How to keep climbing shoes smelling fresh

If you’ve just got your first pair of climbing shoes – for the love of God 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 and likely classifies as assault.

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

Why Is This Happening To Me?

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 break down cause the smell. The same armpit funk we know and love 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.

Do It Now

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. Skip to the of the article for a summary.

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. Try using a pumice or cleansing scrub (natural stuff like ground peach stones, not micro-plastic balls that are terrible for our water source) for your feet to remove dead skin and leave your feet feeling tingly fresh.

High and Dry

This is the most important part! Hang your shoes out to air after a climbing session. Clip the loops to a carabiner and attach to the outside of your sack 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.

Stuffing/Freezing

Some people stuff their shoes with newspaper after a climb. This absorbs sweat and is easy to dispose of once done. Sprinkling baking powder in shoes and leaving to completely dry is recommended by some but can leave rock shoes sticky and slimy inside. 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.

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 to stop the growth of the bacteria. However make sure to “thaw” the shoes before using

Washing

It is best to hand wash your shoes. 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 for the shoes and keep them separate from other clothes if possible.

Products

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 breath 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.

Boot Bananas are a great product that use bamboo charcoal, natural oils, and baking soda wrapped in an easy to use pair of banana shaped fabric. They pop right in to your shoes and attach with a mini carabiner. You can buy these online cheap here or they are stocked at lots of climbing gyms or sneaker shops.

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

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

Kill It With Fire

Please be aware that 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. Protecting local wildlife is important outside so please be vigilant of local animals moving to newer pastures because of your walking biohazards. If all of the above have failed – it may be time to move on.

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