How to Clean Rock Climbing Shoes: The Ultimate Guide

We all know the importance of safety gear when it comes to rock climbing, and we take special precautions when buying and taking care of things like helmets and harnesses. But what about rock climbing shoes? These are just as important for your safety while rock climbing and shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to caring for them.

How to clean rock climbing shoes: It’s easiest to take special precautions before, during, and after rock climbing to keep them clean. However, if dirt and grime eventually build-up, you can opt to wash your shoes by hand with warm water and mild soap, or toss them in the washing machine on gentle cycle WITHOUT drying in the drier.

Knowing the proper way to care and clean for your rock-climbing shoes is beneficial not only to get rid of stinky odors but to enhance your safety during your climb. We are going to breakdown the must-know information when it comes to cleaning your rock climbing shoes, and why you should do so regularly.

Why Should You Clean Your Rock Climbing Shoes?

When someone thinks they need to clean their rock climbing shoes, it’s more than likely due to an unpleasant odor. After all, these shoes are being used for plenty of high-active exercises in direct sunlight, which can only mean one thing: a buildup of sweat.

Tons of sweat inside of your shoes is eventually going to make your shoes smell bad. Not only will this be an unpleasant side effect, but you also put your feet at risk of getting athlete’s foot, which is a fungus that will need to be treated.

The stench and possible bacterial infections are two important reasons for cleaning your shoes. However, they are not the most important.

What it really boils down to is clean rock-climbing shoes are safer than unclean ones. Regularly cleaning your shoes will increase the support and protection they provide to the rock climber.

Dirt and grime buildup in the bottom of the rock-climbing shoes can cause them to lose their grip. And any rock climber knows the incredible importance of having ample grip while scaling the mountains of rocks, especially when it comes to the risk of slipping, which can lead to potential injuries.

Keep in mind that rock climbing shoes that are taken care of and cleaned regularly will also last longer. If you want to spend less money in the long run and have a reliable, durable set of rock-climbing shoes for many years, keeping them clean is a must.

How to Clean Rock Climbing Shoes

If you want a good-smelling pair of shoes that won’t leave you at risk of slipping or falling, then you need to make sure you are cleaning them regularly. It’s important to note, though, that cleaning rock climbing shoes is different than how you would clean a normal pair of walking shoes.

By taking the special precautions and following instructions to clean your rock climbing shoes, you will ensure that the job is done without damage to the shoes. We’re going to provide you with information on the two best ways to clean your rock climbing shoes, and how to do it the right way.

How to Clean Rock Climbing Shoes By Hand

The best way to clean rock-climbing shoes is by hand. It’s effective and safe and allows you to access the deeper grooves and smaller areas of the shoe. This provides a more detailed wash that gets rid of all the gunk and grime that might not be reached with other forms of cleaning.

In order to clean your rock shoes by hand, you will need three important items: a decent-sized bucket, plenty of water, and a small brush that can reach into smaller crevices and grooves. A toothbrush can work well in this situation.

Steps to Clean Your Shoes by Hand:

  1. Begin by filling up your bucket (or bathtub) with lukewarm water. You want to make sure that you are avoiding excessively hot water, as this can cause damage to the shoes.
  2. Add some mild soap. But don’t add too much. A little bit of mild soap will ensure that you are able to remove any of the bacteria, dirt, and grime that may have built up on your shoes. Too much soap could actually cause more harm than good in this instance, so a few squirts of soap is really all you need.
  3. Use a brush to perform a detailed cleaning of your shoes. Your brush will be able to get into the small grooves and crevices, especially on the bottom of the shoes. Make sure you’re scrubbing gently all around the outside of the shoe until you no longer see any dirt or gunk buildup. Use a little extra soap on the brush for dirtier locations.
  4. Rinse the shoes off thoroughly. You don’t want any leftover residue on the shoes, so rinsing them when you are done cleaning is imperative. You may want to consider running them under some warm water in your sink or tub.
  5. Leave the shoes out to air dry. You always want to air dry your shoes, preferably in the sun. The sun will dry your shoes quickly and won’t leave any room for error. Keep in mind that you should always check the weather beforehand. You would hate to clean your shoes thoroughly, only to have them wetted again by rainfall.

Simply put, washing your shoes by hand may take a little bit more time and effort on your behalf. However, it is well worth it. A good hand washing will allow you to thoroughly clean and detail your shoes, so there is no residue or odor leftovers.

How to Clean Rock Climbing Shoes by Washing Machine

Some people simply can’t stand washing anything by hand, or they really don’t have the time. After all, washing machines and dryers were designed to clean our items in a fast and efficient way, right? We might as well utilize them!

Well, when it comes to washing your rock climbing shoes in the washing machine, you need to be extra careful. Washing machines have the potential to cause damage to rock climbing shoes if not done properly, so this method isn’t highly recommended and should never be used on leather shoes.

This does not mean that it is impossible, though. To efficiently and safely wash your rock climbing shoes in the washing machine, do the following:

  1. Begin by setting your washing machine to the gentle cycle. This is imperative! Any other cycle provided by your washing machine has the potential to cause damage to your shoes, so check and double-check it is set to gentle.
  2. Add some mild detergent to the washing machine. Again, you don’t want to overdo it with the soap. A little bit goes a long way when it comes to your rock climbing shoes. Always make sure to avoid bleach as this can ruin rock climbing shoes quickly.
  3. If your washing machine allows you to choose the temperature of the water, always make sure you are running on the warm water. Coldwater won’t get rid of bacteria and buildup, while hot water can cause damage to the shoes.
  4. Run the gentle wash cycle. Turn the washer on and let it do its magic while you sit back and relax.
  5. Let the shoes dry in the sun. When the gentle cycle is completed, remove your shoes from the washing machine and set them outside in the sun to dry.

Note: Never use the dryer to dry your rock climbing shoes. A drier’s intensely hot temperatures will break down the material on the sole, rendering them useless. It may also impact and damage other parts of the shoe. To avoid destroying your shoes, you should always air dry your shoes like you would if you hand-washed them.

How to Clean Leather Rock Climbing Shoes

Leather rock climbing shoes are different from other rock-climbing shoes and should be cleaned slightly differently to avoid damage to the leather. It’s good to know, though, that cleaning leather rock climbing shoes isn’t as difficult or intense as you might think.

With leather rock climbing shoes, your only option is to wash by hand and do the following:

  • Always wash with warm water. Too hot of water can do a lot of damage to leather, so it is best to stay in the lukewarm to warm range. Coldwater is also not ideal as it won’t be able to get a good thorough cleaning done.
  • Do not use any chemicals or soaps. Even mild soap can have a negative impact on leather shoes, so it is best to avoid any type of soap when washing leather rock climbing shoes. Stick to water only.
  • Avoid the washing machine. While some other shoes might be okay in a washing machine, leather shoes are likely to be destroyed even on a gentle wash. Avoid it completely.
  • Air dry out of the sun, but not in the cold. You have to be a bit more specific when it comes to air drying your leather shoes. You do not want to put them in direct sunlight as it could distort the leather, but you also want to avoid freezing temperatures, as this can have a negative impact on the leather as well. Find a nice warm area to air dry and make sure they are completely dried off before being worn again.

Cleaning leather rock climbing shoes are similar to hand-washing regular rock climbing shoes. The major difference is that they cannot be air-dried in the direct sunlight or extremely cold temperatures, so finding the right spot can be a little challenging at times.

Keep Rock Climbing Shoes Clean

Did you know that it is actually easier to keep your rock climbing shoes clean, then to do the process of cleaning them? It’s true: if you take really good care of your rock climbing shoes before, during, and after the trip, then you can keep them cleaner longer and won’t have to worry about washing them.

There are a few different ways you can prevent your rock climbing shoes from getting dirty:

Always Wash Your Feet

One important step you should take before you even begin rock climbing is to wash your feet thoroughly and dry them before putting on your rock climbing shoes. This is especially important if you’re a climber that isn’t too fond of socks and tends to ‘forget’ them.

Choosing not to wear socks while climbing is certainly a personal preference, which is not for everyone. However, you should know that not wearing socks with your rock climbing shoes is a recipe for bacteria buildup as sweat and moisture buildup in the shoes.

That being said, always make sure your feet are thoroughly dried before wearing shoes. This is also important for those wearing socks, too, as moisture buildup inside of socks can cause potential fungi to grow.

To put it simply, you should wash and dry your feet to avoid the potential buildup of harmful bacteria in your socks and shoes. This will also prevent an unpleasant smell from forming in your shoes.

Store Your Shoes in an Open Area

There’s going to be a lot of sweat in your shoes by the time you are done rock climbing; that’s only natural! But all of that moisture is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the buildup of bacteria and fungus. So how can you make sure that this potential problem is prevented?

Always make sure you are storing your rock climbing shoes in an open area where they can dry off. Avoid confined, dark spaces where the moisture will not be able to dry off. Areas like these will only increase the problem of bacteria growth.

Let your shoes dry in an open area every time you are done rock climbing. It’s a great idea to keep them outside in the sun so they can dry quickly, and the heat from the sun will destroy any bacteria particles that may be forming in the shoes.

Always Take Your Shoes Off in Between Climbs

Let’s be honest: on your rock climbing trips, you are not going to be climbing the entire time. There are moments where you are going to take a break, whether you’re relaxing to take a good look at the beautiful scenery around you, having lunch, or taking pictures.

Whatever the case may be, when you are not actually rock climbing, take your rock climbing shoes off. By taking them off throughout your trip, you give them a chance to air out and reduce some of the moisture that may have built up while you were climbing.

This means you won’t have to worry about bacteria growing in your shoes, or offensive smells becoming prominent by the end of your journey. They also won’t need to be cleaned as quickly and can be ready to go on another mission in no time.

Eliminate Odors Quickly and Efficiently

Your shoes are going to start smelling bad after a few rock climbing excursions, even if you have taken special precautions to avoid moisture build-up. It’s just a fact of rock climbing life! But that doesn’t mean you need to thoroughly wash them, yet.

There are a few options you have when it comes to getting rid of smells and stenches in your rock climbing shoes:

  • Sprinkle some baking soda inside. Baking soda is known for removing odors on all types of products and goods, making it an excellent option for removing odor in your rock climbing shoes, too. Just a few sprinkles are all it takes to get a nice fresh scent once again.
  • Place deodorizing powder inside your shoes. On the other hand, there are specific deodorizing powders made for shoes. Place a few sprinkles of this deodorizing powder, and you are good to go.
  • Other deodorizing powders. Have a deodorizing powder in your home that isn’t specifically designed for shoes? As long as they are safe to come into contact with human skin, they are safe to use in your rock climbing shoes. Again, a few little sprinkles are all it takes to get the job done.
  • Wipe down with a little rubbing alcohol. On a cloth, dab a little bit of rubbing alcohol and wipe down the inside of your shoes. This should do the trick to get rid of any leftover smells and odors that seem to be containing your rock climbing shoes. A little goes a long way!

Note: Never add any type of deodorizing powder to a pair of shoes that are wet or damp. This will cause the powder to become clumpy and will eventually lead to a crusty residue that is difficult to remove.

If you have tried different deodorizing powders and your shoes are still succumbing to an unpleasant sweaty smell, then it may be time to wash your rock climbing shoes thoroughly. It may take a little more time and elbow grease, but it will be worth it to have your shoes back.

Use Chalk

Any rock climber who has ever been bouldering knows the importance of using chalk on their hands. But did you know that placing chalk on your feet might help to keep your shoe cleaner and to work more efficiently, too?

Using chalk on your feet will help to reduce the amount of moisture that is built up during your climb. This means you will also remove the potential for fungus and bacteria to grow and reduce the chances of your shoes smelling.

Place a little bit of chalk on your feet before wearing your rock climbing shoes. To clean chalk out of your rock climbing shoes, all you need to do is take a wet washcloth and wipe out the inside of your shoes. During this time, you might also want to wipe down the outside as well to get rid of any dirt or grime that might be leftover from your climb.

Tips and Tricks for Cleaning Rock Climbing Shoes

Need a little bit more help when it comes to cleaning your rock climbing shoes? We have you covered. These essential tips and tricks will help you to get the best clean the right way.

Always Air Dry in the Sun

Drying your rock climbing shoes in the sun will ensure that odors are eliminated, and bacteria forming will be killed off. Not only are those two great reasons for leaving shoes out in the sun, but the other benefit is that the drying process will be quick and simple. Leave them out in the sun for a few hours, and they are ready to go!

Will Drying in the Sun Cause Them to Shrink?

This is one common question by a lot of rock climbers. After all, nobody wants to end up with shrunken shoes that need to be replaced (rock climbing shoes aren’t cheap, you know!). Well, you will be happy to know that leaving your rock climbing shoes to dry in the sun will not shrink them.

Can I Dry Them in the Dryer?

No. This can’t be stressed enough. Rock climbing shoes that are put in the dryer are at risk of being seriously damaged due to the high temperatures. The inner sole will be the first to breakdown, followed by other materials on the shoe.

Not only is there a very high chance of your climbing shoes breaking, but they will be susceptible to shrinking as well. It’s best to completely avoid the dryer when it comes to your shoes and go the sun route.

Eliminate Odors Before They Begin

One important thing to keep in mind when cleaning your rock climbing shoes is to be ahead of the game and eliminate odors before they arrive. There are a few different ways to make sure odors are building up in your shoes:

  • Use baking soda or another deodorizing powder to get rid of smells and keep them away. Just a few sprinkles are all it takes to save your shoes from smells.
  • Consider using a spray. The downside to using a spray is they do not work as well but still get the job done. You may need to spray more regularly to keep the odors away, but many people find it a simple and quick solution to their stench problems.
  • Put chalk on your feet. Chalk will help to reduce the amount of sweat that goes on while you are rock climbing. That being said, put a little chalk before stepping into your shoes, and you will not have an odor issue down the line.
  • Wear socks. Some people might not be too fond of socks when they are rock climbing, but when it comes to saving yourself from an unbearable stench, you need to make sure you are wearing socks. You can still add powders and chalks as you see fit, but socks will greatly reduce the amount of moisture and smell that builds up in a rock climbing shoe.

Clean Between Climbs – The Quick and Easy Way

Earlier, we discussed a ton of different ways to ensure that your shoes are clean without actually having to wash them. Well, there are a few more tricks to make sure this is successful:

  • Always have an extra pair of shoes with you. When you are not actually rock climbing, you need to take off your shoes and let them air out and dry a bit. But that doesn’t mean you should be shoe-less in nature. Have another pair of shoes ready in your bag to switch out when you’re not climbing.
  • Bring a wet washcloth to wipe down your rock climbing shoes. When you are taking a break from climbing, it’s a great time to wipe down your rock climbing shoes, as well. A warm washcloth (that isn’t too soaked) can be used to wipe down the outside and inside of your rock climbing shoes. This will ensure there’s no debris buildup or bacteria.

Don’t Forget the Inside of Your Shoe

The washing process for rock climbing shoes is somewhat longer if you are doing it by hand, but for good reason. Hand-washing means a more detailed clean for the outside, but don’t forget about the interior.

To properly wash the inside of your shoes, all you need to do is get a washcloth and dab it with some rubbing alcohol. Thoroughly wipe down the inside of your shoes. Rubbing alcohol is a known antiseptic and can kill off any type of bacteria that might be growing in your shoes. It’s also great for removing unpleasant odors.

Never use rubbing alcohol on the exterior of the shoe. This can cause significant damage to the material that is irreversible, rendering them worthless.


Cleaning your shoes regularly will ensure that they are in tip-top condition in terms of hygiene and safety. Hand-washing is the best choice for all types of rock climbing shoes, although some may be able to get a good clean on the gentle cycle in a washing machine. Always air dry and avoid dryers, which can damage shoes. Cleaning your shoes will not only make them last longer, but it will make climbing safer and more enjoyable.

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