How to Wash or Clean a Climbing Harness: 7 Steps


Maintaining your climbing harness and other climbing gear is very important, and cleaning them can be particularly tricky if you don’t know what you are doing.

How do you clean your climbing harness? To start with, you do not ever under any circumstances put it in a washing machine that has an automatic spin dry function. You are going to ring it out and it is only going to damage your washing machine. You should only wash it by hand and air dry it rather than placing it out under the sun.

Not knowing how to take care of your gear can be fatal, especially when your carelessness leads to your gear becoming weak and brittle.

Caring for Your Climbing Harness

There are a lot of reasons why you should take the appropriate steps to care for your climbing harness but those will be discussed later. For now, it should be noted that you simply have to take care of your gear and that you should do so in the right way. This means knowing how to:

·         Clean it

·         Wash it

·         Dry it

·         Store it

·         Transport it

If you are unable to do any of these things, your gear is going to see a very short lifespan and you better believe that you will then be unable to make full use of it. To that end, if you are going to be caring for your climbing harness, it would be best to do so with the right methods. This basically means that you will need to be familiar with the items in the table below:

Cleaning and Caring MethodsDescription
Preliminary cleaningWhen you pick out or wipe wide any obvious dirt, debris, or other contaminants
SoakingAllowing the dirt to soften under lukewarm water
HandwashingWashing the harness with your hands by rubbing surfaces together if the dirt is soft enough
ScrubbingUsing a brush or a sponge to rub the more stubborn types of dirt away
RinsingUsing water to clear out the remaining detergent and dirt
DryingHanging the harness to dry after inspecting it for any remaining dirt or soap
StoringStoring the harness in the appropriate place for safekeeping and preservation

More than your actual use of the harness during your climbs, it’s when you are taking care of it right after that you can make sure that it will last you for a very long time. The items above just refer to the part where you are actually cleaning and then storing your climbing harness, as well.

They do not even touch on what you should do with the climbing harness right after you are done with your climb and coming home, but that’s a topic for another time. For now, it should suffice to say that you should definitely take care when you are putting it away and transporting it home.

Preliminary Cleaning – When you use your climbing harness, there are going to be some dirt and grime that will build up, epically if you don’t really clean it on a regular basis. This goes doubly true for when you are dragging it through terrain that is muddy, snowy, or just generally dirty. Going through all of that experience is bound to make the harness all the worse for wear.

With this being the case, it would not be a good idea to just immediately start washing the harness right away. If you are able to remove some of the dirt, bud, grime, sand, or whatever might have accumulated on the surface of the harness, you should definitely do so. You can either pick off the solid pieces that are clinging to it or you can wipe it down with a piece of wet cloth. The choice is yours on that front.

Whatever the case may be, you need to do this even if the damage is not that great because it allows you to get a better handle on what the condition of your harness is. You will be able to see if there are any rips or tears that are worth being concerned about, for example. You will also be able to see if there are any stains that might present a problem later on when you are starting to wash the harness.

Soaking – Once the preliminary cleaning is done, you will then want to soak the harness and you will want to use lukewarm water to do so. You might be tempted to use hot water for this, but trust me, you really don’t want to do that. To start with, hot water can basically cause the fibers to expand beyond their threshold and this can cause them to weaken.

With this being the case, you want to make sure that the water that you are soaking the harness in is not exactly room temperature but is not steaming either. From there, you can just leave it alone for a set amount of time. The duration will depend on just how bad the contamination is or how stubborn the stains are being.

If you have not been washing your climbing harnesses that often, it’s only natural that there would be dirt building up in the corners, the edges, and the like. Those will be the hardest to wash away and are why you are soaking the piece of climbing equipment. Once those particles have softened, you can then proceed to wash them, but more on that later.

If necessary, you can soak the harness overnight, but should not be left outside. You might end up with a basin that got even dirtier if you do so due to dust, environmental debris, and more. Just keep it in the washroom and if you can, just cover the basin. At this point, though, you should not be adding any detergent.

Handwashing – Once you are done with the soaking process and you are now absolutely sure that the hardened stains and dirt have softened enough, you can start the handwashing process. This is basically where you take opposite ends of the brace and then rub them against each other in order to remove the dirt with the friction.

You are going to want to use a strong detergent for this stage and you will also want to wear rubber gloves for it. This is going to involve some rather harsh chemicals and movements, and depending on the temperature of the water, it might be quite cold for your hands. This will then translate to issues with your skin, nerves, ligaments, and muscles.

Handwashing is not a joke, so do make sure that you do it the right way. Once you are properly equipped and you have used the appropriate detergent, it’s time to start rubbing the loops and straps against one another. It doesn’t really have to be a vigorous sort of rubbing since the soaking should have softened the dirt enough that this is no longer an issue.

Bending the loops a bit should not be a big deal either since they should be elastic enough to return to their previous shape once you are done. As already mentioned, as long as you don’t use steaming water to do the cleaning, the harness will be fine. Bring up the spot on the harness that you are rubbing close to you for inspecting every few rubs or so to see if the dirt is gone.

Scrubbing – If the dirt or stains are proving particularly stubborn even after you have already soaked the harness for hours, it’s time to bring in the big guns. This involves the use of a brush, which can either be hard plastic or can be as fine as an actual hairbrush. Either way will work and you can then go to town on the harness.

The reason you don’t use this right from the start is that the brush can be quite indiscriminate in the spots that it targets. With rubbing, you can pinpoint the specific area where you want to apply some friction. With brushing, you can target not only that spot but the threads and other materials around it, as well.

From a maintenance standpoint, this is not good because the more friction is applied on the threads, glue, or whatever was used to stick the materials together, the more they come apart. However, there comes a point when you just run out of patience and will need to resort to drastic measures just to clean your harness. This is one of those times.

Even so, however, you should try and see if you can reduce the damage that you inflict on the harness as much as possible. You don’t want to end up shortening its lifespan more than you really need to and you can bet that if you are too impatient, you will overdo the brushing before you even notice. So try to be as gentle as possible.

Rinsing – Whether through handwashing or through rubbing, as long as the dirt and stains were removed, it’s now time to rinse the harness. Using lukewarm water is fine, but it would be better for you to use cold water for this job because it leaves a better impression on the materials. After all, you did just inflict friction on it, which should have caused quite a bit of heat even with the water.

Colder water also helps show the condition of the harness better so that you can inspect it if it is clean enough for your standard or not. If it is still not clean enough, feel free to start over and wash it again until it’s finally good enough to your eyes. A lot of climbers don’t really go this far since the harness should be clean enough, at this point, but to each their own.

It should be noted that if you are cleaning your harness while you are camping or outdoors, you should not put too much effort into doing so. As long as there are no obvious signs of contamination, you should be fine using it again, considering the situation. You should only really be this picky when you are at home and can afford to be less vigilant.

Whatever the case may be, once you are done rinsing and checking if the harness is clean enough, it’s time to dry it. Whatever you do, you must not squeeze the harness to try and wring the water out. You will compromise the material if you do this.

Drying – After the rinsing process, drying is basically just you hanging the harness up somewhere clean and away from direct sunlight. You might think that you need to dry the harness like you would with clothes, but this guide should have made it perfectly clear that you are not cleaning clothes. Climbing harnesses need a different treatment when it comes to cleaning.

Coming back to drying, you should only ever let the harness air dry for a few reasons. One is the fact that if it is placed under direct sunlight to dry, there is a good chance that you could overdo it. The harness could dry up too much and this will risk compromising the quality of the materials. It’s basically the same principle as when you are washing with hot water.

You should also not attempt to dry the harness using a machine dryer for obvious reasons. Not only will the harness be ruined by the constant whirling motion of the machine, there is a good chance that the machine itself will also get damaged from the harness. It’s just not worth risking something like that, is it?

So, yes, you just hang the harness up to dry in a place with a shade but is also exposed to open air. If you are outdoors, you can just do this under the shade of a tree. If you are at home, perhaps you can use a corner of the room by the window.

Storing – Finally, we have the matter of storing, which is an issue that not too many people seem to really pay attention to when they are dealing with a climbing harness. However, this is something that is important for you to take into consideration, especially if you want your climbing harness to last for a long time. To start with, don’t just throw it into your closet or bag while it’s dirty.

You should already know that by now, but it’s bears repeating anyway. There are simply too many climbers who don’t pay enough attention to this important detail. Coming to the actual storage after the harness has been cleaned and dried, the next order of business is to find it a place where you can leave it for long periods of time.

A closet would be good and so would a cupboard of some kind. It just needs to be cool, clean, and away from direct sunlight, contaminants, and moisture. As such, putting it somewhere damp and humid would not be a good idea. Once you do find a suitable place, don’t just drop it on the floor. Just placing it on the shelf is fine, but it’s not the best option.

For a climbing harness, the best way you can store it is to hang it. If you can spare a clothes hanger, that would be great. However, do not use something with a clip that you will use to pinch the loops in order to hold them up. This would compromise the design integrity of the harness and the materials. If there is a hook, you can just use that too, but a clothes hanger would be best.

Washing Your Climbing Harness

When it comes to washing your climbing harness, there are a few things that you absolutely need to remember. One is to never use a washing machine, two is to never use hot water, and three is to never wring it when you are drying it. All of these will only ruin the material and can cause you to basically lose a perfectly good climbing harness for no good reason.

Sure, it can be a hassle to actually wash a climbing harness with your hands, but this is what it takes to take care of a good piece of equipment. You don’t want to end up shortening its lifespan, especially if it costs so much to buy. What’s more, how you wash it will actually have an effect on your climbing, so it’s definitely worth putting in the extra effort to clean it properly.

It is worth pointing out that if you just think about it, handwashing the climbing harness doesn’t really take that much effort. To start with, you can soak it for hours and you can just leave it alone for most of that time. From there, you only really need to spend a few minutes during the actual washing process, so it’s not as if it’s going to take a good chunk of your time.

Sure, you might be forced to brush vigorously to get rid of the stubborn stains and the like, but is that really more challenging than climbing? Then again, if you are still on the mountain and you are just making do with the resources you have to clean your harness, you only need to do the minimum amount for the cleaning. There’s no need to go too far.

Drying Your Climbing Harness

Once you are done with the washing, you will obviously need to dry your climbing harness. We already covered how you can do this, but it would be best to make a few things clear. To start with, since you won’t be squeezing or wringing the harness to get rid of the excess water, it might not be a good idea to immediately take out to hang. You will need to hold it up first until enough of the water is gone.

From there, you will need to carry the harness in an empty washbasin or something so that you don’t go dripping all over the place. Then again, if you’re already outside, this should not be that big of a problem. You can just go ahead and hang it up to be air-dried. Do try to use a clothes hanger for this, though, since it can spare the harness from getting stretched or pinched.

On that note, having to air dry your climbing harness does come with the drawback of the process taking quite a long time. With that being the case, what do you do if you need the harness to dry as fast as possible? At that point, it might be acceptable for you to dry the harness under the sun. if you choose to do so, you will need to be very careful.

To start with, you are going to want to check on it constantly in order to make sure that the harness will have sufficiently dried without getting too dry. If the harness becomes too dry, it will become too stiff and this will make it more brittle. Since the heat of the sun is inconsistent, you can’t use a timer for this, either, so you’re out of luck.

There is also the option of using a hairdryer just to rush the process and this can certainly work up to a point. However, there are two main drawbacks to this particular solution. First is the fact that it would take a heck of a long time to get it done, even with the blow dryer. As such, you will be holding on to the machine and be stuck there for a while.

The other problem has to do with the blow dryer itself. Regardless of how good its quality might be, there will always be a limit to how long it can remain running. As such, when it overheats, you will need to turn it off and wait for it to cool again before you can resume the drying. This can be quite tedious.

Related Questions

Can You Wash a Climbing Harness?

Yes, you can wash a climbing harness and this is highly recommended if the item has been left without cleaning for a long time. With that said, it is not advisable for you to wash your harness after each and every use, especially if it didn’t really get that dirty, in the first place.

Do Climbing Harnesses Expire?

In a way, there is a time limit to the usability of climbing harnesses, but it takes many years for this to happen if left alone. If used, though, harnesses quickly degrade and there are many climbers who would replace their climbing harness after using it for about a year or so.

Why Care for Your Climbing Harness

There are plenty of reasons why you would want to care for your climbing harness, with the most obvious one being to avoid the embarrassment of being seen using a dirty one. I mean, it’s not as if you really need to value the opinions of others about your equipment. For example, if what you are using looks shabby because you got it used, there’s really no need for you to fret.

However, the issue becomes different when you think about the matter of cleanliness. Using shabby gear is not as much of a choice as using dirty equipment. When you are using things that are not brand new, it could be due to lack of finances or perhaps it was just passed down to you. If you are using dirty equipment, what excuse could possibly be good enough to justify that?

Then there is the matter of efficiency of your climbs since dirty harnesses are less secure and reliable than clean ones. If you compare the experience of using a climbing harness that is dirty to one that is clean, you are basically more motivated to focus on the climb in the latter case. In the former, you might be too distracted by embarrassment, which then prevents you from performing at your best.

Consequences of No or Improper Cleaning

Then again, there are more serious consequences to not cleaning your climbing harness or any of your climbing gear properly. More specifically, there are risks to your health if you don’t clean your climbing harness the right way. When you use a washing machine to clean it, for example, it could then weaken the material.

If the material that makes up the climbing harness is weakened, there will be a much higher risk of the straps snapping under your weight. What would happen if this occurred several dozens of feet up in the air? It would be a catastrophe.

This is why a lot of importance is placed in caring for the equipment that you are using for climbing. You must never overlook the role that the washing, drying, and storing of your climbing harness will play in actually keeping you safe. If not done properly, it can literally lead to your death or at the very least, the suffering of a serious injury.

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