Fighting the Funk: 11 Ways to Treat Smelly Climbing Shoes

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You did it.

You found the perfect climbing shoes. You sized down like everyone told you to. You locked your feet in their vice grip for weeks.

And finally, after all your hard work, they’ve blossomed into two fine pieces of rubbery goodness that make you feel like a powerful monkey ninja.

But there’s only one problem:

They stink. Bad.

To a certain extent, smelly climbing shoes are just part of the territory. You could embrace the stank as another part of that grungy climbing culture we all know and love. But that doesn’t have to be your only option.

If you want to avoid stinking up your living/driving/walking space or repelling your friends/family/romantic prospects with the stench of de-feet, try the following 11 tips to fix climbing footwear funk.

Stank Treatment

The good news about the deathly odor is that it’s not you. It’s not your feet, or your shoes. It’s the bacteria and grime that have inevitably grown inside your shoes over the last few weeks, months, or even years.

The best way to treat the stink?

Tackle the source, and take down the bacteria. Here’s how:

1. Spray Those Suckers

Climbing gyms spray their rental shoes with antiseptic sprays (like Lysol) to help discourage future bacteria growth. They have to deal with a lot of shoes and a lot of stink every single day, so they probably know what they’re doing.

2. Take Them to the Laundromat

Some climbers swear by throwing their shoes in the washing machine. While, yes, some shoes are machine washable, I’d recommend using your best judgement here.

It may seem like a quick fix, but it could also lead to a ruined pair of shoes. Proceed with caution.

3. Give Your Shoes a Bath

Hand wash your shoes in cool water with a brush and some mild soap or detergent. And be patient. Remember, you’re dealing with a lot of layers of grime here.

Gently wash them until the water runs clear, then completely air-dry the shoes. It’s also a good idea to stuff them with newspaper before air-drying to avoid shrinking.

Stank Cover-ups

Sometimes you don’t have time to battle the bacteria. Sometimes you only have five minutes and you need a quick fix for the funk slowly spreading from your climbing pack all over your apartment.

I get it. Here’s what you can do:

4. Grab the Charcoal

Stick activated charcoal inserts in your climbing shoes in between uses and they will do wonders to diminish smell.

Compared to other options, the charcoal does a much better job of actually absorbing odor rather than covering it up.

5. Try Dryer Sheets

If you don’t have a fancy pair of activated charcoal inserts lying around, you could try stuffing your shoes with dryer sheets in between uses. You could also give them a quick spritz with a shoe deodorizer spray.

This technique won’t absorb odor as much as it’ll mask it, but hey, whatever works, right?

6. Power Through with Powder

There are some pretty effective odor-absorbing powders on the market you can buy, or you could just use baking soda.

Make sure to rinse out the powder before you climb, though, or the powder will mix with sweat to form a slimy residue inside your shoes and your feet will slide all over the place. Trust me — I’ve been there and it’s not pretty.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Stank Prevention

Once you’ve put time and effort into eradicating as much offensive odor from your climbing shoes as possible, make sure you’re maximizing their rosy-smelling potential.

Try the following to stave off future stench:

7. Let Them Breathe

Clip your shoes to the outside of your pack instead of shoving them to the bottom. This helps prevent moisture from sitting inside them for too long and promoting bacterial growth.

You can also put them in a mesh bag. As long as there’s air flow and you’re storing them in a cool, dry place, you’re golden.

8. Make Shoe Popsicles

Stick your shoes in a bag and put them in the freezer. Bacteria don’t like the cold.

This is definitely more of a preventative technique since it doesn’t actually kill existing bacteria. Just don’t forget the bag — it’s crucial, unless you like foot-scented ice cream.

9. Chalk Your Feet

Covering your feet in climbing chalk will definitely feel weird to do. And you will get skeptical looks at the gym for doing it. But the chalk will absorb moisture and keep your shoes less swampy and bacteria-ridden.

Liquid chalk is best for this technique if you have it.

» MORE: We Conducted a Blinded Field Test of the 7 Best Climbing Chalks

10. Sock-up

You could wear socks. This is not trendy or hardcore, and it reduces performance, but it does provide a barrier that makes your climbing shoes less likely to induce shortness of breath or heart failure. Your call.

11. Give Yourself a Bath

Remember when I said the smell wasn’t your feet?

Well, sometimes, if you don’t shower, it is your feet. Try washing your feet before your next climbing session. Cleaner feet mean cleaner shoes.

What Works for You?

It can’t hurt to be a pal and keep your foot stench under control — and I hope these tips help you do so.

Now we want to turn it over to you.

Have any techniques of your own for treating smelly climbing shoes? Have you tried any of the techniques mentioned in this article? If so, did they work for you or not?

Let us know below!


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