Caring For Your Shoes

Rock shoes don’t need much in the way of TLC.  Keep them away from heat and nasty chemicals, store them dry, and they’re good to go.  But occasionally, we get questions about things getting….stinky: Dragon foot. The sweet, hot garbage. The smell that wafts from your gym bag or crag sack and reminds you of French cheeses, vomit, mushrooms, and celebrity-endorsed perfumes. You have a problem, and your friends may or may not have mentioned it yet. Every time you put on your climbing shoes, you feel like you’re making a deal with the devil. Sure, those shoes fit perfectly and will help you crush, but they smell like Oscar the Grouch’s living room, and your feet are touching them directly. Ew. PREVENTION

  1. Store your shoes in a mesh bag and allow them to dry thoroughly between uses. It’s better to clip your shoes outside your pack than inside. During the wintertime, leave your shoes in your garage or car — the cold air will prevent bacterial growth. Always store shoes in a dry, cool place.
  2. Spray your shoes every once in a while with Lysol or other spray in between uses. It reduces bacterial growth—there’s a reason why gyms do this.
  3. Chalk up your feet. It sounds silly, but your feet will move in the shoes less, and the environment will stay drier. Liquid chalk is the best for this application, not only because it dries your feet, but it also kills off most of the bacteria on your tootsies. Do not use foot powders, talc, or baking soda as they can make shoes slippery.
  4. Wear socks. Yes, it’s dorky. Yes, it adds slip to your shoes and reduces performance. But plenty of people climb and climbed harder than you while wearing socks. It works, but it does affect fit and performance.
  5. Wash your feet. If you have stinky feet, you’re gonna have stinky shoes. If you are standing and you can smell your feet, it’s not the shoes that are the problem. Get a ped-egg or take some sandpaper and rubbing alcohol to those nasty dogs, especially if you’re the kind of person who listens to jam bands and smells of patchouli. You know who you are. Put the bong down and look at your feet. Would your mom make you wash them?  Yeah, that’s right. Mom would. Hippie.


  1. Febreeze and OdoBan works fairly well to mask odors, as do spray deodorizers and artificial scents.  Storing the shoes between uses with a dryer sheet in each shoe works remarkably well, although don’t use that dryer sheet on your clothes afterwards or your social life will suffer
  2. Freeze your shoes in the freezer. While this doesn’t actually “kill” or lyse most of the bacteria, it prevents their growth, so it will prevent smells from developing. You can always keep your shoes in your car during the winter months, but this usually makes for painful shoes when you put them on at the gym. It will not remove odors, however, and any fatty foods in your freezer will smell like feet. Obviously nobody is putting this as their top tip if they’ve thought about it at all, but this old wive’s tale continues because it sort of works.
  3. Odor absorbing materials like baking soda do remove smell, but they need to be rinsed out before using because they can make the shoes slippery. Activated charcoal inserts and vinegar or alcohol soaks work much better.


  1. Wash your dang shoes. Think about it—if you wore your favorite workout shirt for climbing and every time after using it, you threw it in a backpack, every day, for a year without washing, and then were scratching your head wondering why it smelled bad…that ain’t the shirt’s fault. But how, you ask?
  2. Hand-washing your shoes in your sink is pretty effective, especially if you use a brush and rinse the shoes until the water runs clear. You can certainly use a mild soap of your choice. However, the best thing you can do is to use real laundry detergent, because it’s not the detergent itself that does the deepest cleaning, it’s the enzymatic agents included in the grocery store stuff.  And as you may remember from Freshman Bio, enzymes need time to work, so if you’re going to hand wash, soak those shoes in warm water and fabric detergent for a solid hour—unless the shoes are leather.  For leather shoes a shorter hand wash is recommended.  Just keep the water cool enough to touch, as rock shoe glues can get melty with high enough heat. You can use products like Mirazyme to help remove the hard to reach proteins embedded in the uppers, but laundry detergent seems to work just fine on its own.
  3. Synthetic shoes can be machine washed on gentle, with warm water. Don’t use hot water, don’t use bleach, remove laces and close all Velcro straps beforehand. With many rock shoes you will likely see a lightening of the upper.  Not all of the materials we use are colorfast. The shoe itself will not be effected.
  4. After washing, completely dry the shoes with a fan or other air-dry method, and stuff them with newspaper or paper towels beforehand so they don’t shrink. Never put rock shoes in a dryer, even on air dry.
  5. Treat the shoes with a lysol or other antiseptic spray to help prevent further growth. Gyms do this, sales reps do this, and it’s a very good idea. You don’t need much. If the above methods when combined don’t lead you to having perfectly fine smelling shoes…rinse and repeat. You may have to do it frequently but if you want your shoes to smell like lilacs and sunshine instead of hippies and sick, put the elbow grease into it and go forth.