Cleaning climbing shoes is not a particularly pleasant or exciting task. The good news is that the cleaning process doesn’t need to be too exhausting or time-consuming. Using conventional methods of just sticking your shoes in the wash will only get you so far, and in some cases, it might even make things worse. Instead, I’m here to suggest some quick and easy solutions to keeping your climbing shoes clean and fresh between climbing sessions.
What you should know firsthand is that climbing shoes come in two main variants: leather and synthetic, and the way you should care for them greatly depends on the materials they were made from.
Furthermore, cleaning climbing shoes is not as easy as cleaning conventional streetwear shoes. That’s because there’s a higher risk of damaging climbing footwear if you use the wrong cleaning agent or the wrong water temperature. In this piece, I’m going to tell you exactly what you can do to keep your climbing shoes clean, and what are the steps that you can take to remove odor. If you also need help choosing a proper pair of climbing shoes, I’ve written an extensive guide on the subject. Check it out right here if you’re interested.
Let’s start off by learning exactly how to clean climbing shoes in between climbing sessions. This will not only improve their looks but their performance as well. You’ll see what I’m talking about in a moment.
How to wash climbing shoes by hand.
While some climbers have reported some success with placing their shoes in the washing machine, I’d definitely recommend using a gentle brush and a bucket of water instead. That’s because washing machines can be quite rough on your climbing shoes and can potentially damage them.
If you have leather climbing shoes, make sure to use as little detergent as possible (soft care if possible), and always use warm water. Not hot, just warm. Synthetic shoes will be able to take a bit more abuse. You can apply more force while cleaning them, and you can also use cold water if you can’t warm it up beforehand. Apart from this, the procedure for cleaning both types of shoes is similar.
Use the brush to clean the upper and the rubber bits of the shoes. Take your time with this, and make sure to pay close attention to any grooves or places where dirt and small rocks could lodge in.
Clean the sole of the shoe as well. Here you can use a bit more force, as the rubber will be able to handle it without too many issues. A clean shoe performs better than a dirty one because it offers more grip and more flexibility. That’s why I said that cleaner shoes are safer to use – they also enhance your performance as a climber.
Once you are done hand-cleaning your climbing shoes, just hang them out to dry naturally, preferably in the sun. Never place your climbing shoes in the dryer, as this might cause them to shrink.
Washing climbing shoes in the washing machine.
If you’re pressed for time, or if you just don’t want to wash your shoes manually, you can throw them in the washing machine as long as you keep a few things in mind. While I don’t recommend this at all for leather shoes, you can do it with synthetic shoes without too much worry. Here are few steps that you can take to make sure that the shoes won’t get damaged as a result.
- Use a gentle cycle, as this will apply less pressure on the shoe as it tumbles around in the washing machine.
- Make sure the water isn’t too hot, as this could damage certain plastic or rubber elements. Moreover, the fabric might sustain some damage if the water temperature is too high.
- Use mild detergents that were designed specifically for delicate clothes. Basically, you need to treat the shoes as gently as possible.
- Remove all laces and close up any velcro before the wash.
- Skip the drying cycle. Just take the shoes out and hang them out to dry naturally.
- If you can, place the footwear in a laundry bag or a pillowcase. This will make sure that they won’t tumble around and hit the sides of the washing machine.
How to clean the inside of climbing footwear.
Washing the outer part of the shoe by hand is only half of the problem. You also need to make sure that the inner part is clean as well. After all, that’s where your feet go, and that’s where they sit for hours at a time. I’m not talking about removing odor at this time, even though this will help with that to a certain degree. However, I want to focus on actually keeping the inner part of the shoe as clean as possible between climbs.
While there are a number of products out there designed specifically for the task, most climbers just use a clean cloth and some rubbing alcohol in order to clean the inside of their climbing shoes. The method works quite well, and it certainly helps to kill off some bacteria.
Just make sure to not use too much alcohol, as this could cause your shoes to become damp. You shouldn’t store your footwear in damp environments anyway, and you should make sure that they’re always dry between climbs both inside and out.
How to get rid of odor in climbing shoes.
No matter how much you take care of your shoes and your feet, you’re going to have to deal with a bit of odor. Granted, some climbers have very few problems with this, while others have to struggle with it constantly. In order to be able to get rid of bad smells within our shoes, I think it’s important to learn what causes these smells to occur in the first place.
The inside of our shoes forms a closed environment that facilitates the formation and multiplication of bacteria. Depending on hygiene and some natural factors such as how much you sweat, you’re bound to experience some issues with smelly climbing shoes at some point in your climbing career.
Top manufacturers such as La Sportiva try to help out as much as possible by using breathable materials and high-quality leathers. Sometimes, though, you have to take matters into your own hands in order to remove the smells.
Here are some steps that you can take to obtain fresher climbing shoes:
- Store them inside a mesh bag and make sure that they get a chance to dry out thoroughly between climbing sessions. If it’s cold outside, just leave the shoes in your garage or in your car. The cold air will prevent the growth of bacteria and will help with the smell over time.
- Wearing socks can alleviate some of the problems associated with odor. The problem is that wearing socks with climbing shoes will impact your performance somewhat, as the foot will slide a bit inside the shoe. If you can cope with the performance hit, it’s not a bad idea to wear socks while climbing.
- Use sprays that diminish bacterial growth such as Lysol. The rubbing alcohol trick I mentioned above should also help. Use baking soda or activated charcoal if you can, but make sure to rinse the inside of the shoe afterward as these powders can cause your feet to slip.
- Commercial powders that eliminate foot odor should help quite a bit as well.
- Use liquid chalk on your feet before climbing. This will help keep your feet dry and kill most of the bacteria on them. In order to clean any leftover chalk fro climbing shoes, just use a damp cloth and remove the excess.
- Wash your feet often and maybe get a pedicure even if you’re a guy. Keeping your feet clean between climbs greatly addresses the odor issue in the long run.
Cleaning climbing shoes is obviously important, not only from an aesthetic and hygienic point of view but also from a performance standpoint. By applying the methods I described above, you should be able to keep your footwear clean and in top condition without having to worry too much about odor.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that depending on how dirty or smelly they are, you might have to apply these methods regularly before you can see any real results. Keeping proper hygiene is obviously of paramount importance, while practicing proper cleaning techniques will move things in the right direction.
As an added bonus, if you’re looking for a more visual representation on how to clean climbing shoes, the video below offers some detailed step-by-step instructions. Hopefully, it will help you even more.