Climbing holds can get very dirty from dozens of hands, climbing shoes, and copious amounts of chalk. Sweat and skin oils mix with the chalk, dust, and shoe rubber to form a greasy mess on climbing holds, which reduces the friction and makes the holds more difficult to hang on to. Fortunately, climbing holds can be cleaned relatively easily and used over and over!
There are three main ways to clean climbing holds: by pressure-washing them, hand washing them, or using a dishwasher (without a heated dry cycle). No matter how you decide to clean your climbing holds, use only a mild soap or detergent and steer clear of heat to avoid damaging the holds, and be sure to let them dry completely before using them again.
In this article, we’ll look more in depth at the different ways to clean climbing holds.
Ways To Cleaning Dirty Climbing Holds
Again, there are three main ways to clean dirty climbing holds. Which way you choose will depend on how many holds you need to clean as well as the equipment you have accessible.
First, you can pressure wash your climbing holds. Remove the holds from the wall and store all of the hardware somewhere safe. Then lay out your climbing holds on a hard, relatively clean surface that won’t be damaged by pressure washing, like your driveway. Space the holds a few inches apart so you can pressure wash all sides of the holds. Be careful not to blast small holds across the street with the water pressure—you can use a mesh container to hold small pieces and blast them all at once to avoid this problem.
This can be done with either a household pressure washer or by going to a self-serve car wash and using the pressure washer wands there. Again, be careful not to blast your climbing holds into a drain.
Pressure washing is the most efficient way to clean lots of climbing holds in a short period of time, but it won’t give you the same result as hand washing your holds. However, your holds will certainly be cleaner than when you started.
Hand washing your climbing holds is the surest way to get them really clean, but it takes some elbow grease and time. For a really thorough clean, remove all of your holds from the wall and soak them in a tub of warm water for 10-15 minutes. This will loosen up the dirt and grime and make it easier to clean your holds.
You may want to use a pair of dishwashing gloves when washing your holds to protect your hands. Apply a small amount of a mild detergent or a cleaner that is specifically formulated for climbing holds to each hold, and use a soft or medium bristle cleaning brush to scrub all sides. Avoid using a stiff brush, as this can actually wear away the grippy surface of your holds.
Then rinse each hold clean and allow them to air dry completely before you reattach them to your climbing wall. Obviously, this method is the most labor-intensive, but it generally results in the cleanest holds.
You can also use a regular household dishwasher to clean your climbing holds. This only works with moderately sized holds, since very large ones will not fit into a dishwasher or if they do, you may have to run the dishwasher numerous times to get through all of your holds. However, if you have a relatively manageable amount of small to medium holds, using a dishwasher can be a quick and easy way to clean them.
Simply load your climbing holds into your dishwasher as you would load your actual dishes. You can use a mild detergent if you feel it’s necessary, but a simple water wash and rinse can be effective if your holds aren’t super dirty. Be sure to select air dry, as a heated dry can damage the holds. Once the cycle is done, allow your holds to air dry completely before using them.
Things to Avoid When Cleaning Climbing Holds
There are certain things to avoid when cleaning your climbing holds:
- Acidic or alkaline cleaning products – These can damage your holds, so use a pH-neutral cleaner if you opt to use soap or detergent.
- Excessive heat – Very hot water or a heated drying cycle can melt your holds. If you are using a dishwasher and your holds melt, both your holds and your dishwasher will be damaged.
- Sandblasting or a very stiff bristle brush – These cleaning methods can actually take off the gritty surface of your climbing holds, making them much harder to use.
Do Climbing Gyms Clean Holds?
Yes, climbing gyms do clean their holds. Most gyms will pressure wash their holds whenever they reset the routes. So, when they take down the routes in a section of the gym, those holds will be pressure washed before being added back to their hold library for future use. If you climb in a very busy gym or if they reset routes infrequently, holds can get quite dirty, which is frustrating and can make the climb harder than it was intended to be. You can use a climbing hold brush to clean off loose chalk and dirt if you feel that you can’t get a good grip on a hold.