A climbing rope is an expensive piece of gear, but it is also the only non-redundant piece of gear in most climbing set-ups. This means that if your rope breaks, you will fall. Taking good care of your climbing rope is essential to keeping yourself safe while climbing, and washing your rope is a key part of taking care of it.
In this article, we’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to wash and dry your rope. We’ll give you our favorite tips and tricks to help you, and we’ll even give you advice on how to properly store your climbing rope.
How to Clean and Wash Climbing Ropes: Step-by-Step
The basics of how to clean climbing rope are relatively simple. Although there are lots of places for small adjustments to be made, these are the general instructions for washing a climbing rope:
1. Fill a tub or large bucket with warm water
Make sure you use a bin with enough room to swish the rope around. A 5-gallon bucket, for example, would be too small. A Rubbermaid bin, a deep work sink, or a bathtub is usually best.
2. Add mild soap or rope wash.
We’ll talk more about the soap later on, but feel free to add some mild soap or rope wash to the water. You can skip this step and just wash the rope in warm water.
3. Add rope and agitate to start loosening the dirt.
Agitating the water will help loosen the dirt from the rope. You can also take this time to flake the rope end to end and feel along the whole rope. This is an excellent way to wash every inch of the rope and check for any damage that the rope has sustained since its last wash.
4. Drain the water and refill the tub again with clean, warm water.
Again, this is another great time to flake along the rope. Flaking the rope is a great way to work more dirt out of the rope as well.
5. Repeat steps three and four until the water is clear and no more dirt is coming out of the rope.
Make sure that you get all the dirt out so the rope is clean. Small particles of dirt that get stuck in the rope and left for a long time can slowly break down the nylon of the rope as they rub over hard surfaces, like carabiners, so it is important to clean the rope thoroughly.
6. Spread the rope out to dry.
Drape your rope over the backs of chairs or spread it out on towels on the ground to dry completely. Either way, make sure the rope is out of direct sunlight while it dries.
7. Put the rope back in storage once it is fully dry.
Once your rope is fully dry, you can put it back in its rope bag or recoil it for storage. Just make sure you are storing it in a cool, dry place that is away from direct sunlight and any chemicals.
Although you can technically clean climbing ropes in a washing machine, we’re not going to talk much about that here since it’s not a very common way to clean climbing ropes. If you are interested, check with your rope manufacturer to see how they recommend you clean your rope and if you can use a washing machine.
Do’s and Don’ts When Cleaning Climbing Ropes
With so much information out there on what to wash climbing ropes with, if you should use a climbing rope brush, and even if products like the Beal rope cleaner are worth it, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Ultimately, washing your climbing rope doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are the simple dos and don’t of washing your climbing rope:
- Do use warm water.
Like when you wash your hands, warm water is better than cold water at breaking down any grime or oils that you need to wash off. There’s nothing wrong with using cold water, but when it comes to washing your climbing rope, using warm or even hot water is much more effective.
- Do use a rope cleaner or mild soap.
Although it’s not essential to use any soap when washing your rope, using mild soap or rope cleaner is a great way to get a really good clean. Products like the Beal rope wash or the Nikwax tech wash for climbing ropes are great options when you are looking for rope-specific soaps. If you plan on using a mild soap, we recommend something like an unscented Dr. Bronner’s or other basic castile soap. These soaps have no additives that can harm your rope, making them a good option.
- Do dry your rope completely after washing.
Not drying your rope completely will severely shorten the lifespan of your rope. Make sure that your rope is 100% dry before you put it away for storage, even if that means having a rope draped over your banister or the backs of your chairs for a few days. The same goes for drying out your rope after climbing in the rain or ice climbing since leaving your rope wet while storing it can lead to mould growth.
- Don’t use a dish or laundry detergent.
Dish and laundry detergents, even mild ones, have added chemicals and fragrances that can harm the nylon material of your rope. Stay clear of any of these conventional products and instead opt for rope soap or a very simple and basic soap.
- Don’t expose your drying climbing rope to direct sunlight.
Leaving your rope in direct sunlight, like on a clothesline, might seem like a quick way to get it dried, but sunlight can be super damaging to the nylon. Drying your rope in the shade of a tree or in a well-ventilated room is best to avoid causing any damage to your rope.
- Don’t dry your rope using artificial heat.
Using hair dryers or clothes dryers can both cause damage to your rope, so steer clear of artificial heat sources. It will take a while for your rope to dry out fully, but it will be worth it in the long run.
How Often Should You Clean Climbing Ropes?
Figuring out how often to wash climbing rope can seem challenging at first, but it gets easier the longer you climb. Over time, you will start noticing more and more colour transferring from your rope to your hands or gloves when belaying and rappelling. You can determine how dirty you let your rope get before washing it, but don’t wait too long since washing your rope will increase the lifespan of your rope and help prevent minor issues with your rope.
How to Store Your Climbing Ropes
Storing your climbing ropes properly is another great way to increase their lifespan. Make sure your rope is dry when you store it to prevent any mould or mildew from growing. Most people either store their climbing ropes loosely coiled in a rope bag, coiled in a dry bin, or coiled and hanging over a bar or hook. All of these are great ways to store your climbing rope.
How Long Does a Climbing Rope Typically Last?
An unused climbing rope can typically last about ten years before the nylon starts to degrade. Assuming you actually use your climbing rope, your rope will have a shorter lifespan. Most ropes last between two and five years, but you will need to read the product tag that came with your rope to know for sure how long your rope will last, as each manufacturer has a different set of guidelines.
In general, ropes that are used frequently, think every week or so, will only last about a year. Ropes used ten to fifteen times a year will typically last a few years, depending on the rope and the care you give it. If you only climb a few times a year, you can get your rope to last between five and seven years.
Remember that all of these estimates are just that, estimates. Check with your rope manufacturers for their guidelines. It’s also important to note that thinner ropes won’t last as long as thicker ropes, so these guidelines will be different depending on what rope you have. We can’t stress enough, just read the manufacturer’s guidelines!
Wrapping Things Up: How to Clean Climbing Rope
Cleaning a climbing rope can take some time, but by using warm water, a big tub, and rope wash or mild soap, anyone can clean a rope. It doesn’t take any fancy equipment, just time and effort to get your rope looking and feeling clean again. Cleaning your rope and storing your rope properly are both excellent ways to help increase the lifespan of your rope and keep you safe while climbing.
Looking for more guides? Check out more of our climbing tips here.
Here are a few to help you out: