How to Clean a Dirty Rock Climbing Rope

How to clean a dirty rock climbing rope

Rope bag or no rope bag, even the neatest of climbers can’t avoid a bit of dust, dirt, and/or stench from tarnishing their beloved climbing ropes. Like it or not, the act of rope cleaning is an inevitable task we must face. Washing and caring for your rope ensures better handling and can increase its lifespan.

Thankfully, there’s a simple method for those of us who want to clean our climbing rope the good ole’ fashioned way. This simple 5-step approach is about as basic at it gets, and seems to be the most low-impact and sure-fire way to end up with a clean and intact climbing rope.

 

What you need

Water

Really this is probably the only necessary item for those seeking an ultra-minimal approach. We are in a drought in California, but you can definitely perform this rope-cleaning exercise without wasting too much H20 along the way! And for those who find themselves dirtbagging with access to fresh water, you can certainly give your rope a solid bath in that body of water as well.

Note: Some may choose to add a cleaning product such as a mild soap or light detergent to help clear the grime, but I have found that simply using water is sufficient. In fact, some swear against using soap!

Bathtub or shower

It helps to have a vessel to feed your rope into as you clean your dirty climbing rope and bask in the glory of the ridiculous amounts of dirt that will soon escape from the exterior of your once colorful rope.

Tarp, large bag, towel, etc.

The tarp makes moving your wet rope easy once its been cleaned. By using it, you avoid leaving a trail of excess dirt-rope droplets all over your (or your Mom’s) carpet.

How to clean your rope

Step 1: fill a tub with water

Fill up a bathtub up with enough water (ranging from cold to barely warm) to cover a rope. This really doesn’t require much!

Step 2: plop in your rope

Place your gnarly, dirt and dust-filled rope into the tub, shake it around, and let it sit in the water for a few minutes.

Step 3: stroke it clean

This might be the only “technical” component of the whole endeavor: Find one end of the rope, and begin to flake it, rubbing each area clean as you go along. Yes, you will be stroking your rope. This step also gives you a great opportunity to also assess the health of your rope; check for weak or soft spots that might signal that it’s time to retire it!

Note: Make sure to take a few moments along the way to celebrate your soon-to-be-clean rope.

Watch this short clip to see proper rope-stroking technique in action:

The after effects of rope-stroking efforts …

Step 4: rinse

Once you make it all the way through to the other end of the rope, give it a last minute rinse in the shower. The sheath of your rope will be psyched.

Rope showering at it’s finest:

Step 5: dry

Use the tarp to take your rope somewhere (ideally outside), where you can neatly hang it to dry.

how to dry a climbing rope after cleaning

You did it!

You now have yourself a rope that resembles a renewed version of its younger self. Now go climb outside with your freshly cleaned rope until that special time when you get to give it a bath again …

 

Alternative method: washing machine

Note: I have not tried this myself, so I cannot attest to its success. I will point out though that it inherently does require more use of water and energy than the method prescribed above.

For those interested in pursuing the washing machine route, here’s a commonly shared method:

Step 1: use the right machine

Use a standard, top-loading washing machine, and run a light cycle to empty leftover chemicals.

Step 2: prepare your rope

Daisy chain your rope to keep it from tangling in the machine. Some climbers choose to place their climbing rope into a mesh bag instead.

Step 3: wash

Place your rope neatly inside and then turn on the washing machine, using a gentle cycle with cold water. Some recommend no soap at all, others suggest using a mild, non-detergent soap, or trying an official rope wash, such as Sterling’s Wicked Good Rope Wash.

Step 4: dry

Hang your climbing rope in a cool place to air dry.

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