How to get rid of that “Climbing Shoe Smell”

How do your climbing shoes become stinky

This article is an adaptation of a previous article I wrote  about cleaning the Odor Eating Powder out of my old climbing shoes. Many of you reading this have probably found this site because at one time or another you have been embarrassed by a friend commenting on how bad your car smells after a weekend trip to Joshua Tree or you are just sick and tired of your shoes smelling like a “week old dead person.”

The problem is that smelly climbing shoes are a fact of nature. The reason being is not because the shoes inherently smell, but because of bacteria that is living on your feet. Each of your feet has more than 250,000 sweat glands capable of producing more than a pint of sweat per day. The bacteria that is living on your feet eats the sweat and then excretes the waste which creates the strong odor.

Inside your warm, damp and dark climbing shoes, the sweat cannot easily escape and the bacteria has a sort of feeding frenzy. The reason why your regular shoes do not have this same smell is because of the use of socks which help to absorb some of the sweat that your feet excrete. Without the socks, your climbing shoes adsorb all of that sweat and bacteria. Hence the nasty Climbing Shoes Smell[1].

Since this probably does not answer any of your questions please continue reading below for tips on how to take care of the smell.

Tips for getting rid of  “My Climbing Shoes Smell”

Cleaning your climbing shoes with water and soap should not be a consideration. The trick to getting rid of the smell is to clean your shoes without damaging the leather. As a disclaimer, you should not have high expectations for your shoes to smell like roses and anything you decide to do will probably not work as well as we would like, and I think it is good to expect that your climbing shoes are going to smell no matter how much work you put into them. But, this is definitely one of the joys of being a climber, and the worse your shoes stink the better a climber you probably are.

1. Pull your climbing shoes out of your bag after climbing and let them air out  – bacteria grows less in drier environments.

2. Use a disinfecting and deodorizing spray but make sure you let them completely air out before wearing them again.

3. Do not leave your shoes in your car.

4. Some people have recommended a sock ball of cedar chips – this will not kill the bacteria but it will help mask the smell effectively. Another option is to use Dryer Sheets and Three Tea Bags per shoe overnight.

5. Wear thin socks or liners with your shoe –not recommended for aggressive shoes.

6. Do not wear open toed shoes on your approach – more bacteria and dirt will get on your feet and spread when you wear your climbing shoes.

7. Not always practical once you have climbing shoes, but unlined leather shoes or shoes lined with natural materials seem to smell the least. Try to avoid shoes with synthetic liners, such as the Evolve Defy, they smell the worst.

8. If none of these work, try not smelling the shoes – this may be your best bet.

9. Have a little fun with it  and next time you have a passenger in the car play some Lyryrd Skynyrd “That Smell”.

I hope that this helps, you will likely still have problems with the smell even if you did everything here. But it may help ease your mind if you try them.

Remember, you can always smell a good climber.

Thanks for coming along,


[1] “Why do feet stink?” 16 November 2000. “Rock Climbing: Santa Barbara and Ventura.” 17 February 2011.

13 Responses to “How to get rid of that “Climbing Shoe Smell””
  1. Ben says:

    I find a combination of HibiScrub wash and a good Ped Egging really help.

  2. Zack Johnson says:

    I have horribly smelly climbing shoes. I’ve tried everything that I could find but nothing completely got rid of the smell. There was a really simple way to mask it enough to be just like a smelly sneaker (which was perfectly fine compared to what it was). Make sure to never leave your shoes in the car!!! Take your shoes and place them outside where there is fresh air. But, I honestly found that stuffing 2, 3, maybe 4 dryer sheets into them while I’m not climbing helped dramatically.

    • gtowers27 says:

      I found out my M5 Mad rock shoes were smelling due to my ignorance of putting talc on them… yep it masked the odor but also created a horrible kind of cream afterwards, anyway if anyone has the same horrific experience you can use a cutter to scrape it.

  3. Chad Jarvis says:
    Created especially for climbing shoes.
    No sprays, no powders, no fragrance.

  4. Ryan says:

    Great suggestions. I have found that boot/shoe dryers help the shoes dry out and limit the smell. I use Seirus Hot Ratz Heated Air In-Boot Dryers

  5. Rafael Keach says:

    Hi-ya, This is a great info the above is fantastic can someone reply to tell me how to sing up for your newsletter

  6. TronDoe says:

    I have Scarpas & Evolv’s, but nothing so far has touched my 510 Anasazi’s in smell factor. Seems like straight from the box the leather wanted to stink like crazy… kinda like a barn actually. I’m gonna stick to the “good climbers are stinky climbers” mentality.

  7. Lauren Gan says:

    Evolv shoes stink so bad, but I’ve had a pair of Boreal Jokers and they never smelled. Thanks for the tips!

    • SBClimber says:

      Yeah, evolves smell horrid. I have a pair and they are disgusting. The reason is because they are synthetically lined (ie. fabric) and not just leather. Generally leather shoes do not smell as bad.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Each of your feet has more than 250,000 sweat glands capable of producing more than a pint of sweat per day. – via SBClimber […]

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