How to clean climbing shoes? — Means and methods to use

You bought your first new climbing shoes, well, they may be far from the first, but what to do next? It’s certainly to find out how to take care of them, as your climbing gear needs care as much as you do. The more carefully you will treat it, the longer it will last.

Therefore, this article will tell you how to clean climbing shoes correctly, what means and methods to use not to damage or destroy your shoes, and what could be the reasons for a bad smell.

how to clean climbing shoes

Cleaning climbing shoes

It is essential to keep your climbing shoes clean, as dirt and salt your shoes can be clogged with can affect the material’s elasticity, as well as make shoes slippery. Apart from these, shoes can start to stink, as many climbers do not put on socks; feet sweat, creating a great environment for various bacteria.

Some materials keep smelling longer than others.

For instance, genuine leather has pores, allowing air to pass through and acting as insulation against heat, which is not true for synthetic.

So, how to clean your shoes, they last longer and do not smell bad.

Using water

Should or should not?

The most common question people ask is whether they should wash climbing shoes. And it is a rather tricked question, as even manufacturers have different opinions. Some of them are strongly against washing when some say it is perfectly fine, even encouraging people to wash their shoes.

I guess the answer to the question depends on the materials they are made of. Some models must be washed. Usually, these are rock climbing shoes made of synthetic. But climbing shoes made of natural leather do not “like” washing.

So let’s first look at two ways of washing a climbing shoe: handwashing and machine-wash.


Hand washing

The first and less harmful way to wash a climbing shoe is hand washing. And here can be two options as well.

Water and brush

To wash shoes this way, you only need lukewarm water or cold one and an ordinary soft brush (you can take your old toothbrush). The steps are simple: hold your shoes under running water and gently scrub their surface with a toothbrush (both the inside and the outside, dirty soles and all hard-to-reach places). Wash the shoes until the water runs clear.

However, it should be noted that cleanliness is unlikely to be achieved without the use of liquid detergent.

water brush

Water and soap

Adding detergent or soap makes it easier for you to clean your shoes. So, you can fill the sink, for example, with warm or cold water (no extreme heat if you want to avoid damaging the rubber), and add a bit of mild detergent or soap. Let your shoes soak in the water for about 30 minutes and then start brushing.

After washing, rock climbing shoes should be shaken or squeezed to remove excess moisture. You can dry them in the same way as after the usual workout, but a bit longer (it can take a day or two depending on the temperature).

So, it means you can sit them somewhere in the fresh air, in the shade. But never try to dry your shoes in direct sunlight, as the UV rays are going to damage the material.

If you want your shoes to dry faster, you can stuff them with newspaper or a paper towel.

It is also a great way to prevent your climbing shoe from losing its shape.

After washing, you can also add baking soda to wet shoes. Baking soda will neutralize or reduce the bad smell and dry out the insides, making it difficult for bacteria to replicate.

A small reminder for any people doing rock climbing: leather shoes need to be washed quickly and in cool water, so the temperature does not affect the adhesive. But synthetic shoes can be soaked in soap even for an hour.


Washing machine

The most obvious method is to wash your climbing shoe in a washing machine, as it is often done with sneakers, despite the manufacturer’s warning. The method is quite risky and rarely recommended, as it can cause delamination or the complete deformation of climbing shoes.

If you still intend to use it, remember, that this kind of washing is only for synthetic climbing shoes, not for leather shoes. Before washing, it is also better to remove all laces.

Firstly, set the “Delicate Wash” mode at 104 °F and without spinning. Do not use detergent, as it has a damaging abrasive effect and destroys the material. You can add a small amount of liquid laundry detergent for washing, or try washing them without any detergents.

After washing, you need to dry your shoes completely; therefore, you can leave your wet climbing shoes out to air dry out of direct sunlight, stuffing them with a microfiber cloth or dry towel.

washing machine

Dry cleaning

Honestly, it is better to reduce washing to a minimum, not to accidentally damage the material. Fortunately, water is not the only way to keep them clean. So, what are these other methods you can use if you would rather not wash climbing shoes?

Special products

As a replacement for washing, you can use special products for dry cleaning your shoes. These products are not harmful to the materials the climbing shoes are made of. The only issue is that some surfactants contained in these products remain on the shoes and begin to foam when in contact with moisture, making the inside slippery.


Sometimes to get rid of a bad smell, it is enough just to apply a spray (Lysol, for instance) on your shoes. These sprays are often used in climbing gyms and are specifically made to kill fungus and bacteria, hence reducing bad smells and the need for frequent washing. The only thing you need to remember is that sprays should be used after every session.

Besides, if your shoes are still smelly, you can apply spray on wet paper towels or newspapers and put them in the shoes. The smell is likely to get weaker after 24 hours. If it is still here, you can repeat the process.

Cleaning soles

If constant washing is a long hustle for you, you can do it less frequently. However, you still should not forget to clean soles, as they begin to slip and become gritty over time.

To avoid this, you can wipe your shoes with a damp cloth or, if it does not work, gently rub the soles sprayed with rubbing alcohol diluted with water using a soft brush. But bear in mind, that many people do not recommend doing it, as alcohol can cause the glue to dissolve.

clean soles

How to avoid smelly climbing shoes?

Proper care of shoes can increase their service life and save you time and energy. So, let’s take a look at the things you need to do to have your shoes neat and tidy.


Always store your climbing shoes in a dry and cool place — cold air prevents the growth of bacteria. You should not store your shoes in the car, on the balcony, or in the garage, especially in winter.

Never keep your shoes in direct sunlight.

To avoid bacteria and fungus in your shoes, it is strongly not recommended to store them in a plastic bag or any other bag made of non-breathable materials.

And never store your climbing shoes while they are still damp.

Dry your shoes after every climbing session

Coming back home from the climbing gym or rock climbing, always take out your shoes from the backpack and dry them thoroughly.

Do not use electrical driers or batteries, as they dry out the material, making the glue dissolve or if these are leather shoes, they will shrink. It is better to use UV dryers or just leave them to air dry (which is the best way, of course).

And as I already mentioned, avoid direct sunlight and extreme temperatures for the same reason.

Wear socks

Well, some might find this idea unpleasant, after all, we all know that it is better not to use socks, as they, for instance, can change the skin-tight fit and reduce the sensitivity of the feet. But socks do help deal with bad smells and sweat. Besides, some people wear socks to climb without feeling any discomfort.

wear socks

Keep your feet clean

If wearing socks is out of the question for you, then always clean your feet. The cleanliness of your shoes depends, first, on the cleanliness of your feet.

Bring some wet wipes with you or get a special microfiber towel for your feet (do not forget to wash it regularly). Clean feet every time you put your shoes on, as sweaty feet cause moisture — the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. This way, you prevent bacteria from entering your shoes easily.

If your feet sweat too much, you might consider using chalk on them, just the way you chalk your hands. It will help reduce sweating, hence affecting the smell. But do not overdo it.

Shoe bag

Try not to carry your shoes in plastic bags. Put them in a mesh or cloth bag, and make sure to take them out of your bag between training and let them air dry.

Clean your shoes from visible dirt

Climbing shoes go through a lot during their usage; you not only rock climbing but also accidentally step into the dirt, wet clay, etc. from time to time.

So, do not let this dirt build up. Just a few minutes after training is enough to wipe your shoes with a damp cloth.

Wipe also the shoes inside, reducing the chance of a bad smell.

Do not walk around wearing your climbing shoes

Climbing shoes are shoes designed for climbing, and wearing them while walking damages them, as their rubber is softer than the rubber on walking shoes. It especially applies to soft models. Therefore, do not forget to take your climbing shoes off when you need to walk.


The last word

Let’s briefly go through everything you have read in the article. Do not wash shoes in hot water, do not use bleach or strong detergent, and pull out the laces of your shoes before washing. You should let your shoe air dry, stuffing them with some newspaper or paper towel, so the shoes do not lose their shape. Do not dry shoes in a dryer or on a heat radiator.

If you want to extend your climbing shoe service life, store them properly in a cool place out of light. Clean your feet during and after training, as well as your shoes.

Frequently asked questions

Can climbing shoes be washed?

You can wash your climbing shoes using two methods. The first and the best one is to wash them with your hands (in cold water) and the second one is to wash shoes in the washing machine.

However, it is better to stick to the first method, as cleaning your shoes in the washing machine is kind of risky and can damage your climbing gear. Note that the second method is only for synthetic shoes.

How do you safely clean your climbing shoes?

Even though there are many ways of cleaning your shoes, the safest one is considered a hand wash. You should wash your shoes in warm or cold water and gently brush them, removing as must dirt as possible. Rinse them underwater until it becomes clear.

You can also soak your shoes in the water with detergent in advance so dirt comes off faster.

Can you clean climbing shoes with soap?

It is possible to wash climbing shoes with soap. You just need to add it to warm water (hot water weakens the adhesive) and let your climbing shoes soak in it. However, keep in mind that it should be mild soap, as any harsh chemicals can destroy the adhesive, the rubber, or the material of your shoes.

How do I stop my climbing shoes from smelling?

A bad smell is a direct sign that there are bacteria and fungi in your shoes. And there are plenty of ways to solve this problem. The most obvious one is to wash your climbing shoes with mild detergent in warm water. If the smell is not too strong, you can try to use sprays specifically made for climbing shoes.

However, it is easier to prevent bad smells than get rid of them. Therefore, always dry your shoes after a workout or rock climbing, do not store them while they are damp, and do not forget to clean your feet.

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