A climbing rope is one of the most essential pieces of safety gear on the wall, and proper care is crucial to keep you safe. One aspect of rope care and maintenance climbers often wonder about is how to wash a climbing rope.
Washing your climbing rope can prolong its lifespan, but it’s important to do so very carefully. Washing your rope incorrectly or using any harsh cleaning products or detergents can damage the rope and render it unusable.
Before we get into the washing instructions, let’s go over some frequently asked questions about caring for climbing ropes.
Climbing Rope Care: FAQ
How often should you wash your climbing rope?
There’s no set rule on this, and it’s up to each climber to determine whether or not they want to wash their rope. While it’s possible to have a climbing rope for years without ever needing to wash it, there are certain situations where cleaning your rope is wise.
If your rope appears dirty or your hands are greasy, grimy, and discolored after using the rope, it may be time to give it a bath. Additionally, if you climb near the sea and your rope is accidentally dunked in or exposed to salt water, it’s a good idea to give it a rinse.
Can you put a climbing rope in the washing machine?
Although many people say you can clean a climbing rope in the washing machine, we don’t recommend it. Between detergent and bleach residues, inconsistent temperatures, and a potentially damaging spin cycle, many things can go wrong and destroy your rope if you throw it in the washing machine.
Unless the manufacturer recommends machine washing the rope, we suggest you err on the side of caution and wash your rope by hand according to the instructions below.
How long does a climbing rope last?
A climbing rope can last anywhere from a few days to 10 years, depending on how frequently it’s used, the conditions it’s stored in, and the number and severity of falls it catches. For more details about the lifespan of a climbing rope, keep reading below.
When should you replace a climbing rope?
All climbing ropes – even those that have never been used – eventually need to be replaced. Determining when your rope has reached the end of its life is a judgment call based on its current condition and history, but here are some general guidelines from rope manufacturers:
- If you take a severe fall with a high fall factor or if you notice any significant damage to the rope’s sheath or core, you should retire your climbing rope immediately.
- If you use your climbing rope weekly, it should be replaced within about a year.
- If you use your climbing rope a few times each month, it should be replaced within 3 years.
- If you use your climbing rope once a month, it should be replaced within 5 years.
- If you only use your rope a couple of times a year, it should be replaced within 7 years.
- If you have never used your climbing rope, it should still be replaced within 10 years of purchase.
To help you determine when it’s time to consider retiring your rope, we recommend tracking the rope’s history in a logbook. You should record information like the purchase date, how frequently you use it, how many falls you’ve taken, and the severity of your falls.
Regularly checking your rope for signs of damage is another crucial step in deciding when to replace it. We recommend examining your rope when it’s brand new to see how it should look and feel, then make sure to thoroughly inspect it before each subsequent use.
Examine the rope as you flake it and check for any signs of damage, including abrasions, cuts, excessive fraying or fuzziness, and mushy or flat sections. Superficial marks and a little bit of fuzziness are normal wear and tear and nothing to worry about. However, if the core is exposed or you notice soft spots that allow you to pinch the rope into a sharp bend, it’s time to retire the rope or cut the damaged section off.
Since your life depends on this piece of gear, always exercise caution and retire your rope if you have any doubts about its condition.
Retiring a climbing rope doesn’t mean it needs to go in the trash. Some manufacturers and other organizations will accept used ropes to repurpose into things like rugs, dog leashes, and other items. Check your local area or search online to find an organization that accepts used rope donations. You can also use your old rope for your own DIY project.
How should you store a climbing rope?
Proper storage is essential to preserving the integrity of your climbing rope. When not in use, keep your rope in a cool, dry place away from heat and direct sunlight. Avoid leaving your climbing rope in a vehicle on a warm day, as extreme heat can damage the materials.
If you plan on storing your rope in your garage, make sure to keep it away from any harsh chemicals like battery acid and bleach. If these chemicals get on your rope, the rope is no longer safe to use and should be retired.
One of the easiest ways to store your rope is using a rope bag. These bags make transporting your rope simple and convenient and are also very useful while climbing. Many products include an integrated tarp to keep your rope out of the dirt at the crag and help it stay cleaner longer.
How to Wash a Climbing Rope
If you determine it’s time to wash your climbing rope, here’s what you’ll need:
- Bathtub, large sink, storage bin, or another container
- Warm water
- Rope cleaner or mild soap (optional)
- Fill the bathtub, sink, or other container with lukewarm water.
- Put your rope in the water, swish it around, and let it soak for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.
- Add a rope cleaner or mild soap such as Dawn or Nikwax Down Wash to the water. Do not use any harsh detergents. If your rope is not overly dirty, you can wash it with water alone.
- Run the length of the rope through your hands, or use a rope brush to scrub it gently.
- Drain the dirty water and rinse the rope by refilling the tub with clean water. Repeat the draining and rinsing process until the water is clear.
- Air-dry the rope away from direct heat and sunlight. You can flake it over the shower curtain rod, laundry rack, a couple of chairs, or onto a large towel in a well-ventilated space. Make sure to allow plenty of room for the rope coils to dry and try to avoid stacking them directly on top of one another. The rope should be dry within about two days.
When in doubt about caring for your rope, check with the manufacturer for guidance.