How To Clean Your Climbing Shoes

Good fitting shoes and great terrains are the perfect tag team for climbing enthusiasts. And if you have a rich outdoor lifestyle, you know just how important it is to keep your climbing shoes clean and in good shape.

However, exposed to dust, grime, sweat and rubber debris, your sturdy shoes will wear out over time, reducing the grip and comfort you can get out of them in the long run. Add bacterial and fungal growth to the mix and things can get really bad in the odour department.

Your goal then is to ensure these attacks are better handled, thus helping you slow down the funk and keeping your shoes fit for long use. Depending on your type of shoe (synthetic or leather), some tips may come in handy, and others – not so much.

We’ve got you covered for both in this article. What follows are some practical ways to get started cleaning your climbing shoes and things to avoid to keep them durable for future climbs.

Can I put my climbing shoes in the washing machine?

Exhausted from an all day adventure, tossing your climbing shoes into the laundry may seem the quickest fix to have them fresh for next use. Sure, this may not be a bad idea, but there are things to look out for. First, detergents are a good cleaning agent, but they are not so friendly on rubber shoes. And so frequent laundry sessions may end up ripping off sensitive parts of your climbing shoes, making them less comfortable for future use.

Note: Leather shoes are best cleaned manually to prevent them from shrinking.

For leather shoes, the following manual cleaning steps should help:

  • Step 1: Buy a mild soap (saddle soap is ideally what you want)
  • Step 2: Fill the tub with just about enough water for lather
  • Step 3: Scrub the inside and outside with a mild brush (a toothbrush works just fine)
  • Step 4: Wash rubber material and synthetic parts
  • Step 5: Wipe off soap with a clean cloth
  • Step 6: Air dry in a shaded area.

Note: Drying under heat will cause leather shoes to shrink. Rubber parts may also crack on extended exposure to sunlight. Applying oil to your leather shoes will help to prevent it from cracking and breaking as it dries out.

Can Climbing Shoes Get Wet?

Climbing Shoe

The answer is yes. Weather changes are a thing at the crag. So it doesn’t hurt to prepare for unforeseen challenges before setting out. While regular wear and tear will eventually make your shoes lose their shape over time, exposure to long periods of moisture can make them deteriorate much faster, especially if you go climbing with leather shoes. If you regularly have to deal with bad weather, wearing socks can come in handy.

How to clean smelly climbing shoes: some homemade solutions!

Sweat, moisture and hot temperatures are a nightmare for your toes. Where does the funky smell come from you ask? Well, a research in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology notes that foot odour primarily comes from Isovaleric acid – a compound formed from the microbial degradation of leucine found in sweat. Thankfully, there are easy remedies to keep this smell in check and possibly eliminate them. From tea bags to essential oils and cat litter, here are our top 6 remedies to fighting offensive climbing shoes.

  1. Tea bags

Well, it turns out tea bags are not just delightful for tea; they are also incredibly useful for your climbing shoes too. Put some black tea bags into your climbing shoes and you should be off to a great start ridding any funk building up inside. Tea bags also help to absorb any moisture locked inside. And thanks to the varieties – peppermint, apple spice, you name it! The choice of flavour is all yours when deodorizing your climbing shoes. Plop one or two of these bags inside your shoes and you should have a pleasant smell in 24hrs or less.

Did you know? Black tea is loaded with tannins – an agent proven to be very active against stench causing bacteria in shoes?

  1. Baking powder

Fighting shoe stench calls for a strong agent. Baking powder is another home remedy equal to this task. Liberally apply baking powder in your offending climbing shoes and check back in an hour or two. Leave overnight for best results.

Note: Baking powder takes off moisture and stench strongly, so you want to take some caution applying this if your shoe is made of leather to prevent drying them out over time.

  1. Essential oils

Essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus and clove are equally strong deodorants. A recent study in the Leather and Footwear Journal notes that these oils are beneficial biocides against stench causing microorganisms. All you need do here is add any of the oils into or climbing shoes, or wet a tissue or paper and insert into your offending footwear if you don’t want direct contact. Leave overnight and get your freshness back.

  1. Salts

Although less popular, table salt is no less effective agent against odor causing bacteria. Sprinkle some into your climbing footwear and leave overnight to eliminate the stench from your climbing shoes.

  1. Odor neutralizers

This can come in many forms. If you go for powder, it’s safe to use them only on dry shoes to prevent clump and residue build up on the inside.

  1. Cat litter

Cats are such neat pets, and neat enough that their litter actually controls bad odor. You may directly put the litter into your climbing shoes, with the only downside being that they may get stuck in hard to reach areas around your shoes, making things less comfortable inside.

On the alternative, get two socks for each shoe and fill with clean cat litter. You don’t want to spill the litter all over your shoes, so a simple knot should work just fine. To ensure fighting elements diffuse more, use thinner sock materials or pantyhose.

Double deodorizing activity with baking soda if you like and leave as you retire for the day. Check back the following morning and the smell should be all gone.

Do you wear socks in rock climbing shoes?

For the most part, climbing shoes are not designed to provide all the cushioning you need to take on attacks from rock imperfections. And while you could do without one, socks can be dually beneficial.

First, the seam tape and stitching are likely to cause some discomfort if your feet are particularly sensitive, wearing socks minimizes this problem. You also want your climbing shoes to take you past a couple of months.

So if you’re a regular climber, wearing a pair of socks can help get you the maximum use of your climbing footwear. Odor control is yet another good reason to consider wearing a pair of socks when rock climbing.

How long do climbing shoes last?

How long your climbing shoes will remain durable and safe for climbing depends on a number of factors. You’ll expect to get more use time from your pair if you don’t go climbing often. But this is not true for the frequent climber. Holes in the toe section, poor traction and deterioration in the edges are signs your shoes are wearing out fast.

While brand quality definitely comes into play here, you really won’t get the most value out of your climbing footwear if they are poorly maintained. 

Your footwork is just as important too. In most indoor climbing facilities, there’s a good chance certain spots of your shoes will be exposed to more attacks than others, as opposed to outdoor climbing where there’s no defined pattern and shoe parts tend to even out on the imperfections they are exposed to at the end of the day.

If you’re a beginner climber, it can be difficult developing good footwork on tricky terrains or maintaining body balance as you climb, and these will tell on your shoes in the long run. That said, here are some tips to help you get the maximum life out of your priced shoes.

  1. Buy quality

This is a no brainer, really. But with many brands out there, settling for a climbing shoe that’s right for you can be a tricky dance. A good practice would be to check for trusty product reviews of your intended buy and see how the compare with other alternatives.

  1. Wash manually

To keep your climbing shoes in good shape for long periods, we advise washing manually. Be careful not to fray sensitive areas when washing stubborn stains. And a gentle brush is your best pick for scrubbing the outside and inside of your footwear.

  1. Use lukewarm water

The goal is to remove all dirt and grime impurities; lukewarm water serves this purpose just right. Cold or plain water will take long to take off the adhesion of dirt and grime and may cause you to scrub harder on sensitive surfaces, which is not what you want. Hot water may damage the integrity of your shoes after cleaning.

  1. Use soft soaps and detergents

Soft soaps are best for climbing shoes. Harsh detergents and chemicals contain constituents that can weaken the upper, laces and sole. And if you choose to use the laundry machine, avoid shoes with leather material.

Read more: Best Beginner Climbing Shoes If You Are Just Starting

Cleaning climbing shoes soles

You need good traction and grip when going bouldering or rock climbing. Here’s where the shoe soles come in. Poor fitting shoes perform poorly, and they wear considerably faster.

A good sole will make body positioning easier and reduce the impact of imperfections on any terrain. The soles will obviously deteriorate over time as it clocks more use hours. However, taking care of your shoe soles and cleaning them appropriately will obviously help to increase its mileage. Here’s how to get started:

  • Ensure to wipe off dirt and grime on the sole immediately after climbs. Leaving this for longer than necessary can make cleaning difficult.
  • Using a wet rag, rub the shoe soles and rands as gently as possible, removing all traces of dirt. Wipe dry and you’re all set for next use.
  • You may also supercharge performance by using wire brush or coarse sandpaper to bring back life to the sole. However, you don’t want to increase wear, so be careful if you choose to apply this.
  • Keeping your climbing shoes in your car (outside winter) will expose them to increased temperatures and hotness, which can cause delamination of rands and deformation of the rubber material making up the sole. Always remember to keep your climbing shoes in a cool shoe-rack away from any heat source.

Conclusion

Your climbing shoes can make or mar your climbing experience. Getting the right size is a good first step, but keeping your shoes in good shape between climbs is equally important. Ensure your legs are clean and sweat free before sliding them in your climbing shoes. Cleaning your footwear in between use will help reduce the stench and provide all the comfort you need for future climbs. To prevent deformation, clean in mild water with soft soaps or detergents. Check for signs of damage and don’t hesitate getting a replacement if your shoes are overly worn out. With that out of the way, you should all set to hit the ground running on your next outdoor adventure. Stay safe on the rocks!

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FAQs

Q: Can I wash my climbing shoes in a washing machine?

A: Yes. However, manual cleaning is more ideal for leather shoes.

Q: How do you remove smell from climbing shoes?

A: Tea bag, baking powder, and essential oils are some effective deodorants to fight smelly climbing shoes.

Q: Do I need to wear socks when rock climbing?

A: No. However, wearing one provides more cushioning and slows down odor build up.

Sources

Corina, C,  Viorica D, and Mariana, DB 2017, ‘Footwear Protection against Fungi Using Thyme Essential Oil’ Leather and Footwear Journal Vol 17, no. 3:173-178, <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320132182_Footwear_Protection_against_Fungi_Using_Thyme_Essential_Oil>.

Katsutoshi, A,  Masakatsu, H,  Syunichi A, and Kenzo K 2006, ‘Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control’ Canadian Journal of Microbiology Vol. 52, no. (4):357-64, <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7081113_Foot_odor_due_to_microbial_metabolism_and_its_control>.