How to Deal with Stinky Climbing Shoes

How to deal with stinky climbing shoes!Drag­on foot. The sweet, hot garbage. The smell that wafts from your gym bag or crag sack and reminds you of French cheeses, vom­it, mush­rooms, and celebri­ty-endorsed per­fumes. You have a prob­lem, and your friends may or may not have men­tioned it yet. Every time you put on your climb­ing shoes, you feel like you’re mak­ing a deal with the dev­il. Sure, those shoes fit per­fect­ly and will help you crush, but they smell like Oscar the Grouch’s liv­ing room, and your feet are touch­ing them direct­ly. Ew.

But fear not — there is a whole indus­try devot­ed to fix­ing stank­foot, with pow­ders, creams, sprays, voodoo dolls, crys­tals, etc. But to fix the stink in your shoes you real­ly can’t just use one of these options, you have to under­stand the root cause. Your feet don’t smell. Your shoes don’t smell. What smells is the waste prod­ucts from the bac­te­ria that are grow­ing, eat­ing, and thriv­ing on the sebum, skin cells, and dirt in your warm, wet climb­ing shoes.  Grossed out yet? Sor­ry. But hon­est­ly, these bac­te­ria are harm­less to you, just offen­sive. Heed the words in this arti­cle and you will be quite ok. There are three big steps to deal­ing with stinky climb­ing shoes. So let’s get started.


  • Buy shoes less like­ly to stink. The more nat­ur­al mate­ri­als you can get in a shoe like hemp, cot­ton, or leather, the bet­ter. Syn­thet­ic mate­ri­als absolute­ly lim­it stretch­ing and offer reg­u­lat­ed per­for­mance over the life of the shoe, but they do absorb odors and facil­i­tate the growth of bac­te­ria. Make sure your syn­thet­ic shoes are per­fo­rat­ed to dry quick­ly and keep your feet cool, and poten­tial­ly treat them with a water-repel­lent spray before using them for the first time.
  • Wear socks. Yes, it’s dorky. Yes, it adds slip to your shoes and reduces per­for­mance. But plen­ty of peo­ple climb and climbed hard­er than you while wear­ing socks. It works well, but it’s not the hippest of options. Just saying.
  • Store your shoes in a mesh bag and allow them to dry thor­ough­ly between uses. It’s bet­ter to clip your shoes out­side your pack than inside. Dur­ing the win­ter­time, leave your shoes in your garage or car — the cold air will pre­vent bac­te­r­i­al growth. It’s just going to live in your trunk in between trips to the crag. Always store shoes in a dry, cool place.
  • Chalk up your feet. It sounds sil­ly, but your feet will move in the shoes less, and the envi­ron­ment will stay dri­er. Liq­uid chalk is the best for this appli­ca­tion, not only because it dries your feet, but it also kills off most of the bac­te­ria on your toot­sies. Do not use foot pow­ders, talc, or bak­ing soda as they can make shoes slippery.
  • Wash your feet. If you have stinky feet, you’re gonna have stinky shoes. Get a ped-egg or take some sand­pa­per and rub­bing alco­hol to those nasty dogs, espe­cial­ly if you’re the kind of per­son who lis­tens to jam bands and smells of patchouli. You know who you are. Put the bong down and look at your feet. Would your mom make you wash them?  Yeah, that’s right. Mom would. Hippie.


  • Febreeze works fair­ly well to mask odors, as do spray deodor­iz­ers and arti­fi­cial scents.  Syn­thet­ic shoes espe­cial­ly hold mask­ing scents quite well, so hid­ing the stank behind some flow­ery ros­es kin­da works. Stor­ing the shoes between uses with a dry­er sheet in each shoe works remark­ably well, although don’t use that dry­er sheet on your clothes afterwards.
  • Freeze your shoes in the freez­er. While this does­n’t actu­al­ly “kill” or lyse most of the bac­te­ria, it pre­vents their growth, so it will pre­vent smells from devel­op­ing. You can always keep your shoes in your car dur­ing the win­ter months, but this usu­al­ly makes for painful shoes when you put them on at the gym. It will not remove odors, how­ev­er, and any fat­ty foods in your freez­er will smell like feet. Obvi­ous­ly nobody is putting this as their top tip if they’ve thought about it at all.
  • Odor absorb­ing mate­ri­als like bak­ing soda do remove smell, but they need to be rinsed out before using because they can make the shoes slip­pery. Acti­vat­ed char­coal inserts and vine­gar soaks work much better.


  • Wash your damn shoes. First, you want to remove the extra dirt, sebum, and skin cells. Hand-wash­ing your shoes in your sink is very effec­tive, espe­cial­ly if you use a brush and rinse the shoes until the water runs clear. Any mild soap will be fine, but I per­son­al­ly have no qualms about using deter­gents, espe­cial­ly with an antimi­cro­bial ingre­di­ent like Tri­closan. Just keep the water cool enough to touch, as rock shoe glues can get melty with high enough heat. You can use prod­ucts like Mirazyme to help remove the hard to reach pro­teins embed­ded in the uppers, but results have been mixed in testing.
  • Some shoes can be machine-washed. Refer to man­u­fac­tur­er rec­om­men­da­tions if you plan to go this route. It’s a lazy option, it may ruin your shoes, but hey, we’re all kin­da lazy and it might work wonders.
  • After wash­ing, com­plete­ly dry the shoes with a fan or oth­er air-dry method, and stuff them with news­pa­per or paper tow­els before­hand so they don’t shrink. Don’t heat them up, as this can ruin the glue hold­ing them together.
  • Treat the shoes with a lysol or oth­er anti­sep­tic spray to help pre­vent fur­ther growth. Gyms do this, sales reps do this, and it’s a very good idea. You don’t need much.

If the above meth­ods when com­bined don’t lead you to hav­ing per­fect­ly fine smelling shoes…rinse and repeat. You may have to do it fre­quent­ly but if you want your shoes to smell like lilacs and sun­shine instead of hip­pies and sick, put the elbow grease into it and go forth.