A perfectly molded pair of rock climbing shoes are the holy grail of climbing gear.
As climbers, we must be very careful about how we maintain our rock shoe’s shape, form, and odor-free insoles so our favorite shoes stick around as long as possible.
What’s the best way to keep your climbing shoes rocking all year?
The answer is in the preservation, storage, and washing techniques.
Cleaning Guidelines for Smelly Climbing Shoes
Every climbing gear manufacturer has its own thoughts on how to properly wash climbing shoes.
There’s no set answer, but all agree that your shoes should never see the inside of a washing machine—they’re not made for that kind of rumble and tumble.
Extreme temperatures can warp the rubber soles and the glue can pull apart.
|Gear Guides Care: Washing Climbing Shoes|
|Evolv||Do not wash.|
|La Sportiva||Wash with a damp cloth.|
|Butora||Soak in soap.|
|Scarpa||Wash/Flush with water.|
How to Clean Climbing Shoes
What you’ll need for a gentle wash:
- Soft toothbrush
- Mild detergent or dish soap
- Damp cloth
- Dry microfiber towel x2
Step 1. Rinse under running lukewarm water.
A quick run under room temperature water will do your smelly climbing shoes good.
Remember: not cold, not hot water.
(Check your shoes’ tags to make sure you can run them through the water. Some manufacturers say otherwise for leather shoes.)
Afterward, apply dish soap or a mild detergent sparingly to your brush/cloth.
Step 2. Wipe down gently.
Feel free to use the toothbrush for the hard-to-reach places, where bacteria and sweat hide.
To maintain pigment, don’t use any brushes on the logos or printed areas—stick to a wet cloth.
Step 3. Dry and fill.
Pat the fabric areas dry, brush off the sole, and stuff a towel inside while drying to hold the shape.
Open them up as much as possible without sacrificing their form so air can flow inside.
DO NOT blow dry, toss them in the dryer, or leave them to sun dry. You’ll come back to melted shoes after all your hard work.
Five Tips to Keep Your Climbing Shoes Clean
Our favorite pair of climbing shoes are our babies, one of our most precious possessions, and our trustworthy sidekicks on the rock climbing wall. Keep them living their best life by:
- Wiping off chalk before/after a climb.
- Being intentional about footwork.
- Letting your feet breathe between routes.
- Never walking up to a route outdoors in them.
- Avoiding chemical cleaners and rubbing alcohol on the rubber soles.
Reduce Odor and Lengthen the Lifespan of Your Rock Shoes
Nobody wants their car, home, or gym smelling like feet, but most of us have been there.
As you dyno up the rock wall, your feet sweat naturally.
Climbing shoes don’t breathe much because of their rubber toe soles, so expect more odor than gym shoes.
If you’re climbing outside, wear sandals so your feet have a chance to breathe before being stuffed into your new 5.10 Dragon Lace-ups.
Also, put a tarp or towel down for in-between climbs to keep both your shoes and body free of dirt.
When you get home, remove your climbing shoes from your backpack so they can air out by themselves.
Never place them in direct sunlight or in the dryer.
Powders and Sprays
Instead of doing a full-wipe down after every gym session, try using a powder or spray to freshen up your shoes.
My former climbing guide always used a concoction of diluted witch hazel to reduce the smell of a whole climbing gym full of stench. It did the trick and the shoes lasted much longer than those treated with Lysol and other chemicals.
Check out these three alternatives:
- Activated Charcoal Inserts – soak up the odor instead of masking it
- Baking Soda – the basic pantry product that freshens up your rock shoes
- Friendly Foot – a climber-recommended shoe freshener that limits bacteria growth
Check Your Sole
Maintain your shoe’s integrity with these tips and never leave them in a hot space.
Gear checks are optional, but make them mandatory.
You’ll be able to mitigate unnecessary wear and tear if you catch it early.
Keep an eye on where the rubber sole meets the rand, thin areas, and the toe tip. These spots are first to blow out with a dynamic move or footwork gone wrong.
You can save money by resoling your shoes instead of buying brand new ones, as long as the leather area isn’t compromised.
Ask your local gym if they have partners or a resoling list to reduce shipping costs.
I still have my first ever pair of climbing shoes—they’ve been resoled only once!
When you take good care of your prized possessions, they last.
If these valuable tips on preserving the lifespan of your favorite rock shoes are a day late and a dollar short, then it’s time to treat your feet to a shiny, new pair. We rounded up the best rock climbing shoes to up your game.
To our favorite rock climbing shoes: may they last forever!
McKenzi Taylor founded Rock Climbing Women in 2013 after moving to a new city as a new climber seeking more climbing partners (and new friends!). Since her first taste of climbing in Spearfish Canyon, SD, McKenzi has been at the rock face seeking and sharing the thrill of climbing. She credits the support of a consistent climbing partner and community as the motivation to continue developing her skill, whether it’s trad, sport climbing or bouldering. A full-time business owner and mother, McKenzi’s on a mission to get her kids outside and learning to adventure alongside her.