Can your shoes really give you food poisoning?

At Ravel we know the importance of finding that perfect pair of shoes which will see you through season to season with ease, but with much wear how clean do our shoes actually stay throughout their lifetime? We wanted to find out what germs may be lying undiscovered, so we put 10 pairs of a variety of styles including flat shoes and heels to the test to see just how clean our subjects really were (if you’re squeamish you may not want to read on any further).

soles of shoes dirt

What we found:

  • Unsurprising to most, the soles of shoes carry more germs than the upper
  • Appearances can be deceptive: whilst white shoes show the most visible dirt, black shoes have more bacteria, but just hide it better (so don’t judge a book by its cover!)
  • Leather is the better material over suede for keeping clean and carries less variety of germs (but we still love suede shoes regardless)
  • There is little difference between whether patent or matte leather carry more germs
  • Shoes worn on nights out attract more bacteria and fungi on the sole than those worn to the office, which had more bacteria to the upper
  • Whether a shoe is heeled or flat makes little difference to the germs found on the bottom of the shoe, the upper and sole material makes more impact
  • Most of the germs found on shoes are common and typically found on the skin and around the house
  • Of the bacteria found on the uppers and soles of our test shoes, staphylococcus was present in 9 of 10 of them. staphylococcus is a type of bacteria that can cause sores or blisters and in extreme cases can result in toxic shock syndrome or food poisoning (a scary thought indeed!)
  • Many of the shoes showed very small amounts of bacteria known as micrococcus, this is typical bacteria found in soil, meat (it feeds on decomposing materials) and on human skin. Micrococcus can be an opportunistic pathogen to those with impaired immune systems (so keep your shoes clean to reduce the risk).

White or Black shoes?

black v white shoe germs petri dish
Black (left) vs white (right)

No, we weren’t deciding which colour to buy to suit our summer wardrobe (the answer is always both). The first test was to see the difference in white or black shoes, whether one carried more germs than the other. What was found was that while the white shoes we tested looked much dirtier, the black shoes carried more bacteria. This proves that just because your shoes may look clean doesn’t mean they necessarily are and you should ensure you clean them regularly to keep them in prime condition and reduce the potential germs carried.

black versus white
White vs black shoe soles

Patent or Matte Leather?

Patent (left) vs matte (right)

We also compared patent and matte leather shoes to see whether the shiny upper of the patent style was more or less likely to carry germs. You’ll be pleased to learn the results of testing both shoes showed that neither made much difference to the bacteria attracted. So when choosing whether to go for patent or matte based on which are easier to keep clean, there really isn’t much difference between the two, giving you all the more reason to get one of each for the new season!

patent matte leather loafers

Office or Party?

worn to work and night out petri dish
Worn to work (left) vs night out (right)

We know your best heels can get a little weathered over time, especially after making more than a few appearances on nights out and at parties, however does this mean they have more germs on average than your typical work shoes? We wanted to find out and looked at shoes worn for both occasions. The results proved both environments had their pros and cons, as the shoes worn to the office had less bacteria on the sole but more on the upper and vice versa for the night out shoes. It seems the office is a better environment for keeping the soles germ-free and the night out setting of bars and clubs better for keeping the upper clean (as long as you don’t spill any drinks on them).

office party shoes heels

Suede or Leather?

suede v leather boots petri dish
Suede (left) vs leather (right)

Suede is one of those fabrics that can be tricky to clean and we all know that opting for the wrong cleaning materials can result in ruining the material which, let’s face it, could lead to some suede shoe owners not cleaning their footwear frequently. When compared against leather boots, the suede boots were found to have a greater variety of germs present on the upper, reconfirming that leather is the easier material to keep clean. This makes sense as leather can be much more easily wiped down, whereas suede takes a little more know-how to keep in optimum condition.

sole suede boots
Suede boots
leather boots sole
Leather boots

Heels or flats?

heels vs flats bacteria petri dish
Heels (left) vs flats (right)

The soles of heeled shoes can vary, as with flats, so we looked at staple styles for each to test for germs. There was bacteria found on both soles of the heels and flats, in similar varieties, which tells use there is little difference in whether heels or flats are easier to keep clean (so no need to ditch your heels just yet). This could be more to do with the materials versus the structure of the shoe itself. Previous tests showed that the fabric makes the most difference in how much dirt and bacteria is held on the shoe, as well as the conditions worn in.

heels vs flats

Upper or sole?

suede leather boots

Unsurprisingly the bottom of most shoes tested had more variety and quantity of germs versus the uppers. Some of our tested shoes had both bacteria and fungi on the bottom, with the odd case of mould (gross, we know). As you walk outside it’s expected the soles of your shoes may pick up some germs, just be sure to avoid tracking them back into the house and cleaning your shoes regularly to avoid spreading any germs.

So, are you tempted to clean your shoes more often? We certainly are!

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