Whenever I head out rock climbing or mountaineering, I make sure my equipment is in tip-top condition. They can be the difference between a successful climb or a catastrophic injury. And among trusty climbing tools, perhaps none is as important as my climbing rope.
My climbing rope is my lifeline, literally. Therefore, I want to maintain it to ensure my safety, as well as the lifespan of the rope. Knowing when and how to wash a climbing rope has become served me well. Today, I’ll share what I know.
Why Washing My Climbing Rope is CRITICAL
Whenever I go climbing, I’m partly putting my safety in the integrity of my equipment. And I’m not risking my life by having faulty or almost perfect equipment. I need everything to be in perfect working condition.
A clean rope slides smoothly through my belay device. Plus, making sure that there are no pieces of dirt in it prevents unnecessary wear and tear.
Small pieces of debris within the fibers of my climbing rope can easily slice through the core strands. This is potentially fatal. And I don’t want it to happen. Washing my climbing rope when necessary keeps me safe from such mishaps.
How to Wash a Climbing Rope Effectively
I keep my climbing rope clean. But even with my best efforts, it still gets dirty. If my hands get greasy or look black after belaying my rope, it’s an indication that I should wash my rope.
Washing Machine or Hand Wash?
In the climbing community, there’s a lot of talk about how to wash a climbing rope. I hear some say a washing machine gets the job done quickly and easily. While others insist that only hand washing is acceptable. Although there is a method involving a washing machine that limits the potential damage to the rope, I prefer hand washing.
Hand washing gives me absolute control over the condition of the rope. If I use a washing machine, the washing might get too rough that it damages my climbing rope. My top priority is preserving the integrity of my rope.
I will talk about both hand washing and using a washing machine.
Do I Use Soap or Not?
A lot of experts agree that soap is not needed when washing a climbing rope. And I agree. In my experience, plain water with elbow grease is enough to clean my climbing rope. The chemicals in soap tend to can harm the quality of my rope. And that isn’t something I’m willing to risk.
No matter how mild the detergent or soap is, it’s best not to use it on a climbing rope.
However, I have seen some rope cleaning products. These are soaps specifically made for climbing rope. If I ever choose to use soap, I will opt for one of these rope-dedicated soaps. I just have to take special care in following the instructions religiously. I don’t want to damage my rope.
Hand Washing My Climbing Rope
- Fill a bathtub, a large bucket, or sink with lukewarm water.
- Carefully flake the rope in the water. Watch as the water becomes darker as it washes off mire, grease, and sooty dirt from the rope.
- Let the rope soak for a while. Agitate the water a bit to let loose the caked dirt particles in the fibers of the rope.
- If using a rope-cleaning mild soap, scrub the full length of the rope with it, unless the instructions say otherwise.
- Drain the water.
- If the rope doesn’t quite resemble its glorious factory color, it probably needs more washing. That’s all there is to hand washing a climbing rope. Fill the tub, wash the rope, rinse, then repeat the process until the rope is nothing short of perfection.
- Lay out the rope to dry (more on this later).
Washing My Climbing Rope in the Washing Machine
Although I prefer hand washing my climbing rope, I’ve found a way to wash it in the washing machine without damaging it. And no, it’s not just randomly throwing it into the machine and turning on the machine on the highest cycle. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Here’s how I do it:
- Make sure that there is no residual detergent in the machine. Run it with no detergent just to rinse out the soap.
- To prevent the rope from getting entangled in the machine, tie it into a daisy chain. In my opinion, all climbers should know how to tie their ropes in different manners. Daisy chain is one of them.
- Just to further prevent the rope from getting entangled in the machine, put it into a pillowcase or a laundry bag.
- Place the rope at the bottom of the machine and fill the machine with water enough to cover the entire rope.
- Again, if using rope-cleaning soap, pour the appropriate amount into the machine.
- Run the machine on the LOWEST cycle. This is important. Running the machine on the higher cycles might ruin the rope.
- Once the machine is finished, pick up the rope, unwind it, and lay it out to dry.
How to Dry a Newly Washed Climbing Rope
Drying a newly washed climbing rope is simple enough.
- Flake my rope loosely in a cool and dry place. Make sure that no part of the rope is on top of itself – this can result in mold.
- Set a house fan to make the place well-ventilated. The fan is set on the lowest setting.
- Occasionally rotate the rope to encourage uniform drying at all sides.
When I’m drying my climbing rope, I never expose it to direct sunlight or use a tumble dryer (or any type of artificial source of heat). Direct sunlight or heat can bleach my rope and damage its elasticity. I also place it away from pets or kids who might step on it.
Washing my rope sometimes feels like a chore. But it’s for my safety’s sake. Being lazy about it and putting it off makes my next climbing trip more of a scare endeavor than an exhilarating adventure. It has to be done. And this is how I do it.