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10 Ways To Stop And Prevent Bad Smelling Climbing Shoes

Profile image Adam M.
Dec 19, 2022
Climbing Shoes
We have all experienced a smelly climbing shoe, whether it was our own or someone else's. Here are 10 ways to prevent and stop climbing shoes from smelling.
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Updated: February 4, 2024

Almost anyone who has climbed or has been in a climbing gym before has had the unfortunate experience of entering the radius of a foul smelling climbing shoe or foot, not knowing if the foul smell is coming from someone else, or if it in fact is them that are causing everyone's eyes to water.

Article Contents

So, why do climbing shoes smell?

Climbing shoes smell so bad because of bacterial growth. Climbing shoes are a breeding ground for bacteria because it is the perfect environment for them. It is warm, moist, and has plenty of dead skin cells to feed on. The result of this is an ever-growing environment full of bacteria, which results in the very bad odor you smell from climbing shoes.

Luckily, the solution to this is fairly simple, it just requires you to have slightly better habits when it comes to your feet and your climbing shoes. Foul smelling climbing shoes can be prevented, and if your shoes already smell, the smell can be eliminated.

Why Are Smelly Climbing Shoes So Common?

Having nasty smelling climbing shoe odors is fairly common in the climbing community. While it is fairly easy to prevent bad odors and to eliminate them if they have already formed, it is equally easy to not do anything at all to prevent them or to fix this issue. It’s all about creating better habits, and as most of you may know, creating new habits can be very difficult, and breaking old habits even more.

Fortunately, the methods for preventing the bad odors and eliminating them are not difficult and can be done quite easily. It really does just come down to creating better habits, and to stop doing things that actually contribute to the bad odors.

Self-Care Is Actually Important

This is something that should be fairly clear: your feet will not come out of your climbing shoes cleaner than they went into them.

If your feet are already dirty, sweaty, or smelly, before putting your climbing shoes on, be sure that they will be in a worse situation after you take them off. You can also be sure that your climbing shoes will be in an equally bad condition, or worse.

As we mentioned in the beginning, bacteria is a main cause of the bad smell in climbing shoes. If you put on your climbing shoes while your feet are already in a bad condition before you even start climbing, then you are basically just feeding the beast.

The key take-away here is: make sure your feet are clean before climbing, if they are not, clean them! Assuming your shoes are clean, you will notice a difference right away..

How Do You Prevent Climbing Shoes From Smelling

The first thing to understand is that the smell can be prevented from ever occurring, it’s not a treat-only condition, it is a preventable one. And it is not very difficult to do, you just need to be consistent with it and to not forget to do some simple things that will prevent the smell.

Not all steps and methods we cover in this article may be necessary, it depends on you and how smelly you (or others) think your shoes are. You could try one of the following methods, or, you could try a combination of different ones. If things are really bad, you can just do them all.

In the end, the key to not having smelly climbing shoes is to prevent them from smelling in the first place. All the methods we mention in this article will help prevent those nasty smells, but they also help eliminate them as well. So if your climbing shoes start to smell, start the preventative measures, and they will smell much better and generally be in a better condition.

How To Stop Climbing Shoes From Smelling After They Already Do

If you have already joined the group of people who have climbing shoes that smell awful, it is not too late to pick up better habits and to end the smell, and then to prevent it in the future.

Many of the preventative measures and methods in this article can also be used to treat climbing shoes that already have a nasty smell. The important thing to keep in mind is that treating your shoes is not a one time matter. It’s a habit that must be kept in order to fully eliminate the bad odors, and to prevent the shoes from smelling nasty ever again.

How To Make Climbing Shoes Not Smell

As mentioned above, not all methods may be necessary. It depends on your condition, and on the condition of the shoes. The important thing is to make a habit out of keeping your shoes clean and smelling good, and to not treat this serious condition as a one-and-done.

Here are some of our top picks and cheap solutions to help treat and prevent your climbing shoes from smelling:

1. Take Care Of Your Feet

General foot care can go a long way in preventing bad odors (including athletes foot!), and not just for climbing shoes.
If you have flaky toenails or skin, or even just dry skin, these are the exact things bacteria feed on that causes the bad smell. Reducing this can help reduce the smell by a lot.

If you have dry skin, moisturizer is your friend. Moisturizing your feet can be a great way to help reduce the dryness of your skin, and as a result, reduce the flakiness, which will reduce the growth of bacteria and the funky smell from your shoes. All you need is a little bit of moisturizer, you can get one that is specific for your feet, or you can use a general body lotion or hand moisturizer. Simply rub it on your feet once a day, preferably after showering. In case you have a medical or skin condition that is causing the dryness, or using moisturizer doesn't help, consult your doctor. They will be able to point out what the cause of the issue is and how to treat it.

2. Showering Or Washing Your Feet Before Climbing

Showering or washing your feet before climbing may not be the most convenient thing to do, but, if you are someone who normally has smelly or dirty feet, this is something that can really help reduce the bad odors from your climbing shoes. Not doing this may actually be one of the major causes of your shoe's bad smell.

If your feet already smell before you even put your shoes on, it's safe to assume they, and your shoes, will smell much worse when you take them off!

The logic is simple: The cleaner your feet go into the climbing shoes, the better the shoes, and your feet, will be after your climbing session.

You don't necessarily need to shower, even a quick foot rinse can be enough for this. If even that is too inconvenient for you, then even just cleaning your feet with a wet cloth can help, it is better than nothing!

3. Chalk Your Feet To Dry Them


As mentioned above, if your feet are already sweating, or just wet in general for whatever the reason may be, this can create a better habitat for bacteria, which is the opposite of what you want in order to stop and prevent climbing shoes from smelling.

So, make sure that your feet are as dry as they can be from any water, sweat, or moisture. A common and easy way to do this is to simply put a little bit of chalk on your feet and in your shoes. This will help absorb any moisture before putting your shoes on.

You don't have to dip your whole foot in a chalk bucket, it's enough to just take some chalk and rub it on your foot, just to ensure that you have absorbed all the moisture or sweat.

Update:

While I still think this is a great tip for sweaty feet, after a few years of doing this, I feel it’s important to revisit and give a little update. The difference in the smell is very noticeable, though, it comes with a catch. After a while, there may be a build up of chalk in your shoes. This chalk will normally be a black, hard residue. This can obviously not be very comfortable while climbing, so if this does happen, just scrape it out, or wash your shoes based on the manufacturers guidelines. Still a great tip, with a small catch, but an easy fix to it.

4. Spray Or Fill Your Shoes With A Shoe Deodorizer

This method is very simple and inexpensive. Most climbing gyms sell some sort of climbing shoe deodorizer such as the Boot Bananas, or a general shoe odor eliminator, if not, most shoe stores and pharmacies sell them as well, so they should be very easy to find. Amazon is quite full of activated charcoal shoe deodorizers, and the web is full of DIY tips for using baking soda to eliminate bad smells, a quick search should put you in the right direction.

Shoe deodorizers help eliminate bad odors by killing bacteria and germs. They also usually come scented, which helps eliminate the nasty odor pretty instantly, and gives your shoes a much fresher smell.

If using a spray, simply spray your shoes once or twice after you have climbed. Make sure you spray the heel area, and the toe box area by tilting your climbing shoe a little bit to get the spray all the way to the other end.

This is a preventative measure, but also an elimination measure, as shoe deodorizers kill bacteria, which are the main cause of the bad smells in your climbing shoes.

It’s a very simple yet effective approach to ending the bad smells and even getting that new shoes smell. If you make a habit out of doing this, you can almost completely eliminate and prevent bad smells from your shoes.

5. Put Baby Powder In Your Climbing Shoes

Baby powder is a sort of secret that not many climbers know about. This very inexpensive solution has a few benefits:

  1. It helps reduce bad odors almost instantly, especially if you buy a scented powder

  2. It makes the inside of your shoes softer and more comfortable

  3. It makes your shoes easier to put on, even if you have downsized quite a bit

  4. Helps dry your shoes after a climbing session

Baby powder, especially scented ones, are one of the simplest and most effective solutions for eliminating the foul odor from your climbing shoes. You simply pour a small amount of the powder into your shoes, swirl it around, tilt your shoes, or shake them a little bit to make sure the powder gets to all corners of the shoes, and that's it. Your shoes will smell fresh, or like whatever scent the powder is.

This is also a great solution for those who have to put their shoes in a bag after their climbing session.
The baby powder will absorb the moisture from within your shoes. While it is not ideal to put your shoes in a closed space like a bag, sometimes it is just the way it is and is needed. So putting some baby powder in your shoes before can help reduce that smell by quite a lot, and also prevent bacteria from building up.

Update:

Same as with putting chalk on your feet and in your climbing shoes, putting baby powder in them also comes with the same catch. Still, a great tip with a small catch.

6. Take Your Shoes Off While Resting And In Between Routes


This is a two in one. It will also help reduce foot pain, and also reduce some of the odor. Taking off your shoes will reduce the pressure you feel on your feet from having the climbing shoes on for so long, and it will also give your feet and the shoes a few minutes to breathe. This can help prevent excess buildup of moisture, as the moisture can dry to some extent in between routes and while resting.

7. Let Your Shoes Air Dry After Climbing

This is one of the key steps for preventing bad smells from taking over your climbing shoes. Let them air dry!

If you have just finished a climbing session, no matter how long, and you have been sweating in your shoes, you must let them dry before you put them in any bag or close them in your trunk until your next session.

While it is not recommended to put your shoes in a bag or in your trunk, or in any closed space in general, there are times when it is necessary. In these cases, it is highly recommended that you let them first air dry for a few minutes, just to make sure that the sweat and moisture dries up from within the shoes.

You can also put baby powder in your shoes to help speed up the process (See method #5), or even chalk if it is more convenient (See method #3). If you or your climbing gym has a shoe deodorizer, that will help with killing any bacteria and germs that may later cause bad smells.

Whenever possible, clip, or tie your shoes to the outside of your bag, and do not put them inside. Having them on the outside allows them to dry properly and have enough air circulation, which can help prevent and reduce much of the bad smell.

8. Keep Your Shoes Out In The Open And Not Closed In A Bag

As mentioned above, after you have climbed, your shoes are moist and wet from sweat. If you do not allow this moisture to dry, and you simply put your shoes in a closed space, you are risking a nasty surprise when you open your bag the next time. If you are like most climbers, you may not even take out or open your bag until the next time you go climbing, which will be a very unpleasant event for you and everyone surrounding you.

Leaving your shoes in a closed space such as your bag, especially for a long time, can just amplify the smell, and eventually even cause mold in the shoes. Not to mention that if you do not clean them or disinfect them, the next time you put them on could be the day you get a nasty foot fungus.

Never close your shoes in a bag or any other closed space, especially after you have been climbing in them. Let them air dry.

9. Wash Your Shoes

Climbing shoe care is equally important as foot care. Occasionally washing your shoes lightly is a good way to help prevent any buildup of bacteria and germs that could later cause bad smells. It’s also a great way to get rid of stubborn shoe odor that you just can't seem to get rid of.

This doesn't have to be a thorough washing, you don't even need a washing machine, just put your shoes under running water, and take a soft brush to brush the insides.

If you want to use soaps, detergents, or to wash them in a washing machine, check what the shoes can actually handle first on the shoe's brand website, or by asking the store you bought them from. Just do your research before doing this to make sure you do not ruin your shoes.

10. Instantly Eliminate Bad Smells With Scented Baby Powder And Shoe Deodorizer Spray

Using baby powder and a deodorizer spray for climbing shoes are two of the best ways to help prevent bacteria from building up and bad smells from forming in your shoes.

These two methods can be used as preventative measures, but they are also very effective in eliminating already existing foul smells. Especially if you use both methods together!

If your shoes are smelling extra funky, spray your shoes with a shoe deodorizer. Make sure you are spraying all the insides, including the toe box, wait a few minutes for it to do its thing, and then put some baby powder in your shoes. Tilt your shoes around or shake them a little bit to make sure that the powder gets to all parts of the insides of your shoes. That's it! Just make sure that your shoes are completely dry before putting in the baby powder, otherwise you will end up with a nasty paste in between your toes.

Doing this method even once should either completely eliminate the smell, or greatly reduce it to almost being non-existent. The key with this is to continue with the preventative measures, and if the smell is still bad after your next climbing session, do this step again. Though, we have found that doing these two things even once have completely eliminated bad odors in all the shoes we have done them in, and the effect was instant.

A Summary Of How To Prevent Smelly Climbing Shoes

Here is a quick and simple summary of all of the steps mentioned in this article. Remember, you do not have to do all of these steps to prevent your climbing shoes from smelling bad, even one can do the trick, combining multiple, though, can have a better effect.

Preventing Smelly Cimbing Shoes
Clean your feet Having clean feet before even putting on your climbing shoes is a no brainer and a requirement for those with generaly dirty and sweaty feet
Chalk your feet Putting chalk on your feet can help ensure that your feet are dry from any sweat, water, or moisture, which is what helps bacteria grow
Spray your shoes Spray your shoes with a shoe deodorizer, it will help kill bacteria and germs, which will reduce bad smells
Put baby powder in your shoes Baby powder helps absorb moisture from your shoes, softens the insides, and makes it easier to get into your shoes if you have downsized. Try to get a scented powder, it really makes a difference and makes your shoes actually smell good
Take your shoes off Taking your shoes off helps air them out in between climbing routes, it reduces some of the moisture buildup and heat
Let them air-dry After a climbing session, if you have to put your shoes in a bag or someplace closed, let them air-dry first
Don't lock your shoes up Never put climbing shoes in a closed place if you don't want them to smell. Moisture and heat will create a playground for bacteria, which will cause your shoes to smell extra bad
Wash your shoes Wash you shoes under running water, and scrub the insides using a soft brush. Check what further washing options are allowed for your shoes, such as soaps, detergents, and waching machine washes
Spray + baby powder for smell elimination If your shoes already smell bad, spray your shoes with a shoe deodorizer spray, let it sit for a few minutes, then put some of the baby powder in them, scented powder will make them actually smell good

Related Articles
How to Clean Climbing Shoes Properly: Tips to Avoid Damage During Cleaning
How to Care for Your Climbing Shoes and Extend Their Lives

The End Of Smelly Climbing Shoes?

While it may seem like a norm in the climbing community, smelly shoes do not have to be a community standard. We can leave this in the past, as long as we all adopt better habits and take care of our feet and our shoes.

Will there ever be a time when climbing shoes just won't smell bad? Probably not. Habits are difficult to create, and harder to maintain, and it's even harder to break bad habits, and having climbing shoes that do not smell is all about keeping good habits, and breaking the bad ones.

Personal hygiene goes a long way in preventing bacteria from forming in your shoes, as well as treating your shoes in a way that will allow them to not be a home for those bacteria.

What are your thoughts on smelly climbing shoes, and how do you prevent it? Have you used any of the tips above or have tips of your own? Let us know in the comments!

Have any friends with nasty, stinky smelling shoes you think need to read this? Share it with them!

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