How to clean rock climbing shoes

Written by susan sivek
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How to clean rock climbing shoes
(Photo by Flickr user mariachily.

Rock-climbing shoes endure tough conditions. On the outside, they become covered in dirt and grit. On the inside, they accumulate all the sweat your feet and legs generate during climbing. But you don't have to wear your shoes in such a pitiful state, and you may make more friends while climbing when your shoes are fresh and odour-free. A quick cleaning procedure -- that, critically, does not involve your washing machine -- is all it takes to give your dirty shoes a makeover.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Medium-firmness cleaning brush
  • Soft cloths
  • Warm water
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Toothbrush
  • Odour-reducing treatment, if desired (such as commercially available chemical sprays, dryer sheets or cedar shoe inserts)

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  1. 1

    Brush the outsides of the shoes with the cleaning brush to remove dirt and grime.

  2. 2

    Use a soft cloth dipped in warm water to wipe down the outer surfaces of the shoe. Laces (if your shoes have them) can be removed and washed in a lingerie bag in the washing machine, then air-dried.

  3. 3

    Clean the rubber outsoles of the climbing shoes thoroughly. The cleaner they are, the stickier they will be for more effective climbing. Rubbing alcohol on a cloth can be used instead of water if desired to bring back the outsoles' sticky feel.

  4. 4

    Clean the inside of the shoes using a second damp cloth. Remove the insoles, if possible for your shoes, and wipe them down top and bottom. Dampen the toothbrush and clean the crevices inside the shoe to remove any residual dirt. If your insoles are very dirty or worn, consider replacing them with new insoles.

  5. 5

    Allow the shoes to dry naturally. Avoid placing them in direct heat from an oven or hairdryer, as the heat is too intense and may damage the leather, rubber and synthetic materials of the shoes. You may choose to put an odour-reducing option of some sort -- such as a scented dryer sheet or cedar shoe insert -- in the shoes while they dry or soon after.

Tips and warnings

  • Avoid the build-up of dirt and odour on your rock climbing shoes by quickly wiping them down and allowing them to dry thoroughly after every climbing session. Loosen the laces or Velcro and open the shoes up to the air so sweat can dry and dirt can be shaken out. Preventive care will keep your shoes clean and wearable for the long haul.
  • Though it's tempting, don't wash your climbing shoes in the washing machine. The laces (if your shoes have them) can certainly endure a wash, but the washing cycle -- and especially the dryer -- can damage your shoes permanently.
  • Some climbers use baking soda, foot powder or other powdery products to try to keep their shoes fresh and odour-free. Other climbers have reported that the powders become caked inside the shoes and can rub uncomfortably or feel slick on their feet. If you use a powder, keep in mind that it may be hard to get it back out of the shoe, and you may end up wanting new shoes.

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