February 26, 2021

Equipment Care Guide: How to Clean Your Rock Climbing Shoes

4 min read

Unlike many other sports, rock climbing places particular importance on the shoe; as climbers go up and up on vertical walls and rocks, a slip of the foot means something much more serious than a scrape and a bruise. For this reason, regardless of the rock climbing shoe style that you’ve chosen, most climbers develop a sense of utmost trust in their shoes. However, like all equipment, climbing shoes last much longer when they are properly taken care of. Cleaning your shoes not only preserves their longevity and appearance, but it also makes sure that the grip on the sole is performing at its fullest. Furthermore, the close examination of your shoes while cleaning them will help you recognize when they need to be resoled or if they have been damaged in any way. Learning how to clean your rock climbing shoes becomes an essential skill.

Note that while I have provided you with the general steps below, you may want to check with your shoe’s manufacturer for any brand or style-specific maintenance tips or procedures you should follow. 

Cleaning your Climbing Shoes

You should be wary about washing your climbing shoes in the washing machine, especially if you are doing a cycle in hot water. Just like when you leave your shoes in the hot sun in your car, the high surrounding temperatures can activate the glue. This can cause delamination of the sole and even a loss of tension in the rand and heel.

If your shoes are only mildly dirty:

  1. Fill up two small buckets or bowls with warm water.
  2. Use a mild detergent (for example dishwashing soap, Dawn is a fantastic one) or castile soap and mix with water in one of the bowls following the instructions on the detergent bottle.
  3. Take a microfiber cloth and dampen it in the soapy water.
  4. Rub the microfiber cloth on any stains.
  5. Clean off the sole of the shoe from the heel to the rand with the cloth.
  6. Take another microfiber cloth and dip in the non-soapy water. 
  7. Use the non-soapy cloth to remove the soap from the cloth areas and the sole of the shoe.
  8. Place the shoes in a well-ventilated area to dry completely but try to avoid direct sunlight

If your shoes are very dirty and stinky 

  1. Fill a bucket with warm water.
  2. Add mild detergent or castile soap following the dosage directions on the bottle. 
  3. Place your shoes in the water and let them soak for 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. Remove each shoe from the water and, using a microfiber cloth, gently rub out any stains inside and out.
  5. Use a spare bottle brush or old toothbrush to get any grime inside the toe box
  6. Pour out the soapy water and fill with clean, warm water.
  7. Place the soapy shows in the water and rub out any soap.
  8. Repeat the process until the water coming out of the shoe runs clear and without bubbles.
  9. Place the shoes in a well-ventilated area to dry completely but try to avoid direct sunlight

Climbing Shoe Care Tips

Here are some tips on how to make sure your shoes have a long-life and stay fully functional. 

  1. Keep them away from heat and direct sunlight to minimize any risk of activating the glue which lead to delamination and loss of tension
  2. Wear closed shoes with socks to and from your climbing destination. Sandals and wearing shoes without socks can result in dirty, sweaty feet which will affect the fit of your climbing shoe and the insole will get dirtier faster. 
  3. Air them out between climbing sessions. Keeping them stuffed in a gym bag or the back of your car will promote bacterial growth and odor
  4. Get your shoes repaired and resoled by professionals. Your shoe’s manufacturer will likely have a mail-in service or they will recommend walk-in services that can help repair and resole shoes for you. Ideally the best time to resole would be before you burn through the rand rubber and any holes are shown.
  5. Buy your size shoe. You may need to try on shoes in the store or use an online service that makes it easy to return shoes. Shoes that are too big are not only unsafe, but they will also wear out faster. 

Main Takeaways

Your shoes are one of the most essential pieces of climbing equipment a climber of any level will have. Taking proper care of your shoes will lengthen the life of your shoe while it helps you to feel secure on your feet, even while on vertical climbs. 

Taking proper care of your shoes in between climbs as just as important as using proper form while on climbs. You can follow the tips for caring for your shoe and the steps for how to clean or wash your shoes to extend your shoe lifetime. 

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