How often do you clean your climbing shoes? Probably never! Most climbers don’t even think to. Whether you keep your climbing shoes in the trunk of your car or in a bin in your garage, all climbers know that climbing shoe smell. Some climbers may even come to adore it. The smell may bring back memories of great days at the crag or fun competitions.
Many climbers may not notice the smell! It has become so pervasive, so all-consuming, that it is absorbed into their clothes, the upholstery in their cars, or even their hair. But there will come a day in every climber’s life when it’s time to clean their shoes. Maybe their spouse finally speaks up about the stink lines leaking under the door to the mudroom. Or a first date takes a whiff of their car and runs the other way. Maybe their cat refuses to sit on their lap after climbing sessions. These all may be indicators that it’s time to clean your climbing shoes.
In all seriousness, climbers sweat in climbing shoes without socks and bring their shoes out into the dust and dirt of the crag. Climbing shoes get dirty and smelly. It’s a part of the climbing shoe life cycle! So you may want to give your shoes a spit shine every once in a while. Here are a couple of awesome techniques for cleaning shoes that won’t tear apart the stitching, shrink the leather, or make your rubber less sticky. Simpler is better when it comes on how to care for climbing shoes.
Before we get into techniques for cleaning climbing shoes, there are a couple of easy things you can do to prevent stinky feet syndrome in the first place.
- Wash your feet - After every climbing session, be sure to wash your feet. If you are at the gym, either use the showers or wash-up right when you get home. This simple practice can prevent athlete's foot and other fungal and bacterial growth. You’ll also want to go into the shoes with clean feet, so plan accordingly!
- Store in a mesh bag and a breathable space - Whatever you do, do not store your shoes at the bottom of your gym bag! Your sweaty shoes must be able to breathe. Dark, wet places are a great way to make your shoes smell even worse. So try storing them in a mesh bag, out on the porch, or on an open shelf.
- Wear socks - One of the deadly climbing sins. While not suggested for the best climbing performance, if you are seriously concerned with smelly shoes, you can easily avoid the problem by always wearing socks!
Hand washing your shoes is probably the best way to clean any pair of climbing shoes. Fill your sink with warm (not hot) water and add just a drop of dish soap. Submerge your shoes in the water and then, using a toothbrush, lightly scrub the dirt and grime off of the shoes. Leave them to soak for 30-60 minutes and then air dry. Putting the shoes in front of a fan can hurry along the drying process. You don’t want to clean your shoes after every session, or even every week. Every couple of months should do the trick. Or when you notice your shoes getting particularly ripe. If you clean too often, the adhesive that holds the rubber to the shoe may start to weaken. Otherwise, this is a simple, non-invasive way to clean your climbing shoes.
Machine Washing (Synthetic Shoes Only)
If you rock synthetic shoes or shoes with no leather, you can toss your shoes in the washing machine. First, clean the shoes on their own cycle. You don’t want the smell spreading to your whites. Next, make sure to use cold water and no bleach; however, you can throw in a little bit of detergent. Just a drop will do. You want to be sure to tie off your laces (or remove them altogether), and if you have velcro shoes, you’ll want to connect the velcro fully but create as big an opening as possible, so don’t crank the shoes closed.
Many climbing companies have different cleaning solutions for shoes. These will work to keep bacteria from growing in your shoes, so be sure to follow the directions closely! You can also use generic sprays to keep your shoes smelling good and stop anything from growing in them as well. Many climbing gyms will spray down each pair of rentals with Lysol after each use, and you can do the same. The most important part of using climbing shoe cleaning products is consistency! Many of these products only work to prevent smell if you spray down after each use.
Okay, no more smelly climbing shoes if you know how to clean them. Any of the methods we just covered can help to keep your shoes smelling fresh and clean even after a sweaty gym session. It just takes good practice! What is your go-to climbing shoe cleaning method? Let us know in the comments below!