Been putting off washing your climbing gear?
We all have that well-used piece of climbing gear that we never quite get around to cleaning.
Maybe it’s a quickdraw you spilled sticky coffee on.
The rope you took to Indian Creek–twice–or your sweat stained harness.
Perhaps you’ve got a pair of climbing shoes that smell so bad they could probably kill Corona Virus.
Maybe you’ve got all that and more.
Whatever it is, this down time offers you the opportunity to return some of the love that your gear has given to you over the years.
Besides, cleaning your gear not only freshens it up but helps it last longer and perform better.
Find your gear in the table of contents below (click the titles to skip ahead) and let’s get fresh!
What better time than now for some belated spring cleaning!
Let’s take a look at how to wash all your climbing gear including harnesses, ropes, cams, carabiners, and more.
Table Of Contents (click the titles to skip ahead):
Washing Your Climbing Gear
For the majority of climbing gear there are a few general washing guidelines, keep these in mind as you read on:
- Never use detergent or solvents
- Gentle dish or body soaps (diluted) work best
- Avoid washing machines
- Allow gear to dry 150% before use
- Inspect gear before and after washing
- Check manufacturers’ suggestions first
The right climbing harness is like an old friend; comfortable and reliable.
As rock climbers we put our harnesses through the ringer everyday.
Keeping them clean and inspecting your harness regularly will help it last longer to keep you safer.
Always remember, however, even well cared for harnesses should be retired on a regular basis as per manufacturer guidelines.
In general, this means ~1 year for well-used harnesses, ~1-3 years for occasionally used harnesses, and ~10 years for never used harnesses.
These are suggestions and dependent on storage, care, and use by you.
How To Clean A Climbing Harness
All the important parts of a harness are made of nylon webbing or similar.
Nylon is a very durable material but should never be exposed to acids, cleaners, corrosive materials, solvents or oils.
If your harness has come in contact with any of these substances consider retiring it.
Now this may sound like common sense, but if you feel your harness needs washing, try simply rinsing it in luke-warm water first.
Modern materials shed dirt well. You’d be surprised what a quick rinse can do.
Additionally, if your harness is so dirty or worn that you feel it needs washing, you should also inspect it for wear and/or damage.
Sometimes, a harness just needs to be retired rather than being washed.
Ensure that you know he difference.
Hand Washing Your Harness
If a quick rinse doesn’t do the trick you may need a bit of soap and elbow grease.
Try to get a dedicated large storage bin or large bucket (you can use this to hand wash all your nylon gear like ropes, slings, cam-webbing, etc).
You can use a bathtub or large sink as well. Just be sure there is no chemical or substance residue left from previous use.
Additionally, once everything is dry, you can use the same container to store your gear in a protected environment.
Ensure the bin or bucket is brand new (or you are 100% certain it has never come into contact with corrosive substances) then rinse it thoroughly before use.
1. Fill the bin with cool-warm (max. ~30°C/80°F) water, then dunk your harness, agitating it gently as you do so.
2. Add a small amount of soap. Manufacturers generally agree that use of a mild soap is ok (diluted Dawn or similar). But DO NOT use detergent and always check with the specific manufacturer before proceeding.
Generally, they say any soap that you would regularly use on your skin is ok for nylon.
3. Remove the harness from the dirty water, gently rinse, fill the container with clean water, agitate harness and rinse again.
If using a mild soap, ensure you have rinsed it completely from the harness.
4. Allow to air-dry COMPLETELY away from direct sunlight.
Can You Machine Wash A Climbing Harness?
Black Diamond and Petzl both say that it’s ok to machine wash their harnesses as long as you follow their guidelines.
Here are Petzl’s suggestions for machine washing your climbing harness:
- Wash in lukewarm water at ~30°C/80°F
- Ensure neutral water ph
- Use delicate-synthetic cycle WITHOUT spin
- Wash harness inside a large cloth bag
- Use only mild soaps such as face or body soaps
- DO NOT use laundry detergents, solvents, stain removers/degreasers, bleach, etc.
- DO NOT use high-pressure water sprayers
- Allow to completely air dry away from chemicals and UV light
If you are going to machine wash your harness, always place it in a cloth bag or pillow case first.
This will keep it from getting caught in any moving parts and reduce possible damage to or from metal buckles.
Personally, I have never machine washed my harness. Same goes for ropes—which are made out of the same nylon material.
Some manufacturers say its ok, but in my opinion your machine could still have corrosive detergents, softener, residue from the pants you wore to change your oil, or bleach in the tumbler from a previous load.
Any of this can put the integrity of your harness at risk. Ultimately, this puts you and your climbing partner at risk.
Washing Climbing Ropes
While we are on the subject of Nylon based gear, lets take a look at climbing ropes.
Ropes are made of the same nylon as webbing and harnesses. As a result, washing them is a similar process.
Allow at least 2-3 days for the entire process. Read on to learn why.
And remember, one of the best ways to prevent your rope from getting dirty in the first place is using a rope bag whenever possible.
Wet Ropes Are Weak
Before explaining how to wash your rope, it is important to mention how water affects your ropes strength and why you need to be so meticulous about drying.
Tests have shown that even a damp rope has similar reduction in strength to a fully soaked rope.
Further, if you do fall on or weight a wet rope it will damage easier. Then, when dry, that damage puts you at increased risk for rope malfunction.
Wet ropes are weak.
Always allow them to dry 150% before use. This may take many days so schedule that in before you start washing a climbing rope.
Best Soaps To Use To Clean A Climbing Rope
NEVER use detergents or solvents like bleach or stain removers.
As a general rule, anything you wouldn’t regularly wash your own skin with is not safe for your rope.
As mentioned, you can use diluted gentle soaps like dawn or a soft body wash.
The more gentle the better. Baby shampoos and soaps are also a good option (not baby oil).
However, if you want to be on the safe side, many rope manufacturers make their own rope cleaners.
Here are a few examples from top rope brands:
Sterling Wicked Good Rope Wash
Beal Rope Cleaner
How To Clean A Climbing Rope
There are two schools of thought on cleaning ropes.
Some people put their ropes in a washing machine. At Crux Range we do not recommend this. More on this later.
The more gentle and controlled option is to wash your rope like you wash a harness:
- Get a large-clean bucket or bin
- Add cool to lukewarm water (~30°C/80°F)
- Add a small amount of gentle face soap or dish soap
- Uncoil your rope and flake it out into the water
- Gently agitate the rope in the water
- Dunk portions of it up and down in the water
- Let it soak for 15-20 minutes
- Remove the rope and dump the dirty water
- Add new clean-soap-free water
- Repeat the process of dunking and agitating
- Let it soak for another 15-20 minutes
Repeat the process as needed. Extra dirty ropes will need at least a few cycles.
Allowing the rope to soak for a bit before dumping the water will help dirt and sand settle to the bottom of the container.
This way, it is less likely to catch dirt as you remove it from the water.
As with harnesses, you could also use a bath tub or large sink. Before using it for your rope, be certain it is free of residue from any substances you might have previously used in there.
Tip: Washing is the perfect time to inspect your gear. As you flake your rope into the water, inspect it for core-shots, flat spots, cuts, or other imperfections. Do the same when flaking out to dry.
Check out this old infographic from Beal showing you a few things to look for when inspecting your rope.
And a quick video from REI showing the basics of rope inspection.
Rinsing is an important step in washing your rope.
Any soap residue left on the rope will attract dirt like crazy and may contribute to wear.
Always rinse until you are certain all soap residue is removed.
Can You Put A Climbing Rope In The Washing Machine?
Now, if you insist on putting your rope in the washing machine, know that it is a risk.
Before starting, ALWAYS run your empty machine without any soaps, detergents, or chemicals through 1-2 cycles on hot.
You want to be certain any harmful residues left from previous washes are flushed out.
Here the steps followed by more detail:
- Rinse washing machine thoroughly
- Inspect, flake out, and daisy chain rope
- Place rope along sides of the machine drum
- Put the rope in a large pillowcase or similar to reduce wear and kinking
- Wash on cool/lukewarm (~30°C/80°F)
- Use a small amount of gentle soap (NO detergent, solvent, cleaners, etc.)
- Extra rinse
- Remove and undo daisy chain
- Inspect and flake out
- Allow to dry COMPLETELY
First, you will need to daisy chain your rope. Inspect your rope as shown above for imperfections as you daisy chain.
Here is a helpful video for those who are not familiar with daisy chaining.
Find the mid point of your rope and start your daisy chain from there.
Even if your machine is totally free of potentially damaging chemicals the motion of the agitater and spin can turn your rope into a mangled-coil laden mess.
Daisy chaining the rope and placing it in a pillow case helps reduce twisting and knotting.
Another concern to be aware of; washing machines may have sharp edges or exposed metal. Do not wash your rope in a machine like this.
And never wash your rope in a public washing machine or landromat.
There is no way to know what chemicals have been put into those washers during their lifetimes.
Washing in a laundromat may expose your rope to harmful substances.
If not using a pillow case, lay your daisy-chained rope into the machine drum along the edges. This will help keep it away from the central agitater and reduce potential for tangling.
Wash at a cool-luke-warm temperature—max ~30°C/80°F.
Use the most gentle cycle on your machine and add an extra rinse if possible.
Undo your daisy chain and flake it onto a clean tarp. Re-inspect it as you do so for possible imperfections or damage.
Drying Your Rope
DO NOT put your rope in a dryer.
Repeat: NEVER EVER put your climbing rope into a drying machine.
Never use artificial heat like a blow dryer, drying machine, or heater.
Ropes should always be air-dried. Depending on the environment where you live, it could take anywhere from 24 hours to many days for your rope to completely dry.
The best hang-dry option would be a clothes line or similar.
Loop your rope over the line from one end to the other. Ideally, no part of the rope will overlap or touch another piece of rope.
For people who are able to hang their rope outside, this is a good opportunity to give it one more full rinse.
Another option is to use a large-clean tarp.
Flake your rope out in wave-like loops or a large spiral.
The important part is avoiding overlaps.
When your rope feels dry, flip it over or re-flake it and wait longer.
Feel sections of the rope in your hands. The outside might feel dry while the core is still squishy and damp.
Press a few sections between your fingers with force. If you feel any moisture it needs more time.
Always allow nylon gear to dry 150% before use.
Don’t forget, nylon can lose between 40-70% of its strength when wet.
Do You Need A Rope Brush?
Rope brushes are cylindrical brushes that you run along the length of your rope.
You feed one end of your rope through the tube then flake it through for the entire length.
They work, but you don’t necessarily need them.
Try the dunk and agitate method above a few times. You can gently rub together sections of rope while its underwater to help remove dirt.
After, if you still feel its not clean, then try a rope brush like the Beal Rope Brush on your next wash.
How To Wash A Dry Treated Rope
One question that often comes up is how to wash a dry treated rope.
The process is exactly the same.
People often say their dry treated rope feels worse and seems to attract more dirt after they wash it for the first time.
This is normal.
Dry treatments are chemical washes rope fibers are put through during the manufacturing process. The treatment helps repel water but it also helps seal out dirt; ultimately making your rope more durable.
You can see that in this old video from Mammut testing rope abrasion resistance. The dry treated rope significantly outperforms the other two ropes.
Dry treatments are not permanent and naturally wear over time regardless of care.
Washing a rope will remove a lot of the dry treatment so your rope will naturally feel different and get dirty more easily.
Once a dry treatment has worn off your rope, for any reason, be cautious about using it in wet or freezing environments.
How To Clean Smelly Climbing Shoes
Let’s face it, climbing shoes stink.
Unless you wear socks while climbing it is near impossible to keep your shoes from smelling like a wet skunk.
Truth is, once your shoes do get stinky (and they will) you will never be fully rid of the smell.
Don’t trust products that tell you they can completely eliminate shoe smell. It’s possible to reduce it by a lot, but complete elimination is a tall tale.
Still there are a few things you can do to help prevent the smell from setting in and lessen its otherworldly power once it arrives in your favorite pair of climbing shoes.
Why Do Climbing Shoes Get So Stinky?
Grossly enough, the cause of smelly shoes or gym clothes is tiny bacteria.
Those little organisms love dark, wet, and warm environments.
Did you know the average foot sweats ~8 oz/200 mls in a day?
Multiple that by the climbing sweats and you’ve got some moist shoes.
Climbing shoes are the perfect incubator for bacteria!
So, to stop bacteria from finding a home we need to keep the inside of our shoes as dry and cool as possible.
Preventing & Combating Climbing Shoe Smell
As with anything in life, prevention is the best medicine.
Here are a few key things you can do to help prevent bacteria from colonizing your shoes:
- Keep them out of your pack
- Wear socks (not an option for most climbers)
- Place absorbent inserts after each use
- Anti-bacterial sprays
- UV Light
It is best to remove climbing shoes from your pack as often as possible–this goes for most climbing gear.
Leaving shoes and other gear in your pack over night or for days after use is the perfect opportunity for locked in moisture to breed destructive bacteria.
If you can, leave your climbing shoes outside after each use.
Cool air and sunlight will help disinfect them or at least slow bacterial growth, but be aware of the extra wear and tear UV light can cause.
Wearing socks with climbing shoes is not common practice. They can slip or roll when on an edge and generally decrease performance.
Still, some people swear by socks with their climbing shoes.
Next time you are at a gym or bouldering give it a try.
While not for everybody, wearing socks with your climbing shoes will greatly reduce the progression of shoe stink.
If you haven’t heard of Boot Bananas, get some!
They’re are a home grown company from the UK—one of the founders is a climber.
Boot Bananas are almost as cheap as making them yourself and they have convenient carry loops with a tiny carabiner to clip on packs and make them easier to remove from shoes.
Deodorizing inserts absorb moisture which starves bacteria.
They won’t outright kill nasty bacteria but they work to deprive it of the moisture needed for its survival.
So if you start using them from the beginning the chance of your shoes getting smelly in the first place is greatly diminished.
Don’t like the bright yellow bananas? There are plenty of similar options.
Try to get an insert with ‘bamboo-charcoal.’ This has superior absorption qualities to other charcoals.
DIY Deodorizing Shoe Inserts
Want to make your own deodorizing climbing shoe inserts?
It’s simple and inexpensive.
Here’s what you need:
- 2 old nylons/dress socks/old chalk-ball-bag
- Corn starch
- Baking soda
- Lavender and/or tea tree oil
- Ground coffee (optional)
- Get a large bowl or bucket.
- Add equal parts corn starch and baking soda (add a few spoons of ground coffee for scent if desired). Sprinkle in 3-5 drops of scented oil.
- Mix it all together.
- Scoop the mixture into the sock or nylon etc. and tie off the top (if using nylons you may need to double them up).
- Place them in your shoes and let the magic happen.
If you can get your hands on bulk bamboo-charcoal mix it in equally with the other ingredients.
Climbing gyms and bowling alleys use chemicals like Lysol or similar for disinfecting their rental shoes.
You can do the same with your climbing shoes but if you want something a little more natural and easy to find try essential oils.
A mixture of either Lavender or Lemon Oil with Tea Tree Oil works best.
All three are said to have anti-bacterial properties with Tea Tree being the most powerful.
Get a small spray bottle like and mix in ~10-15 drops of oil with water.
You can play with the amount of oil as you prefer. Tea Tree is strong on the nose so start low and add as tolerated.
Give your shoes a few sprays after each climbing session and allow them to air dry.
Note: Essential oils may be damaging to some materials. Do not store spray bottles in your bag near other climbing gear such as harnesses or ropes.
For those of you looking for a more hi-tech solution to climbing shoe funk, try a UV Light Deodorizer.
As mentioned above, natural sunlight can kill bacteria. Artificial UV light has the same murderous capabilities.
Cleaning Climbing Carabiners
Climbing carabiners are simple pieces of equipment that make modern rock climbing possible.
While it is rare for them to malfunction carabiner gates sometimes get clogged with dirt making them sticky or sluggish.
While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, take a look at the weight ratings on the spine of your carabiner.
Their strength is dramatically decreased when the gate is not fully closed.
A sticky gate that doesn’t close all the way or closes very slowly puts you at risk.
Any carabiner with a gate that won’t fully close should be retired.
Remember, prevention is the best strategy.
Dirty ropes will wear down carabiners more quickly. Follow the suggestions above to keep your rope clean.
How To Clean A Climbing Carabiner
Cleaning a sticky carabiner is a quick and easy task.
Here is what you need:
- Hot soapy water
- Old toothbrush
- Lubricant (Teflon is best)
- Compressed air (not required)
First, before you start cleaning your carabiners, inspect them for wear and tear.
Important things to look for are cracks, burs, deformities, or sharp edges.
If you note any cracks, immediately retire that piece of gear.
Burs can be ok but remember that they are signs of wear and should be tolerated with caution.
Used fine grain sandpaper (220-360+ grit) to gently sand down any burs or small nicks.
If the bur doesn’t sand down flush with minimal effort than it is too deep and the carabiner should be considered damaged. Do not over-sand.
Well used carabiners can have deformities from the rope running over them so much. This usually happens with rappel biners or ones you use for top rope anchors.
Check the spine and carabiner shape to ensure there are no bends or small twists in the shape.
Hot Soapy Water
The best method we have found for this, which also works for cleaning cams, is to place an old metal pot filled about halfway on a camp stove at low.
Add a few drops of gentle dish or body soap, swish it around, and wait for the water to get hot but not boiling.
You don’t need super hot water. Water that’s too hot to dip your finger in, its too hot.
If you have compressed air, give the working parts a few sprays opening and closing the carabiner gate as you spray the joints/hinges with air.
Now dip the carabiner in the water swishing it around as you open and close the gate a few time.
Take it out and use your toothbrush to scrub in between the spring and joints/hinges.
Put it back in the water, swish it around as you open and close the gate, then brush again.
You should start to see small dirt particles collecting on the bottom of the pot.
Repeat this process until the action starts feeling smoother.
Once your carabiner is opening and closing properly, shake it out and allow it to air dry completely.
If you have compressed air, give the joints a few shots as you open and close the gate.
The next step is to add lubricant. Lubricant reduces friction on the moving parts of the carabiner but it also helps seal out dirt and moisture.
Ensuring your carabiner and springs are fully dry ensures the lubricant will work properly.
Its best to have a two sided toothbrush or two separate toothbrushes. One for cleaning and one for lubricant.
This will make your cleaning process more effective and time efficient.
Add a few drops of lubricant to the springs and joints of your carabiner.
Clean your toothbrush, make sure its dry, and use it to get the lubricant into all the small crevices of the carabiner.
Work the gate back and forth a few times then use your brush to work the lubricant further into the joints/spinrgs/hinges.
Wipe away any excess with a clean rag.
Can You Use WD-40 On Climbing Gear?
Technically yes, you can use WD-40 to lube your carabiners and cams. But keep in mind that WD-40 is oil based; not great.
Oil based lubricants attract and hold dirt. This will turn your freshly cleaned gear into gunked up junk in no time.
A better choice is ceramic or Teflon based lubricants (often called ‘dry’ lubricants) like those often used for bicycle chains.
If you want something more official, Metolius has its own proprietary wax-based gear lubricant.
In our experience Teflon or ceramic lubes works better.
How To Clean Climbing Cams
Cam care and maintenance is important. Sticky cam lobes can be very dangerous.
Your cam’s ability to stick in a crack when weighted is dependent on it’s lobes moving freely so that they can press against the walls of the crack.
When placed, a sticky or sluggish lobe may not fully contact the crack walls.
This can cause two big problems:
- The cam will walk more easily as you move past and above it.
- When weighted in a fall the cam may fail
Cleaning your cams is similar to how manufacturers recommended cleaning carabiners.
Here is what you need:
- Hot soapy water
- Old toothbrush
- Lubricant (silicone is best)
- Compressed air (not required)
- Cleaning Your Cams Step By Step
1. Fill an old metal pot half way with water.
Put a few drops of dish soap or body soap and swish it around.
Bring it to hot but do not boil. If its too hot for your fingers its too hot for your cams.
If you have compressed air, give you cam lobes a few shots while pulling opening and closing them with the trigger.
2. Now place your cam lobes into the water and gently swish them around while opening and closing the lobes.
Be careful not to get the cam’s webbing wet (if you do get soapy water on the webbing you will want to wash it thoroughly—more on that below).
3. Take the cam out of the water and scrub in-between the lobes with your toothbrush.
Open and close the lobes as you clean.
Put it back in the water gently agitating it and moving the lobes through their full range of motion.
Take it out, brush, and repeat until they are moving smoothly.
Allow your cams to dry completely before moving onto lubricating the springs and joints.
4. Similar to carabiners, a Teflon or wax lubricant like Metolius’ is recommended for climbing cams.
Again, climbing companies make official cam lubricants for this but a high-quality Teflon bicycle lubricant works similarly.
Brush a few drops of Teflon lubricant between the cam lobes and into the springs. Be sure to brush with the lobes fully extended and fully retracted.
Check the action and repeat as necessary.
5. Wipe off any excess lubricant.
If you have the time. Allow your cams to sit a few hours after cleaning. Then go back and test each one. You may need to add a drop more lube to get them working smoothly.
Additionally, this will allow excess fluid to drip off so it doesn’t grease up your fingers or the crack next time you’re trying to redpoint The Phoenix.
Here’s an original stone master, Beth Rodden, to guide you through the process:
Cleaning Slings & Quickdraws
Cleaning your slings and quickdraws is done the same way as cleaning your harness.
Follow the instructions above.
For quickdraws, remove the carabiners and wash them separately from the webbing portion.
Slings and quickdraws are made of nylon (Dyneema is a bit different but still a thermal plastic like nylon—cleaning guidelines may vary for Dyneema).
Always allow them to DRY COMPLETELY before use or risk equipment failure.
Climbing gear care and maintenance isn’t always top of our lists for things to do but its worth the effort.
Keeping your gear fresh and functioning will help it last longer and keep you safer.
Besides, most of us are stuck inside right now anyway. What better time for some full on gear washing?
ALWAYS inspect your gear as you are cleaning. Any damaged or worn gear should be retired from use.
Lets quickly review what we covered in this article:
- How to wash a climbing harness?
Use cool-lukewarm water with a gentle soap (diluted dish soap or body soap) in a large bin or bath tub.
Agitate the harness gently in the water.
Remove, rinse, and repeat until all soap residue is removed.
Allow to air-dry COMPLETELY before use.
NEVER use detergents, solvents, stain removers, or bleach.
Ensure that the container or tub you are washing in is 100% free of residue from any other substances.
- How do you wash a climbing rope?
Climbing ropes can be washed in a machine but better practice is to wash by hand in a large bin or bathtub.
Whether using a machine or not, always ensure that the container you are washing in is 100% free of residue from other substances.
For a machine, run a few cycles without any additives to rinse the machine.
Wash in cool-lukewarm water with a gentle-diluted soap like dish soap or baby shampoo.
Gently agitate the rope in the water being certain to address the entire length of the rope.
Allow to soak for 15-20 minutes before removing from water to allow dirt to settle.
Flake the rope out on a clean tarp or clothes lines, allowing it to air-dry away from direct sunlight.
Ropes must be 150% dry from inside to out before use.
A wet rope will lose a significant amount of strength.
NEVER put a climbing rope in a dryer or use any form of external heat to dry.
- How to clean stinky climbing shoes?
Climbing shoes stink because of bacteria that grows and collects inside the warm and moist environment.
Start with prevention by using moisture absorbing shoe deodorizers like Boot Bananas and keeping your shoes out of your bag as often as possible.
Climbing shoes can be put in the washing machine but be aware this may damage them or alter the fit and probably won’t fully get the smell out.
Use antibacterial sprays like Tea Tree oil after each use.
For a more techy solution, UV light deodorizers also work well.
- How to clean carabiners?
Spray the joints and hinges with compressed air to remove dirt.
Place the carabiner in warm-hot water agitating it in the water as you open and close the gate.
Remove from the water and gently scrub the springs and hinges with a clean brush.
Allow to dry then add a small amount of Teflon or wax based lubricant, working it in with a clean brush.
Wipe off any excess lubricant.
- How do you clean cams for climbing?
Cleaning cams is similar to cleaning carabiners.
Spray with compressed air as you open and close the lobes.
Agitate in hot water as you open and close the lobes.
Remove from water and scrub between the lobes and springs with a clean brush.
Allow to air dry completely then add a few drops of Teflon or wax based lubricant to the springs and hinges.
Work the lube in with a clean-dry brush as you open and close the lobes.
Wipe off any excess lubricant.
- How to wash slings and quickdraws?
Washing slings and quickdraws should be done the same way as hand washing a rope or harness.
For quickdraws, remove the carabiners from the webbing before starting.
Gently agitate them in cool-lukewarm water with diluted dish soap or a gentle body soap.
Rinse completely ensuring all soap residue is removed.
Allow to COMPLETELY air-dry before use.
That’s it for washing climbing gear.
We hope that helped and you are staying safe and clean out there.
When is the last time you washed your climbing gear?