and slow to heal, so it's important to catch things quickly and keep them clean. By inspecting your feet, you can spot blisters, tiny nicks, or toenail issues and treat them before they become problematic.
Even small cracks in our nails can lead to fungal infections, so make sure you cut your nails straight across as part of your routine. Moisturizers are ok and encouraged to prevent cracking in dry feet but keep the lotion to the tops and bottoms only, not between the toes, where bacteria lurk more often.
Add a weekly soak to improve your well-being
According to the Cleveland Clinic, if you are prone to stinky feet, you may want to consider adding a weekly Epsom salt or vinegar soak. Doing a soak like this can help deter bacteria from growing (plus, it can be relaxing). For a vinegar soak, you’ll want two parts water to one part vinegar — apple cider vinegar or standard distilled white should work — and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re using Epsom salt, soak for 10 to 20 minutes with a half cup dissolved in a tub of warm water. Note: Do not soak your feet if you have cuts or open wounds on your feet.
Relaxation techniques for bedtime foot care
Now that we know why and how to wash our feet before bed, it’s time to make it pleasant. There is proof that pre-bed rituals — and a bath or shower — can help with better sleep.
Focusing that before bed soak on feet can be especially relaxing. Your feet 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.
To make your foot-washing more relaxing, tie the routine to what feels good and calms you down, like dimming the lights, lighting a soothing candle, or listening to nature sounds.
This could mean adding a few drops of calming essential oils to the bath, like lavender, chamomile, or refreshing orange. It could also be turning on music, listening to a podcast, or sitting in the first silence of your day.
Make it fully relaxing by giving yourself a gentle foot massage to tackle those sensitive nerve endings. Just don’t apply too much pressure.
How to get clean feet with a 45-second rinse
If there’s foot friction in your relationship — one person who is adamant about clean feet under the covers and another who gets into 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. It can be the easiest 45-second compromise ever.
“Some people don’t have a problem with dirt, and some people do,” MacPherson suggests. “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.”