Myth or Fact: You Should Take Off Your Outdoor Clothes When You Enter Your House

We defer to the medical experts

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Your sister-in-law insists on changing out of her denims and into her sweatpants every time she enters the house, while your husband thinks it’s ridiculous. And now it’s become the great debate: Is it OK to enter your home without taking off your outdoor clothes? Germaphobes are clear—the answer is absolutely not. But if we wash our hands and take off our shoes, is there any merit to this additional (and hygiene-focused) step? We asked a couple of medical experts about the pros and cons of this approach.

Meet the Experts

Dr. Vani George, D.O., is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. There, she serves as a full-time faculty attending in the Division of Infection Diseases at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

Dr. Azza Halim is a multi-specialist physician and board-certified anesthesiologist, who is based in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is also a national speaker and educator.

1. The Risks of Wearing Outdoor Clothes Inside Are Low

According to Dr. George, it’s much more important to wash your hands when returning home from being outdoors to prevent the spread of illnesses than it is to change out of your outdoor clothes. “The concern for acquiring germs outdoors is well-founded, however, our clothing poses less risk than our hands,” she explains. “As long as you are washing your clothes often, they don’t pose much of a threat to you if you continue to wear them indoors.”

She does admit there’s a bit of a sliding scale when it comes to the risks posed by keeping your outdoor clothes on. “Traveling through a crowded subway or airport, where there are many people jammed in small spaces will pose more of a risk than going for a quick trip to a relatively less crowded grocery store,” Dr. George says. Still, if you’re worried about germ exposure, wearing a mask is going to offer higher protection than changing from your outdoor clothes. “The more crowded the place, the more likely it is that you will be exposed to pathogens, especially those which transmit by respiratory droplets, which is where a mask comes in—especially during peak respiratory viral illness season.”

2. It’s Much Worse to Keep Your Shoes on Inside

Dr. Halim and Dr. George are in agreement here: Keeping outdoor shoes on inside your home is a no-no when it comes to germ spread. “Wearing outdoor shoes inside your home is definitely unhygienic and harbors a lot of bacteria,” Dr. Halim says. Here’s why: Shoes are in direct contact with soil and the ground, which can harbor conspicuous debris as well as microscopic pathogens. “While there is no good evidence that shows taking your shoes off will lead to prevention of infections, it is reasonable to consider their removal at the door, even more so if you have a young baby or child at home as they are mainly crawling and inadvertently picking up and eating things off the floor,” Dr. George adds. (Frequent floor and carpet cleaning is also recommended whether you leave your outdoor shoes at the door or not.)

3. Removing Outdoor Clothing Can Be Helpful for Allergy-Sufferers

Given that things like pollen or dust can cling to your clothes, changing out of your outdoor clothes can be helpful in that regard when you re-enter your home space. “I’d say this might be a top reason to change out of outdoor clothing once home,” Dr. Halim says. (Dr. Halim is also adamant that your bed should be a safe space and should never be laid on with outdoor clothes due to the risk of allergens, yes, but also any outdoor contaminant.)

Still, as far as bacteria goes, there are other common household objects that pose a much greater risk when it comes to cleanliness and germs. “Many things can harbor bacteria and viruses,” according to Dr. George. “It’s more important to clean and wipe down the countertop before serving food to prevent the spread of infection.” Other items you should regularly clean and disinfect? Your cell phone, keys and your work badge—any item you use daily and often.

Bottom Line

Post-pandemic, cleanliness and hygiene continues to be top of mind. It’s never a bad thing to swap your clothes, but the odds of bacteria and infectious diseases being transmitted via textiles is quite low. The best defense of all continues to be one of simplest? Wash your hands.

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Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...