Your rope is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your arsenal. It’s your literal lifeline on the wall, so making sure it stays in good condition is vital to your overall wellbeing as a climber. Aside from checking it regularly for damage to the core or sheath, you should also make a habit of giving it a good bath every now and then. This is especially true if you do most of your climbing outside where it’s easy to pick up plenty of dirt. So let’s go through the steps that will help you learn how to clean a climbing rope effectively.
Why Clean Your Rope?
A climbing rope is like any other piece of protective equipment you own – if you take care of it, it will take care of you. Given how important the rope’s job is, trust me when I say you want to take care of it.
Getting dirty is part of the deal when you’re spending time outside. For rock climbers, getting up close and personal with nature is kind of what you do, and the same is true for your gear. Dirt accumulation is unavoidable, regardless of the measures you put in place to try and prevent it from happening. But why does this even matter in the first place?
When your rope gets dirty, there are really two main issues that you can find yourself dealing with. First, the dirt can work its way into the rope, weakening the structural integrity of your most important piece of gear. That’s a really bad thing, in case you didn’t know.
Second, an excess buildup of grime can make it more difficult for the rope to pass through your belay device. While not as dangerous as the first problem, it can be quite annoying to deal with, especially if you’re trying to feed out slack to a sport climber.
When to Clean Your Rope
The process of maintaining a clean rope starts before you even climb. Regardless of what type of climbing you prefer, there will always be a portion of your rope that rests on the ground. This is the portion that will pick up the most amount of grime, considering its sitting right in it. While there are plenty of climbers who don’t seem to mind, it’s always best practice to grab a tarp and put it between your rope and the ground. Letting your gear rest on the clean tarp will keep it from getting as dirty, extending the amount of time you can go before washing.
So how do you know when your rope is dirty enough to warrant a good bath? The answer is…you’ll know. If you have a blue rope, for example, it’s time to wash it if it looks brown. The same could be said for whatever color your rope is. Also, if your hands come back black after sliding the rope through them while you’re belaying or tying into your harness, that’s another clear indication that it’s time to grab some soap and water.
To clean your rope, follow the process below:
Step 1: Fill your bathtub with lukewarm or cold water. Since your hands will be in the water for an extended period of time, I suggest going with lukewarm.
Step 2: Put your rope in the water, and add some soap to the mix. There is rope specific cleaner that you can purchase online or at an outdoor store, otherwise a mild soap like Dawn will also work. Never use harsh detergent, as it can damage your rope.
Step 3: Run the entire length of rope through your hands, squeezing with your fingers as you go. This is a great opportunity to check it for any damage that you might have overlooked.
Step 4: Once you’ve made your first pass, drain the tub and refill with fresh water so you can go through steps 1-3 again. Chances are you’ll need to repeat these steps several times before your rope is fully clean, especially if it was extra dirty.
Step 5: Once you’re satisfied, pull the rope out of the water and rest it on a towel to dry. Keep it out of direct sunlight, as this can damage the rope, and make sure it’s fully dry before putting it away.
Once your rope is clean, you can store it until you use it again. It’s best to put it in a dark, cool area to prevent any damage from the sun or heat. Either of these can weaken the fibers of the rope, which is the last thing you want to happen.
Knowing how to clean a climbing rope (and actually doing it!) is a skill that’s important for every climber. While it can be time consuming and a little labor intensive, I can’t stress enough the importance of taking care of your gear. If you don’t value your equipment enough to spare half an hour to make sure it’s in top performance, you don’t value your life enough, and I would recommend you stop climbing.
How frequently you decide to give your rope a bath is up to you, and how often you climb. If you’re out at the crag fairly often, you’ll probably need to clean your rope more often as well. If you’re out there once a month at best, you can go a lot longer in between washes.