What to Do with Smelly Climbing Shoes? (How To Clean?)

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Have you ever gotten home from a climbing trip and taken off your shoes only to be hit by a stench so bad it makes you want to throw up? You are not alone. Let’s see what causes your climbing shoes to stink and what you can do about it.

Trying to get rid of the stink in your climbing shoes is like trying to get rid of the funk in your car after you’ve had a bunch of smelly people in it for a road trip. It’s damn near impossible.

Climbing shoes are made out of synthetic materials and leather which allow them to stretch and conform to your foot. That also gives bacteria something to grow on.

What to Do with Smelly Climbing Shoes?

If your climbing shoes are starting to smell funky from your foot sweat, try soaking them for 24 hours in lukewarm water mixed with a tablespoon of laundry detergent. Once they have soaked, you can scrub them and rinse them off. Then let them air dry completely before using them again.

Throwing your climbing shoes in the washing machine is also an option but you should check if they are machine washable first so you don’t ruin them. Baking soda and antiseptic sprays such as Lysol are also quick fixes to remove the smell from your climbing shoes.

Trying to ignore the smell or trying to bring the shoes back to life with baking soda or vinegar will never work. The best solution is to find another pair of shoes that fit better, but if you really love your existing pair and just can’t get rid of them, you can try the following:

  1. Wash them with soap (not detergent). Scrub the entire surface of the shoe with a soft brush and wash them with soap. Don’t use a washing machine because it will damage the rubber.
  2. Try a product called Sport Wash. Sports Wash is a cleaning product that is used by many people who have stinky sports equipment, such as baseball gloves and hockey sticks.
  3. Put some dryer sheets in your shoes after washing them with soap or using Sport Wash. It’s the same thing as putting perfume inside the shoes, so they will smell better.

Why Do Your Climbing Shoes Stink?

The main reason why your climbing shoe smells is because of the material used in the construction of the shoe’s upper. Leather, canvas, nylon, and suede are all materials that can lead to smelly climbing shoes. These materials allow bacteria and odors to soak into the shoe and persist over time.

The smell also comes from sweat and moisture trapped inside the shoe. The best way to combat this is by drying your climbing shoes after each use. If you are not able to let them dry out, try airing them out by leaving them overnight so they get some fresh air.

Here’s how it works:

Your feet have more than 250,000 sweat glands; they’re one of the most effective ways your body has of releasing excess heat (the other is your head). When trapped in thick socks and shoes on a long, active climb, your feet release a significant amount of sweat that has nowhere to go.

That sweat then becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which feed off of it and produce acidic byproducts that we perceive as bad foot odor.

How Do I Stop My Climbing Shoes from Smelling?

There are a few options to help prevent your climbing shoes from stinking. You can place your shoes in the freezer and ensure that they don’t get packed in the bottom of your bag to prevent bacteria growth.  Alternatively, you can treat your feet before putting them into your climbing shoes.

Getting a fish pedicure, washing your feet just before you climb or on a regular basis, chalking your feet before wearing your climbing shoes, or wearing socks with your climbing shoes are all great ways to prevent the growth of bacteria which makes your shows stinky.

It’s horrible when the rubber of your climbing shoes starts to smell bad, especially when you climb so much and your shoes are always wet. They end up smelling like a dead animals, and you don’t want to wear them anymore.

Here are some general tips:

  1. Avoid leaving your climbing shoes in a hot car or your stinky gym bag that has other smelly stuff in it. If you need to leave them in your car, put them in the trunk and open it periodically (or use one of those shoe storage bags)
  2. Use a wet paper towel or rag to wipe off the surface of the shoe. If you’ve been sweating in them it’s important to wipe off as much of your sweat as possible before trying any odor removers.
  3. Don’t forget to wash the laces. You can throw them into a lingerie bag and wash that with your socks. Don’t forget to remove them before throwing them into the dryer!
  4. Use baking soda or baking powder and some sort of soap or detergent (liquid dish soap works well). Sprinkle some on, let it sit for a while and then wipe it off with a wet cloth. Baking soda is also great for absorbing odors from things like refrigerators, so keep some around if you have smelly stuff that needs freshening up.
  5. After each climb, air out the shoes again by leaving them open under your bed or in other areas where they can breathe.

How to Get Rid of the Smell in Climbing Shoes?

There are a few methods to getting rid of the nasty smell your climbing shoes can acquire:

  • Spray them with Lysol.
  • Scrub them with warm water and baking soda.
  • Store them with activated charcoal shoe inserts, Boot Bananas, or dryer sheets.
  • Put them in the washing machine (if machine washable).
  • Soak them in lukewarm water and laundry detergent.

All of these methods are effective but preventing the growth of bacteria that causes your shoes to smell in the first place is the best way to ensure that funky foot smell doesn’t return.

How Do You Clean the Inside of Climbing Shoes?

Climbing shoes are often full of dust, dirt, and debris that can cause odor and even fungal infections. A good thorough cleaning will help you keep your climbing shoes smelling and feeling great! Here’s how to clean the inside of a pair of climbing shoes:

Step 1 – Remove the Insole

To remove the insole, simply pull it out by hand. If you have trouble removing it, try using scissors or an Exacto knife to trim off any excess fabric.

Step 2 – Clean Sole with Soap and Water

Use a brush to scrub any large particles off of the sole. After scrubbing, clean with warm soapy water. Dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Step 3 – Use Hydrogen Peroxide Spray

After cleaning with soap and water, spray your climbing shoe with hydrogen peroxide spray. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes then scrub again with a brush to remove any remaining particles from the sole of your shoe. Dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Step 4 – Apply Anti-Fungal Spray Inside Shoes

If you want your climbing shoes to last longer, spray anti-fungal sprays on the inside of your shoe after drying.

Can You Put Baking Soda in Climbing Shoes?

Baking Soda: Sprinkle some baking soda into your climbing shoes and let them sit overnight before wearing them again. Baking soda is a great deodorizer for shoes because it has antibacterial properties.

Sprinkle some baking soda in your shoes and let them sit overnight or for several hours before brushing them off. You can also soak your climbing shoes in a solution made with baking soda and water.

Baking soda is a great scrubbing agent and can be used to clean just about anything. You can use baking soda to clean smelly climbing shoes using the following method:

  1. Soak your smelly shoes in warm water with two tablespoons of baking soda per gallon of water. Let them soak for an hour or so.
  2. Scrub your shoes with an old toothbrush or stiff-bristled brush.
  3. Once scrubbed, rinse your shoes with clear water and let them air-dry overnight before wearing them again.
  4. Do this every few weeks to keep your climbing shoes smelling fresh and clean!

Baking soda is a natural odor remover, so this will fight any lingering smells in your climbing shoes after they’ve been washed.


In summary, climbing shoes are notorious for having an awful smell and it’s not just because they’re filled with toxic chemicals. Part of this is due to the material they’re made out of but the other part comes from you!

They absorb sweat, germs, and bacteria like a sponge. Like everything else in this world, they need to be cleaned regularly to keep them stink-free and ready to climb.

You may also be interested in… Why Do Flats Make My Feet Stink? (And How To Stop It) and Can Climbing Shoes Be Used for Walking?