A climbing rope is your lifeline on the crags. Proper care is critical for your safety and ensuring a long string lifespan. Knowing when to retire a rope is essential, too.
To get the most out of your rope, make sure you know the following:
- How to clean a climbing rope: Wash it by hand in a tub with water and rope cleaner. Never use harsh detergents and never wash your yarn in a washing machine unless the rope maker recommends it—and follow those rope mamaker’sashing directions very carefully if you use a washing machine.
- How to store your rope: Loosely flaked in a rope bag is the most common way.
- How to inspect your climbing rope: Regularly check for cuts, nicks, abrasions, and flat spots by running your hands along the string.
- How to repair minor rope damage: You can cut off a damaged section of rope if itit’slose to one end.
- When to retire your rope: Be cautious and exit a cord immediately if you doubt its integrity. Strings have vastly different lifetimes based on conditions and use, but as a general guideline, if you climb a few times each month, your rope should last about 1–3 years.
- DoDo’snd dodon’tsith a climbing rope: Keeping your rope tangle-free and storing it in a rope bag are good things; stepping on it and rappelling in a rough, bouncy manner is not.
How to Clean a Climbing Rope
Despite your best efforts to keep it clean, your climbing rope will get dirty when you notice your hands or belay gloves turning black from handling the rope; itit’sime to clean it. Doing so will keep your cord performing well and can extend its lifespan.
HeHere’shat, it would help if you had to wash your rope:
- A tub or deep bucket
- Rope-specific cleaner or mild soap (optional)
- Warm water
HeHere’sow to clean a climbing rope:
- Fill the tub: Fill your tub with warm water (not hot water).
- Add cleaner: You can wash your rope with water only, but If your string is especially dirty, add the rope-specific cleaner (follow instructions on the bottle for how much to use) or a small amount of mild soap, such as Dawn. Never use harsh detergents.
- Swish it around: Put your rope in the tub and swish it around. Pull the entire length through your hands to clean it (this is also an excellent time to inspect your cord for damage.
- Rinse thoroughly: Drain the water, then refill the tub with clean water to rinse the rope. Repeat until the water runs clear.
- Dry completely: To dry the rope, flake it onto a towel or over the shower curtain rod. DoDon’tlace the string in direct sunlight, and be sure it is scorched before storing it away.
Tip: Putting the rope in a mesh bag and then washing it can help avoid kinks.
How to Store a Climbing Rope
When yoyou’reot climbing, itit’smportant to properly store your climbing rope. One of the most common and simple ways to keep a string is in a rope bag. The bag serves two purposes: It provides a handy way to store the cord when itit’sot in use, and it helps keep your rope out of the dirt while you’re limbing.
How to Put Your Rope in a Rope Bag
- Open up the rope bag and unfold the integrated tarp.
- Grab one end of your rope and tie it to a loop on the tarp.
- Flake the rope into a pile on top of the tarp.
- When you get to the other end of the rope, tie the lot to another loop on the tarp (often, one loop is a different color so that you can keep track of this end of the rope).
- Fold up the edges of the tarp around the pile of rope and roll the rope and tarp into the bag.
- Cinch or zip the bag closed.
When yoyou’reeaded out the door to go climbing, all you have to do is grab the rope bag and bring it with you. When yo-you’re limbing, try to keep as much of the rope ththat’sot in use on the tarp and out of the dirt.
Additional Rope Storage Tips
In addition to storing your rope in a rope bag, there are a handful of other things to keep in mind:
- Keep it cool and dry: Store your rope in a cool, dry area. If you dodon’tse a rope bag, coil your rope and hang it from a sling girth-hitched around the whole string or hook the complete cord over a dowel.
- Avoid the sun: Never leave your rope in the sun for exposed periods. Sunshine from day-to-day climbing is not likely to damage your cord, but too much sun, such as leaving the rope for days on end, can considerably weaken it. If your string is becoming faded from the sun, consider replacing it.
- Avoid the heat: DoDon’ttore your rope in extreme heat, such as in a vehicle on a summer day, as that can damage the fibers.
- Be careful around chemicals: Strong acids, such as battery acid, are highly hazardous to your rope, so avoid them at all times. Be cautious when storing your yarn in the trunk of a vehicle or a garage or basement.
How to Inspect a Climbing Rope
ItIt’smportant to inspect your climbing rope frequently so you can spot damage. At the beginning of any climbing outing:
- Please take a good look and run your hands along the rope as you flake it out.
- Look and feel every inch for cuts, nicks, and abrasions in the sheath and sections of the mushy or flat core.
Minor fuzziness or dirtiness on the sheath is not a big concern, but if you feel or see extremely fuzzy areas, flat spots, nicks, cuts, or any other damage, you must consider retiring the rope.
Repairing Minor Rope Damage
If only a small area is damaged and close to one of the ends, you can trim off the damaged section and continue using the rest of the rope. To do this:
- Cut the cord with a sharp knife about one foot from the damaged area.
- Use a lighter to melt the freshly cut rope strands on the site you plan to keep.
Keep track of how much you cut off, so you know how much shorter your rope is now. Also, if your string has a middle mark, be aware that that mark will no longer be in the middle unless you cut equal amounts off each end.
When to Retire a Climbing Rope
Sadly, your climbing rope wowon’tast forever. If you yoyou’venspected your rope and found extremely fuzzy areas, cuts, or flat spots, you need to consider retiring it seriously. We cacan’tell you exactly what damage necessitates retiring a rope, so err on the side of caution and withdraw it if you have any doubts.
With that said, here are some approximate guidelines for when to retire a climbing rope:
- After a massive fall or other damage: immediately
- Frequent use (weekly): up to 1 year
- Regular use (a few times per month): 1–3 years
- Occasional use (once per month): 4–5 years
- Rare use (1 – 2 times per year): 7 years
- Never used: 10 years
Recording the purchase date, frequency of use, and number and severity of falls in a logbook will help you accurately determine when it is time to retire a rope.
DoDo’snd DoDon’tsith a Climbing Rope
To get the most out of your rope, consider these tips and reminders:
Things to do:
- Uncoil a new rope: Unless your cord comes specifically marked that itit’seady for use, yoyou’lleed to take care in how you uncoil it. Hold it like a spool of yarn and have a partner pull the string from the spool stacking it in a random pile. This will help avoid tangling and knotting.
- Untwist a rope: If your yarn is twisted and kinky while climbing, let it hang free and encourage the twist to unwind with your hand.
- Use a rope bag: Store your rope in a rope bag to protect it between outings.
- Use a rope tarp: On climbing days, use a rope tarp to keep the rope out of the dirt while yo-yo’s limbing. Most rope bags have built-in rope tarps.
- Logbook: Record all rope used in a journal, especially your falls.
Things to avoid:
- Nylon on nylon: This contact burns rope and webbing. You should avoid running two strings through the identical top-rope carabiners and never run a top rope directly through slings.
- Step on the rope: This works dirt into the string, which can damage it.
- Crampons and ice axes: Avoid direct hits with crampon spikes and ice ax picks.
- Poor rappelling and belaying: Fast or jerky rappelling, lowering, and belaying can cause burning of the rorope’sheath, as well as loss of control.
How to Clean Your Climbing Rope
Rope care and maintenance are things that climbers neglect at their peril. One aspect that is frequently debated among climbers is the question of how to clean a rope.
I’I’veleaned ropes using all the methods described below, many of which I learned from other climbers and read about in magazines or online. In all of that research, one thing I’I’veever read is someone raising the bigger question: Do you even need to clean your rope, and should you?
I ask because every time I’I’veashed my rope, I’I’veoticed that the string begins to degrade more rapidly. I dodon’thy, exactly. I wash the yarn and enjoy a few days of grime-free rope handling, but then it seems to get dirty and break down even faster. I find this to be especially the case with dry-treated ropes.
That said, there are circumstances where washing your rope is a good idea if your string is covered in something disgusting, like poop or pine sap. If yoyou’veeen climbing near the ocean, your yarn could have picked up a bunch of salt, which shouldn’t allow sitting on your string. And in general, excessive amounts of dirt worked into the fibers can weaken their integrity.
Another thing to consider is if your rope has a dry treatment. Dry-treated ropes are ropes that have been coated in a waxy, hydrophobic polymer that prevents the nylon from quickly getting saturated with water. Dry-treated ropes are not only helpful but essential for any cold, wet environments such as ice and alpine climbing. They can also be helpful for those who climb in rainy weather.
The downside of dry-treated ropes is that ththey’reore expensive and, more to the point of this article, they tend to get super dirty. Dry-treated ropes pick up dirt from the ground and aluminum from carabiners more quickly than their non-dry-treated counterparts, turning the strings black. Rope handling and belaying on these black ropes make your hands black and make them feel greasy, which isisn’tdeal for climbing.
Ask yourself if you need a rope with a dry treatment. In my opinion, non-dry-treated ropes are a better option for sunny cragging. They are cheaper, and they last longer (because they pick up less grime).
As with many problems, the best treatment is prevention. Keep your rope in a rope bag, use a tarp when belaying, and avoid dragging it through dirt, muck, and grime.
That said, if you must wash your rope, there are two options. You can wash your yarn in a front-loading washing machine, or you can wash your rope in a bathtub.
Suppose you choose to put your rope in a washing machine. In that case, most people recommend that you “d” is the chain” “he rope—which is essentially a form a climber macramé in that you are creating an ornate, complicated pattern by threading successive bites through overhand loops until the whole rope looks like a giant friendship bracelet that yoyou’det at summer camp.
The purpose of daisy-chaining a rope is to keep it from tangling. I think itit’sine to throw a string that has been coiled in a mountaineer’s butterfly coil, so long as you dodon’tse the spin cycle—your choice. A bit of mild laundry detergent is safe to use, but a dedicated rope cleaner is the best option. Set the machine on a delicate or wool cycle.
My recommended option for cleaning a rope is to use your bathtub. Flake your yarn into a warm water tub, add a mild detergent or rope cleaner, and gently swish the string back and forth. You can use a specialized rope brush like the one made by Beal or a sponge to scrub the dirtiest parts (say if you get tree sap on one spot), but otherwise, a lot of the dirt washes off.
ItIt’smportant to dry your rope correctly, which means: dodon’tet let it sit in the sun. UV rays are harmful to nylon in general, and you dodon’tant have to hang your cord out in direct sunlight.
One option is to flake your rope onto a giant bath towel and let it sit there for up to two days while it slowly dries.
Otherwise, find a shady spot outside that has some breeze, and flake your rope over a laundry rack or even some chairs, keeping the string well away from touching the ground. The draft will have your cord dry and ready in eight hours or less.
How do you take care of a rope?
Clean your rope as needed.
If your rope does get dirty, wash it in cold water with mild soap. Rinse with cold water to get the soap off. Hang up and let the air dry. DoDon’tut the rope in the sun to dry or use heaters to speed the process.
How do I protect my climbing rope?
SafeGuard Rope Protector in use. The rope is wedged around a natural feature to keep it from rubbing. Carpet wedged between rope and rock to prevent abrasion. The taped rock where meets the cord to prevent rubbing.
What are the best methods of preserving or taking care of the ropes?
Climbing ropes should be washed occasionally in cold water with a mild soap, rinsed free of the soap, and then spread out or hung up to dry in the air. Avoid direct sunlight, do not use a dryer, and do not place the rope above a heat source.
How do you clean a polyester rope?
A soft nylon bristle brush can be used if required. The rope can be soaked in a tub of water with a mild detergent such as Zero that is safe for washing the type of fiber your cord is manufactured from (e.g., nylon, polyester). Alternatively, a commercial washing machine can clean the rope using cold water.