You know what's really grippy? Rubber. You know what's not so grippy? Rubber coated with a layer of grime. Knowing how to clean rock climbing shoes keeps their performance high, giving you maximum traction on the crags. Keeping your shoes spick and span also avoids those nasty odors that your partner won't thank you for.
For a climber, there’s little better than the feeling of your new rock climbing shoes having perfectly moulded to your feet, giving you both grip and dexterity on the wall. But alas, the long-awaited wearing in of climbing shoes also brings with it an unwanted companion to the crag – stinky feet. Though dirtbag climbers can be so-named with good reason, knowing how to clean rock climbing shoes might make you a little more popular among your friends, and will actually help the performance of your shoes.
Meet the expert
Happiest outdoors, ideally somewhere on a mountain, Julia is one of our main gear experts. Whether running, rock climbing or hiking, she always puts her kit through the wringer and is meticulous when it comes to taking care of it afterwards.
Made of rubber and designed to fit snugly, climbing shoes are definitely going to get smelly when you’re scaling rock in them – especially if you wear them without socks, which most people do. Sweaty feet create a prime environment for bacteria to flourish in, and this process is what emits that all-too familiar funky odor. The result is shoes that aren’t too pleasant to be around, and can be a breeding ground for foot fungus.
Because rock climbing shoes look so much like slippers, it’s easy to think you can just throw them in the wash, but doing so might be a big mistake. If you don’t wash them properly, your poor climbing shoes could emerge from the machine a couple of sizes too small, a different shape and made of severely degraded rubber. That’s an expensive fix.
Now, while smelly shoes are an inevitable aspect of rock climbing, there are a few things you can do to keep them from getting so pungent so quickly. First, you can make sure your feet are clean before you wear them. Second, take them off in between climbs so you’re not spending as much time in them. And third, you can invest in some climbing shoe deodorizer to keep funky fragrances at bay.
Fortunately, when the aroma does become too much to bear, cleaning rock climbing shoes is really easy. Below, we’ve outlined the simple steps of hand washing your climbing shoes – if your rock climbing shoes are synthetic and the instructions say you can machine wash them, we strongly recommend using the gentle or delicate cycle with cool water to do so. Follow these steps and your rock climbing shoes will last longer and work better.
How to clean rock climbing shoes
Hand washing is the method we recommend, as it’s effective and unlikely to break down your shoes. It’s also cheap – all you need is some lukewarm water and an old toothbrush.
1. Rinse your rock climbing shoes
Fill a basin or sink with lukewarm (not hot) water and submerge the shoes completely, swishing them around for a few seconds.
2. Scrub your rock climbing shoes
Next, take an old toothbrush and gently scrub your shoes inside and out. Make sure to scrub the soles as a build up of chalk or dirt (if you’re climbing outdoors) might be the reason you’ve been slipping lately.
3. Dry your rock climbing shoes
Once your shoes are clean, dip them in the water once again to rinse away any residue, then stuff them with paper towel or a cloth and leave them out to air dry away from sunlight or direct heat sources. When you're shoes are dry and the smell has gone away, you're ready to get back on belay.
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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.