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How to Wash Climbing Shoes

Phew! I’m noticing an odor from my climbing shoes, and they sure don’t smell like roses. My shoes need a bath, asap. So, today is washing day.

Here’s how the process goes:

1. Fill a bucket or sink with warm water.

My blue bucket to wash my climbing shoes in.

As tempting as it may be, don’t use hot water to wash the shoes. From what I’ve read, heat may mess up the glues that keep the shoes together. One can use detergent or dish soap to clean them. I opted for the detergent.

You might ask “why can’t you throw them in the washer like tennis shoes?” While researching how to wash climbing shoes, I read that many people have done so and ruined them. Climbing shoes are expensive, so I don’t want to risk destroying them. Handwashing to me seems to be the better solution.

2. Put shoes in and scrub.

Scrubbing my shoe with a washcloth.

One can use an old toothbrush or washcloth to scrub the shoe. I used both on the insides and outsides of the shoes. I see turquoise colored dye from the leather coming off onto the washcloth. Oh, goody. The stink doesn’t smell as strong now.

3. Rinse them out.

As soon as I finish scrubbing, I turn on the faucet and rinse the shoes out. It takes a while for the water to come out clear. Eventually, it does for both.

4. Drying time

Blow drying excess water off my shoes.

I place them on a towel and air them out a little with a blow drier set to cool first. Just to get the excess water off. I notice water dripping off the shoes has dye in it and is staining the towel. Apparently, I didn’t get them rinsed out completely. I need to look for this, so I don’t get it on anything else.

I read after washing climbing shoes to stuff them with either newspapers or paper towels and let them air out. Stuffing prevents the shoes made from natural materials such as leather from shrinking.

5. Now time to play the waiting game

Shoes sitting in-front of a fan to dry.

I cram the shoes with paper towels and set them on the floor in front of a fan to help speed up the drying process. Periodically, I check to see how much they have dried and change out the paper towels. After four or five hours, I take out the paper towels and let them completely air dry. Next, I will let them dry overnight and see how they are in the morning.

One More Thing to Try

After washing my shoes, they look almost like new. Most of the stink came out of the shoes. I can still smell some of it in them. Drat. I hoped to wash them would take the stink out.

What I’ll do next is put small bags of baking soda inside the shoes to draw more of the smell out. I’ve heard pros and cons of throwing them in the freezer but I don’t think it’s necessary. So, I am leaving the bags in for a day and see if that helps. I’m crossing my fingers this works.

Any More Smell?

My clean Muiras.

Well, the baking soda inside the shoes didn’t do much. The lingering smell seems to be about the same. Maybe in about a week, I’ll wash them again but be more aggressive on the scrubbing.

Now, the fun part is stretching my shoes back out. I tried them on, and they feel as stiff as if they were right out of the box. I think they did shrink some. I might not have had enough paper towels stuffed in them or left them to air dry too early. So, I’ll have fun breaking them back in.

What Did I Learn?

To prevent the shoes from smelling bad, I need to keep them out of the backpack I carry them in after climbing. The bag traps the smell and makes it worse. Let the shoe air out completely. Then wash them at least every two weeks to keep the smell maintained. I hope my experience is helpful for you. Until next time, happy bouldering!