Why Do Your Climbing Shoes Smell Like Death?

As a beginner climber, you may have noticed that your climbing shoes smell bad – really bad. You might have tried everything from airing them out to washing them, but nothing seems to work. You might even be embarrassed to take off your shoes in front of others because of the strong odor.

But why do climbing shoes smell so bad? In this beginner’s guide, we will explore the science behind the smell and provide tips on how to keep your climbing shoes fresh.

Understanding the Science of Smell

To understand why climbing shoes smell, we need to look at the science behind odor. Odor is caused by the bacteria that live on our skin. When we sweat, the bacteria break down the sweat and produce a foul-smelling gas. This gas is what causes the bad odor in our shoes.

When it comes to climbing shoes, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that climbing shoes are made from materials that do not breathe well, such as synthetic materials. This means that the sweat and bacteria get trapped inside the shoe, making the odor even worse.

Common Causes of Climbing Shoe Odor

Now that we know the science behind odor, let’s look at some of the common causes of climbing shoe odor:

1. Sweat

As mentioned earlier, sweat is the main cause of odor in climbing shoes. The more you sweat, the more bacteria will grow, and the worse the odor will be.

2. Poor Airflow

Climbing shoes are designed to fit snugly, which means that there is little airflow inside the shoe. This lack of airflow makes it easier for bacteria to grow and thrive.

3. Moisture

Moisture is another common cause of climbing shoe odor. If you climb in wet or humid conditions, your shoes will get wet, and if they are not allowed to dry out properly, the moisture will provide a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Tips for Keeping Your Climbing Shoes Fresh

Now that we know the causes of climbing shoe odor, let’s look at some tips for keeping your shoes fresh:

1. Clean Your Feet

One of the easiest ways to reduce climbing shoe odor is to keep your feet clean. Make sure to wash your feet before climbing, and avoid wearing shoes without socks.

2. Air Out Your Shoes

After each climb, make sure to remove your shoes and let them air out. This will help to reduce the moisture and bacteria inside the shoe.

3. Use Foot Powder

Foot powder can help to absorb moisture and reduce the growth of bacteria. Make sure to apply foot powder to your feet before climbing, and sprinkle some inside your shoes as well.

4. Wash Your Shoes

If your shoes are really smelly, you may need to wash them. Use a mild detergent and cold water, and make sure to let them dry out completely before wearing them again.

5. Store Your Shoes Properly

Finally, make sure to store your shoes properly. Avoid leaving them in a damp or humid area, and keep them in a well-ventilated area.

Preventing Climbing Shoe Odor

In addition to the tips we have already discussed, there are some things you can do to prevent climbing shoe odor from occurring in the first place:

1. Rotate Your Shoes

If you climb frequently, it’s a good idea to have multiple pairs of shoes. This will allow you to rotate them, giving each pair time to dry out completely between uses.

2. Use Shoe Deodorizers

Shoe deodorizers are designed to absorb moisture and reduce odor. You can place them inside your climbing shoes when you’re not using them, and they will help to keep them smelling fresh.

3. Invest in Odor-Resistant Shoes

Some climbing shoes are designed with materials that are more resistant to odor, such as natural leather. If you’re particularly prone to foot odor, consider investing in a pair of odor-resistant climbing shoes.

How to Clean Climbing Shoes

If your climbing shoes are particularly smelly, you may need to give them a good clean. Here’s how to do it:

1. Remove the Insoles

Start by removing the insoles from your shoes. This will allow you to clean them separately and give your shoes a thorough clean.

2. Soak in Cold Water

Fill a bucket or sink with cold water and add a mild detergent. Place your shoes in the water and let them soak for 10-15 minutes.

3. Scrub with a Soft Brush

After soaking, use a soft brush to scrub your shoes gently. Pay particular attention to any areas that are particularly dirty or smelly.

4. Rinse Thoroughly

Once you’ve finished scrubbing, rinse your shoes thoroughly with cold water. Make sure to remove all traces of soap.

5. Air Dry

Finally, allow your shoes to air dry completely. Avoid using a dryer or placing them in direct sunlight, as this can damage the materials.

How Often Should You Clean Your Climbing Shoes?

How often you clean your climbing shoes will depend on how frequently you climb and how smelly your shoes get. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to clean your shoes at least once a month. However, if you climb frequently or notice that your shoes are particularly smelly, you may need to clean them more often.

Can You Prevent Climbing Shoe Odor?

While it’s impossible to completely prevent climbing shoe odor, there are some steps you can take to minimize it:

1. Use Socks

Wearing socks can help to reduce the amount of sweat that gets absorbed by your shoes. Make sure to choose socks that are made from breathable materials, such as cotton.

2. Wash Your Feet Regularly

Keeping your feet clean and dry is key to preventing odor. Make sure to wash your feet regularly and dry them thoroughly before putting on your climbing shoes.

3. Store Your Shoes Properly

As we mentioned earlier, storing your shoes properly can help to prevent odor. Make sure to keep them in a well-ventilated area and avoid leaving them in a damp or humid environment.

Related: How Strong Are Rock Climbers’ Fingers?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can I wash my climbing shoes in the washing machine?

It’s generally not recommended to wash climbing shoes in a washing machine, as this can damage the materials. Instead, try hand-washing your shoes with a mild detergent.

2. Can I use bleach to clean my climbing shoes?

No, you should never use bleach to clean climbing shoes, as this can damage the materials and cause discoloration.

3. Can I use a hair dryer to dry my climbing shoes?

No, you should avoid using a hair dryer to dry your climbing shoes, as this can cause the materials to warp or shrink. Instead, allow your shoes to air dry naturally.

4. How can I tell if my climbing shoes need to be cleaned?

If your climbing shoes start to smell bad, feel sticky or slimy, or have visible dirt or grime on them, it’s probably time to give them a good clean.

5. Can I prevent climbing shoe odor by using baking soda?

While baking soda can help to absorb odors, it’s not a long-term solution for preventing climbing shoe odor. It can be used as a short-term fix, but it won’t prevent odor from developing in the first place.


Climbing shoes can be a significant investment, and proper care can help to extend their lifespan. Foot odor is a common problem for climbers, but it’s not something that has to ruin your climbing experience. By taking a few simple steps, you can help to prevent climbing shoe odor and keep your shoes smelling fresh.

Remember to air out your shoes after each climb, use odor-resistant shoes or inserts, and clean your shoes regularly to prevent odor from developing. Additionally, wearing socks, washing your feet regularly, and storing your shoes properly can help to minimize foot odor.

While climbing shoe odor may be an annoying problem, it’s a small price to pay for the joy and satisfaction of climbing. With proper care, your climbing shoes can serve you well for many years to come. Happy climbing!

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