Most debris on the ground is not hazardous to bare feet

People who don’t go barefoot are often quick to point out that going barefoot outside of one’s home is dangerous because of all the hazardous objects sometimes found on the ground. Objects often mentioned include broken glass, nails and screws, animal poop, used hypodermic needles, and a myriad of other items that are possible on the ground or in streets or sidewalks.

Those of us who go barefoot outside regularly know from experience that these things are rarely encountered, or if so, can be easily avoided, or if not, are unlikely to do any harm to someone’s bare feet.

Small bits of broken glass strewn around are usually not hazardous to bare feet

Danger from little bits of broken glass lying around in floors or on streets and sidewalks is really overrated. Perhaps there’s a slightly greater risk for a person who normally never goes barefoot – and has very tender soles – of getting cut when stepping on broken glass while barefoot than for an experienced barefooter with tougher soles.

However, it is highly unlikely for anyone to get a cut on their bare feet from small bits of glass lying around as long as the feet aren’t shuffled or slid on the ground or other surface when walking. Letting the soles of the feet – heel first, then ball – land straight down when stepping minimizes any chance of a glass cut.

I walk on broken glass occasionally. It’s just no problem, and I never get cut. Most experienced barefooters know how to walk properly and to always be aware of where they’re stepping.

Larger shards of broken glass aren’t necessarily hazardous unless they are pointed upward

Sharp glass shards pointing upwards will indeed cut your bare feet if you step down on them. However, that condition (sharp shards sticking up) is highly unlikely to exist anywhere where people are usually walking, such as in streets or sidewalks. If any are there, you should be able to easily see them, and easily avoid them.

Usually, if there are any large pieces of broken glass lying around, they will be lying flat, which aren’t likely to cause any harm if accidentally stepped on. The image at the top of this page is an example of that.

Shoe wearers are more likely to get a nail puncture wound than barefooters

Getting a puncture wound by stepping on a nail while barefoot is possible if the sharp part of the nail is sticking straight up and the barefoot person is not paying attention to where he or she is walking.

Stepping barefoot on nails or screws strewn about and lying flat will not harm bare feet.
Stepping barefoot on nails or screws strewn about and lying flat are unlikely to harm bare feet.

Nails or screws strewn about laying flat on the ground are hardly likely to cause any injury if stepped on while barefoot.

Nails with their sharp ends sticking up out of boards will penetrate most shoes as well, so being barefoot around such conditions is no more risky than wearing shoes. In fact, someone barefoot is actually safer in some respects around such conditions than shoe wearers are.

One reason is, barefooters are naturally more aware of their surroundings and what they are about to step on than shoe wearers.

Also, if a bare foot, when stepping, accidentally comes into contact with a sharp pointy object on the ground, the barefooter immediately feels it, and often can hold up on the step before the full body weight comes down, thus avoiding significant injury.

Someone wearing shoes can feel little to nothing on the ground when stepping, so if there’s a sharp nail sticking up where a shoe wearer is stepping, they will not be able to feel the nail until it’s penetrated the shoe.

And by that time, the full force of the person’s body weight is committed to the step, with little to no way to prevent the nail from continuing to fully penetrate the person’s foot.

A nail puncture wound to bare feet is usually less problematic than a puncture wound through shoes

Stepping on a nail sticking up while barefoot is usually less harmful than stepping on one while wearing shoes. For the barefooter, this is due to the lack of additional foreign material that can enter the wound from a shoe itself.

Pointy ends of nails sticking up are dangerous to step on whether barefoot or wearing shoes. But there is more risk for infection if wearing shoes than if barefoot.
Pointy ends of nails sticking up are dangerous to step on whether barefoot or wearing shoes. But there is more risk for infection if wearing shoes than if barefoot.

If a barefoot person does puncture his or her foot with a nail, the only thing going into the foot is the nail itself. When a shoe wearer steps on a nail sticking up, not only does the nail go into his or her foot, materials from the shoe itself are often forced up into the wound along with the nail.

Depending on the shoes, this could include rubber, foam, fabric, glue, etc. In addition, any contamination that has occurred to that shoe material from the outside, such as mud or animal feces, or from the inside, such as bacteria or fungus growing inside a warm, moist shoe, could easily be forced into the wound as well.

There have been a number of observations and studies that indeed show that a puncture wound into the foot while barefoot is often less problematic that a puncture wound into the foot while wearing shoes.

One well known study, from 1997, was entitled “Soft Tissue and Bone Infections from Puncture Wounds in Children,” by Terese J. Laughlin, DPM, and others.

It reported on 44 children admitted to a hospital with infected foot puncture wounds during a 7-year period. Of the 44 children injured, 17 had been barefoot. Those that had been barefoot had significantly less soft tissue or bone infections than those who had been wearing shoes.

Animal poop is usually completely harmless to bare feet

Stepping in animal poop is certainly unpleasant, the main reason being the smell of it. No one wants to have smelly poop stuck onto their feet or between their toes if they are barefoot.

But if someone does step in it while barefoot, they immediately know it by the feel of it, and can immediately do something to remove it. That could be a quick measure, such as rubbing the foot in grass or weeds or stepping into a nearby puddle or other source of water. If one is near a soap and water source, of course that can be utilized.

If someone is wearing shoes, stepping in animal poop may not even be noticed at first, and then that poop gets embedded in the treads on shoe soles, and then tracked into the person’s car and home. When removing the shoes later, hands of course touch them, along with touching the likely remnants of the poop, which then touch many other things in the home, including other people.

So, hypothetically, if one were to have a choice of being barefoot or wearing shoes when stepping on poop, being barefoot would be the best option for the reasons stated above. Plus, ultimately, people who go barefoot wash their feet regularly, whether daily in the shower, or sometimes more often than that. Shoes are never washed. So whatever gets on shoes, generally stays on shoes.

Human hookworm infection comes from human poop, not animal

In spite of some myths and misinformation to the contrary, there is usually nothing at all in animal poop that can cause an infection by merely stepping in it or otherwise touching it.

Stepping barefoot in poop is sometimes blamed for the incidence of hookworm infection, but the fact is that human hookworm infection – almost unheard of in countries with modern sewage systems – is spread only from contact with contaminated human feces on the ground, not animal poop. See “Bare feet are unlikely to get a hookworm infection” for more information on that.

There is one type of animal hookworm, sometimes found in neglected or feral dogs and cats, that could – but rarely – penetrate the skin of humans if they are in contact with those infected animals’ poop over an extended period of time. That infection causes only a temporary skin condition, cutaneous larva migrans, not the more serious gastrointestinal infection of human hookworm infection.

Walking barefoot in the feces of other animals, such as farm animals – chickens, cows, horses, etc. – has never been found to cause any infections, parasites, or any other medical problems in humans.

Stepping on discarded hypodermic needles should be avoided, but the risk of infection is very low

Discarded used hypodermic needles have become and ever increasing problem due to careless illicit drug use in some parts of the country.

The sight of such things lying around can be very disconcerting, because people, often children, risk getting stuck by these discarded needles, raising fears that they could contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV, or be exposed to remnants of heroin or other drugs.

Don't go there. If barefoot in an area where discarded hypodermic needles are likely, carefully watch where you are stepping. Risk of infection from a needle stick, however, is quite low.
Don’t go there. If barefoot in an area where discarded hypodermic needles are likely, carefully watch where you are stepping. Risk of infection from a dirty needle stick, however, is quite low.

Many barefooters of course express the same fears, since their feet could easily be exposed if they were to inadvertently walk into an area where a discarded needle might be lying around on the ground.

However the chances of actually getting an infection from the prick of a dirty used needle on the ground are extremely low.

Joseph D’Orazio, a toxicologist and emergency medicine doctor at Temple University Hospital, has said the likelihood of getting infected with HIV or hepatitis C from a needle lying on the ground is “astronomically low.” In addition, he said it’s unlikely drug users would discard syringes still containing a significant amount of drugs.

Barefooters of course as a rule are very aware of where they are walking and what’s on the ground in the proximity of where they will be stepping. That in and of itself is the best protection from inadvertently stepping on a discarded needle and getting pricked. Of course, it goes without saying to stay away from areas where drug users are known to frequent.

Despite those precautions, and despite the fact that the chances of actually getting an infection from a discarded needle stick are extremely low, if that were to happen, the following procedures are strongly recommended by medical authorities:

      • Encourage the wound to bleed, ideally by holding it under running water.
      • Wash the wound using running water and plenty of soap.
      • Do not scrub the wound while you’re washing it.
      • Do not suck the wound.
      • Dry the wound and cover it with a waterproof dressing.
      • Seek urgent medical advice to assess your need for other treatment to reduce the risk of getting an infection. If your healthcare provider thinks you’re at low risk of infection, you may not need any treatment.

Other ‘gross’ things on the ground may be annoying, but are harmless to bare feet

Sometimes stepping on other “gross” things are mentioned as reasons for not going barefoot, such as chewing gum, discarded food items, spit, vomit, slugs, etc., as well as human waste in public restrooms. But wouldn’t someone wearing shoes be stepping on the same things when out away from home? What’s the difference?

In fact, there is a difference, but probably not what most people would be thinking. I personally certainly try to avoid stepping on such things while barefoot, obvious things that no one, shoe-wearing or barefoot, would want to step on or get stuck to their foot.

The thing is, there is a much greater chance of a shoe-wearing person stepping on those things than a barefoot person.

The obvious reason is, barefooters are much more aware of where they’re stepping. It just comes with the territory. And, in the unlikely event that a barefooter is unlucky enough to accidentally step in some undesirable substance, they immediately know it, and can immediately wash it off or take other measures to get it off their foot.

Even if such substances cannot be practically removed from bare feet right away, they do no harm by remaining there for a while until the feet can be washed later.

If you are wearing shoes, quite often you’re not even aware you’ve stepped in something “gross” until after you’ve tracked it all over the place, including your car or home.

And even then, some of the filth on your shoes may not be visible enough for you to notice, so it would just remain there forever, continually being tracked all over the place, plus probably being touched over and over by your hands as you take your shoes off or put them on.


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Gary (Barefoot Bart)

Good explanation. I get this comment all the time from people. In 15 years of heavy barefooting including hiking and running I have never punctured the bottom of my foot. I get stickers or tiny splinter in them occasionally but they come right out. I have never had any infections or any medical issues. You can’t get athletes foot when barefoot. You have to be wearing shoes that keep your feet dark and damp to grow bacteria. I have responded to others that have made derogatory remarks about my bare feet about my feet getting washed everyday and they never… Read more »

Daniele

Awesome Post. You have listed all the question that people ask me. I’m barefoot by 2 years now and only the first time I pick some little bit of broken glass (I go around with some paper in my pouch).
Today is very difficult to step on something harmful with my feet.

Kent

Great article!

Hobbit

I actually ran into the classic “board with nails” problem, quite a few years ago. It was buried in a big leaf dump area behind my house, must have been there for years. How it took over a decade of living there and yearly leaf clean-ups without finding it, no idea, but all of a sudden, OWW. I picked my foot up with the [small] board, pulled the nail out, bled it as much as I could on the spot, and then went inside for proper treatment/covering. And then right back out to keep working. And then off to the… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Hobbit
Mike

Yup. That sums up my experience pretty well. I’m a full time barefooter, and rarely pick up anything worse than a tiny sliver. The last “anything worse” was a very small glass shard which was easy to remove. This was 2 or 3 years ago.

Last edited 4 months ago by Mike
agentcasey

Today it was 92°F The sidewalk was really hot. I only felt it when I was stationary. How long until I get used to the heat and can ignore it?