Why Do People Around the World Take Their Shoes Off at Home?

Woman dressed in business look entering home and taking off her higheel, right foot.

The custom of removing one's shoes when entering the home has been around since ancient times and still continues today. (Image: monkeybusiness via Envato Elements)

Wearing shoes in someone’s home can be a sign of respect or an insult depending on the culture. This is because it is customary for people to take their shoes off when entering a private residence, but it may not always be appropriate to do so.

Where did the custom to take off shoes originate?

The custom of removing one’s shoes when entering the home has been around since ancient times and still continues today. In many cultures, such as Japan and Korea, there are specific rules that dictate how you should behave with your footwear in someone else’s house.

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For example, some Japanese homes have designated shoe storage areas near the entrance; they may also provide slippers for guests who choose to remove their outdoor footwear before stepping on the mat inside the door.

The Japanese custom of taking off shoes before entering a house kicked off around the Heian period in A.D. 794-1192. It started in the upper class of that era and eventually spread to other classes.

Why people take their shoes off in Germany

In Germany people also take their shoes off. According to German etiquette, guests take off their shoes before entering a home. This is especially important when attending someone’s house in rural areas because the floors are often made of dirt.

According to German etiquette, guests take their shoes off before entering a home.
According to German etiquette, guests take their shoes off before entering a home. (Image: Chernetskaya via Dreamstime)

It’s also considered rude for people not to take their shoes off or wear dirty footwear indoors because it could track dirt and debris into the house.

How to know when to take your shoes off

The real question is whether or not it’s appropriate to take your shoes off when entering someone else’s home if you are visiting from another country where this isn’t the custom.

There are some countries that consider removing footwear indoors disrespectful, while others see leaving shoes on as impolite.

In Japan, the custom is to take your shoes off before entering a home because they wear slippers indoors.

Unique no shoes on at home culture in Korea

In Korea, the main reason people take their shoes off is due to their unique heating system, ondol. It influenced the Korean culture immensely and gave rise to a lifestyle of sitting on the floor, sleeping on the floor, and spending general leisure time on the floor.

Young Asian couple laying on the floor listening to music through headphones and smiling.
Heated floors in Korea gave rise to a lifestyle of sitting on the floor, sleeping on the floor, and spending general leisure time on the floor. (Image: Milkos via Dreamstime)

In Western countries, especially in the U.S., it is most common to heat homes using a gas or electric furnace.

In Europe, especially Germany, floor heating is very common, and just like in Korea because of the ondol floor heating system, people generally take their shoes off at home to keep the floor clean and hygienic.

What is the ideal floor for walking barefoot?

Many people wonder about whether walking barefoot at home is health-friendly or not. It really depends on the floor material in your home, the climate, and the temperature.

Flooring experts recommend the following underfoot materials for your own home:

  1. Real wood is the best flooring if you intend to walk barefoot in your own home as this tends to be a very poor thermal conductor, especially with regard to cold. This makes wood comfortably warm underfoot compared to tiles or concrete.
  2. Cork flooring is said to be even warmer than wood. It mimics the look of wood and has a gentle springy sensation to it.
  3. Vinyl and linoleum with felt or cork underlayment are at the bottom end of the price scale but still offer a cozy feel underfoot.
Closeup of a young father and daughter's bare feet standing on a hardwood floor.
There is a wide range of flooring options that should keep you comfortable if you prefer walking barefoot at home. (Image: halfpoint via Envato Elements)

One should be mindful and respectful when visiting somewhere new. There are many different traditions, and being considerate or even asking upfront can prevent any mutual discomfort, because it’s important to respect traditions — especially when you are invited into someone’s home!

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