How to Clean Climbing Shoes: 2 Methods (w/ Photos!)

Climbing shoes live a tough life. When they’re not being stuffed into cracks, they’re absorbing all the sweat from those try-hard burns. They get gross.

They don’t have to stay that way. If you’d like to clean your climbing shoes without compromising performance, these are the best ways to do it.

Before You Begin: Should You Wash Your Climbing Shoes?

The question of how — or even whether — to wash climbing shoes is not an easy one. For starters, each manufacturer has different recommendations.

Evolv recommends that you don’t wash your shoes at all. If you must, they suggest hand washing with cold water. Scarpa insists that cleaning your shoes is normal and recommends flushing with water (Method #1 below). La Sportiva wants you to wipe with a damp cloth, Butora prefers a soapy soak (Method #2 below), and Black Diamond provides some vague guidelines for water temperatures and detergents.

So who’s right? There’s no way to reach a conclusive answer without long-term data, but a couple recommendations are common throughout: don’t wash your shoes too much, and don’t use extreme temperatures. Hot water or frequent cleanings can weaken the adhesive holding your shoes together. Butora suggests cleaning every couple months, but the right schedule will depend on how much you climb.

One final caveat: leather shoes may stretch or degrade under frequent cleanings. Evolv explicitly recommends that customers never wash their leather shoes, though many climbers report cleaning leather shoes with no issues.

In general, if you wash your shoes judiciously using the methods below, you should have nothing to worry about. If you’d rather play it safe, you can disinfect or reduce odor with simple sprays instead.

1. Water Flush

This is the simplest way to wash your climbing shoes. This method requires no soap.

What You Need

  • Shoes
  • Running water
  • Soft brush or cloth (optional)

1. Hold Shoes Under Running Water

In a sink or bathtub, hold your shoes under running water. Cold to lukewarm water is best — avoid hot water.

2. Flush & Brush

Using your hands or a soft brush (a toothbrush works fine), gently rub the surfaces of the shoe. Cover both the inside and the outside, and rotate the shoe through the water to flush evenly.

Continue until the water runs clear.

3. Stuff & Squeeze

When the shoes are clean, stuff them with microfiber cloth, newspaper, or some other absorbent material. This helps the shoes maintain their shape as they dry.

When the shoes are stuffed, give them a light squeeze to remove some of the moisture. This isn’t mandatory, but it accelerates the drying time.

4. Allow to Dry

Air dry your shoes in the shade. Don’t put them in direct sunlight, which can cause delamination. The drying process may take a day or more depending on your climate.

2. Soapy Soak

What You Need

1. Fill Basin, Add Soap

Again, lukewarm or cold water is best. Don’t make your water too hot. If your basin is large enough, you can wash multiple pairs of shoes at the same time.

Add a small amount of soap. A mild laundry detergent is a good choice, but a drop or two of dish soap is also effective. Don’t go overboard — you don’t need much soap to draw out dirt and grime from your shoes.

2. Soak & Flush

Allow your shoes to soak. Butora suggests 30-60 minutes, but a shorter soak can also be effective. Make sure that the shoes are fully submerged in the basin. Like the first method, you can give them a gentle brush if you’d like.

3. Stuff & Squeeze

The last two steps are the same as the first method. After the shoes have soaked, drain the water from the basin and the shoes. Stuff both with microfiber cloth, newspaper, or some other absorbent material. This helps the shoes maintain their shape as they dry.

When the shoes are stuffed, give them a quick squeeze to remove some of the moisture. This isn’t mandatory, but it accelerates the drying time.

4. Allow to Dry

Air dry your shoes in the shade. Don’t put them in direct sunlight, which can cause delamination. The drying process may take a day or more depending on your climate.

Can You Wash Climbing Shoes in the Washing Machine?

Most manufacturers don’t recommend this, but Butora says it’s fine for synthetic shoes. Washers vary widely, so proceed at your own risk.

If you do choose to clean your shoes in the washing machine, we’d recommend following these guidelines:

  • Don’t machine-wash leather shoes. Stick to synthetics.
  • For lace-up shoes, tie off or remove laces before washing. For velcro shoes, leave the velcro loose but closed.
  • Wash the shoes in their own load (or with other shoes).
  • Use a gentle wash cycle with cold water.
  • A little detergent is okay, but do not add bleach or other chemicals.

Restoring Grip

Even if you don’t clean your whole shoe, you can maintain performance by keeping your soles clean and grippy.

If your soles have become gritty or slippery, start by wiping them with a damp cloth. If that doesn’t do the trick, La Sportiva recommends freshening up the rubber by applying a small amount of rubbing alcohol.

For peak performance, rub the soles together once they’re clean and dry. Generating a little heat restores the rubber to maximum stickiness.

When your soles wear down, remember to send your shoes in for a resole before damaging the shoe rand.

Climbing Shoe Storage

All the shoe manufacturers agree on one thing: don’t leave your climbing shoes in the sun. Sunlight, extreme heat, and extreme cold can all cause shoes to degrade. Like ropes and most other climbing gear, shoes will last longest if they’re stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Another no-no: storing shoes while damp. After sweaty workouts, allow your shoes to dry before putting them in an enclosed container. If you don’t have the time or space to do so, consider storing your shoes in a mesh bag or breathable container.

Related: How to Break in Climbing Shoes