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How To Clean and Disinfect All of Your Climbing Gear

How To Clean and Disinfect All of Your Climbing Gear

In addition to making your gear look better, your gear will work better and last longer if you keep it clean.

Aside from germs, removing dirt and grime from your gear is something that you should be doing at least once-per-year. Some gear should be cleaned more often.

For example, if your rope is dirty or oily, it won’t be as smooth going through the belay device or anchors. Remember how your rope felt the first time you used it? It should feel like that every time you use it, which is why we recommend you clean your gear every season/once per year.

In this article, I go through everything that needs to be disinfected/cleaned and how to clean it based on manufactures recommendations.

What Gear Needs To Be Cleaned?

If you aren’t sure what gear you need to clean, just look inside your climbing bag. Everything in there needs to be cleaned and disinfected. Yes, that includes your brush and carabiners.

Each of these items, however, requires a different way of cleaning them, and thus, each piece of gear should be cleaned individually and carefully to ensure it is cleaned properly and doesn’t get ruined.

If you are a smart climber, you probably also have a first aid kit or something like that. Though that kit probably doesn’t need to be disinfected (maybe dusted) you should take a few minutes to clean out any bandaid wrappers leftover from last year and add anything that needs to be replenished.

Climbing Rope

Your climbing rope is much easier to clean than most climbers think. Because of this misconception, some climbers don’t clean their gear and don’t get the full life out of their rope. By keeping your rope clean, you will lengthen its life and usability.

What You Need:

  • Rope cleaner 
  • Warm water 
  • Bathtub or storage tub
  • Optional: Rope brush

What To Do:

  1. Add warm water to the bathtub or storage tub
  2. Add rope cleaner to the tub of warm water (see the bottle of rope cleaner for measurements and any special instructions)
  3. Place the loose rope (unknotted) in the water/cleaner and move it around so all of the rope is thoroughly covered in water and rope cleaner
  4. If you have a rope brush, use it now to remove dirt or grime build-up. Note: some climbers said the rope brush caught on a snag of their rope and pulled the snag out. Ensure that you have no snags and use the rope brush at your own risk.
  5. Drain the water out of the tub
  6. Rince the Rope thoroughly until all this rope soap is out of it 
  7. Allow the rope to dry (do not let it dry in the sun and don’t store wet)

Note: Many manufactures, such as Petzl, suggest you can wash your rope in a washing machine. Choose the 30 °C delicate synthetic setting, without a spin cycle and let it air dry.

Harness

Your harness is one of the most important pieces of gear that keep you safe and as such, you should keep it as clean as possible so it can last as long as possible. In cases were it needs to be disinfected or is especially dirty use the following instructions.

What You Need:

  • A clean sink or storage tub or bathtub
  • Warm water
  • Hand soap
  • A soft brush 

What To Do:

  1. Remove oily dirt or mud with the soft brush
  2. Fill the sink with warm water enough to cover the harness
  3. Mix in the hand soap
  4. Hand wash the harness in the soapy warm water 
  5. Rinse the harness with clean water
  6. Dry it as much as you can with a towel 
  7. Let it sit out to air dry on a clothesline (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)

Machine Wash Instructions

According to Petzl, you can wash your harness in a washing machine with the following recommendations:

  • Choose the 30 °C delicate synthetic setting, without a spin cycle. 
  • Wash the harness inside a thick cloth bag to avoid damaging the machine drum with metal parts of harnesses.
  • Hang the clean harness on a line to dry (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)
  • Do not use laundry detergent.

Warning:

  • Use only household face and body soap. All other cleaning products, for example, solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. are too strong and are incompatible with nylon
  • Do not use a high-pressure water sprayer

Belay Devices

Belay devices are unique compared to most gear because there are so many kinds of belay devices that are different shapes, different mechanisms and some are made with all-metal compared to others that have plastic built into them. However, they can all still be cleaned in a similar fashion.

For cleaning your grigri or other belay devices that have moving parts, do NOT take apart the device. Clean the device like you would the single-piece belay devices using the instructions below.

Tip: If a belay device has developed a sharp edge on the body, it should be retired. In fact, the popular manufacture of the Grigri, Petzl, recommends “retiring any metal product that has wear greater than one millimeter deep on its body.”

What You Need:

  • A bowl 
  • Warm water
  • Hand soap
  • A soft brush

What To Do:

  1. Remove oily dirt or mud with the soft brush
  2. Fill the bowl with warm water
  3. Mix in the hand soap
  4. Wash the belay device in the bowl of water 
  5. Rinse the device with clean water
  6. Dry the belay device as much as you can with a towel 
  7. Let it sit out to air dry (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)

Warnings:

  • Do not use acid or harsh cleaners. Do not use WD 40 type degreasers as these products remove lubricants and their abrasive effect can accelerate wear.
  • Certain belay devices have plastic parts. Only use household face and body soap. All other cleaning products, for example, solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. are too strong and not compatible with plastic materials.
  • Do not use a high-pressure water sprayer. High-pressure water spray can remove lubricants and damage joints.
  • If lubricating is necessary. Lubricate only with fluid oils (machine oil) or graphite powder. After lubricating, clean oil residue with a cloth to avoid getting oil on slings or ropes.

Climbing Shoes

When it comes to cleaning climbing shoes, the goal is usually related to shoe stank, which is important, but below is more related to disinfecting, which happens to have the common side effect of better smelling shoes.

Since some climbing shoes are mostly synthetic or leather, below are the most common recommendations for cleaning them. However, your shoes may be made with part leather and part synthetic. If that is the case, we recommend you follow the leather regimen, just in case. 

Synthetic Climbing Shoes

Synthetic shoes can be machine washed on gentle, with warm water. 

What You Need:

  • Washing Machine

What To Do:

  1. Remove laces and close all velcro straps
  2. Machine wash your shoes on gentle with warm water
  3. Stuff them with newspaper or paper towels beforehand so they don’t shrink
  4. Dry the shoes with a fan or other air-dry method (Never put rock climbing shoes in a dryer, even on air dry)
  5. Treat the shoes with a Lysol or other antiseptic spray

Warning: With many rock climbing shoes, you will likely see a lightening of the upper but the shoe itself will not be affected

Leather Shoes

Leather shoes are more prone to shrinking and stretching so it isn’t advisable to machien wash them.

What You Need:

  • Warm Water
  • Hand Soap
  • Bowl or sink
  • Cloth

What To Do:

  1. Remove laces and close all velcro straps
  2. Combine the warm water with hand soap in a bowl or sink
  3. Dip the cloth in the warm soapy water
  4. Wipe down the inside and outside of the shoes with the damp soapy cloth (don’t use too much water)
  5. Rince the damp cloth until clean
  6. Re-wipe down the inside of the shoes and remove any soap leftover
  7. Dry the shoes with a fan or other air-dry method (Never put rock climbing shoes in a dryer, even on air dry)
  8. Treat the shoes with a Lysol or other antiseptic spray

Warning: don’t use too much water because that can prematurely break down the leather

Helmet

Most of the time helmets remain clean compared to other gear, however with continued use (handling it with your infected or dirty hands) or if you accidentally dropped it in a puddle of mud, cleaning it is still a good idea.

What You Need:

  • A clean sink or bathtub
  • Warm water
  • Hand soap
  • A soft brush (a clean chalk brush works)

What To Do:

  1. Remove visual oily dirt or mud with the soft brush
  2. Fill the sink with warm water enough to cover the harness
  3. Mix in the hand soap
  4. Hand wash the helmet in the soapy warm water 
  5. Rinse the helmet with clean water
  6. Dry it as much as you can with a towel 
  7. Let it sit out to air dry (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)
  8. The shell of ABS helmets can be cleaned with a cloth lightly moistened with rubbing alcohol. Warning, do not dip the helmet directly in alcohol.

Warning:

  • Use only household face and body soap. All other cleaning products, for example, solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. are not compatible with polycarbonate, polystyrene, or nylon, and can weaken the helmet
  • Do not use a high-pressure water sprayer

Carabiners

As you can imagine, the functionality of your carabiners is essential to a safe ascent/descent. As such, it is important to remove any grime or oil that can be interfering or limiting the full functionality of the device.

What You Need:

  • A bowl 
  • Warm water
  • Hand or face soap

What To Do:

  1. Use the soft brush to remove any excess oily mud
  2. Fill the bowl of water with warm water
  3. Mix in the hand soap
  4. Place the carabiner in the bowl of water 
  5. Open and close the carabiner repeatably until the hand soap and warm water has thoroughly gotten into every part of the carabiner
  6. Rinse the carabiner
  7. Dry the carabiner as much as you can with a towel then let it sit out to air dry (do not dry in the sun and don’t store while it is still wet)

Warning: 

  • Do not use acid or harsh cleaners
  • Do not use WD 40 type degreasers as these products remove lubricants and their abrasive effect can accelerate wear
  • All other cleaning products, for example, solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. are too strong and not compatible with plastic materials
  • Do not use a high-pressure water sprayer. High-pressure water spray can remove lubricants and damage joints
  • If lubricating is necessary. Lubricate only with fluid oils (machine oil) or graphite powder. After lubricating, clean oil residue with a cloth to avoid getting oil on slings or ropes 

Quickdraws

Quickdraws are made of carabiners and the dog bone. To clean this piece of gear you should remove the carabiner from the dog bone and clean them separately. To clean the carabiner, see above for instructions on cleaning. See below for cleaning the dog bone.

What You Need:

  • A bowl 
  • Warm water
  • Hand soap
  • A soft brush

What To Do:

  1. Fill the bowl of water with warm water
  2. Mix in the hand soap
  3. Place the dog bone in the bowl of water 
  4. Using the soft brush, softly brush the dog bone while keeping it underwater
  5. Rinse the dog bone
  6. Dry the dog bone as much as you can with a towel 
  7. Let it sit out to air dry (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)

Warning: 

  • Use only household face and body soap. All other cleaning products, for example, solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. are too strong and are incompatible with nylon.
  • Do not use a high-pressure water sprayer

Sling

The versatility of a sling has made it an essential piece of gear for climbers around the world. It is also one of the cheapest pieces of gear so a lot of times when they get dirty, climbers just replace them. However, if you are like me and climb where it rains every so often, a muddy sling is common and replacing it every time I go climbing after a little rain would be expensive. 

What You Need:

  • A bowl or sink or storage tub or bathtub (depending on the size of the sling)
  • Warm water
  • Hand soap
  • A soft brush

What To Do:

  1. Remove oily dirt or mud with the soft brush
  2. Fill the bowl with warm water
  3. Mix in hand soap
  4. Wash the sling in the bowl of water 
  5. Rinse the sling with clean water
  6. Dry it as much as you can with a towel 
  7. Let it sit out to air dry on a clothes line (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)

Warning:

  • Use only household face and body soap. All other cleaning products, for example, solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. are too strong and are incompatible with nylon.
  • Do not use a high-pressure water sprayer

Chalk Bag

Though it isn’t too difficult to clean, many climbers don’t like taking chalk out of their bag so it doesn’t get cleaned as often as it should be, if it gets cleaned at all.

Just like your chalk brush, you probably thought you could get away with not cleaning it. However, just like the chalk brush, it is one item that you handle with your hands so often and you probably let other people handle it too, so it needs to be disinfected.

What You Need:

  • Warm water
  • Hand soap
  • Sink or bathtub (depending on how big your sink and/or chalk bag is)

What To Do:

  1. Remove everything from the chalk bag (chalk brush, tape, chalk, etc.)
  2. Fill the sink or tub with enough warm water to cover the chalk bag
  3. Mix in hand soap
  4. Hand wash the chalk bag inside and out
  5. Dry it as much as you can with a towel 
  6. Let it sit out to air dry (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)

Warning:

  • Use only household face and body soap. All other cleaning products, for example, solvents, stain removers, degreasers, etc. are too strong and are incompatible with nylon, which is a common material in chalk bags
  • Do not use a high-pressure water sprayer

Chalk Brush

Cleaning your chalk brush is probably not what you were thinking about when you clicked on this article, but the fact is that your chalk brush is one of the items most used/touched/held in your hand and thus disinfecting it can help you stay healthy. 

Luckily, cleaning your chalk brush is super easy and it doesn’t take very long.

What You Need:

  • Warm water
  • Hand soap

What To Do:

  1. Hand wash the chalk brush with warm water and hand soap
  2. Ensure that you thoroughly disinfect the handle with the hand soap
  3. Dry it as much as you can with a towel 
  4. Let it sit out to air dry (don’t dry it in the sun and don’t store it while it’s still wet)

Other/Misc Gear

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, everything that is in your gear bag should get cleaned. Some of the items in your gear bag, however, may not need as much instruction for cleaning. Here are some other items that you still need to clean, but it is probably easier than anything else.

Water Bottle

Every gear bag has one and you should already know how to clean a water bottle. This is more of a reminder that you should actually clean it, even if you only use it for water.

You can wash most water bottles in the top rack of a dishwasher. If the bottle isn’t dishwasher safe or you don’t have a dishwasher, use warm water and dish soap to hand wash it thoroughly and then dry it with a towel or let it air dry.

Grip Trainer

I don’t see people cleaning these very often, but as an item that is constantly being gripped by your grimy hands or that of a sick friend, consider cleaning these more often than just once per year.

Depending on the material the trainer is made of, you can usually use warm water and hand soap. If the device has a lubricant, it may be better to use a damp cloth with hand soap to go over the areas that your hand touches and avoid contact with the lubricant. 

Belay Glasses

Belay glasses are one of those things that you touch often or get dust on them so keeping them clean can not only minimize the chances of getting sick but also increase their visibility. 

Belay glasses can be cleaned the same way you would clean normal glasses, with glasses cleaner. Be sure to clean the prisms and remove any excess cleaner to ensure there aren’t dry marks left behind. You can also use the glasses cleaner to clean the peice that goes around your nose and ears.

Optometrists frequently recommend that you use the spray glasses cleaner with a micro-fiber cloth instead of the glass cleaner wipes. Glass cleaner wipes have been known to scratch the prisms when dirt or dust is wiped off.

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