Just when you’ve finally gotten your new climbing shoes softened up and broken in, you catch a whiff of them after an intense climbing sesh and your proverbial socks are knocked right off by the stank. This probably prompted you to immediately Google “how to keep rock climbing shoes from smelling.” Well, here’s what to do:
There’s really no way to completely eliminate the smell of climbing shoes, but you can minimize the smell by cleaning your shoes occasionally, deodorizing them, letting them dry out completely after climbing sessions, and keeping your feet clean and dry before you put the shoes on.
Let’s look at these techniques in more depth, plus a few other anti-stink tips.
1. Choose Shoes Less Likely to Smell
Obviously, if you’ve already purchased shoes and they are stinky, it’s too late for this step. However, it’s something to keep in mind for your next pair of shoes if the stink is too much for you. Shoes that are made of more natural fibers (leather, hemp, cotton, etc.) are less likely to facilitate the growth of bacteria and therefore the development of unpleasant odors when compared to shoes that are made of synthetic materials. However, synthetic shoes stretch out less and offer more predictable performance over the lifespan of the shoes, so there’s always a trade-off.
2. Antiseptic Spray
You can also spritz your climbing shoes with an antiseptic spray like Lysol after you climb each time. This is what climbing gyms do with their rental shoes, and a true antibacterial spray will help eliminate the growth of bacteria and minimize stink. But, then your feet are swimming in a sweat/Lysol bath every time you climb, which can be less than ideal.
3. Washing Machine
Some climbing shoes are specifically designed to be machine washable, which can be a quick and easy way to remove the grime and stank. However, this can also be a quick and easy way to potentially ruin a good pair of climbing shoes, so proceed with this technique at your own risk.
If you do decide to go for it, use cold or lukewarm water only and do not put your climbing shoes in the dryer (heat can melt the glue that holds your shoes together). Stuff them with newspaper to prevent shrinkage as they air dry.
4. Hand Wash
Alternatively, you can use the less risky method of hand washing your climbing shoes. Again, use cool water to avoid the melting issue, and use a mild soap or detergent and a soft brush to get the gunk off. Rinse your shoes until the water runs clear and soap-free, and then let them air dry, again stuffing the shoes so they don’t shrink.
5. Charcoal Inserts
If washing your climbing shoes makes you nervous, you can opt for a quicker fix like charcoal shoe inserts. Just slip them into your shoes between climbing sessions and allow the charcoal to absorb the stink.
6. Dryer Sheets
If you don’t have charcoal inserts handy, you can get a similar effect by popping a few dryer sheets into your shoes between uses. This will mask the smell more than actually absorbing it, but either way the smell will be less bad.
7. Anti-Stink Powders and Sprays
There are also several different kinds of powders and sprays that are designed to mask and/or absorb shoe odors. However, if you use a powder in your shoes, be sure to rinse it out before you climb next, or you’ll end with a sweat/powder slime coating your feet.
8. Chalk Your Feet
You can attempt to prevent your feet from sweating all over your shoes by chalking your feet before putting the shoes on. This might feel weird, but just like how chalk absorbs your hand sweat, it will do the same for your feet. Liquid chalk typically works best, but regular chalk will also work if it’s all you have.
10. Freeze Them
Freezing your shoes after each climb will help prevent new bacteria from growing, although it likely won’t kill existing bacteria. It will also make your shoes very unpleasant to put on the next time unless you remember to thaw them out in advance. Remember to seal your shoes in a bag so they don’t contaminate the food in your freezer – foot-flavored ice cream will definitely ruin your day.
11. Let Shoes Dry After Climbing
Letting your shoes air out and dry completely after each climbing session is likely the most effective way to prevent excessive bacterial growth and stink. Clip your shoes to the outside of your bag as you hike back to the car, or store them in a mesh bag between gym sessions to let them breathe. Either way, store them in a cool, dry place where they won’t be festering.
12. Wear Socks
I know, wearing socks is dorky unless you are doing a cold alpine climb, and it can slightly reduce your climbing performance. But, it can help keep your climbing shoes smelling relatively fresh…or at least not shockingly bad. If you plan to climb with socks regularly, you’ll probably want to size up a half size.
13. Wash Your Feet
Obviously, if your feet are already sweaty, dirty, and stinky when you put your climbing shoes on, the shoes don’t really stand a chance. Sometimes this is unavoidable if the approach is long and strenuous or you run to the climbing gym, but in general the cleaner your feet are, the less your climbing shoes will stink.
Or…Embrace the Stank
Finally, you can just learn to embrace the stink. Chances are, after an intense climbing session, no part of you or your gear is going to smell particularly good, so just avoid holding your climbing shoes close to your face and you’ll be fine!