How To Keep Climbing Shoes From Smelling

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If you’ve just got your first pair of climbing shoes – for the love of Ondra please read this before you experience the existential horror that is climbing shoe stank.

Whether it’s you or a friend, everyone has a smelly shoe story. It’s like a tequila story but without the memory loss.

It starts with a long day of climbing, shoving the shoes into a bag, forgetting said bag for the week, and finally opening the bag to retrieve the – now lethal – pair of climbing shoes. The experience is unforgettable.

Don’t suffer in silence, follow our top tips.

Why Do Climbing Shoes Smell So Bad?

Climbing is a strenuous, sweaty activity – hence the shirtless stereotypes. Our bodies are covered in natural bacteria that eat sweat and dead skin cells, the acids produced in the breakdown cause the smell.

The same armpit funk is present all over our body, but especially in areas that sweat more or are covered up – i.e. your feet. When you climb, you sweat – and this gets trapped in your shoes.

How To Stop Climbing Shoes Smelling

You can stop your climbing shoes from ever getting to this stage by starting now before the bacteria and sweat builds up. While it is harder to fix the problem of shoe smell once it’s started, if you can get the jump on a fresh pair you may never have to worry.

Feet First

It might seem like a no-brainer, but keep your feet clean before booting up. Shower before a session, or if you can’t – have a quick wash or clean with a towel. A quick spray of antiperspirant on your feet works there too.

Remove your shoes in between climbing when you can to allow you feet and the shoes to air out. Get some crocs or easy slip on/off shoes for belaying. You can get some really nice approach shoes like the BD Circuit that work on the rock, in the gym, and out in the city. You want to get a pair with a floppy heel.

Try using a pumice or cleansing scrub on your feet in the bath to remove dead skin and leave your feet feeling tingly fresh. Use natural stuff like ground peach pits, not micro-plastic balls that are terrible for our water.

How to keep climbing shoes smelling fresh
Your belay buddies face when you rip your shoes off

Air It Out

This is the most important part! Hang your shoes out to air after a climbing session. Clip the loops to a carabiner and attach them to the outside of your bag on the walk back from the crag or gym. Once home or back at the van, hang them up in a dry, ventilated area.

Sunlight kills bacteria and drys out the sweat, however – try to keep them out of direct sunlight or where they can heat up (i.e. trunk of your car on a summer’s day) as this could cause the rubber to warp.

You can also use a few of the silica gel packets you often get with new trainers (or buy them online) to wick out the moisture if it’s cold or not sunny. Hanging the shoes up also allows them to ventilate, so the sweat and bacteria can dissipate. Whatever you do don’t put your shoes in a pack where they will fester.

Best Climbing Shoe Deodorizer

Bamboo charcoal is known to work well to remove odors, and you can buy your own to use for this purpose. Take some charcoal and wrap in a spare thin sock or a few layers of tights to allow it to breathe without spilling the charcoal.

You can then leave this in the shoe between sessions and change out the charcoal when it stops working as a cheap and easy solution. If you can’t be bothered to DIY: –

Boot Bananas are a great product that uses bamboo charcoal, natural oils, and baking soda wrapped in an easy-to-use pair of banana-shaped fabric socks. They pop right into your shoes and attach with a mini carabiner.

How To Keep Climbing Shoes From Smelling - Boot Bananas

Honestly, these are a really great product that you and your climbing partners appreciate. If you can’t find them, any shoe deodorizer will do.

As well as specific shoe stuffers, your standard shoe sprays or even bog standard deodorants can be sprayed into the shoe with a quick burst just before and after climbing. 

Stuff It

As a more budget option, some people stuff their shoes with newspaper after a climb or when they get wet. This absorbs sweat and is easy to dispose of once done.

Sprinkling baking powder in shoes and leaving them to completely dry is recommended by some but can leave rock shoes sticky and slimy inside. A pre-made stuffer like the boot bananas above will do a better job.

If you do this, make sure to knock the powder out of your shoes once dry and give them a clean with a small dry towel before putting them on to climb. You can use dryer sheets or silica gel packets to achieve a similar effect.

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How To Clean Climbing Shoes

If you’ve gone past the point of stopping your clogs from smelling in the first place, we have some tips. Some shoes will do better with cleaning than others. Every so often you’ll just have to get a new pair.

Can You Freeze Climbing Shoes To Get Rid Of The Smell?

Freezing shoes – surprisingly – does work! Chuck them in a plastic bag (to keep the smell out of your food) and pop them in the freezer overnight. It stops the growth of new bacteria and kills some. However, make sure to properly “thaw” the shoes before using them.

How To Wash Climbing Shoes

You can wash climbing shoes, but it’s best to hand wash them. Use a brush, lukewarm water, and a small amount of regular washing/cleaning soap to disinfect by hand. You could also try an anti-microbial soap/treatment but be aware that soap is basically just as effective in killing bacteria.

If you absolutely have to use a machine put it on a low temperature and low-intensity spin to stop the plastic parts separating from the fabric. Use a washing bag (or a spare pillow case_ for the shoes and keep them separate from other clothes if possible.

Too Long; Didn’t Read:

  1. Wash your feet properly and use a scrub occasionally
  2. Keep your shoes out in fresh air whenever you can – NEVER put damp shoes in a bag
  3. Get some boot bananas, bamboo charcoal, or a spray
  4. Hand wash if you need or try freezing overnight

Plan B: Kill It With Fire

If all of the above have failed – it may be time to move on.

How to keep climbing shoes smelling fresh -
Don’t actually do this. But send pics if you do.

It isn’t just you suffering. Those pained looks from others at the gym may be more to do with your sending slippers than their project.