How to Clean Climbing Shoes

The Ultimate Guide
Picture this: you’ve been wearing your new climbing shoes for the past couple months and they’ve become your favourites. They’ve broken in and they mold perfectly to your feet, like a second skin. However, there’s one problem: your friends don’t want to sit next to you because your feet stink. So, you throw them into the washing machine and dryer, right?

Devastation hits: they’ve shrunk and the rubber is peeling in places due to the high heat they were subjected to.

Climbing shoes stink. They’re warm from your feet and damp from sweat; this makes for the perfect breading ground for bacteria. However, when you’re desperate for a fix, it’s important to be careful as you risk ruining your shoes.

How can we avoid such a mishap? Is there anything that can be done? In this article we will discuss how to clean climbing shoes without doing any damage.

 

Prevention

Your top priority should be prevention. While it is possible to wash most climbing shoes (we’ll cover that soon), you’ll want to keep this to a minimum and only resort to soap and water when times are desperate.

Reduce the risk of odors by taking your shoes off after every couple of climbs. Similarly, when home, don’t leave them stuffed in the bottom of your bag. Ideally, you’ll want to store them in a cool dark place (like a closet). We’re looking to maximize air circulation here. If you live in a cold climate, consider leaving them in the garage during the winter as those freezing temps will aid in killing bacteria.

You may also want to apply product to the inside of your shoes. Consider giving your shoes a spray of odor eliminator, or leaving a dryer sheet inside when not in use. There are also specific products out there, such as the Shoe Bananas, that target this exact issue.

You’ll also want to consider the state of your own feet. Always make sure that your feet are clean before you slip the shoes on. If tend to be extra sweaty, you may even want to consider applying a bit of chalk to your feet. As strange as it may sound, think of the effect it has on your hands. Just make sure you aren’t over doing it. A light dusting with a chalk ball should be enough.

 

Machine vs hand washed?

When things get really bad and a deep wash is called for, you have two options on how to clean your climbing shoes: machine wash or hand wash. In most cases we would recommend a gentle hand wash. This will prevent any damage from occurring.

When hand washing your shoes, use warm and a mild soap. A brush can be used to get to the hard to reach spots inside. Give it a good scrub all around, then rinse with water. Do not use hot water at any point.

Machine washing should only ever be employed on shoes constructed from synthetic material (do not machine wash leather shoes!). Again, do not use hot water. Instead choose a warm to lukewarm temperature. Some shoes now a days, such as the La Sportiva Oxygym, are designed specifically to be machine washable.

Once your shoes are squeaky clean, let them air dry. Do not ever put them in the drying machine. Newspaper can be stuffed inside in order to prevent shrinking.

 

Dirty Rubber

Take a look at the soles of your shoes. Most people don’t think to check, but a culprit of slippery footholds can sometimes be a dirty sole. In the gym, this means a thin layer of chalk, while outside you’re likely to attract smears of dirt.

Some water and a vigorous rub down with a towel can do wonders. You could also try rubbing alcohol in the case of more stubborn stains. To prevent such a buildup, always wipe your shoes off before getting onto your climb, weather that’s with a clothe, your pant leg or a swipe of your hand.

As a bonus, when outside you’ll reduce repeated wear on the rock caused by the grinding of dirt by shoes. When inside, this means less icky holds for all.

For more ideas how to improve the friction in your shoes, take a look here.

The Verdict

For those of use with extra smelly feet, there are some steps you can take, from basic prevention, to more drastic measures like a machine wash. That being said, you’ll want to be careful. High heat should always be avoided during the washing and drying process.

Depending on the construction of your shoe, it is possible to ruin that perfect break-in you worked so hard to achieve. Avoid shrinking your shoes or destroying the upper’s material.

Better yet, take good care of your shoes. Be proactive. Be nice to your shoes and they’ll last you that much longer.

Truth be told, the majority of us do not wash our shoes. Unless you’ve got a particularly bad case of smelly feet, you’ll probably blend right in. When all else fails, embrace that natural funk!

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