How to Clean Rock Climbing and Bouldering Shoes- 5 Easy Steps


Wash Climbing Shoes

There’s a reason we wear socks with most kinds of shoes- feet stink! With climbing or bouldering shoes though, socks detract from the overall quality of the climbing, and make it so you can’t feel the rock as closely. It’s important to clean your shoes periodically to not only eliminate smelly bacteria, but also to extend the life of your shoes by removing the buildup of abrasive dirt and sand.

How to Clean Rock Climbing and Bouldering Shoes:

  1. Brush off dirt, dust, and debris
  2. Dip the shoes in warm water (NOT hot) with a little bit of mild detergent (such as liquid dishwashing detergent)
  3. Scrub the shoes, inside and out, with a brush, focusing on the toe box and the sole
  4. Rinse the shoes in clean water
  5. Dry the shoes completely, away from direct sunlight
Scrub the insides with a toothbrush-preferably not yours

Cleaning your climbing and bouldering shoes periodically will help them stay sanitary and comfortable, but sometimes terrible smells persist. The saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ definitely applies here- it can be very difficult to clean shoes that haven’t been maintained over time. Here are some more tips for cleaning your climbing shoes and keeping them that way-

Tips for Washing Climbing Shoes

Whether you primarily climb indoors or outdoors, your shoes will get pretty dirty. Climbing outdoors generally is worse for wear on the shoes because of the extremely abrasive rocks and dirt.

Use an old toothbrush to really scrub up into the inside of the shoes, specifically in the toe box. With the way that climbing shoes work, balancing the majority of your weight crammed into the toes, this is where a lot of the dirt and grime accumulates. A toothbrush is not strong enough to cause any damage to your shoes, so you can really go at it. I recommend using your roommate’s toothbrush.

Use warm, but not hot water when you wash them. Hot water can compromise the glue that binds the shoes together. Warm water will help to break up the dirt and grime more than cold water. As long as it’s not scalding, you should be okay. This is the main reason we don’t recommend washing them in a washing machine and drying them in the dryer.

For a mild detergent, liquid dish soap works pretty well, and it’s probably something you already have. If you want something a little bit harder that is designed for tougher stains and smells, you can use liquid laundry detergent. Make sure that it doesn’t have any bleach, as tough chemicals like this can damage the shoes.

Wash all of your climbing shoes at once. Even if one pair takes the brunt of the workout and smells the worst (i.e. your indoor gym pair), you might as well wash them all at once. It’s pretty quick to fill up the bathtub or another wash basin, throw them all in, and start scrubbing.

Remove dirt prior to washing

Scrubbing the sole will not only make them clean, but it’ll remove dirt and small pebbles that are invisible to the naked eye. Any buildup of sediment on the rubber sole will speed up the degradation of the shoes, as it’s ground into other surfaces. This is especially important if you use shoes indoors and outdoors.

You’ll pick up sediments outside, and then grind away at the rubber when you climb inside. The wear will be as if you were climbing outside again and again.

It’s crucial that you let them dry out 100% before storing them. It can take a while for the leather or synthetic upper to dry, and even longer for the insides. Hang them up, or set them in front of a fan overnight.

To help the insides dry out faster and to help leather shoes keep their shape, stuff them with newspaper to absorb the water. If you put them away wet, you might get a nice petri dish of different molds growing. Resist the temptation to leave them out in direct sunlight, as this can completely ruin them.

Take a Shower

Are you kind of lazy? It can be hard to make the small effort to clean your climbing shoes every few months. One thing that some climbers do on an ongoing basis is to shower in their climbing shoes. This does a decent job of cleaning the outsides, and can help flush out the inside. Don’t use water that’s too hot.

Cleaning Leather v. Synthetic Climbing Shoes

Leather is notorious for not doing well with prolonged exposure to water or heat. When you do wash leather shoes, make sure you don’t leave them too long, and make sure they dry completely. Leather does have a stretch factor when it gets wet, so make sure to stuff them with newspaper as they dry.

Don’t ever put leather climbing shoes in the washer, as it can mess with their shape. You can wear leather climbing shoes in the shower in an effort to get them to fit your feet better, as explained in this other post I wrote: Can Rock Climbing Shoes Get Wet?

Keeping Climbing and Bouldering Shoes Clean

The best way to get your climbing shoes clean is to keep them clean. If you let your shoes get bad enough, there’s really not much you can do except buy another pair (see How Much Are Rock Climbing Shoes?). Eventually, nasty stuff will start growing inside- you don’t want that. Here are some tips for keeping your shoes clean on a regular basis.

  • Wash your feet– A lot of the bacteria that lives inside your climbing shoes originates from your feet. Spray your feet off before going to the gym or out to the crag whenever possible. This will really reduce the gross passengers that stick to your feet. This also really helps extend the life of your shoes by limiting the amount of dirt and rocks that are ground into the interior of the shoes by your feet.
  • Spray the shoes with Lysol disinfectant spray- Any bacteria-killing spray will help with this. Think about it- climbing gyms spray their shoes out after every rental session. Spray them right after a climbing session, as this will ensure nothing can grow inside while they’re stuffed into the bottom of your climbing bag and stored in the trunk of your car or in the bottom of your closet.
  • Storage– Speaking of storage, this one is important. If you keep them in a cramped, dark space, bacteria and even mold can grow, especially if you put them away while they’re still sweaty and wet. You should store your climbing shoes in some sort of a mesh bag so that they can breathe better.
  • Keep them out of the sun! The sun will destroy your shoes pretty quickly. When possible, store them in the cold (leave them in your car, etc.). That doesn’t work for me living in Arizona, but storing them in the cold will slow bacteria growth. It doesn’t kill bacteria, however.
  • Chalk your shoes– Some climbers chalk up the inside of their shoes in order to try to manage the sweat. The chalk will not only absorb a lot of the sweat, it can also keep your feet from sliding around a bit. If you choose to do this, I recommend using liquid chalk instead of powder chalk. It will build up over time, so do a full wash as needed.
  • Socks– Some people just have smelly feet. If this is you, and if none of the above seems to work, you could wear socks with your shoes. You might get laughed at or made fun of, but it’s better than having to climb by yourself because no one wants to smell your feet. Socks will usually make it so you can’t quite feel the rock/plastic as well.
Store in a mesh bag for best ventilation

For more info on how to take care of your climbing shoes, I wrote this post- How Can I Make my Climbing Shoes Last Longer?

Eliminating Odors in Climbing and Bouldering Shoes

We all had that roommate or sibling who would remove their shoes in another room, and you could tell. Some feet are worse than others, but in general, feet stink! Here are some tips for getting rid of odors in climbing shoes:

  • Spray the inside with Lysol, or another antiseptic spray- make sure it is safe in contact with skin. Gyms spray the inside of their rental shoes after every use
  • Use a Shoe Deodorizer Bag (like this one from Amazon) to absorb smells without making a mess.
  • Store the shoes with a dryer sheet inside each one
  • Before washing the shoes, powder them with baking soda or dip them in vinegar and let them sit. Wash them as directed above to get them clean

Using foot powders works, but they accumulate over time and make a nice little sludge in your shoes. Pretty yummy. If you do use foot powders out of convenience, wash them out as shown above whenever you notice buildup.

Related Questions

What is a Mild Detergent? The safest bet is to just use regular liquid dish soap. It’s strong enough to kill bacteria, but won’t damage the shoes like harder stuff would. You can use a bit of actual laundry detergent as well, since it’s designed for clothes and other soft materials. Don’t use anything with bleach.

Can I wash Rock Climbing Shoes in the Washing Machine? Most manufacturers don’t recommend it, but evolv climbing shoes does list it as an option on their website. Personally, I’d just do it by hand, but if you decide you need to wash synthetic shoes in the washer (don’t try with leather shoes) don’t use bleach, don’t use hot water, close the velcro and remove the laces. Wash them on the delicates cycle, because they’re extra special.

Can I dry my Rock Climbing Shoes in the Dryer? No. Don’t do it. Not on hot, not on cold. Not for just 5 minutes. Just don’t do it. Hang them up in front of a fan and make sure they dry completely before storing them, but don’t put them in the dryer. That’s a mistake that people make exactly once.

See Also:

The Complete History of Rock Climbing

How Many People Die Rock Climbing?

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Jake Harmer

Husband, Father, Wild Animal. If I could explore canyons and cliffs every day, I would. For now, I dream about it during the week and go hard on the weekends. Living in the St. George area with my wife and kids.

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