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Jo Richards
Jo Richards

How to Wash Climbing Shoes – From Deep Cleaning to Resoling

If you’re just getting started with rock climbing, you’re probably wondering how to take care of your gear and keep your climbing shoes clean and odor-free.

Climbing shoes are an essential piece of any climber’s gear rack, providing grip, stability, and protection on the wall. But as any experienced climber will know, they tend to build up quite a funk. The good news is, you (and your loved ones) don’t have to live with the ominous odor – climbing shoes can be cleaned! And the process is quite easy too.

Although regular wear and tear is inevitable, we will show you how to take care of your climbing shoes and slow down their aging process.

Note: Are your shoes on their last legs? Check out our guide to the best climbing shoes for 2021!

The first rule to know about washing climbing shoes is that it’s safer to avoid machine washing them. Some people recommend washing synthetic material shoes with the machine, but everyone agrees that you should never machine wash leather shoes. The laundry detergent can damage the sole, leather, and laces. Furthermore, machine washing can alter the shape, fit, and heel tension of your climbing shoes.

So we recommend steering clear of machine washing, regardless of the shoe’s material. If there are other safer methods available, why risk machine washing? The same goes for a hot dryer which can break down the sole’s material and damage other parts of your climbing shoes, especially if your shoes are made of leather.

How Long Do Climbing Shoes Last?

It’s tricky to say how many months or years climbing shoes can last. Brands market their climbing shoes by promising that they’ll last an entire year and some active climbers say that they use two to three pairs in a year. Most of it depends on how often you use your climbing shoes and how well you take care of them. It also depends on the roughness of the walls you climb and your footwork.

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Shoemakers design climbing shoes to have a firm grip. But, over time, shoes can lose their grip or stickiness because of the increasing amount of dirt, mud, and grime from outdoor rock climbing.

Shoes are also subject to inevitable wear and tear. The first sign of wear and tear is usually seen right at the soles’ front, around the big toe area. These are called “mini tears” and are among the most common reasons people choose to buy a brand new pair of shoes (although resoling is a more affordable option).

The material of your climbing shoes also affects their longevity. Shoes made from synthetic fabric tend to age faster than leather shoes. Although leather shoes are heavier, they are more flexible, more comfortable, and easier to clean.

Despite external factors, you can slow down most of the aging process to a considerable degree. If you treat your shoes right and take proper care of them, your pair is guaranteed to last you longer than an average person’s climbing shoes.

Washing Climbing Shoes

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Taking care of your climbing shoes does not have to be a long tiring process of unnecessary steps; neither does it have to be an expensive shopping trip. You can easily find most of the cleaning tools you need among your household items.

Can you wash climbing shoes with water?

Yes, you most certainly can wash climbing shoes with water. As long as your shoes aren’t being machine washed, water is good to clean climbing shoes. The trick lies in what temperature water you use and how you clean your shoes in that water.

Items needed

  1. A large bucket or tub
  2. Lukewarm water
  3. Mild detergent or gentle soap
  4. A small, soft cleaning brush

The Washing Process

1.  Before you get the shoes wet: turn them upside-down to allow dust particles and small debris to fall out naturally.

2. Fill the large bucket or your tub with clean, lukewarm water. Lukewarm water is neither too hot nor too cold.

Hot water can soften and damage the rubber sole, shrink shoes, and melt the shoe’s glue, while cold water won’t do much to loosen dust particles or grime. Lukewarm water helps to loosen up dust particles, grime and cleans any deposits of sweat from your feet.

3. Add a small amount of mild detergent or gentle soap to the water. Don’t use harsh detergents because some of the chemicals found in laundry products can damage the sole, laces, any padding materials, and the fabric of your shoes.

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4. Use a small, soft cleaning brush (a toothbrush will also work) to clean shoes. Gently scrub the outside, tongue, and sole of the shoe to loosen dust particles, remove stubborn stains, and clean out sweat deposits.

5. Soak the shoes entirely in lukewarm water. Swish the shoes around in the lukewarm soapy water to further remove any dust particles and germs.

6. Drain the bucket or tub and rinse it out. We’ll now need fresh, clean water to clean the shoes of any remaining dirt, grime, and soap.

7. Refill the bucket or tub with clean lukewarm water. Soak the shoes in the new, clean, lukewarm water and swish them around to get rid of the last bits of dirt and soap. Repeat this step until the shoes have no stain or dirt left on them, and they’re smelling fresh.

8. Air-dry the shoes. Remember not to use a hot dryer. Instead, dry shoes in an area with open-air and a fresh breeze. Do not place them under direct sunlight if it’s too hot. You can also use a soft clean towel to absorb most of the water from the shoes.

Cleaning Climbing Shoes – Tips, Tricks, and Precautions

You’ll find it more beneficial to follow safe practices and guidelines to prevent climbing shoes from getting dirty and deteriorating.

If your climbing shoes are well kept and taken care of regularly, they probably won’t need a deep-water cleanse as often, and they’ll last longer too!

1. Keep climbing shoes away from excessive amounts of sunlight or high temperatures.

Taking care of climbing shoes is a little like taking care of your skin – prolonged exposure to the sun leads to wrinkles and speeds up the aging process!

Excessive exposure to sunlight or high temperatures can melt the shoe’s glue, alter the shape, and cause the rubber sole to become brittle.  As a result, the shoes can lose their grip and stickiness. This is also why you should never wash your shoes with hot water.

2. Ditch the blazing heat for the icy freezer!

While high temperatures are particularly bad for your climbing shoes, cold temperatures can save your shoes from being inhabited by bacteria. It’s as simple as dropping your shoes in a shoe bag and putting the shoe bag in the freezer. While the cold can’t kill existing bacteria, cold shoes will keep new bacteria away.

3. Quick coarse sandpaper fix.

If you’re in a rush and need a quick method to revitalize tired shoes, use some coarse sandpaper on areas that have lost their grip or stickiness. The coarse sandpaper will add some grip to your shoes. Just don’t overdo it because it can lead to premature aging.

4. Re-use old cloth.

Don’t wait for dirt to stick to your shoes before washing it off with water. The more time that passes, the more stubbornly the dirt will stick to your shoes. After climbing, wipe your shoes with a wet old-cloth to remove as much dirt as possible.

5. Air-dry shoes immediately after climbing.

If you place your shoes in a shoe bag, backpack, or a confined space immediately after climbing, STOP!

Putting shoes in a confined space immediately after climbing enables sweat to accumulate inside the shoe. The accumulated sweat is a breeding ground for germs. Bacteria then begins to grow. This is what makes your shoes stink!

After an intense climbing session, your shoes need to breathe too. Air-dry your shoes immediately after climbing, so bacteria doesn’t grow, and you never give the sweat a chance to accumulate in the first place.

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6. Wear socks.

Climbing shoes are designed to fit your feet in a manner where there’s no open space around to move your feet. However, climbing sockless increases your chances of sweating into your shoes. This sweat then accumulates inside your shoes and makes them stink. Try wearing thin socks made of a moisture-absorbing fabric like cotton, which absorbs sweat as you climb.

7. Buy the right fit.

Shoes that don’t fit well are a common cause of having a dud session. Too small, and your toes will be weeping for it to end. Too big, and you may as well be wearing your Timberlands. Not only do they perform poorly, but badly-sized shoes also wear out faster. So buy the right size and fit for your feet.

Remember to never walk with just half of your foot slipped in; this crushes the shoes’ heel and can alter the shape.

8. Climbing shoes are for climbing only.

It can be tempting to walk between problems in your climbing shoes. And while this isn’t the end of the world on your gym’s crash pads, doing so outdoors can really shorten their lifespan and add to the grime build-up. The rubber on your shoes will lose its stickiness, and you’ll have a weaker grip. Remember, they’re climbing shoes – not walking shoes and certainly not gym shoes either! So use climbing shoes for climbing only.

Smelly Climbing Shoes

Climbing shoes are form-fitting and don’t allow for much ventilation. If you climb sockless, this only adds to the stinkiness of your shoes. Sometimes, even a deep wash isn’t sufficient to get the smell out. And we all know how excruciatingly embarrassing smelly shoes can be.

The good thing is that you can easily fix your smelly shoes with some care.

  • Bake the stench with Baking Soda!

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Baking soda absorbs odor, so if you end up with a stubborn smell in your climbing shoes, add some baking soda to the lukewarm water before washing your shoes. It’s a powerful household agent that can even kill odor-absorbing bacteria. This ingredient will change the acidity in your shoes, which will make it less appealing to bacteria. Bye-bye, stinky smelly shoes!

  • Defend with Deodorising or Antiperspirant Spray

It’s also a good idea to invest in a deodorizing or antiperspirant spray to prevent odor buildup. Add deodorizing powder to your shoes when they are dry. Do not use the powder in wet or damp shoes – it will clump up or form a powdered, crusty residue that can be hard to remove. You can also use talcum powder to soak up the sweat.

Resoling Climbing Shoes

One reason why climbing shoes wear out faster than regular shoes is that they leave a part of themselves behind after every climb. That’s right, the rubber on your climbing shoes rubs off a little with every foot jam, heel hook, and smear. Over time, the rubber starts to wear off.

You may find that your shoe is in perfect condition, but only the climbing shoe’s rubber has worn off. In this case, it’s time for a sole replacement. Resoling basically means to take off the existing remaining rubber layer and replace it with a new layer of rubber. There is no need to replace the entire set of shoes just because of the sole.

If you think your shoes need a sole replacement, take them to your local gear shop or climbing gym – if they can’t do it themselves, they’ll know who can. Or, if you have experience with resoling and understand the anatomy of climbing shoes, buy a resoling kit and DIY.

Time to Wash & Clean Your Climbing Shoes

It’s smarter to follow a healthy lifestyle and take the necessary precautions to prevent an oncoming sickness or disease. The same goes for your shoes. Now that you’re more well-informed on how to care for and clean your climbing shoes, you should be ready to grab a bucket and get your hands dirty!

Follow our tips and tricks to prevent your shoes from aging before their time or from becoming evil-smelling demons in your shoe bag. These tips and tricks are entirely safe for your little one’s shoes too. Check out our list of the 5 best kids climbing shoes for 2021! Let them also experience the thrill and adventure of rock climbing.

Be proactive and take care of your climbing shoes. The last thing you want is to have them fail you at the crux of a problem, dangling precariously above your tiny-looking crash pad. While that sounds like a comical scene straight out of a climbing movie, you certainly wouldn’t want your climbing trip to be a massive flop.

If you take care of your climbing shoes, they’ll take care of you.

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