7 Weird Ways to Clean Climbing Shoes that Actually Work

7 Weird Ways to Clean Climbing Shoes that Actually Work

Signing up for my classes in high school was almost like a race. The moment that the schedules were open, everyone knew to make a beeline for the most popular ones before they filled up– and they did, with lightning speed.


In particular I, along with any sane high school student, desperately wanted to get into the much-vaunted “Outdoor Adventures” class. The curriculum covered everything from which plants in the mountains were safe to eat, how to tie knots, and the like. We built campfires in the backlot of the school several times (I became a s’more MASTER, and got graded on it all), canoed at a local lunch at least once a week, and generally had an all-around amazing time.


We also scaled this ropes course and the gym’s three walls almost every class period, and let me tell you, I put my climbing shoes through it. I mean, it’s not like I was running miles in those shoes, but they were seriously smelly before I knew it.


There I was, learning all kinds of super amazing skills, and I had to worry about something like foot funk? Like, at one point I was scaling the walls so much every day that I could literally tie most of the climbing knots single-handedly; it was where you like flicked the wrist *just* so, and the rope just curled in on itself, then you turned it, and boom you could then go climbing, and most of my fellow students could do this whilst carrying on a conversation.


Nature survival, foraging for food, dangling from the school gym’s ceiling– all of this I could do, but deodorizing my shoes? Nah, that was a true trial that I had no easy solution for.


If only I knew then what I know now, because fixing your climbing shoes’ funk really isn’t difficult at all. Pick literally any of the options on the following list, and you’ll be able to see (and smell) for yourself!


Table of Contents

    1. Denture Sanitizer Tablets

    2. Charcoal

    3. Cornstarch

    4. Salt Foot Soak (or in shoes)

    5. Vinegar Foot Soak

    6. Easy Sugar Scrub

    7. LUMI

    1.   Denture Sanitizer Tablets

    Just like pokemon evolution, toothbrushes go from bristles to little cleaning tablets as we age


    Yes, we’re getting the weirdest one out of the way first. The title did warn you– these are all (easy) methods for deodorizing stinky shoes that you haven’t heard before, so don’t you go acting all surprised.


    I mean, I guess I myself was surprised upon hearing about this method. It kind of made sense, though. Teeth totally go through it, what with all the food, sugary drinks, and whatnot. If denture sanitizer tablets can clean someone’s false teeth, surely when it comes to smelly climbing shoes they’re then able to at least make a dent? Sure… 


    Why not? A dent… sure


    Do ya’ see what I did there? Be impressed with my pun wizardry;)


    Anyway, you’re going to fill up a bucket of water– large enough to cover up your climbing shoes.


    Be careful with what type of material your shoes are made out of, btw-- some climbing shoes won't like being completely submerged underwater.


    Whatever they’re made of, however, avoid the hot temps and go for lukewarm water instead. 


    Toss about a handful of the denture cleaning tablets into the bucket, and then let it all sit for about ten minutes before taking the climbing shoes out of their bath.


    Make sure to let them dry in a sunny, well-ventilated area. Letting the moisture just chill will actually make the sweaty foot smell way worse.


    Why, you might ask? Well, my darling, but smelly friend, it all comes down to the bacteria living on your feet. Yes, I said what I said– you and a billion gazillion other poor farts also have bacteria on their feet, and that’s totally normal, so don’t think you’re especially stinky or anything, alright?


    This bacteria consume sweat and dead skin cells, and they just love warm, moist places (for example, sweaty shoes after you’re done scaling a wall). The denture tablets can help, but if there are any little survivors (boo) then we ought not give them a soggy place to continue to thrive and jive, multiplying just so that they can lie in wait for the next time we slip our shoes back on.


    Real fast– MAKE SURE YOU FREAKIN’ READ THIS, YA’ HOOLIGANS! Some denture cleaning tablets have persulfate in them, which can cause allergic reactions in some people. Just be careful, because while the tablet can help you get rid of your shoe’s smell for good, it can also have some side effects.


    Be safe, smell great, and generally just continue being your awesome self, okay? 


    2. Charcoal

    On a scale of raw to straight-up carbon, how well-cooked would you like it?


    Unfortunately, unless you or someone you live with has dentures, denture cleaning tablets are actually kind of hard to come by. I guess that first option was helpful if you happen to have the little buggers on hand, but if not don’t you worry, because we’ve got plenty more options.


    Charcoal is up, which is essentially just really burnt carbon. You see it at bonfires with the smudged edges of the wood itself or overtly toasted marshmallows (is anyone else here guilty of accidentally transforming their s’mores into torches on occasion?). 


    Besides smelling strongly of ovens left on for too long, charcoal is also super porous. Think of charcoal as nature’s readily available sponge for all things smelly (and yes, your climbing shoes go under the banner of “all things”)


    What we think of when hearing the term “activated charcoal” is a bit different than your run-of-the-mill bonfire smudges, however. Modern activated charcoal comes from heating coconut husks, bamboo, peat, coal, petroleum– you get the picture– to a super high temperature. The original material forms all of these wee little pores after being exposed to oxygen, and those pores are what will absorb the foot funk.


    There are some doctors who say it can be used to absorb toxins (in pretty small amounts, though) and other people who say they’ve used it to filter their water. In order to get charcoal to deodorize your shoes, we’ll be using it to wash your feet.


    Remember the bacteria? On your feet? Some of it’s in your shoes, true, but this DIY foot soak will help a whole lot.


    Use 1-2 gallons of water (warm temperature is fine– there’s literally no reason to make it overly hot or cold here, just make it comfortable), and then add two tablespoons of the activated charcoal. Soak your feet for about 20 minutes, and you’re done! 


    Repeat as often as you feel necessary, but I mean c’mon, a good spa day should never be something you procrastinate. Your feet will thank you for all of the detoxifying attention.


    3. Cornstarch– Dusting onto the Feet

    It's like baking soda's cooler cousin


    So you know how gymnasts, climbers, etc use chalk to get a better grip? Yeah, cornstarch isn’t even remotely similar and oops we won’t even be putting the cornstarch on your hands. 


    But cornstarch and chalk do look alike and… yeah, ok I’ll just end the analogy there.


    If you haven’t already guessed, we’ll be using cornstarch to go directly on your feet. Why, you might ask? 


    Well, my malodorous (yet most dear) climbing friend, let’s talk about cornstarch, shall we? It’s super amazing at absorbing moisture, which as we’ve gone over, is basically what gives the stink-causing bacteria an all-access pass to just multiply and divide like you’re back in the third grade learning long division. Totally not the vibe any of us are going for here.


    Cornstarch is super super finely ground, which makes it particularly adept at absorbing the moisture from our smelly shoes, and then when we remove the cornstarch, we’re also removing lots of our sweat which otherwise would have gotten into the fine cracks of our fine climbing gear (*cue the canned applause and cheers).


    Here’s what we’re gonna do. You’ll want to get some cornstarch, and dust it onto your feet– I’d suggest doing this outside, because there’s no reason our indoor flooring should get messy from this whole deodorizing venture. 


    Make sure to be extra thorough with the obvious areas (for example, the sole, arch, and whatnot), but also make sure to get the toes– don’t skimp, especially because any dry spot is going to harbor more moisture, thus more bacteria, and then there will be more stink, which wouldn’t rock, so please, like just don’t do that.


    4.   Salt Foot Soak (or just in the shoes)

    Good for McyD's fries and also for your shoes-- truly a multitalented seasoning


    We’re going to go back to the foot soaks, because really, there is a great, wild west of options out there when it comes to this particular variety of stinky shoe remedies, and I’d be remiss not to inform you of the more widely used ones.


    Salt soaks for your feet are really quite simple, and there’s honestly not much to them. I mean, you could totally just go to the ocean and have a salt foot soak all ready-made for you, but for the rest of us landlocked-lubbers, we’ll have to turn to some basic table salt and tap water.


    Ok, so salt dries things out; for example, people have been using salt to dry food out for ages (hello, salami, beef jerky, etc). Essentially, salt draws moisture out of its surroundings– that’s why should you ever find yourself lost at sea (call me Gilligan, I say) you actually shouldn’t drink straight from the ocean, because that’ll dehydrate ya’ even more. 


    Anyway, so salt doesn’t exactly kill bacteria, BUT it does draw all of the water out from the little jokers, and that’s gonna suck for them. A salty environment isn’t great for any wee, stinky bacterium, and so after a good salt bath, you should have gotten rid of most of the foot funk.


    In order to do this, get yourself two cups of salt for 1 gallon of water (2 gallons is also gonna be fine, but the more concentrated our salty soak the better). Stir it all around until the salt seems to be dissolved (otherwise it just likes to sink to the bottom). Soak your feet for about 20 minutes, and call it a day!


    Alternatively, you can also pour some dry salt directly into your shoes right after you take them off, and the salt will help to leech water (sweat) out from the actual environment of the shoes, which will make it even harder for the smelly bacteria to make a dreaded comeback.


    5. ​​Vinegar Foot Soak

    Yum-- just kidding, don't eat this, it's a gross-kind-of-sour


    This one is the last foot soak option, I pinky-swear. Hey, it’s effective, and we’re all about trying to actually deodorize our climbing shoes, am I right?


    Vinegar can be used for all kinds of things, and like salt, it’s something we’re already pretty familiar with. I mean, I wouldn’t add a sprinkle of the sour stuff to my rice or anything, but vinegar does go into a lot of the food we eat, and is perfectly alright to put on your feet. 


    Vinegar is really, really acidic. The bacteria aren’t a fan of that, which rocks for us. Lots of people use vinegar as a general cleaner for surfaces, to clean off produce, etc. I’ve even used this stuff to help get rid of pests on my houseplants– seriously, this stuff is kind of a lifesaver (at least, I and my cayenne pepper plant certainly think so).


    I mean, sure vinegar kind of has an acquired smell. Or not– depends on the person, of course– some people feel like it’s enough to singe off one’s nose hairs. It’s acidic, that’s all I'll say.


    It’s totally gonna do a number on the bacteria that make your shoes smell, and what’s bad for them is great for us. So get yourself 2 parts warm water, one part vinegar, and maybe a really good show to watch as you let the vinegar do its work for about 20 minutes or so. Super easy, and super deodorizing.


    Also, maybe you’ll smell a little bit like vinegar afterward, so perhaps think about giving your feet just a quick rinse with some plain old water after the soak. 


    6. Sugar Scrub 

    Yes it has sugar in it, no it doesn't taste good, and maybe yes maybe no have I tried it


    This one isn’t a foot soak, I swear (although those definitely work, so don’t just skim through them, ya’ hear?). It’s actually a sugar scrub, and it’s gonna be wayyy cheaper than the ritzy ones thatyou got your friends for the holidays. Seriously, homemade sugar scrubs are the cheapest spa day you and your worn-out feet will ever get.


    Sugar scrubs basically help to exfoliate your skin, sloughing off the extra skin cells that the bacteria like to munch on. As an added bonus, your (now amazing-smelling) feet will be left feeling smooth as silk afterward.


    In order to make the scrub, we’ll be needing only three ingredients– yes, I said that right– literally just three.


    Firstly, we have oil– any kind will work just fine, although I guess I’m personally partial to olive oil myself, as I tend to already have that stuff in the pantry for cooking. Alternatively, some people prefer coconut oil because of how it helps to solidify the final product at room temperature, but really, we’re just looking for something moisturizing to soothe the skin after you exfoliate. 


    Second up will be honey, which just kind of acts A) as a sort of binder to hold it all together and B) our stinky bacteria foes tend to not like it (which I guess is just an added bonus to this option).


    Then duh, we’ve got sugar. What’s really nice about sugar scrubs is the fact that this one sweet ingredient is literally just water-soluble. A little rinsy-rinsy, and the sugar scrub washes off, leaving you feeling ah-maaaaa-zing.


    Equal parts of each ingredient, mix it all together, and then it’s ready to use! Grab about a teaspoon’s worth to begin with, and just rub it in circular movements across your feet. I tend to find that this works best over some kind of tub, mostly just because it can get kind of messy. As aforementioned, you can simply rinse the remaining sugar scrub all off, and BOOM! Your feet aren’t harboring all of those extra dead skin cells, and the bacteria just lost their favorite snack!


    7. LUMI’S Lavender Tea Tree Natural Shoe Deodorizer


    Our last one is the easiest, though, no contest. I mean, the rest are all fine and are definitely effective, but this final one just kind of has the best of everything. 


    LUMI’s Lavender Tea Tree Natural Shoe Deodorizer works to combat the funk in our climbing shoes so that we don’t have to. Hailing from a small, family-owned company, LUMI makes all of their products with high-quality, natural ingredients so that you can feel good about putting it on your fav pair of climbers. None of their products are tested on animals (can I get a WOOT WOOT!?) and all of their products are made in the US. 


    With a 4.4 average star rating on Amazon, over 800 satisfied customers have awarded LUMI’s Lavender Tea Tree Natural Shoe Deodorizer 5-star reviews. Sonja R. here talks about how well it worked for her own pair of climbing shoes:


    Go Sonja!!


    From one bottle customers get over 700+ sprays. It also is totally multipurpose, which completely rocks. Got a smelly gym bag? Maybe your trunk ain’t so fresh after your gear has been living there for a while? Use this stuff– spray, and thank me later.


    LUMI’s Lavender Tea Tree Natural Shoe Deodorizer is supes easy to use. Grab your smelly climbing shoes (or any shoes– I truly doubt that this product is picky about it), spray directly into the shoes, and you’re done! No need to wait overnight– for real, you spray, and moments later you can be off on your next adventure.


    Ok, so let’s run through all of our fabulous options one last time, shall we? I know that I myself can barely remember what I ate for lunch, so just in case, let’s run through it all again from the top.


    Option primero uno uses denture sanitizer tablets, which we’ll be dissolving in water. It’s good for teeth and fine for shoes!


    Second is a charcoal foot soak (the first of several to come). It’s pretty simple– put charcoal in warm water, put your feet in the water, hang out for about 20 minutes and experience how rad it is not to have rank feet.


    Cornstarch is up next, where we dust it all over our feet so it can absorb the sweat, and dry out the moisture the stinky bacteria love to chow down on. Dusting right after a climb is best so that we don’t leave all of that sweat in our climbing shoes where the bacteria can line up for an all-you-can-eat buffet.


    A salt foot soak is up next (there were a lot of these, yes, but they work, so), where we’ll be filling up another tub of warm water, salting it to high heaven, and then hanging out for another 20 minutes so that the salt can do its thing and evict the bacteria. Alternatively, you can also just dust some of the salt into your shoes so that it can dry out the sweat.


    A vinegar foot soak follows the same procedure, just with… well, vinegar, I mean it’s not rocket science, dear reader.


    Sugar scrubs smell a whole lot better though, so alternatively maybe that’ll be your vibe. One part oil, one part sugar, one part honey, and scrub those dead skin cells away.


    We wrap off with LUMI’s Lavender Tea Tree Natural Shoe Deodorizer, which is a simple, natural, and effective spray that can quickly deodorize smelly shoes. Say goodbye to foot stank for good, and hello to lavender freshness. Easy-peasy, and it’s just one of the options! One of them’s going to work, and your climbing shoes and you will be good to start off your next adventure!

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