Rope-care: washing the rope.

Rope-care: washing the rope.

Whether I have received it or paid for it full retail price I like to take care of my gear. It’s not only a show of respect for the trade’s tool but also a common-sense thing to do. A waterproof jacket thrown in the booth of the car and forgotten under wrenches for ages is anything but waterproof when you need-it, a rope trampled on and turned into a bird’s nest has a very short life-span if you value your own, some smelly climbing shoes dumped at the bottom of the backpack and used for seasons at end will guarantee you a room under the stars on grounds on personal hygiene. The list can go on but surely you got the point. I know quite a lot of people who after purchasing a new rope scream murder if a leaf ends up on it at the crag but after one season when the shiny new colour has faded you can dig it out from under the spare tire…

Coming to the issue at hand: how to clean your rope? For many friends of mine the real issue would be actually “why to clean your rope”? The answer is simple: beyond the increased life-span of your rope which basically translates care into hard currency (true, saved not earned but still…) the safety margin is slightly kept on your side. A dirty rope can hide damage, through sand and rock particles lodged between the fibres can cause and aggravate damage, can make handling more difficult.

I use several ropes: some for work and for some recreational climbing. I do not have a ‘Jack of all trades’ rope and I do not abuse just one. However, working as guide I do tend to abuse and use the gear more than a recreational, week-end climber. All in all, although the load is spread over several ropes the abuse is by no means less than in the case of a climber having a rope for all disciplines. In the photos below there is a two-year-old Tendon Master 9.7 I use for recreational sport climbing. Quick but important note: the shiny look is due to the care I take of the rope and not to my laziness in sport climbing….


When to clean a rope? The answer is: whenever is needed. Some times we climb in really dirty environments. There is a cave near where I leave where one weekend of climbing slimes up your rope more than three full weeks in Geyikbayiri. Use your judgement. If you cannot see the original colour or the patter anymore you probably have been a tad way too patient…

How to clean it? This also depends on how tidy you are. It helps if, using a rope brush, you clean, at least the first 2 m from each end, after a day of climbing. It takes maximum 10 minutes but it’s invaluable for removing the dust and the chalk from the sheath which, combined with worn out carabiners, are the main cause of a rope becoming fuzzy. When the rope becomes, invariably, too dirty you have the choice to wash it either by hand or by washing machine. There used to be reluctance about either washing or, God forbid, machine-was a rope for fear of ruining it. Both these fears are totally unfounded and moreover a dirty rope is closer to ruin than a machine-washed rope.

If washing it by washing machine make sure you set the temperature at 30 or 40 degrees Celsius. If it does not ruin you synthetic super thin base-layer it won’t ruin your rope either. Use a front-loading machine type.

If washing by hand you won’t have a thermometer and neither you need one. If the water is too hot so it’s hard on your hand you can’t wash it, can you? If it’s lightly warm without it being cold either it’s probably about right.

Normal detergent is unsound for rope cleaning. In the past I used hair shampoo. I reckoned that if the skin can take it then the polyamide could take it too. However do not use hair-shampoo in the washing machine unless you want to wash the floor and the neighbour’s ceiling as well.

The best option is by far using rope cleaning specific detergent. I strongly recommend Tendon Rope Cleaner!

For machine-wash clean the rope of any pebbles, twigs, leaves, chocolate bits, dead rodents and anything else that may hide in the rope bag (if you use one, and you should!). Now it is also a good time to inspect the rope for any damage that it may have suffered. No rush to send that climb so you can afford to be thorough. Needless to say, if the core shows out, retire the rope… Once dusted and inspected place the rope, uncoiled and without knots, in the washing machine and add some rope cleaning specific detergent (Tendon Rope Cleaner). I always like to take out the detergent tray and clean it so there is no residue left. Set for synthetic or delicates or wool, make sure the temperature is set for 30 to max 40 degrees Celsius, hit the start button and go bouldering.

If you do not own a washing machine or still believe that it is evil for the rope or maybe you’re just starting Earth Hour then you can go for the old fashioned hand washing option. Still you need to dust it out and remove any pebbles, twigs and leaves. You can do that outside or in the tub (see photo below).



Rinse the rope once with running water. This should get rid of all superficial dirt. Then soak the rope in warm water and add some rope cleaning specific detergent (Tendon Rope Cleaner). Wash gently by hand then use the rope-brush. I like to go a couple of times along the full length of the rope the do a few extra runs on the first 2 m at each end (see photo below).



If the rope is really dirty then more passes are necessary. Use common sense. Also your lumbar region will tell you when to stop.

Rinse thoroughly with running water, drain the rope and prepare it for drying. Usually untangling and hanging in the house a 70m rope is no fun at all especially if it drips all over the place. You can use a broom-stick as support and coil the rope so it shortens and is easier to hang as well as taking less space (see photo below).


Hang it wherever you please as long as it’s far away from heaters, direct sunlight, sharp edges and angry pets. Let it dry for at least a day so to make sure that even the core is dry. Otherwise, unknown to you but well known to the laws of physics there will be reduction in strength to up about 30%. When it’s dry drop bouldering and pick up sport climbing again.


Disclaimer: DO try this at home!


Happy climbing




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