Climbing shoes are one of the most important pieces of equipment you need for rock climbing.
But let’s face it, they smell.
Learning the art of keeping your shoes clean and in good condition will help them last longer and maintain their quality and shape.
Cleansing your shoes from residual sweat and oils from your skin will also eliminate bacteria and bad odors, reducing your chances of contracting any skin or foot diseases (like Athlete’s Foot…gross!).
Although it’s easier to be lazy with gear maintenance, it’s far more worth it to invest some time and energy into caring for your shoes. It’ll save you money in the long run, while also preventing some sideways glances from your rock climbing friends.
There are several tips and tricks can help you keep your climbing shoes well-cleaned and well-preserved.
Let’s explore those in detail.
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Different Cleaning Methods per Climbing Shoe Type
Cleaning Climbing Shoes with Synthetic Uppers
Most climbing shoes offer water resistance and tear resistance when in use. However, such is not the case when the shoes are being washed. It is therefore important to be delicate with your shoes when washing them.
If you want to keep your climbing shoes clean, you should occasionally hand wash them using warm water and mild detergent. Dr. Bronner’s soap is perfect for the job.
Make sure to use warm water. You should never use hot water, as hot water can cause damage to the rubber on the outsole.
Here are some steps to get started with hand washing:
- Take out the inner soles from inside of the shoes.
- Remove the laces.
- Use a brush to clear off any accumulated dirt or debris from the midsoles and outer soles.
- Dip the climbing shoes into a water bucket and let them sit for a few seconds.
- Pull them out and use soap to rinse every inch of your shoes.
- Wash the shoes again and rinse off any soap.
- Air dry the shoes by hanging them in a cool place protected from direct sunlight. (Sun can damage the shoe material and rubber.) Do not use them until they are completely dry.
Machine Washing Climbing Shoes
Although putting your shoes in the washing machine seems a lot easier than hand washing them, professionals strongly recommend against it.
This is because shoes are at a much higher risk of getting beat up and distorted in the washing machine versus being hand washed.
However, if you so must, you can still machine wash your shoes – as long as they are synthetic.
Also, be sure to check the instructions inside the tongue of your synthetic shoes; they should indicate whether or not the materials of your shoes are machine-wash friendly.
Never machine-wash leather shoes.
To clean your shoes using a washing machine:
- Use warm water with your shoes and let them run a few cycles before pulling them out of the machine. Do not ever use hot water.
- Remember to remove laces from your shoes before putting them into the machine, lest you want to lose them.
- Never put your shoes in the dryer if you want to keep your shoes’ rubber from nearly melting or the fabric uppers from shrinking.
- Instead, leave your shoes to air dry in an outdoor environment under some shade.
To prevent shrinkage, try stuffing newspapers or old garments inside the shoes when letting them dry.
How To Clean Leather Climbing Shoes
Washing leather shoes involves a slightly different process than washing synthetic shoes:
- Fill a tub or a bucket with lukewarm water.
- Add mild detergent or soap in the water and mix it up.
- Before putting them in the water, brush off your shoes and eliminate any dirt from the exterior.
- You can scrub the rubber exterior of your leather climbing shoes with a soft-bristled brush or wire brush.
- Take out the inner soles from your shoes and clean the insides as well. You can use a brush to clean hard to reach spots inside the shoe, too.
- Place the shoes inside the water and let it soak completely for a few minutes.
- Remove the shoes from the bucket and let them dry in the open air.
If you want to take your washing experience to the next level, you can also find good leather cleaning kits online.
You’ll find several leather preservation oils and soft-bristled brushes in these kits that can help you quickly clean and oil your leather climbing shoes for a prolonged lifespan.
Can You Put Climbing Shoes In The Dryer?
Don’t do it!
A dryer machine uses gusts of hot wind to dry the items. Therefore, the material of your climbing shoes can shrink upon exposure to hot air.
The high temperatures inside a dryer can damage the materials beyond repair and you will have to buy a new pair of climbing shoes. And we all know that shoes aren’t cheap.
Your best bet is to treat you shoes like your most favorite, most expensive piece of clothing. Handle it with extreme care, and leave it out to dry.
How to Make Climbing Shoes Not Smell?
One of the most important aspects of cleaning your shoes is getting rid of the foul smell that develops in them after rock climbing a few times.
Thankfully, you don’t have to give your climbing shoes a hand-washing every time they start getting super stinky.
There are actually several good methods for quickly eliminating bad odors:
Baking soda is one of the best ways to get rid of any stench in your climbing shoes.
Just sprinkle as much soda as you feel is necessary in each climbing shoe and let them sit overnight.
The next morning, dump out the baking soda and wipe your shoes thoroughly with a clean cloth.
And – voila! You can get back to rock climbing without stinking out your car or your climbing partner.
Be warned, though: frequent usage can dry out your shoes and damage them. Therefore, you should limit your use of baking soda to only the most seriously stinky circumstances.
Tea bags are another proven method that can instantly freshen up any pair of climbing shoes.
Because tea bags are super absorbent, they suck up the moisture in your shoes that allows odor-producing bacteria to grow.
All you have to do is place fresh, dry tea bags inside each climbing shoe and let them sit for a day or two.
Just be sure to throw the used bags away after you remove them from your shoes; otherwise, you’ll be in for a gnarly cup of tea!
You can also put dryer sheets in each climbing shoe and leave them in over night. .
Unused dryer sheets will soak in the dirty smell from your shoes and offer a refreshing scent the next morning.
Foot powders and shoe deodorizers are designed to absorb moisture from your climbing shoes and also take care of any bad odors or scents in the long run.
The nice thing about food powder is that you can use it every time you go rock climbing.
These powders can be used every day and even offer moisture-wicking capabilities to keep any scent from accumulating in your shoes in the first place.
However, if you do not like the feel and texture of the shoe powder, you can sprinkle the powder in your shoes and leave them overnight before removing any excess powder in the morning.
Antibacterial Shoe Spray – Before and After Rock Climbing
You can use any antibacterial shoe sprays to disinfect and deodorize your climbing shoes quickly. There are hundreds of different options in the market.
Moreover, you will find that most antibacterial sprays are designed to take care of smells within seconds! Some of the most popular options are:
- Rocket Pure – Natural Foot & Shoe Deodorizer Spray
- 10 Seconds Shoe Disinfectant and Deodorizer
- Lotrimin AF Athletes Foot Deodorant Antifungal Powder
- Elite Sportz Shoe Deodorizer and Foot Spray
- Dr. Scholl’s Odor-Fighting X Foot Powder
However, you will need to be careful to use the right deodorizer or antibacterial spray for your climbing shoes. Some of these sprays come with strong chemicals that can gradually take a toll on your shoes’ material.
For that reason, be sure to check the ingredients and guidelines on the bottle before using the spray on your climbing shoes. You’ll want to know whether or not the ingredients in the sprays are compatible with your specific climbing shoes and their respective materials.
Final Words On How To Clean Climbing Shoes
Keeping your climbing shoes clean and well-preserved can help extend their lifespan.
This is why you need to take care of your shoes from the beginning instead of looking for different methods at the eleventh hour.
The cleaning and deodorizing methods mentioned above are tested and proven, and can easily help you get rid of dirt and stench from your climbing shoes.
When necessary, it is recommended that you use lukewarm water to quickly rinse and clean your climbing shoes with mild detergent or soap.
However, if you’re not a big fan of putting your favorite climbing shoes in water, you can also use the alternative methods and products mentioned above to eliminate all scents and odors.
The best choice ultimately depends upon your personal preferences.
For further reading see: “Best Intermediate Climbing Shoes: Ultimate Buying Guide” and “The 7 Best Climbing Shoes For Wide Feet“.
Editorial staff for The Wandering Climber. An expert roundup of climbing nerds from across the world!