How can I protect my climbing rope? How to treat your climbing rope right! Climbing ropes are pretty durable and abrasion-resistant. Most of the time, you won’t have to worry about your climbing rope, as it can take beatings and rough treatment. But as it is a textile product, made from chemical compounds, and has ingredients in it like nylon there are some things climbing rope doesn’t like at all. Treat it as if your life depended on it – oh wait, it does. So better make sure to keep these things away from it!
Better safe than sorry: Keep this in mind when handling climbing rope
Some things are bad for it, think of acids, etc. But what about common other substances that you commonly bring when you go outdoors – think of insect repellants, suntan or hand sanitizer? Read on; I’ll do my very best to answer these questions. I’ll also give you a verdict if you should retire the rope immediately or if it is just questionable to use, and should be monitored. Note: In case of doubt, I recommend to retire, as I’d instead buy a new rope than take the risk of a broken rope when climbing.
Avoid at all cost – keep these things away from your rope at all cost
Avoid sharp edges, especially under load. Keep your rope mechanically intact, don’t step on it
Try to never step on your rope. If you have stones etc. on or in your shoe sole, you will accidentally cut the outside mantle of the rope, and your weight will also squeeze and grind the core of the rope. This can cause internal abrasion inside your rope.
No brainers – these chemicals should be avoided around your climbing rope
Of course, you don’t want to keep your climbing rope next to an acidic substance like car batteries, cleaning detergents or solvents. Car batteries in the back of the trunk next to climbing have caused numerous accidents in the past, where the effect of the car battery leads to the climbing rope dissolving from the inside out. That’s especially bad as you can’t visually inspect these types of material failures beforehand.
Keep rope away from Acids & Alkalis
Any harsh chemical, like compounds with acid, alkalis, bleaching substances or oxidizing agents are harmful for your rope. By the way, urine is containing acid, so don’t pee on your rope for extended periods – should be a no brainer for other reasons too right.
Keep your rope in a bag and in doubt keep it away from chemicals
To avoid exposure to mechanical damage and the mentioned chemicals, it’s best to store your rope in a rope bag or backpack. That way, you have the first line of defense. You could also just aim to keep it away from unidentified chemicals – a simple rule is to net let something go on the rope where you don’t know if its a problem or not.
Keep dirt away from the rope, wash it if it’s dirty using this method
Always keep your rope as clean as possible; dirt will wear down your rope and shorten its life. Dirt and rock crystals can cause damage to the mantle of the rope. If you wash your rope, put it inside a pillowcase or washing bag, and wash it in the machine (front loader) with cold water. Don’t use hot water! Don’t use harsh detergents, but instead use a mild soap to remove oil and grease. NEVER BLEACH YOUR ROPE. Rinse good and thorough, don’t use softener. After that, dry the rope away from sunlight in the air, do not use a dryer. Sunlight damages your rope, so keep in shadow. Water is no problem for nylon.
Don’t mark your rope with a pen
Felt tipped pens could damage ropes, so don’t start marking your rope. There have been experiments that showed that even markers made for rope marking can damage the rope. UIAA warns to not mark ropes, as their investigation showed that sometimes rope strength was decreased by about 50%. Source: http://theuiaa.org/upload_area/files/1/About_Ageing_of_Climbing_Ropes.pdf
High heat: Don’t cook your rope, keep fire away and never leave your rope in your hot car during summer
High heat is the Nr. 1 enemy of ropes, they all will melt at 428°F (220°C). Campfire, stove, oven, dryer etc., will destroy your rope. Anything above 350°F (150°C), including boiling the rope should be avoided. You should also not keep your rope in your car when you’re finished climbing. Cars can get really hot inside during summer, and the prolonged exposure to heat is known to weaken your rope as it increases material fatigue.
These things are potentially okay for climbing rope, but it’s still better to limit exposure
The following substances are either not tested or have been tested with no effect. If you ask me, it’s still better to keep them away from the rope if possible. But if I sanitize my hands, for example, I wouldn’t worry too much about handling a rope afterward, as it’s no big deal.
Ropes are lab-tested to withstand these chemicals
There have been lab tests that showed that salt water, acetone, benzene, chloroform (why the heck would someone put this on his or her rope?), freon, gasoline, kerosene, motor oil, mineral oil, paints as well as pine oil had had no damaging effect on nylon ropes. It’s still a good idea to keep any chemicals away from your rope. Source: https://www.bluewaterropes.com/faqs/
Insect repellent is not a problem for climbing rope
The laboratory tests also showed that insect repellents containing DEET had no measurable effect on the nylon fibers of the rope.
Sunscreen and hand sanitizer: Probably okay, but don’t drain your rope in it
There are no specific tests of these substances with their effect on the climbing rope. If your sunscreen or hand sanitizer doesn’t contain the substances above, it should be okay. Hand-sanitizer typically uses alcohol compounds, moisturizers, and fragrance. None of these substances poses a thread. Sunscreen usually contains UV inhibitors like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, then moisturizers, and also fragrance. UIAA doesn’t list them as problematic. But you shouldn’t drain your rope in sanitizer or sunscreen, also because it makes a mess.
Cold temperatures: Can weaken rope temporarily
Cold can make your rope weaker for the duration of the cold. So, don’t worry if your rope freezes during wintertime, but make sure to thaw it before you use it. Never go climbing with a frozen rope, unless it’s rated for ice and winter climbing.
Conclusion: Keep your rope clean and away from chemicals and heat
Climbing ropes are pretty durable as it turns out. Things like sunscreen, insect repellent, and sanitizer should not be a problem for your climbing rope. However, acidic, alkaline, or bleaching chemicals are a problem, so make sure to keep any questionable chemical substance away from your rope. I would also keep it clean from gasoline, fuel, and oil, as these chemicals are not necessarily damaging it but better safe than sorry.
I also advise you keep your rope in a dry, cool place in a rope bag, away from sunlight. And: Don’t leave your climbing backpack in your car during summer, the heat is increasing material fatigue.
Read my other articles on why to wear a climbing helmet and how to find the right climbing shoe size.