Your climbing rope is your lifeline at the crag. Proper care and maintenance of your rope will ensure it weathers all your wild adventures together, from top roping in the gym to scaling big walls in Yosemite.
A clean, gristle free rope will not only slide smoothly through your belay device, it could also save your life by preventing unnecessary wear and tear that could lead to it becoming core shot - something every climber wants to avoid.
When it comes to climbing safely, you can’t take a chance on faulty equipment, which is why it is so important to take good care of your climbing rope in between excursions.
Here we will tell you all you need to know about how to properly wash and dry your climbing rope to keep it sparkling clean and grime-free for all your climbing needs!
Methods of Cleaning a Climbing Rope
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to wash your climbing rope, let’s talk about some of the ways you can care for your rope in general.
First of all, you should always inspect your rope thoroughly before climbing on it. This is a fairly quick and simple process that you should do on a regular basis, typically when you first take it out of your pack or rope bag.
To inspect your rope for abrasions or soft spots, simply run your hands along its length as you flake it (preferably onto a smooth, dry surface) and pay attention to any anomalies you notice along the way.
A bit of fuzzing here and there or some dirt from your last day at the crag is acceptable, but if you notice an excessively rough or fuzzy spot, make sure to pay attention.
Also feel for any soft or spongy spots in your rope - that could indicate a shot core. If you have any doubt about the integrity of your rope, don’t take the risk. Retire it now.
Your rope is replaceable. You are not.
If you’re confident your rope is in good condition and any present dirt or grime is superficial build-up from years of use without washing it, it’s time to think about how you want to go about cleaning.
The jury is out on the best way to wash your climbing rope - do you throw it in the washing machine or wash it by hand? Should you use soap or not? If yes, what kind of soap should you use?
Every expert has a different opinion, but there are a few key considerations to keep in mind when trying to decide which method to use to clean your personal lifeline.
The Question of Climbing Rope Soap
Most experts will tell you to never, ever use any kind of detergent or soap on your rope, no matter how mild.
I’m going to stick with the ones who know best and reiterate their message - do not use any cleaning product that is not specifically designed for climbing gear to wash your rope.
The chemicals in detergents could have a negative impact on the quality of the rope, which is not something you want to risk.
To be on the safe side, if you do choose to use soap (which isn’t required - plain water and elbow grease will do), always choose a dedicated rope cleaner and follow the instructions on the package carefully. Never tempt fate when it comes to your most important piece of climbing gear!
Washing a Climbing Rope in the Bath
If your hands are left feeling greasy and looking black after belaying with your rope, then it’s safe to say it’s time for a bath. And if you want to be privy to all the muck and grime that comes seeping out of your filthy climbing rope while you wash it, this method is for you!
To wash your rope in the bathtub, simply fill the tub (or a bucket or large sink, whatever you’ve got) with lukewarm water, flake your rope into its heavenly bath, and watch with glee and mild disgust as your once sparkling white bathtub transforms into a swamp of muck and mire full of hand grease and rock dust the color of soot.
At this point I would recommend grabbing a stout drink to take the edge off as you marvel at the pure filth oozing out of your most prized possession and watch as the muted colors swirl into a grotesque rainbow of memories from climbing days long past.
You can let your rope soak in its own filth for quite a while. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can even swirl it around a bit to help loosen up those caked-on dirt particles it picked up years ago.
At this point you can choose to integrate a mild rope soap and give your rope a good, hard scrub down its full length, massaging the cleansing agent into every nasty coil.
Once the water has deepened to a shade of black so dark and murky that you can no longer see through it, go ahead and drain the rancid mud-water into a swirling tornado of nostalgia, making sure the end of your rope doesn’t get sucked into the vortex of your drain.
And then start all over.
Fill, wash, rinse, repeat. Do this over and over again until all of the impurities have been stripped away from this important piece of equipment you’ve so callously been neglecting.
Eventually, your rope will begin to resemble the original color from its glory factory days. You may need to repeat this process just once or twice, or for the rest of your life, depending on how adamant you are about restoring your lifeline to its authentic hue.
And that’s pretty much all that’s involved when it comes to washing your rope in the tub.
So simple, so clean, yet so…foul.
The process is pretty satisfying in the end, especially the moment you remove the once offensive rope from the pool of its own filth and lay it out to dry (we’ll discuss how to do this a little later).
Washing a Climbing Rope in the Washing Machine
An alternative method to washing your rope, if you would prefer not to deal with the grit and grime hands-on, is to put it in the washing machine.
Listen closely: do not, and I repeat DO NOT just throw your tangled, dirty rope willy-nilly into any old washing machine with your most aromatic detergent and turn it onto the highest cycle, expecting it to come out looking like new.
That is the quickest way to ruin your climbing rope and potentially your washing machine!
Follow these steps to ensure the best outcome if you choose the washing machine method (it doesn’t matter whether you have a top or front-loading machine, as long as you follow these steps):
Run your washing machine once empty (WITH NO DETERGENT) to cleanse it of any old soap residue
Tie your rope into a daisy chain so that it ends up looking like a gigantic friendship bracelet that your entire summer camp could have fit around their little baby wrists. Check out this video for how to daisy chain your rope.
Decide whether or not to put your rope into a pillowcase or mesh laundry bag to be super sure it won’t get tangled (this isn’t necessary, but if you are at all concerned about infinite entanglement then this is a great way to rest assured).
Gently place your beautifully knotted rope at the bottom of your washing machine and let the machine fill with water until your rope is completely covered. You may need to play around with which load size to use, depending on how much water is required to cover your entire length of rope.
If you choose to use a rope wash, you can pour the specified amount into the machine and agitate the rope a little by hand to spread it around.
Run the washing machine on the lowest cycle, letting it finish completely before removing your rope and unwinding the daisy chain (just pull the loose end and it will unravel)
Lay the rope out to dry
How to Dry a Washed Climbing Rope
- Flake your rope loosely in a cool, dry and well-ventilated place away from kids and pets
- Rotate the pile occasionally to ensure uniform drying
- Use a house fan on a low setting to circulate air throughout the room
- Expose your rope to direct sunlight (this will bleach your rope and could affect the integrity of the core)
- Use a tumble dryer (or any type of artificial heat)
- Stack the flaked coils on top of one another (this could result in mold)
If you’re looking for more tips on how to look after your rope now it’s all lovely and clean, check out our other post on Caring for Your Climbing Rope.
So, there you have it.
A how-to guide for washing your climbing rope, which we both know has been dirty for far too long. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead. Grab that stout drink and enjoy a nice, relaxing evening bathing your most precious length of climbing rope in the bathtub.
You know you want to.