Can You Machine Wash Climbing Shoes? (Leather & Synthetic)


The first question which popped to my mind after I’ve finished my first climbing expedition was how to clean my climbing shoes. Since they have cost me quite a lot of money, I needed to know how to do it without ruining them. In particular, I wanted to know whether or not can you wash climbing shoes in a washing machine.

To answer that, I’ve done in-depth research, reading through forums, blogs, and Youtube comments. Now, I’ve gathered it all so that you don’t have to waste much time.

Yes, you can machine wash climbing shoes, as long as they are synthetic or made out of nylon. However, if your climbing shoes are made of genuine leather, you cannot wash them in the machine; you should clean them by hand.

First of all, you need to find out whether the climbing shoes which you have consist of synthetic leather or nylon or some other material. Depending on this, the procedure to machine-wash your climbing shoes will vary. Irrespective of your shoe type, my guide below will certainly help you. I will go into the details of washing these shoes so that you can keep them entirely clean.

1. Synthetic Climbing Shoes (Machine Washable)

The procedure to wash the synthetic climbing shoes (source) is pretty simple and straightforward. Here are the steps on how to machine wash synthetic climbing shoes:

  • The first step is to brush off the dirt and other contaminants from the surface of the shoes. You can do so for the interiors as well. It will ensure that most of the grime gets eliminated.
  • You have to use a brush to remove the rocks, stones as well as other debris from the bottom of the shoes very well. It will ensure that your machine does not get clogged with them.
  • You have to set the machine on the gentle cycle. You can use warm water along with mild detergent.
  • Before putting the climbing shoes in the machine, you have to remove all the laces. In case your shoes feature Velcro straps, make sure they are closed.
  • Once you have done so, you can put the shoes in the machine and wash them on a gentle cycle. You have to refrain from using bleach.
  • After the washing cycle, it is an excellent idea to let them dry in a natural way or with the help of a fan. You can then stuff them with newspaper to ensure that they do not shrink.

You have to remember that while washing the synthetic climbing shoes, you must refrain from using the dryer (source). It is a much better idea to dry them outside the machine.

2. Genuine Leather Climbing Shoes (NOT Machine Washable)

You might be thinking, what about authentic leather climbing shoes? The answer is No. You cannot wash genuine leather climbing shoes in the machine.

The main reason for that is because leather contains hydrophobic substances. These, in turn, can be ruined when they come in prolonged contact with water, as well as the harsh machine cycling (source).

There is, however, an alternate way to clean them. It involves handwashing. The procedure is as follows:

  • The first two steps are similar to washing synthetic climbing shoes. You have to remove the dust, contaminants, rocks, and stones, from the sole.
  • Clean your shoes using warm water in a tub. Instead of putting them into the machine, you should clean them using your hands and a very soft brush or cloth. At the same time, it is sensitive to chemicals. That is why it is advisable to keep away from harsh or strong detergents.
  • The best way to dry such shoes is to let them dry naturally. Only when they are dry, you can go ahead and take them on to your next climb. Up until that time, it is an excellent idea to let them dry. If you start using them too soon, the leather might crack.

Thus, when it comes to climbing shoes made from natural leather, you cannot wash them in the machine. However, cleaning them gently with your hands in a tub should work just fine.

3. Nylon Climbing Shoes (Machine Washable)

When it comes to machine-washing nylon climbing shoes, the procedure might be a bit long, but it is comparatively easier to execute. I will go into the details of the step-by-step process below.

  • You have to use a small brush to remove all the dust and other contaminants from the shoe. It will ensure that the dirt and contaminants do not turn into a paste when you put them in the machine.
  • You have to turn your climbing shoes upside down. After that, a gentle shake or a pat will help you remove the debris and rocks further.
  • The ideal RPM setting for the washing machine while washing such shoes is around 500 to 600 RPM. The temperature should be at a maximum of 40C or 100F.
  • You have to make sure that the detergent which you use is pretty mild. You have to use the gentle cycle to wash these shoes.
  • Once the wash cycle in the washing machine is complete, you have to rinse them with water. It will eliminate any residual detergent.
  • Under no circumstances should you use the dryer to dry the climbing shoes. It will damage the insole as well as the outsole of the shoe. Similarly, it will impact the Velcro and laces, as well. You have to let the shoe air-dry. Before you place it for drying, it is a good idea to shake it to remove any excess water.
  • Many people make the mistake of keeping them out in the sun. UV rays will damage your climbing shoe in such a case. You have to keep it in a warm room a bit away from the sunlight.
  • You have to stuff it with newspaper or any other paper to ensure that it does not shrink.
  • Once completely dry, the shoe is ready for use.

As you may see, out of the three most popular types of climbing shoes, two are machine washable. The genuine leather shoe is only hand-washable. I will also share with you a few tips below, which will make it easy for you to follow my guide above.

Tips to Follow While Machine Washing Climbing Shoes

I have highlighted the procedure to machine wash the climbing shoes in great detail above. However, there are some additional tips which you have to follow as well. These steps ensure that you can clean your climbing shoes quickly and ensure that they do not damage in any way.

1. Getting Rid of Smell 

In case you’re climbing shoes smell a lot, you can add a pinch of baking soda to the water. It will ensure that all the germs and bacteria get killed. It will eliminate even the strong odor in your climbing shoes. Thus, you need not worry about washing them again and again.

2. Avoid Moisture 

If you want to clean your climbing shoes less frequently, a simple tip that you can follow is to let them dry after each use. The general tendency among climbers is to pack them after the trip.

Doing so will keep them moist. In such a condition, odor-causing bacteria can grow in the shoes. It will not only make the climbing shoes unhygienic but also smelly (source). The best way is to let them dry before packing them up.

3. Take Your Shoes Off on Breaks

Similarly, whenever you’re taking a break, it is a good idea to take off your shoes as well. It will keep them dry and not aid the growth of odor-causing bacteria. It will also help you relax your feet during these breaks.

4. Examine Your Detergent

When choosing a detergent for cleaning your climbing shoes, it is a good idea to go through its ingredients. You should preferably select the one which consists of only mild and natural ingredients to clean the shoes.

Any harsh chemical which gets in contact with synthetic leather and nylon can damage your shoes. So, it is crucial to choose the right detergent.

5. Avoid Rewashing

It is natural to throw your shoes in the machine for another cycle when you see residual dirt. Nevertheless, washing your shoes in the machine across multiple cycles will damage them.

It is a good idea to dry them and let them be before doing so. However, if you follow my tips above, there will probably be no need to wash them repeatedly.

I suggest you follow the five tips I’ve mentioned when you plan on machine washing your climbing shoes. With the help of my detailed guide above and these five tips, keeping your climbing shoes in proper condition should not be an issue.

Moreover, this procedure can also increase the lifespan of your climbing shoes, which means that there is no need to search for a replacement anytime soon.

Is There Any Other Way to Wash my Climbing Shoes?

I’ve gone into the details of machine washing and hand washing your climbing shoes above. The next option which you have is to choose a shoe dry-cleaner.

One of the advantages here is that dry cleaners can usually clean all types of shoes at a reasonable price. Moreover, if you select an experienced dry cleaner, you need not worry about the shoes at all.

If you’re confused regarding choosing a shoe dry-cleaner, you can take into account the points below while comparing the different options.

  • Experience of the dry cleaner
  • Specialization
  • Cost
  • Turnaround time

Once you do so, it becomes easy for you to choose the right shoe dry cleaner. Thus, if you’re looking to outsource the cleaning of your climbing shoes, a shoe dry-cleaner is a good option.

Is it Okay to Wash Climbing Shoes?

Yes, it is okay to wash climbing shoes. The only difference is that if you’re dealing with genuine leather, you need to hand wash it, whereas most of the other climbing shoes are suitable for machine washing. Hence, you have to take into account the material of the show before choosing the cleaning technique.

Do Climbing Shoes Shrink on Washing?

Yes, climbing shoes shrink on washing (source). If you want to prevent this, there are a few tips which you should follow during and after the wash. I will go into the details of these steps below:

  • You should fill up the shoes with some newspaper after washing them.
  • Avoid exposing them to immense heat after the wash (dryers and heaters in particular).
  • Make sure that the water temperature is within the prescribed range.
  • Keep them away from the sunlight right after washing them.
  • It is essential to let the shoes dry entirely before storing them or using them again.

Once you follow these five tips, it becomes comparatively easy for you to prevent the shrinking of your climbing shoes.

What to Avoid While Machine Washing Climbing Shoes?

Are you worried about damaging your climbing shoes while washing them? If yes, this list will certainly help you. I will go into the details of things which you should avoid while washing your climbing shoes.

  • You have to go through the composition of detergent before making a choice.
  • You should not extend the washing cycle.
  • You should not use the drying cycle.
  • You should never ignore the material of the shoe before choosing the washing method.
  • It is not a good idea to overlook the washing instructions on the label before washing your climbing shoes.
  • You should immediately extract the climbing shoes from the machine after the wash. Not doing so can keep them in moist conditions for a long time, which will promote the growth of bacteria.

You need to avoid these six mistakes at all costs while washing your climbing shoes. Once you follow the step-by-step procedure highlighted above, you will likely clean the shoes without damaging them.

Can I Use a Spray Instead of Machine Washing Climbing Shoes?

Are you looking for an easy way to keep your climbing shoes clean? If yes, you probably came across different types of sprays that claim that they can help you clean your climbing shoes. However, they are not a replacement for washing.

When you go across the spray, you will realize that it has a particular purpose like:

  • Providing a waterproof coat
  • Killing mold
  • Polishing your shoe
  • Sealing any cracks in the outsole

As you can see, each spray serves a different purpose. If you want to keep the climbing shoes clean with the help of spray, you will have to use multiple sprays.

However, applying various sprays on your shoes can be counter-productive. It means that one can negate another. Due to this very reason, sprays are only suitable for particular purposes. You cannot just apply multiple sprays to your climbing shoes to replace the washing process.

The washing process is the primary way to keep the shoes clean in the longer run. The sprays are usually a temporary solution that can provide some added protection until you wash your climbing shoes. So, no, you cannot use a spray instead of machine washing your climbing shoes, at least in the longer-term.

How Often Should I Wash my Climbing Shoes in a Machine?

From my experience and what I’ve heard from other climbers, you shouldn’t wash your shoes in your machine too frequently, to prevent shrinking. Try keeping it to once in a month at most.

It is okay, however, to clean them gently in a tub with a soft cloth after each climb. In fact, doing so would allow you to detect flaws that may require buying a new pair.

I’ve previously discussed that topic in an article I’ve written on when should I buy new climbing shoes. I mentioned there five warning signs you should seek each time you remove the dirt from them. 

What Would Happen if I Store Them Wet After Machine Washing?

Earlier on, I mentioned you have to make sure your shoes are dry before packing them or wearing them once again. The main reason for that is that fungus tends to grow in damp areas. In other words, your shoes might develop mold or mildew.

Once they occur, it is challenging to remove them. I have previously written a guide on how to remove mold and mildew from a tent, and some of the tricks might apply to shoes as well. In fact, I’ve gathered fifteen different ways to do so.

Nevertheless, prevention is your best option in this case.

Conclusions

You can go through my guide above to make it easy to wash your climbing shoes. It is time that you maintain them in proper hygienic conditions so that you can use it for a long time.

With the help of my guide above, you will not only know how to wash the climbing shoes but also the mistakes which you need to avoid to ensure that they are in proper shape after the wash as well.

Instead of procrastinating on this task, it is time to take care of your climbing gear, especially the climbing shoes, to ensure that the shoes last longer.

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