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How to clean a climbing harness

A rock climbing harness
We walk you through how to clean a climbing harness as well as what to do with your old harness (Image credit: gubernat)

Along with your climbing shoes and belay device, your climbing harness is the piece of kit that sees the most action. Even if you’re only climbing indoors, you need it for each climb and every time you’re on belay. Between wiping the excess climbing chalk from your hands onto it, stuffing it in your climbing backpack with all your sweaty gear and rubbing up against the rock, after a while it can start to look – and smell – a little grungy. However, because your harness is a key piece of safety equipment, you of course want to handle it with the utmost care to ensure you don’t compromise its integrity. For that reason, we walk you through how to clean a climbing harness in this article to ensure your safety.

Close up of a climber's harness loaded with gear

Because your harness is a key piece of safety equipment, you of course want to handle it with the utmost care (Image credit: Image Source)

Can I wash my harness in a washing machine?

Obviously, it’s always preferable to just chuck your smelly gear in the washing machine, but we do not recommend using a washing machine to clean a climbing harness. Though some brands do say that their harnesses can be washed on a gentle cycle, if you have a top-loading machine, the agitator could erode the webbing of your harness. If you insist on using your washing machine, make sure it’s a front loading machine and follow the manufacturer's instructions, which should specify a gentle cycle with no spin.

A person starting a washing mahine

We don't recommend using a washing machine to clean a climbing harness (Image credit: Westend61)

How to clean a climbing harness

The safest way to clean a climbing harness is by hand, but don’t worry, the process is quite simple. If you can no longer stand the sight and smell of your harness, grab some mild dish soap and follow these steps:

  • Rinse your harness in lukewarm water – this may be enough to get it clean.
  • If more cleaning is needed, add a squirt of mild dish soap to a sink full of lukewarm water and use a brush to gently scrub your harness clean.
  • Rinse your harness again to remove the soapy residue.
  • Lay your harness out on a towel or some newspaper to air dry away from direct sunlight.

How many years does a climbing harness last?

Washing your harness is a good time to inspect it for damage. Even if you don’t clean it, you should check your climbing harness regularly for signs of wear and tear and replace it immediately if you spot any fraying. If you don’t climb too often, the general specification from manufacturers is that even without any signs of wear, you should retire your harness after seven years. However, if you climb regularly you can expect to have to replace it sooner.

A climber using chalk before climbing

Even without any signs of wear, you should retire your harness after seven years (Image credit: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd)

What can I do with an old climbing harness?

Because it’s a piece of safety equipment, unfortunately charity shops won’t be able to take a climbing harness even if it’s in good condition and so far, outdoor gear shops aren’t recycling them. If it's in good shape but you’re just no longer using it, you can keep it to loan to your friends. If it’s no longer safe to use, one idea that we love is to use it to organize your climbing gear. You can clip your carabiners, quickdraws, cams and nuts to it and either string it up on the wall of your garage or carry it to the crag in your climbing backpack, around your west or diagonally across your torso like a sling.

Julia Clarke
Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.