13 Ways to Treat Smelly Climbing Shoes

If you’re like me you won’t wear socks when you’re climbing so your climbing shoes will probably absorb all the sweat from your feet while you’re training. Don’t worry; it’s very common to have smelly climbing shoes. What’s less common is the knowledge to get rid of the stink from them. There are quite a few ways to counteract your stinky climbing shoe situation – I’ve got 13 listed in this article, all of which I’ve tried because my climbing shoes become foul-smelling very fast.

So what’s the best way to deal with smelly climbing shoes?  I’ve found that the best way to counteract your smelly climbing shoe situation is to put washing detergent inside your shoes with lukewarm (not hot) water and leave them for at least 24 hours. You can give them a scrub if you like. Once you’ve done this you’ll have to let them dry. You can then prevent your climbing shoes becoming smelly by having a fish pedicure a day or two before you go climbing. A fish pedicure is also known as a fish spa and it involves putting your feet into water with the Garra Rufa fish. The Garra Rufa fish eat a layer of dead skin on your feet which causes them to smell. I also use Boot Bananas to absorb the moisture in my climbing shoes after a sweaty session which covers up future smells. If you combine these three methods you’ll counteract your smelly climbing shoe problem.

If you’d like all 13 ways to get rid of the stink in your climbing shoes, keep reading!

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Rid the Stink from Your Shoes

1.  Detergent and Lukewarm Water

Normal washing detergent is a really good way to cover up that awful cheesy foot smell you can get from climbing shoes. Just pour around a table spoon of detergent within each shoe and submerge in lukewarm water for around 24 hours. Don’t use water that’s too hot because hot water can shrink the shoe. If you want to scrub the inside of the shoe you can do that as well. Be prepared to lose some of the dye from your climbing shoes with this method. To dry the shoes put them in front of a cold air fan or use your hairdryer on the cold setting. Better yet just let them air out naturally. This is, in my opinion, the best way to get rid of the stink from your climbing shoes.

2. Antiseptic Sprays

When you’re renting shoes from an indoor climbing gym you may notice the climbing gym staff spray the shoes that are being let out. What they are using is an antiseptic spray (such as Lysol) that kills most of the bacteria in the shoe and prevents more growth for the future. Many people wear these rental shoes and a lot of them have stinky feet, so when it comes to a good method of keeping shoes from stinking you can probably rely on the method used by nearly all climbing gyms. I’ve use this method after every climbing session. It’s definitely worth it but it’s not 100% effective.

3. Machine Wash Your Shoes

Proceed with caution here. I ruined a pair of my shoes using this method, however I know a few climbers who swear by it. If you’re going to machine wash your shoes you need to find out if your shoes CAN actually be put in the washer. Most synthetic shoes can apparently be machine washed without a problem (or so they say). I don’t really recommend this method, mainly because it ruined my shoes, but if you have an old pair of climbing shoes that smell and you’re thinking of throwing them out because of that anyway then maybe you should just give it a go. Put your shoes in the washer on a low temperature, a small to medium amount of detergent and make sure there are no other items of clothing inside.

4. Baking Soda

Baking soda is an effective way to get rid of your smelly climbing shoe odor. Just place around 2 teaspoons of powder inside each shoe with lukewarm water and scrub. Be aware that you should try to rinse out as much baking soda as possible from your shoe after using this method or you may find that the inside of your shoe is a little slimy and slippery the next time you climb.

Temporary Measures to Cover the Stink Up

5. Use Boot Bananas

Sorry to anyone outside of the UK or Europe but I’m not sure if these are available anywhere else! If you’ve never heard of boot bananas before then you might be interested in a great invention by a couple in South London, England. Boot Bananas contain a blend of naturally deodorizing salts and minerals that help absorb moisture from climbing shoes and running shoes. They usually have a lifespan of around 6-12 months and I can honestly say they’re highly effective to use after a climbing session. All you have to do is put the banana shaped deodorizers inside both of your shoes when they aren’t being used! Click here to buy Boot Bananas from Amazon. I put these in my shoes after every session and they work a treat.

6. Activated Charcoal Shoe Inserts

Like the Boot Bananas, you can use activated charcoal shoe inserts in the same way to absorb moisture and eliminate odors in your feet. I recommend buying the Brilliant Evolution Activated Charcoal bags because the bags that carry the activated charcoal are made of bamboo which allows for easy breathability and is a renewable source that isn’t bad for the environment if thrown away. I’ve used these before and they do work but I prefer the Boot Bananas mentioned above.

7. Dryer Sheets

I tried using dryer sheets and I didn’t find they worked very well, but a few people have said they’ve had success with them. If you don’t know what dryer sheets are they’re used to reduce static electricity in your clothes and make them feel softer after being in a dryer. They have a thin layer of electronically conductive lubricant on them to achieve their purpose. It’s also claimed they help rid clothes of bad smells because they are usually full of chemicals that smell nice to the human nose.

Methods to Prevent the Smell from Occurring Again

8. Get a Fish Pedicure

The Garra Rufa is a fish from the carp family originating from Turkey. It’s got no teeth but is used in foot spas to feed on a layer of dead skin on your feet which in turn helps prevent smelly foot odor in the future. This is because once they’ve eaten all the dead skin there’s hardly any bacteria left to create a stink. This is hands down the best way to prevent smelly foot odor, the only problem is it doesn’t last long because your next layer of skin dies quite quickly. It lasts up to a week.

9. Put Your Shoes in the Freezer

As we’ve already found out, it’s bacteria that cause your shoes to smell the way they do. Bacteria don’t like being in the freezing cold. By placing your shoes in a sealable plastic bag (the bag is crucial) and putting them in the freezer, you can prevent bad smells from occurring. This method won’t actually kill the bacteria but it will prevent it from growing.

10. Put Some Socks On

If you don’t already wear socks then you might want to consider doing so. It’s definitely a good way to prevent your climbing shoes from becoming a cheese smelling paradise. This does, however, affect your ability to feel the holds on the wall. Personally, I’d rather take the hit of smelly shoe odor than lose even the smallest ability to feel a foot hold.

11. Use Chalk on Your Feet

Chalk is used on your hands to absorb sweat, so why not use it for the same reason on your feet? It may feel weird, but it’s a good way to prevent the foot stink. I did notice when I tried this method that the inside of your climbing shoes do become quite messy. Click here for my top recommendations on climbing chalk.

12. Wash Your Feet Regularly and/or Just Before You Climb

The reason why your shoes smell is because your feet are full of bacteria. By washing your feet you reduce the amount of said bacteria. Wash your feet daily and if possible wash them just before you climb to reduce the chance of getting horrible smelling climbing shoes. This is a very easy method and it’s one that I very much recommend – especially when you wash your feet just before you climb.

13. Don’t Put Your Climbing Shoes at the Bottom of Your Bag

When you put your climbing shoes at the bottom of your bag, you make it hard to air the moisture out and therefore encourage the bacteria within the shoes to grow. This will then cause your climbing shoes to smell. By hanging your climbing shoes on the outside of your bag or on your portable climbing crash pad you’ll air them out and prevent the bacteria from growing as much.

You Don’t Need to Try All the Methods

If you’re sceptical about some of these methods then don’t think that you NEED to try them. Just try out the ones you believe sound like they’d help the best. The methods I would definitely recommend are using detergent with lukewarm water, getting a fish pedicure, washing your feet before you climb, and using Boot Bananas (or Activated Charcoal Inserts if you can’t get your hands on Boot Bananas).


I'm the owner of Rock Climbing Central and I fell in love with climbing about 5 years ago as soon as my feet touched the wall. Since then all I've pretty much done is research about climbing and climb whenever possible.

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