How to Wash Climbing Shoes – 10 Tips from a Pro

A good pair of climbing shoes is essential when you’re rock climbing. They will have a major impact on your safety and can help to determine whether your climb was a success or not. Once you find your dream shoes and have broken them in, you should do everything in your power to make sure they last a long time.

It isn’t much you can do to avoid regular wear and tear, but if you’re wondering how to wash climbing shoes, take a look below.

How to Clean Rock Climbing Shoes

Simply put, climbing shoes stink. Climbing shoes are notorious for developing a foul odor and aren’t usually built to allow for any type of ventilation. Most climbers usually go sockless, which allows foot sweat to accumulate on the interior of the shoe. This allows bacteria to grow and makes them smell horrible.

To get rid of the deathly odor, you need to tackle the source and kill the bacteria. To clean climbing shoes, follow the methods below:

Hit them with an Antiseptic Spray

The most effective way to get rid of foul orders coming from your climbing shoe is to spray them with an antiseptic spray. These sprays are specially formulated the kill bacteria and discourage future growth.

Try Charcoal

You can try placing some activated charcoal inserts in your climbing shoes between uses. it will work wonders and get rid of the smell in as little as 24 hours. Instead of covering odors up, charcoal does a much better job by absorbing and neutralizing them.

Grab some Dryer Sheets

If you do not want to spend money on a fancy pair of activated charcoal inserts, then you can simply stuff your shoes with some dryer sheets when they’re not in use. This method will not absorb odor as much as the charcoal inserts, but it will mask the smell and make the shoes smell a bit better.

Use odor-absorbing powder

You can buy odor-absorbing powder or use a little bit of baking soda. Either of these will absorb the foul odor. Make sure to get rid of the powder by wiping it or washing it away before you climb. If not, the powder will mix with sweat and form a slimy residue inside your shoes. This will cause your feet to slide all over the place while climbing, which is something you do not want.

Washing Climbing Shoes

This is a topic of much debate in the world of climbing shoes and even the manufacturers themselves cannot seem to agree on this subject. Some manufacturers recommend not washing your climbing shoes at all since it can weaken the glue that maintains the structural integrity of the shoe.

On the other hand, some manufacturers recommend washing your shoe since the salt and other chemicals in your sweat can reduce the elasticity and strength of the shoe’s materials. If the manufacturer of your climbing shoes recommends washing them, most likely it would be to hand wash instead of machine wash them.

This is because a gentle hand wash will minimize the chance of damaging any part of the climbing shoes. However, you may be able to machine wash some synthetic shoes. Before doing so, make sure it is recommended by the manufacturer, or else you run the risk of damaging your shoe.

Hand Wash

If the manufacturer of your climbing shoe recommends washing your climbing shoe by hand, follow the steps below.

Things you’ll need

  • Room temperature water
  • A soft brush or old toothbrush
  • Dirty climbing shoes

The process:

  1. Flush the shoe with water.
  2. Take a soft brush and scrub in those hard-to-reach spots inside the shoe.
  3. Flush the shoe with water again and keep scrubbing and flushing until the water runs clear. Remember to never use hot or boiling water.
  4. Use the same brush to scrub the sole and use some rubbing alcohol to get rid of tough stains.
  5. Rinse the shoe with water once again.
  6. Leave them to air dry. You can stuff them with paper or a microfiber cloth which will help them to dry faster and retain their natural shape. Do not under any circumstances put them in the dryer or expose them to excessive sunlight.

Machine Wash

If your shoes are machine washable, then here are the steps.

Things you’ll need:

  • Your washer
  • Your dirty climbing shoes

The process:

  1. Set your washer to a gentle cycle with the water at a lukewarm temperature. Do not wash them in the machine with hot water.
  2. Put your shoes in and start the cycle.
  3. After the cycle is complete, stuff the shoes with paper or microfiber cloths and leave them to air dry in a well-ventilated area.

How to Prevent Smelly Climbing Shoes

After removing the offensive order from your climbing shoes, you’ll want to make sure that they keep smelling their best. Here’s what you need to do:

Let Them Breathe

Instead of shoving your climbing shoes to the bottom of your pack, clip them on the outside. This prevents moisture from staying in the shoes for too long and the promotion of bacterial growth. You can also place them in a mesh bag or any bag that allows proper airflow.

If you are going to be storing the shoes away, then leave them in a well-ventilated area until all the moisture has vanished. You can do this between uses as well.  After all the moisture is gone, store them in a dry place.

Stick Them in the Freezer

Place your climbing shoes in a big enough Ziplock bag and stick them in the freezer. Bacteria don’t like the cold and this preventative technique doesn’t kill existing bacteria but prevents the growth in the first place.

Chalk your Feet

You can try covering your feet in climbing chalk and the chalk will absorb moisture and make your feet less sweaty.

Wear Socks

A simple way to ensure that your climbing shoes do not smell is to wear socks. It may reduce performance, but it will absorb any sweat coming from your feet.


It is good to keep your climbing shoes in tip-top condition. Take care of foul odors, let them breathe between uses, and if the manufacturer recommends it, give them a gentle hand wash or machine wash now and again. For more climbing shoe tips, read this article on how to break in climbing shoes.

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