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Knot List: Care and Cleaning of Rope ‐ Step-by-Step

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Care and Cleaning of Rope

Rope is all too often left in a tangle on the ground which is far from the safest way to store it and usually makes it hard to use. Rope should be kept neatly coiled, off the ground, and stored appropriately so that it can be used free of tangles without delay.

Care and Cleaning of Rope Details

Safety: The life of a climbing rope depends greatly on use and damage and, to a lesser extent, on care, cleaning, and storage.

Cleaning: Climbing ropes should be washed occasionally by hand in cold water with a mild soap, rinsed free of the soap, and then spread out or hung up to dry in the air. Avoid direct sunlight, do not use a dryer, and do not place the rope above a heat source.

Care: Keep your rope off the ground to protect it from dirt that contains sharp small chips and crystals. Avoid contact with chemicals, acids, alkalis, bleach, oxidizing agents (present in concrete), and embers, sparks or other sources of ignition, e.g., smokers. Avoid treading on your rope as this may work sharp particles into the core. Use climbing rope only for climbing - not for towing a vehicle.

Avoid Rodents: Modern fibers may have no nutritional value but they may still be collected by mice or rats to make their home. Paul Bacina describes his experience of leaving the rope lying in a heap. The middle of the heap became the lair with several damaged turns around it, converting three-hundred feet of climbing rope into several short tie-down lengths. Hang the rope away from the ground!

Storage: Climbing rope should be stored, preferably after drying, at room temperature, ideally in a storage bag.

Life Expectancy: Manufacturers recommend a retirement schedules which errs on the side of caution and also, presumably, on the side of profit!  How long you decide to use the rope depends on your own inspection, knowledge of the rope's history, and assessment.

If a rope has not suffered a major fall, i.e., approaching factor 2 (a fall double the rope distance from the belay); if the sheath shows no significant wear or damage; and if the rope has not been exposed to damage from chemicals: it is almost certainly safe to use it within the schedule shown below. However, repeated minor falls, heat from rapid rapelling, and rapelling using small diameter carabiners all tend to weaken rope.

Climbing Rope Replacement Schedule:

  • Occasional use, e.g., alternate weekends: every 4 years
  • Every Weekend: every 2 years
  • Sport climbing involving frequent short falls: every 3 - 6 months
  • Major fall (approaching factor 2): immediately
  • Flat spots, soft spots, becoming stiff, sheath damage: immediately
  • Unsure of condition or history: immediately

Disclaimer: Any activity that involves ropes is potentially hazardous. Lives may be at risk - possibly your own. Considerable attention and effort have been made to ensure that these descriptions are accurate. However, many critical factors cannot be controlled, including: the choice of materials; the age, size, and condition of ropes; and the accuracy with which these descriptions have been followed. No responsibility is accepted for incidents arising from the use of this material.

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