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How to clean a climbing rope: essential kit care

Close up of chalky hands tying a climbing rope in a knot
Between rubbing up against the rock, your chalky hands and the murky inside of your backpack, your climbing rope is bound to become grimey over time (Image credit: Ken Redding)

Whether you’re cleaning your hiking boots after a muddy tramp or washing your tent after a long summer, keeping your outdoor gear clean makes sure it functions well, and perhaps nowhere is this more true – or important – than with your climbing rope. You want your rope to be in optimal condition at all times since your life depends on it when you’re hanging off a cliff, so knowing how to clean a climbing rope should be an essential part of your climbing kit care. 

Why do you need to clean your climbing rope? 

A climber beginning his descent

When dirt builds up, it can make your rope stiffen up, which impacts its performance and your safety (Image credit: Ascent Xmedia)

Between rubbing up against the rock, your chalky hands and the murky inside of your backpack, your climbing rope is bound to become grimey over time. When this dirt builds up, it can make your rope stiffen up, which impacts its performance and your safety. A clean rope will perform better and last longer, which as you know is a priority for any pricey piece of kit. 

When should you clean your climbing rope? 

Close up of a climber's hands belaying partner

If you’ve noticed that your hands are black after handling your rope, it’s time to give it a clean (Image credit: Aaron Black)

If you’ve noticed that your hands are black after handling your rope, it’s time to give it a clean. Though there are some that say that your climbing rope can be machine washed, we find that hand washing your rope is actually less time consuming and if done properly, less likely to cause damage to your rope. 

How to clean a climbing rope 

A climber stands with his rope over his shoulder and mountains in the background

A clean rope will perform better and last longer, which as you know is a priority for any pricey piece of kit (Image credit: Buena Vista Images)

Naturally, you want to make sure you don’t inflict any damage to your rope when you clean it, so if you do decide to go for the machine wash option, we recommend that you follow the rope maker’s guidance to a T. 

For a safer approach, here we outline how to hand wash your climbing rope. All you need is some warm water and a large tub, and you may optionally choose to use a cleaner specifically designed for climbing ropes, however this is not essential. Never use soap or regular detergent as this may damage your climbing rope. You may also be interested in our guide to how to clean rock climbing shoes

1. Prepare the tub 

Fill your bathtub or a large sink with warm (not hot) water. If you’re using rope cleaner, add it according to the instructions on the bottle. 

2. Clean the climbing rope 

Place the entire rope in the water and swish it around. Pull the rope through your hands to encourage the dirt and grime to loosen. You can also inspect your rope for any fraying or damage here. Depending on how much use your rope has had, the water may become quite dirty and you may need to repeat this step several times. 

3. Rinse the climbing rope 

If you use a rope cleaner, you’ll want to empty the tub, refill it with clean water and give the rope a good rinse. If you’re not using rope cleaner, perform these same steps until the water runs clear then consider your rope both clean and rinsed.  

4. Dry the climbing rope 

Once the rope is rinsed clean, flake it out on a towel on a flat surface or hang it over a clothes horse or shower rod to dry. Make sure it is away from direct sunlight and ensure it is completely dry before packing it away for your next climbing day. 

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Adventure.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.