how to clean your climbing rope

Handwash, washing machine or just buy a new rope? The opinions on whether, how and when to wash a climbing rope vary a lot. 

But this is it, the ultimate guide to how to wash your rope (if you want to).  

A rope gets dirty easily when used outside. When you do seaside climbing it might get covered in salt. Sand is an issue if you’re in the desert and that’s just the beginning. 

Some say they prefer to just buy a new rope instead of washing it, but, really, it is worth investing half an hour on a Sunday afternoon to show your rope some love.

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How often to clean your climbing rope

 person rock climbing seen from below

When your hands are covered in black grime after every belay, it’s time for a bath. Not just for you, but also for your rope!

A clean rope is easier to handle, smoother and passes through your belay device easier. When sand or grit gets inside your rope, it can also chafe and cut the fibres from the inside, causing damage on the rope from within. 

Cleaning your rope, therefore, not only makes for a more comfortable and safe climbing trip, but also improves the life-span of your rope!

Cleaning your rope should be part of your regular gear-maintenance and inspection routine as it is the perfect opportunity to check the whole length of the rope for any abrasions, wear and tear or possible core damage.

How often you need to wash it greatly depends on how often and where you climb. But it’s important to try to keep the rope as clean as possible by using a rope tarp or by placing it on the cleanest possible surface when you’re out and about. 

Avoid stepping on it and, well, just be nice to that lifesaving piece of gear, you know. 

If you’re looking to buy your very first rope and everything just seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. In this article you have all the necessary information about climbing ropes in one spot!

Ways To Clean a Climbing Rope

There are different ways to clean your rope. And there are just as many opinions about how to do it out there on the wild wild web. 

While some swear on handwashing, others chuck it in the washing machine and move on. 

We looked at all these different methods and have listed some simple step-by-step guides below.  

By hand

Handwashing is the most basic method to wash your rope. You don’t need any special equipment for it, although a rope brush and special rope detergent can speed up your process.

hand washing climbing rope

With a washing machine

Some swear by it, others condemn it: washing your rope with a washing machine! We can tell you what to do, but if you do decide to use a washing machine, make sure it is free of previously used detergents or bleach, which could damage your rope. 

If you are worried about tangling, either knot your rope up in a daisy chain or use a mesh-washing bag or an old pillow case.

Tools

As always, humans have invented stuff to make life easier. This also applies to rope washing!

Get one of those clever little brushes to get rid of every last bit of dirt left in your rope with much less hassle. The alternative is to use your hands to brush and squeeze the dirt out, but those brushes will make the task faster and more thorough. 

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When it comes to detergent, it is recommended to use a rope-specific product.

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However, the general rule of thumb is that you can use other products that are made to be in direct contact with skin like mild detergents or even shampoo.

When it comes to gadgets, the sky’s the limit and while you could buy a mesh bag specifically for washing your rope, an old pillow case will also do the trick to keep it from tangling up too much.

How To Clean your Climbing Rope By Hand

What you need

Handwashing your rope is quite simple. You need water, your rope and a tub to wash it in.  If you want, you can use some special detergent made for rope-cleaning to take your cleaning to the next level, but if you can’t get hold of any, just some lukewarm water will do, too.

Step-by-step guide to how to wash your rope by hand

1.Clean the tub

cleaning climbing: step 1 clean the tub

You don’t want any residue of previously used detergents or chemicals in the water, as they can damage your rope.

2. Fill the tub with lukewarm or cold water and add detergent (optional)

Don’t use water that is hotter than 30 degrees Celsius and add detergent according to the instructions on the packaging.

3. Flake your dirty rope into the water and let it soak

cleaning climbing: step 3 flake rope into tub to soak

Flake the rope into the water and use this as an opportunity to inspect it for any damages, get rid of any twists and check if you need to cut the ends.

Let it soak for at least half an hour, so the dirt within the rope gets loosened up.

4. Time for some TLC

cleaning climbing: step 4 swish around and brush dirt

Swish the rope around to get all the dirt out. Use a rope brush or your hands to squeeze dirt and water out of the rope.

5. Drain the water and fill the tub with clean water, repeat until water runs clear

cleaning climbing: step 5 repeat until water is clear

Repeat the soaking and swishing around until the water is clean enough that you can actually see the bottom of the tub again

Take your rope out and onto the final step: drying 

How To Clean A Climbing Rope in a Washing Machine

washing process

What you need

A washing machine, a rope, detergent. That’s it. 

Some recommend using a mesh bag or old pillow case to stuff your rope into while washing, so it doesn’t get tangled up too much. A front-loading washing machine is better than a top-loading one, as the rope tends to knot up less.

Step-by-step guide

1. Clean the washing machine

Run it on empty to rid the washing machine of any residue or leftover detergents or chemicals that could damage your rope.

2. Prep your rope

While it is fine to just chuck your rope into the washing machine as it is, shortening it into a daisy chain or using a mesh bag or similar can keep it from getting tangled.

If you have a top loading washing machine, lower the daisy-chained rope into the drum by circling it around the centre, reversing the direction each time you make a loop, to keep it from wrapping around the centrepiece of the washing machine.

3. Choose the correct cycle and water temperature

The water should not be hotter than 30 degrees Celsius and use the slowest available cycle. Often it is a “delicate” or “wool” wash.

Add rope detergent if you have any, according to the specific instructions of the product.

Do not spin the rope.

4. Take rope out to dry

 Do not use a dryer or any artificial heat to dry your rope.  

How to Dry Your Wet Climbing Rope once It’s Washed

How to Dry Your Wet Climbing Rope once It’s Washed

Drying your rope can take a few days, depending on the climate you’re in.

Flake it loosely in a cool, dry and well-ventilated space and keep it out of direct sunlight as the UV rays can damage the material. Never use any artificial heat to dry your rope! 

Rotate or move the pile of rope so it dries from all sides.  Don’t stack the coils on top of each other when drying the rope. 

 Only store the rope away once it is completely dry to avoid mildew! 

How to clean dry treated climbing rope

A dry-treated rope has a special coating to make it more resistant to water and keeps it from absorbing water. 

Dry ropes are used for climbing in extreme environments like ice-climbing or for alpine climbing, where it is more exposed to the elements than in your more standard sports climbing crag.

This coating wears off with time, whether you wash it or not. But of course, washing it with water makes the coating come off faster. 

So, a dry treated rope can be washed, but try to avoid washing it “a lot” to keep the coating going for as long as possible.

What you can do to delay a proper wash is to give it a dry brush down after use, especially in the first few meters of the rope that usually get most of the dirt or chalk on them.

Once you do need to wash it, wash it by hand in lukewarm water or in the washing machine on a wool programme using a special detergent for ropes or synthetics available at outdoor retailers. 

How to wash tree climbing rope

person climbing rock

Arborists‘ or tree climbing rope, should also be cleaned on a regular basis to keep it clean and make it last longer.

In contrast to climbing rope, this rope has the additional impact of resin and tree sap that can make it sticky and difficult to use. 

These substances are harder to get rid of with water alone, so experts recommend a specific solvent to get rid of the sap on the rope, but without damaging the rope itself! 

There is no set life span for a tree climbing rope, like with a climbing rope, this depends a lot on its use and how you take care of it.

Keep it clean

Making sure your rope stays clean is the first step of caring for your gear, as sap and tree resin can clog up your rope or other equipment.

Modern tree climbing rope consists of up to 24 stands of fibre bundles, where dirt and grit can get in between. These can work like tiny knives, damaging the rope from within, so, like a climbing rope, a tree climbing rope needs a good clean every once in a while.

To wash it, proceed like with a climbing rope, wash by hand or in a washing machine with cold water and a gentle cycle. Special rope soap should be used on the rope and let it dry completely before storing it away!

If you have problems getting rid of sap or resin, there are special products  available which are supposed to help you clean your rope without damaging it.

How to improve the lifespan of your rope

Besides washing your rope, there are quite a few other things you can do to make it last longer and increase its lifespan.

  • First, when you buy your rope, make sure to uncoil it correctly to avoid unnecessary twisting. Here is a video on how to that: 

  • Make sure to store it in a clean and dry place where it is safe from moisture and direct sunlight
  • Try to keep it clean by using a tarp whenever you are out and about and don’t step on it or let your furry friends sleep on it on the crag. Avoid exposure to water unless it is a dry-treated rope.
  • Wash when necessary using the appropriate methods and tools

Cutting Your Rope When It’s Damaged

Sometime the best way to make a rope last longer is to simply cut the frayed end.

If the end is unsafe to use for climbing, we have a full guide on how to know when and how to cut a rope correctly.

To sum it up: dirtbags – wash your rope

Even the biggest of dirtbags out there will get something out of washing their rope. 

It takes a bit of your precious time, but sacrificing a couple of hours on your rest day to devote to maintaining one of the most important pieces of equipment surely is time well spent.

If you are living on the road and don’t have a washing machine at hand, washing your rope by hand is a good option too, and you get the opportunity to check your lifeline for any damages or abrasions while washing it, killing two birds with one stone.

Published by Mirjam Boss

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