How to clean climbing shoes

Fight the funk of your smelly climbing shoes.

how to clean climbing shoes

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.


How to stop climbing shoe from smelling

Your top priority should be prevention. Smelly climbing shoes is a common problem because many climber exercise without socks. Bacteria – and therefore odour – is attracted by the moist air of your shoes caused by your feet sweating.

While it is possible to wash 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.

Solution #1: Take Them Off

Reduce the risk of smelly climbing shoes by taking then 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 temperatures will aid in killing bacteria.

 Solution #2: Apply Product

You may also want to apply product to the inside of your shoes. Consider giving your shoes a spray of odour 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.

If you want to take the DIY approach to cleaning climbing shoes, then grab some baking soda from the kitchen. baking soda will neutralize the conditions needed for bacteria to thrive, which will in turn reduce the smell of your shoes. 

 Solution #3: Keep Clean

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.


How to wash climbing shoes

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 every case we would highly recommend a gentle hand wash. This will prevent any damage from occurring.

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

Machine washing isn’t usually recommend, but is possible on shoes constructed from synthetic material (do not machine wash leather shoes!).

Again, don’t use hot water, instead choose a warm to lukewarm temperature. Some shoes, 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 or expose to excessive sunlight. Newspaper can be stuffed inside in order to prevent shrinking of leather shoes.

How to wash climbing shoes

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 (or an old tooth bush) can do wonders. You could also try rubbing alcohol in the case of more stubborn stains. To prevent such a build-up, 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 help reduce  wear on the rock caused by the grinding of dirt on your shoes. When inside, this means less dirt-covered holds for all.

For more ideas how to improve the friction in your shoes, discover how to make your climbing shoes sticky again.


The Verdict

For those of us with extra smelly climbing shoes, 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, practise good footwork and don’t walk through mud! As you become more considerate of your shoes they’ll last you that much longer.

Truth be told, the majority of us do not wash our shoes as often as we should. 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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