How To Prevent Climbing Shoes From Smelling

Whether you just got a new pair of climbing shoes and you don’t want them to stink or you noticed many of your climbing friends have smelly shoes and don’t want to have that in common, you may be wondering how to prevent shoe odor. 

Below is an outline of everything you need to know to prevent your shoes from becoming smelly. If you don’t like reading, then here is a quick summary:

To avoid shoe odor, it is important to first understand why your shoes may stink. Bacteria growth is the main cause of stinky climbing shoes. The best way to prevent shoe odor is to prevent bacteria growth.

And read to the end for a link to my article of 11 cheap ways to make your shoes smell better if they already smell.

Why Do My Climbing Shoes Stink?

Though all athletic shoes can become smelly, climbing shoes seem to stink more (cramming your feet into shoes that are too-small probably doesn’t help). Shoe odor is caused by bacteria growth in your shoes and this growth is mainly because of the environment that climbing shoes create. Below are the most common reasons why your climbing shoes stink and if you keep reading, I’ve also provided ways to prevent your shoes from smelling.


Everyone sweats through their feet while climbing. If your climbing shoes don’t allow evaporation or if moisture gets trapped in your shoes, then bacteria can grow. The type of material your shoe is made from may increase the likelihood of shoe odor. For example, synthetic climbing shoes are more likely to stink. If you have synthetic shoes, don’t worry, you don’t need to return them. You still have hope and can prevent your shoes from stinking.

Dead Skin

Dead skin is an unfortunate but very common cause of bacterial growth because it is a great home for bacteria. Most climbers have callouses that rub off of their feet while they are climbing because of the heat, moisture and friction in your shoes. 


Interestingly, stress can also cause foot odor, which in turn, causes shoe odor. Since stress is commonly experienced during climbing (something about holding onto the side of a cliff and risk of falling), it’s no wonder that many climbers suffer from shoe odor. However, if you find that you stress a lot while climbing, it may be worth focusing on your mental game so you don’t stress as much while climbing.

How Can I Prevent Shoe Odor?

Wear Socks (Ya, I Know You Don’t Want To)

If you look anywhere but a climbing blog, then you may have learned that socks are the best way to prevent shoe odor. If you wear clean socks with your climbing shoes, then they are less likely to stink because the socks absorb the moisture. 

However, most climbers feel that socks interrupt their climbing experience and thus, wearing socks may not be the best way to prevent shoe odor. If you are worried about wearing socks while climbing, you may be surprised how many people wear socks with climbing shoes.

Scrub Your Feet

Since dead skin is a great home that helps bacteria grow, removing dead skin from your feet before you put your feet in the climbing shoes will help.

Scrubbing your feet and removing any dead skin (including callouses) from your feet every day can be uncomfortable but some climbers swear by it. If you have ever taken your shoes off and saw dead skin near your heal or big toe flake off, then you need to scrub your feet right now.

No need for a chemical peel (yes those are a thing – you can get a foot mask that removes dead skin at Target). You should, however, at least invest in a pumice stone or a foot grater, depending on the state of your foot.

Use the pumice stone every day during or after you get out of the shower so your skin is soft and it is easy to remove the dead skin. With doing this often, you should be able to notice less skin coming off when you take your feet out of your climbing shoes.

Wipe Your Shoes With Antiseptic Wipe

Bacteria is pretty easy to get rid of before it causes your shoes to stink. One relatively cheap and discrete way is by wiping the inside of your shoes with a septic wipe after each climb. That way any bacteria growth that may be starting in your shoes, can be killed before it becomes too late.

Septic wipes are typically found in the first-aid section of a store and are sold in individual packets similar to sugar packets. You can take a few wipe packets with you in your climbing bag (or even your pocket) and wipe the shoes down after each climbing session and before you rejoining society.

One nice thing about bringing antiseptic wipes with you to the crag is that they are multipurpose. If you scrape your knee or get a flapper, you can use an antiseptic wipe (clean/new one) to clean the area before adding bandages to it.

Spray Disinfectant After Each Session

Probably the fastest, though not the most discreet way to remove bacteria is a disinfectant spray. You can get a bottle of Lysol or whatever brand you prefer for a couple of bucks and it only takes a moment to do after each climbing session. 

I have a bottle of Lysol in the trunk of my car and I spray my shoes with that before I put them in back in my car after a climbing session. This kills any bacteria and prevents odor. In addition, it leaves a fresh smell so your shoes smell better than they did the day you bought them.

Unlike wearing socks or wiping shoes down with a wipe, a spray doesn’t remove any dead skin that is left behind so you should still scrub your feet and prevent it from being left in your shoe…

Do Your Shoes Already Stink? It Isn’t Too Late

You may have noticed that your shoes already stink and even though you’ve started to scrub your feet, you may notice that the damage is already done. I made an entire post for cheap ways to remove the odor from your climbing shoes. Check it out: 11 CHEAP Ways To Make Your Shoes Smell Better


Climbing shoes frequently become smelly but understanding what causes the odor can help you prevent that from happening. Common causes of smelly shoes include moisture, dead skin and stress that makes it easy for bacteria growth. 

You can prevent bacteria growth by wearing socks, scrub your feet every day, clean your shoes with a septic wipe and/or spray them with a disinfectant wipe. You don’t need to do all of these things every time you climb but doing at least one of them will decrease the chance of your shoes developing an odor.