How to Clean Rock Climbing Shoes Without Ruining Them?
A climber's foot inside a clean rock climbing shoe.

There’s nothing like a clean, non-smelly pair of climbing shoes resting in your footwear storage. Also, you know how they say: the cleaner your shoes, the better you feel. Okay, we’ve just made that one up, but it does sound like something a wisdom-seeker (fanatically concerned with shoe-related issues) might say in a brief moment of epiphany.

Since you’re reading this, you might’ve also adopted the aforementioned motto. If that’s so, you’ll enjoy today’s article. We’ll address the issue of how to clean rock climbing shoes without ruining them beyond repair. With the right piece of info, you’ll guarantee yourself a long-lasting pair of clean and odorless climbing shoes!

Before you get any cleaning done, it’s important you consider the material your climbing shoes are made from. If your shoes are made from organic materials like leather, it’s recommended you avoid cleaning them in the washing machine. That method’s reserved for shoes made from synthetic materials. Don’t forget to rub a little sandpaper on the soles once done.

Wondering if there’s more to it than this measly preview? Feel free to continue scrolling!

Table of Contents

Should I clean rock climbing shoes?

There’s no need to mention this, but a pair of solid shoes is something of a necessity in every climber’s backpack. So, should one clean climbing shoes?

It depends on the type of cleaning you’ll do, but we’ll talk about that in just a bit. The thing here is: your climbing shoes need to be clean. It’s basically one of the most painfully obvious unwritten rules of this fantastic sport. What’s the main reason behind it? Well, it might just be the fact no one likes smelly footwear, and that’s exactly what people get when they pick out the unpopular option of not cleaning their climbing shoes.

Why are climbing shoes infamously smelly?

Here’s the simplest of answers: most climbers practice without socks. Bacteria (read: odor) is attracted by the moist atmosphere inside the shoe caused by your sweaty foot. Of course, the potential smelliness (if there’s even such a thing) depends on the type of shoes you’re wearing. For instance, because of their phenomenal natural traits, leather climbing shoes are considered a better option than synthetic climbing shoes. Also, we can say that’s because they do a better job regulating the temperature of your feet, preventing the atmosphere inside the shoe from being too darn hot & sweaty.

How to prevent climbing-shoe odor?

Of course, there are ways you can keep the smelliness of your climbing shoes at a tolerable level. Here are a few solutions you’ll find pretty useful:

  • Decrease the risk of smelly climbing shoes by letting them enjoy some air after a couple of sessions. Once you get home, avoid leaving them stuffed somewhere in the bottomless pit of your bag. Make sure you take them out instantly, air them out a little bit, then store them in a place that’s suitable.
  • There are a lot of odor-eliminator products you could try out. Also, you’ll be able to find some that are specifically designed to fight funky climbing shoes. If you’re a DIY fanatic, you can try putting some baking soda inside your climbing shoes.
  • Another cool idea is to put some black tea bags inside your climbing shoes. Let them sit overnight. Once the morning arrives, remove the tea bags and wash your shoes using the methods we’ll show you below. Black tea bags are well-known odor absorbents.
  • Needless to mention, keep your feet clean. Before you put your climbing shoes on, make sure your feet are cleansed. Also, if your feet are well-known for being extra sweaty, apply a bit of chalk to them (just don’t overdo it, only a little is more than enough).

Okay, that’s about it for this introductory part mostly dedicated to smelly shoes! Let’s delve deep into our main subject for today and that is: how to clean rock climbing shoes without ruining them in the process!

A woman climber in clean rock climbing shoes.

How to clean rock climbing shoes without running them?

Okay, so now we’ll talk about the method you’ll use to clean climbing shoes without damaging them. Pay close attention to details as it’s very important you don’t mix up certain cleaning materials (and the materials your climbing shoes are made from) and non-intentionally do what you’ve tried to avoid by reading this text.

There are two ways a person can clean climbing shoes: either by hand or by washing machine. Let’s check out the first option!

Cleaning by hand

You could say this one’s a safer option than the other. If you’re really worried about ruining the material your shoes are made from, it’s recommended that you wash them by hand.

So, what’s there to be done?

Step #1

The first thing you’ll do is to fill your typical pan or tub with water. The (ideal) water temperature should be anywhere from 90-95 (32-35) °F/°C. Extremely hot or cold water will probably damage your shoes and that’s what you want to avoid.

Step #2

Next, you’ll want to add a couple of drops of mild detergent (a stronger one will most probably damage the shoes) to the heated water. That way, the dirt will be easier to remove. Also, it will help you erase all the accumulated & dried sweat inside the shoes.

Step #3

Before you continue, brush off any visible dirt from your shoe. You’ll want to use a brush with softer bristles to remove larger pieces of dirt. If you somehow avoid this, you’ll end up with muddy water and that’s no good.

Step #4

Now you’ll wet the shoes on the sole and start scrubbing in order to delete any dirt that you might’ve missed taking the previous step. Also, you should clean the surface of the shoes as well, paying special attention to dirty or stained areas. Do it gently, as you don’t want to avoid the shoe’s material.

Step #5

Once you’re done with step #4, clean the inside of your shoes. You’ll want to use a clean brush for this. Preferably, it should be smaller than the one you’ve previously used.

Step #6

Now you can safely dunk your shoe in the water mixed with soap. Afterward, rinse the shoe with freshwater, until there are no soap residues remaining.

Step #7

Your next action should be drying the climbing shoes. Shake them to get rid of excess water and speed up the drying process. You’ll want to dry your shoe inside a warm room with a light breeze (sounds a bit romantic, doesn’t it?). Anyway, make sure you’re not drying your shoes in direct sun, especially if we’re talking leather shoes here.

Step #8

Once your climbing shoes are dry, there’s an extra step you might want to take. The thing is: you can scrub the soles with some sandpaper. That way, you’ll make sure it’s grippy enough to support your future rock climbing adventures.

Washing machine option (only for synthetic shoes)

If you’re on the lookout for too easy of a solution, washing your shoes in a washing machine might be your best option. However, there’s something we have to mention: if your shoes are made out of natural materials (such as leather), this option is, by all means, not recommended. It’s reserved only for shoes made from synthetic materials.

Step #1

Brush your climbing shoes to remove larger chunks or pieces of dirt. Also, pay special attention to the sole. Clean the interior of your shoe, too, in order to remove dirt or debris that might’ve gotten stuck inside.

Step #2

Next, you’ll set up your washing machine for the gentle cycle. If you’ve got a pre-set program for delicate, don’t hesitate to choose it! Speaking of ideal conditions, the temperature should be about 85-100 (29-38) °F/°C and the speed should be adjusted to 500-600 pm.

Step #3

Once again, you’ll add some mild detergent to the water. Warning: do not use bleach!

Step #4

After the machine’s done, dry the shoes! Don’t use a hot dryer, as it will probably damage the shoe’s material. As we’ve said earlier on, it’s best you leave it inside a warm room, out of the path of direct sun.

How to clean rock climbing shoes without ruining them? – a summary

Here at Go Extreme Sports, we like to summarize the knowledge we’ve learned. If one can’t provide you with a condensed story, there’s a good chance the person’s got nothing to teach you. That’s why we’ll do a quick sum-up of all the things mentioned above.

Before cleaning your rock climbing shoes, it’s very important you pay attention to the material they’re made from. For instance, if the shoes are made from natural materials such as leather, we strongly recommend you avoid putting them in the washing machine. You should only clean them by hand.

Also, while you’re cleaning your shoes by hand, it’s very important you act gently and avoid intense scrubbing. You don’t want to damage the surface or the inside of your climbing shoes. Lastly, don’t forget to rub a little sandpaper on the soles of your shoes once you’re done cleaning.

That’s about it, folks! Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this one as much as the last! For additional tips on everything from rock climbing to parkour, feel free to visit this page.

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