Why its important to keep your climbing rope clean
Keeping your climbing rope clean is important for several reasons:
Safety: Climbing can be a dangerous sport and the ropes are our lifeline whether its at the gym or at the crag. A dirty rope can weaken over time due to the accumulation of dirt, dust, and debris. These specks of dirt will rub the ropes outer sheath and the inner core weakening it faster than with regular use. A dirty rope can fail a lot faster than a clean one. Also belay devices might not work as well on a dirty rope. If you can’t rely on your belay device working like its supposed to you can’t really trust your rope.
Longevity: Keeping your rope clean can help extend its lifespan by preventing premature wear and tear. Like I wrote before, the dirt and debris can rub against the rope fibers and cause them to break down, leading to a shorter lifespan for the rope. These small grains of sand will also rub against your belay device. Even a new belay device can be rendered useless quite fast with a dirty rope. Usually the problem with a dirty rope is with a belay device made of a softer metal, I personally had a tubestyle device that during a one week climbing trip lost so much metal that its friction point to the rope became so sharp that it started grinding the rope! You could actually see small bits of the rope’s sheath! I had to retire that belay device immediately and check the rope as well.
Efficiency: A clean rope is easier to handle, to make a knot on, and to belay with. All these aspects make your climbing experience more efficient and enjoyable. Dirt and grime can make the rope stiff and difficult to work with, which can slow you down and make climbing more challenging.
Hygiene: Climbing ropes can become contaminated with bacteria, fungus, and other pathogens from prolonged use and exposure to sweat and other bodily fluids. Just think about all the rock climbing spots that have either farm animals or wildlife roaming and pooping around. Quite often the rope is touching that ground, and usually before you grab some rope in your mouth for a long clip. Cleaning your rope can help prevent the spread of these pathogens and keep you and your climbing partners safe and healthy.
Overall, keeping your climbing rope clean is an important part of maintaining safety, efficiency, and hygiene while climbing.
When should I clean my rope and when should I wash my rope?
Usually when your hand or gloves start to get dirty from the rope its a good idea to get it properly washed up. If I notice getting some dirt on the sheath I often clean the rope, with a brush, but even then its a good idea to wash it. Also if you drop the rope on some sand for example its a good idea to wash it before the sand gets into the inner core of the rope and does damage to the belay device as well.
The three best methods of rope cleaning
1. Clean your rope with a tool
There are some really handy tools when it comes to cleaning your climbing rope. I like to use a Beal Rope Brush whenever there is dirt on the sheath of the rope. The key with this kind of a brush in dry use is to wipe off the dirt before using the rope for climbing so the dirt doesn’t go deeper into the sheath. This rope cleaner also works when soaking and washing the rope in a bathtub, sink or a bucket.
Another rope cleaning tool I am looking to invest in and try out is the Cmi Rope Washer 1/2″. This adds the waterflow to the removal of the dirt and makes a spiral that supposedly takes off the dirt with it.
2. Wash the rope in a washing machine
I personally like to get all the help I can get from technology and often use my washing machine to do the semi-annual washing of some of my climbing ropes. Not everytime though, because its bit of a hassle. Here are the steps for washing a rope in the washing machine:
- Make sure the washer is ready. Check that the washer doesn’t eat socks etc, because if it does it might bite down on your rope too and you don’t want that! Also if the machine has been used with heavier detergents its necessary to make sure that none of the chemicals that might harm your rope are still in the machine by doing a wash cycle on the empty machine.
- Daisy chain the rope (instructions are below) or put it in a large enough mesh bag to avoid tangling.
- Use the delicates cycle with lukewarm temperature
- DO NOT use the spin cycle or tumble dry the rope!
- Spread out the rope to dry (do not hang the rope or leave it in direct sunlight to dry)
- Inspect the rope for damages
- Send gnarly sport routes!
3. Soak and wash the rope by hand
- Add warm water to the vessel you have chosen for the task
- Add some mild soap or rope spesific cleaner to the water
- Insert and move the rope around in the water, before leaving it to soak
- After a while run trough the entire length of the rope with rope cleaning tool or your hand while the rope is submerged.
- Rinse the rope with warm water until the water starts getting clearer
- Spread out the rope to dry (do not hang the rope or leave it in direct sunlight to dry) I usually spread the rope onto outdoor patio furniture (in the shade) or on top of an old towel to dry.
- Inspect the rope for damages
- Send gnarly sport routes!
How to Daisy chain your climbing rope
You can easily daisy chain your rope by following these instructions:
- Grab both ends of the rope
- make a knot connecting the ends of the rope
- Find the middle of the rope and the end where you just made the knot
- Make loop with both ends of the rope and pass the rope through thus creating another loop
- Repeat step 4 by passing the ropes through the loop
- Continue this until you reach the end of the rope
- Tuck the end of the rope so it wont come apart
- Your rope is ready for a wash
How to keep your climbing rope cleaner
- Store your rope properly: When you’re not using your climbing rope, store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. After the last climb I usually take the rope from the rope bag, shake off all the dirt from the bag and the rope and pack them up. Always avoid storing it on the ground or in a damp area. If the rope is wet from the rain or from a leaking water bottle make sure you dry it before storage.
- Keep your rope on a rope bag, not on the ground: When you’re climbing, try to keep your rope off the ground as much as possible to avoid dirt and debris from getting on it. Use rope bags or tarps to keep it clean and dry.
- Avoid stepping on the rope: When you’re belaying or coiling your rope, be careful not to step on it. This can grind dirt and debris into the fibers of the rope. Also its really annoying if someone is standing on your rope when your climber is calling for slack.
- Use a rope cleaner: Use the Beal Rope cleaner we talked about.
- Wash your hands: Before handling your rope, make sure your hands are clean and free of dirt and oils. This will help prevent dirt and grime from getting on the rope.
- Use a rope protector: When you’re climbing outside and the rope is running over a sharper rock or a sandy patch its a really good idea to place a rope protector to keep it safe and clean.
- Inspect your rope regularly: Regularly inspect your rope for any signs of wear and tear, such as frayed or broken fibers. The outer part of a climbing rope often has some kind of protection from dirt, but wear can make it a lot easier for dirt and grime to get inside the inner part of the rope. If you notice any damage, consider if the rope can safely be used or if it should be retired.
These are the main ways I keep my ropes clean. Following these tips, can really keep your rope in good condition for longer, but I still like to wash my ropes from time to time, because there is no way to totally avoid them getting dirty (not using them is not an option!)