How to Wash Your Rope

How to Wash Your Rope

Our two hard-working test subjects ready for pampering.

A Google search of “how to wash your rope” will lead you down a winding path of climbing forums with many opinions on the various techniques out there. Fear not, we’ve combed through all of the existing literature on the subject to provide you with a comprehensive yet simple guide to washing your rope.

Not only will a dirty rope make your hands black, rope manufacturers also recommend washing it to extend life. The silt and sand work their way through the sheath into the fibers causing interior abrasions. The grit is also hard on gear, wearing out biners faster over time and clogging up your GriGri (causing faster wear on its metal parts, as well as your rope sheath passing through it with more friction). So, now that you’re totally out of excuses to put off washing your rope, let’s get to it.

The most important thing is to not damage your rope, you know, since your life depends on it. To that end:

  1. NO hot water
  2. NO soap* 
  3. Use ONLY the slowest cycle on a washing machine
  4. Lay flat to dry (so it won’t stretch)

*Note that rope wash or tech wash is specially formulated for safe use on ropes

Method 1: The Bathtub + Rope Brush

For those who are Type A with detail-oriented personalities. This method will enable you to scrub down the entire surface area of your rope by hand to your desired level of perfection. (“It’s going to look just like new!” you tell yourself )

How to Wash Your Rope

We recommend a dirty rope paired with a Pinot Grigio.

1. Pour yourself a large glass of wine and put on a pair of knee pads, since you’ll be kneeling in the bathroom for a while.

2. Fill the bathtub with cold water and add rope wash or a soap-free tech wash (we used Nikwax Tech Wash).

3. Add rope and agitate.

How to Wash Your Rope

Shannon demonstrating proper rope-agitating technique.

4. Now the fun begins! Take your rope brush and twist one end of your rope through it. Once it’s through, put the rope back under water and pull the entire length of the rope through the rope brush.  We used a Beal rope brush.

How to Wash Your Rope

Passing the rope through the rope brush.

5. Repeat

6. Ask yourself why you bought that 70m rope instead of a 60m one.

7. Repeat until satisfied. Pour yourself another glass of wine (or two!)

how to wash your rope

Love that dirty water!

8. Empty the bathtub and refill with clean, cold water and agitate. Repeat until the water is fairly clear.

9. If you feel like you haven’t gotten enough of a forearm workout, pull the rope through the rope brush one more time during rinsing, just for good measure.

10. Lay your rope on a flat surface, away from a heat source and allow it to dry.

11. Realize that your rope will never look like new, but hey, at least you tried.

Method 2: The Washing Machine

For those who are short on time, have sore knees, or just want to wash the rope and be done with it.

Notes on washing machines:

  • Front or top-loading machines can all be OK!
  • If you have a top-loading machine with a central agitator, test it on the lowest cycle and take a peek if you can. If you are concerned the rope may get caught in the agitator and stretch, put it in a pillowcase.
  • If you are at all worried the rope will get tangled in your washing machine, put it in a pillowcase.

1. Run the washing machine empty with a cycle of plain, hot water to clean it of any soap residue. Don’t do this at a Laundromat—who knows what people have put in there before you!

How to Wash Your Rope

Start with an overhand on a bight near the end, pull a loop through, repeat repeat repeat…

2. Daisy chain that sucker. (See images above, or this video is even better)

3. Put the rope into the washing machine (either in a pillowcase or not). If you’re using a pillowcase, fold down the open end and safety pin it shut in multiple places along the top.

4. Let the machine fill with water using whatever load size will add enough water to cover the rope.

How to Wash Your Rope

The washing machine we used had little movement of the agitator on the gentle cycle so we just put the rope directly in, coiling it loosely.

5. Add your rope wash or tech wash and agitate a little bit by hand to distribute it before letting the gentle cycle start.

6. Have a glass of wine anyways.

7. When it’s done, take it out and undo the daisy chain. Simply pull and it will  unravel.

How to Wash Your Rope

Undoing all the hard work

8. Lay your rope on a flat surface, away from a heat source and allow it to dry.

What’s your preferred method — bathtub or washing machine? We’d love to hear any tips and tricks you have!

Climb on (with clean hands!)
Emily, Shannon, and Jen F.

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5 thoughts on “How to Wash Your Rope

  1. ej says:

    I daisy chain and use the gentle cycle of a front load washer using Sterling Wicked Rope wash. Works really well! I wish more people would wash their ropes if only to save wear on their friends’ gear and Gris Gris! Hint hint.

  2. Tim says:

    I like the washing machine method: the bathtub is a whole lot of work, and wastes a ton of water. It’ll get pretty clean without soap, if you wanna skip it.

  3. This is great advice! I have tried the machine washing method, and my rope looks only vaguely like the colour it used to be…and my hands may no longer be black, but they are still very dirty after a couple of hours of belaying. Maybe I’ll try the full-on-commitment bathtub method next…

  4. Clif Skaylor says:

    If you learned to climb in the muddy Adirondacks (NY) as I did, believe me, you WILL wash you rope.

    I always chain braided it as shown (or maybe as a single, braided strand rather than doubled) and used a top loader machine. One capful of Woolite (there was no Rope Wash BITD) So easy. I would suggest NOT using a pillow case – there’s no way the water will flush through it effectively enough to clean the rope, and it will make it impossible to distribute the rope load around the machine’s tub. As a result, it will be horribly unbalanced during the spin cycle. That’s good if you want to watch the machine walk across the floor but otherwise it’s not a good idea.

  5. aic says:

    Thanks for the post!

    One thing I want to add — if you used bleach in the washing machine before, make sure you *thoroughly* rinse out the machine. Multiple times. (Another reason why to NEVER wash your rope in a public laundry machine.)

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