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I have never found a good answer to this one:

How do you clean rock-climbing shoes, without ruining them?

Funky Old Climbing Shoes

Let me be more specific.

I have a pair of modern leather-and-fancy-rubber climbing shoes made by a major brand. They fit exactly the way I want and the rubber is still sound. But they reek like I exercise in them (with no socks) six days a week. How do I make these expensive slippers smell less horrifying without ruining the rubber or the leather?

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Define clean: just get rid of the smell, or also get rid of all the dirt and grime accompanying the odor? –  manoftheson Feb 12 '13 at 0:24
    
Oh, my only concern is the smell. I will try to make that more clear. –  theJollySin Mar 10 '13 at 22:33

10 Answers 10

up vote 13 down vote accepted

First, prevention is going to give you the best bang for your buck. Make sure your shoes dry properly between uses by hanging them out, and not keeping them in a bag/trunk/confined space. During your climbing session, it's a good idea to take your shoes off between climbs, or at least once in a while to let them dry out some.

For odor control, I find that spray deodorizers can do a good job. I don't think I would use powders, but I'm curious what everyone else says.

Once things get really bad, you can give shoes a wash (by hand) using warm water, a mild detergent, and a brush of some sort (an old toothbrush works fine). Wash the insides thoroughly using the brush and soap, it'll take a few rinses to get everything. Allow the shoes to dry completely, put them next to a fan/heater (but not too close). Stuff the shoes with newspaper, and change it often.

Generally, I find some brands to be worse for odors than others. I've had good luck with La Sportiva, and a terrible time with Evolvs. This is most likely because of the material (leather vs. synthetic).

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Just a word of caution from experience: drying wet, leather climbing (or other) shoes with heat will cause the leather to shrink some. So unless you want a smaller size, I recommend just using the fan or other air movement. –  manoftheson Feb 12 '13 at 6:24
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This is exactly what I do - a scrub withwarm soapy water and a toothbrush, then leave them to dry in the conservatory, full of newspaper, then a spray with Febreze or similar odour neutraliser. –  Rory Alsop Feb 12 '13 at 9:40
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Oh yeah about the foot powders for odor control...I don't recommend it. It eventually accumulates in the shoes and kind of makes this combined, congealed conglomeration of sweat, dirt, skin cells, and foot powder that feels really nasty. –  manoftheson Mar 11 '13 at 8:14

Instead of cleaning them, fill them with cedar balls and hang them. That should eliminate the reek.

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Coffee beans will also do the same thing. –  manoftheson Feb 12 '13 at 0:58

I use boot bananas to tame the stench!

http://www.bananafingers.co.uk/boot-bananas-p-1654.html

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I have never seen those before. Awesome. –  theJollySin Feb 15 '13 at 15:35
    
Those are really good. Only downside is that bananas are a bit heavy, so usually I leave them in the car then go out climbing. –  Val Nov 17 at 12:16

Try dusting the inside of the shoes (or outsides of your feet) with chalk (or talcum powder) before using them to soak up some of the sweat, which can then we wiped out with a slightly damp cloth.

There are various commercial products you can get to soak up shoe smell while shoes are being stored (not climbing shoe specific). These are usually in the form of an inner sole with some kind of absorbent material inside. You could probably achieve a similar result using bi-carb soda. Try putting a few tablespoons full inside a small cotton bag and insert into the show while not in use. The bag should let air in (so the bi-carb can soak up the smell) while stopping the bi-carb from getting into your shoe.

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+1, Completely agrees with the answer. –  ACB Apr 8 '13 at 5:55
    
Nice, thanks! I will definitely go and try this! –  michielm Apr 8 '13 at 16:05

I just spray some Lysol into the shoe from time to time after returning home from climbing, and that seems to do the trick. I haven't noticed a downside to this, but perhaps some more experienced climbers can weigh in.

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I had a huge problem with smelly climbing shoes when climbing in the gym or on long multi-pitch days. The single most effective thing I have come across is taking the shoes off between climbs/pitches. This seems tedious at first, but once you make it part of your routine it's not that bad. There still is some smell, but the situation has drastically improved. Bring a second pair to reduce smell even further.

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They key to all selly shoes is bacteria. From a prevention perspective, I always wash my feet before they spend a prolonged or arduous of time in shoes or boots. A good spray with an anti-bacteria can do the trick. I've also heard good thing about dusting them with bicarb and then vacuuming it out some time later.

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A UV-C germicidal light kills the odor-producing bacteria, so used regularly the smelly compounds never build up and your shoes don't stink. It also helps to dry your shoes after use, e.g. in front of a fan. And, as stevemarvell said, wash your feet before you climb.

I assembled my own UV-C sterilizer and I can attest that it works. It uses a higher output germicidal bulb than e.g. the SteriShoe brand device, and I don't know how well those low-power ones work. Since UV-C is very dangerous make sure you know what you're doing if you choose to do something similar.

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Wow, unrelated to Mathematica :P –  Ian Hincks Nov 19 at 17:21
    
Hello over here @Ian :-) –  Mr.Wizard 2 days ago

Kill the bacteria that turns perspiration into a foul smell, sounds crazy but put them in the freezer overnight. This and a through onslaught with any other antibacterial treatments e.g. biological washing powder in luke warm water. As far as I'm aware there is no permanent cure.

Do Not put them in the washing machine or use hot water as this may melt the glue that helps to hold the shape of the shoe.

I might add that this trick also works wonders for hard to clean drinks containers (empty ones) like Camelbak or Platypus.

I like the germicidal light approach mentioned by @MrWizard, but mine is cheaper.

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I haven't tried this but I am somewhat skeptical about it. Certainly freezing in a household freezer will not kill all bacteria; freezing does not sterilize water for example. Perhaps the primary odor-causing ones are not freeze resistant? I also worry that freezing would keep them from drying properly. Not a problem if you rotate a number of pairs of shoes but fairly important if you climb often in the same pair. Could you give more details of your personal experience with this method? –  Mr.Wizard Sep 17 at 20:09

Be careful to check the health warnings on most sterilizing sprays as most of them state not to get on your skin (I don't wear socks in my climbing shoes). There are also a large number of deodorizers, but they can at times produce a far more distracting scent that will fill a room instead of just filling your shoe. As for freezing your shoes, this can damage rubber and only puts the bacteria in a dormant state temporarily until the shoes are brought back to room temperature. In addition the freezing can damage the adhesives in the shoe.

My recommendation:

Proper storage: Leave shoes in the open after climbing and in general. Only store in a bag while transporting your shoes to and from the gym or crag.

Washing: Rinse and wash with handsoap in room temperature water. Leave to air dry. Heat drying can shrink and deform the shoe.

Stuffing: There are loads of products that you stuff in your shoes (bananafingers, sneakerballs, bags of coffee beans even) simply to allow air movement and to absorb smell while also infusing the interior material with a gentle yet pleasant scent.

I use old chalk bags that I rinse out and stuff with different things to then stuff my shoes. I've made several different pairs using everything from coffee beans, lavender, potpourri, and cinnamon. I like to mix them up every now and again.

Best of luck!

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