Keeping Your Climbing Rope Clean
Like many other aspects of life, the best way to keep your climbing rope in good shape is proper care and maintenance. Periodically changing the oil in your car keeps it running smoothly, and making sure to wear sunscreen decreases your chances of getting skin cancer; similarly, avoiding getting your climbing rope dirty is the most foolproof way to elongate its life.
Unfortunately, even the most hygienically cautious climber will not be able to fully grime-proof their rope. Accidents and messes happen, and eventually, any climate replete with dust or near the ocean where there is salty humidity will leave a rope in need of a good wash. Be cautious about how often you wash your rope though. Each cleaning wears on the integrity of the rope’s fibers and will reduce its lifespan. However, excessive dirt or salt will do the same and should be removed, especially if it is causing the skin to turn black after touching the rope. Getting something gross on a rope is another good reason to give it a wash.
Preventative Techniques for Keeping Your Rope Clean
Keeping your rope out of the dirt is the most important thing to do to keep it clean. When setting it out beneath a climb, make sure to always place it on a tarp or cloth. Many rope bags come with a built-in tarp, but makeshift ones work just as well. Elevating the rope off the ground prevents small particulates from getting into the fibers, which make it grimy and cause it to wear out faster. Using a tarp also has the added benefit of the ability to tie the loose end of the rope to the tarp, which will stop the climber from falling if the belayer runs out of slack.
Another important thing to keep in mind in the maintenance of your rope’s health is to never step on the rope. This will grind those small dirt particles into the rope, and greatly weakens it.
Finally, storage is important for keeping a rope clean and in good health. When at the crag, place ropes that aren’t being used in their rope bag, in a backpack, or at the very least wrapped in its tarp. This will stop any dirt and sand picked up by the wind from making your rope dirtier as it sits there. At home, store your rope loosely coiled somewhere clean and dry.
The Standard Method – Washing Your Rope by Hand
The easiest way to clean your rope is by hand in warm water. Some people maintain that water is really the only thing needed to get a climbing rope clean, however many prefer to add some gentle soap as well. There are a few cleaners on the market designed specifically for ropes, such as Sterling Rope Wicket Good Rope Wash and Edelweiss Rope Wash. Mild soap, like Dawn, can also help get your rope clean without damaging it.
To wash your rope by hand, follow these simple instructions:
- Fill a container with just enough warm water that your rope can be completely submerged. Bathtubs work best, however, since so many climbers live in their vehicles, it is worth noting that a plastic tub, bucket, or any other similar vessel will work just as well.
- If you are choosing to use a cleaner add that to the water now, following any relevant instructions on how much cleaner to use.
- Completely submerge your rope in the water. Flake your rope into the tub instead of just plopping it in there, as this will help prevent coiling.
- Scrub your rope. Scrubbing with your hands typically does the trick, however, a specialized rope cleaning brush (or a sponge) can also be useful if it is especially dirty.
- After the initial clean, drain the dirty water, then rinse the rope until the water in the tub runs clear.
The process of cleaning your rope by hand is also a great time to check it for damage. As you touch it, feel for any flat or mushy spots along with the core, and look for any cuts in the sheath. If any part of the rope can be folded completely, the core is compromised. If you can’t cut the bad end out its time to buy a new rope.
The Secondary Method – Washing Your Rope in the Washing Machine
It is possible to wash your rope in a front-loading washing machine, however, the probability of damaging it is greatly increased using this method. Residual chemicals from bleach and detergent can compromise a rope and it is possible for the machine to harm the sheath as well.
Also, it is important to avoid using top loading machines, especially ones with an agitator.
Make sure the machine is quite clean. Wipe down the compartment where you place your soap and run it once without anything in it.
Before placing your rope in the washing machine, daisy chain it. This technique will stop the rope from becoming tangled, knotted, or twisted. Directions on how to daisy chain a rope can be found here.
Set the machine on a gentle or wool cycle and turn off the spin cycle. You can run your rope through with just water or with any of the soap options listed in the hand wash directions.
Drying Your Rope
When drying your rope there are two important rules: hang it somewhere airy and dry, and keep it out of the sun. The UV rays found in direct sunlight will damage the rope.
If you can place your rope in a breeze it will dry much more quickly, typically in a day or less. If you hang it somewhere stuffier, like an attic, it will take somewhere between two and five days to dry.
Make sure your rope is completely dry before packing it away, as putting a damp rope in an enclosed space may cause it to mold.