HOWTO: Create a Climbing Rope Washer

Get the crud off your ropes

One of my biggest climbing challenges off the rock is cleaning my rope. Between the oxidation off carabiners and the rope being spooled into the dirt for belays it has grown a filth over the years that covers my hands with just a few minutes use. I've tried a couple techniques like using 5-gallon buckets of water, putting the rope inside pillow cases in the washing machine, and just trying to not use it too much. Nothing really works though and I was mentioning it to friends when one suggested "they make a device that attaches to a garden hose and washes it that way." So I decided to make my own. I made two of these washers for less than $8 in parts (not counting the glue which I had anyway.)

List of parts:

The order of assembly is less important than actually getting all the pieces together, so if you don't want to follow this order exactly don't worry too much about it.
Steps to Create a Rope Washer
assemble materials First I had to assemble my materials. The clamp is there to help hold the riser pipe in place while I drilled. Besides the parts list above you will need a drill, a small drill bit, and a flat, spade drill bit..
drill end caps Drill the center of the end caps. I used a 7/8" spade bit.
drill riser pipe Drill multiple holes in the riser pipe, using a very small bit (I believe mine was 1/16"). Since I wanted my water flowing in one direction I started the hole verically then angled them all towards one direction. You will need to drill many holes to get good water flow, as well as having them run around the pipe (not all in a single row). I would drill a few holes, rotate the pipe a few degrees, then drill more holes.
glue end caps Glue the drilled end-caps into the pipe T.
glue hose adaptor Glue the hose adaptor into the top of the pipe T.
glue riser pipe Glue the riser pipe into the center of the drilled caps. Since my spade bit tended to make a hole bigger than I needed I just smeared extra glue around the hole to seal it up.
attach to hose After letting the system dry overnight I attached to my garden hose.
turn on water Now just turn on the water. Note that due to having drilled my holes in the riser pipe directionally all of the water comes out one end of the cleaner tool. When washing my rope I simply feed the rope into that side and the dirt gets washed off the outside, with the clean end of the rope feeding out the other end.


Roger says: Saw this on MAKE... I'm not a climber, but I admire your ability to improvise on the cheap. Good Show!

James says: any photos of dirty vs clean rope?

chris says: This is similar to how paint roller cleaners work too

Curtis says: I feed it through the side where the water is coming out (dirty end goes there). This helps "push" the dirt out of the rope. I think going the other way it might help embed the dirt even more...

Kai says: So you feed the rope into the end that the water is coming out of, or do you feed it into the other end so the water helps to "push" it through?

Tumble says: "it has grown a filth over the years" This indicates that the rope should be replaced, not cleaned. A rope that is filthy and several years old is simply no longer safe. I am constantly amazed that people hang onto ropes far longer than they should. The goal is keep the rope clean, use a good rope bag, and keep it out of the dirt. The dirt particles are slowly migrating from the sheath into the core fibers of the rope. Once they are inside the mantel, they start cutting fibers, and the rope is weakened.

FriedPope says: Tumble's right. You should never let your rope sit in the dirt. If it gets filthy after only a few days on the rocks, something is very wrong with your rope treatment. Keep a rope log in your bag, it's your most vital piece of equipment; make sure you know what happens to it. Your belay device and carabineers can leave a residue on your rope that rubs off as a black dust, this is totally normal. Wipe your rope with a slightly damp cloth. Water can also damage "dry ropes" by rotting the core, only clean "wet ropes" (ice climbing ropes) with of water. Donít be a statistic, climb safe!

NoName says: Tumble and FriedPope are spewing nonsense. Ropes don't lose strength with age and even dirt has been shown to not matter much. It's mostly just a matter of wear and tear. Dirt particles "cutting fibers" and water "rotting the core" are pure myth. PMI sells the Bokat rope washer for $39, similar to yours but it adds a scrubbing brush.

Greg says: Tumble & FriedPope - Lighten up. When you climb ropes get dirty, itís a fact. It canít be helped no matter how careful you are. When pulling a rope I guarantee that most of it will not land on the rope bag but in the dirt. Tumble, you pointed out that particles will migrate to the core, this is exactly why you wash a rope Ė removing those particles before they migrate. And manufactures recommend washing dirty ropes. Granted you want to avoid washing your rope too much, I found it changes its characteristics (i.e. removing the dry treatment and the rope relaxes causing it to become fat and fuzzy). Great job Curtis, how do I get you to make me one ;)

a rigger says: Jeez, you guys seem to get a bit sensitive... From a professional standpoint I say clean your rope when it's dirty. Replace it when it has lived its usefull life. You are the only person who can know if your rope is too old to use for any particular purpose. I have hundreds of feet of work line in the garage. Much of it is just waiting to become dog leashes or horse halters. But I keep it around for use in less critical situations. [rope swings, stump pulling] I'd like to build me one of these, having just spent money to have a pro gear cleaner do it. [pretty cheap but it got horse hair on the line] Can anybody see a good way to install a brush into this system?

Curtis says: a rigger, you might want to take a look at the brush-style cleaner here: Basically he used a very large section of pipe and mounted 3 fingernail brushes inside of it. You might be able to use something like that as a pre- or post- washer brush? Or just build something like I did but using a much larger interior pipe that you could mount the brushes in directly?

Rope Access Technician says: I am a Level 1 Rope Access Technician. I always take care of my gear because I know its my @rse on the line if something fails.It doesnt matter how careful I am my ropes always get dirty.I have Often wondered how I could clean them.This so far I guess would be the best way to do it.I thought of a washing machine but I was worried about the heat involved.It is mainly Bird Poo that gets on my ropes,I also get that silver paint dust on them(it comes off the waterproofing on Building rooftops)I think that this system will work for that.. I have got them wet before(got caught in the rain when repairing a radio fault on a 30metre tower)and they dont really feel any different.they were kinda cleaner but not as new.As for me I was Squeeky Clean =P Id like to make one that takes a light detergent because that paint dust doesnt seem to come off very easily. I think what FriedPope and Tumble are saying is that if your ropes are covered in mud,sand,oil,and other chemicals they probably should not be washed but instead cut up and used for Dog Leashes(For Very Big Dogs) and ropeswings. But otherwise Chill Guys its not gonna hurt you. Happy Hangin' Me

Paul ( Rock climbing guide) says: I have been a rock climbing instructor and guide for six years this "rope cleaner" is the worst thing ive heard for gear maintainence in a long time. If you start cleaning a dry rope in this manner it could be life threatening, but a rope designed for caving or ice climbing wont be damaged as much by washing. After six years guiding and over 14 years climbing ive had to take care of and clean alot of gear but i have never even attempted cleaning a rope like this and i NEVER would. The stress-strain properties of nylon 6 are not significantly affected by moderate humidity, however, it does show a modest decrease in tenacity with increasing humidity and water absorption. Moisture content is known to affect the mechanical properties of the hydrogen bonds in nylon 6. This is due to the polarity and hydrogen bonding of the amide groups in nylon. Water absorption results in dimensional changes and strength loss. That theres a little science to tell you that soaking a rope with water is bad. ill tell you that in a kurn-mantel rope there is 20-25 percent stretch unlike a static rope which has 5 percent stretch. So if you take a kurn-mantel rope soak it in water or get it wet then try to use it still wet, it will stretch and not return to its original tensile strength. The best way to clean a rope is to see the manufacturers instructions for cleaning because company cleaning instructions are always a little different. I have found that preventing your rope from getting dirty is the best treatment. For starters invest in a rope bag keep the bag and rope dry, and never store it wet. Store the rope in a dark room temperature place (not your basement floor). If you only repel get rope guards and invest in a leg bag. Spending a little money to protect your gear is the way to go and replace your gear sooner than you think. I log my ropes and replace them after 300 hours of use, excessive wear, or dirt. Again as others have posted dirt does act like little knives when in the kurn of the rope so washing the rope will not benefit you it can actually move the dirt particles farther into the kurn resulting in more damage. The main strength of the rope is in the kurn (the white inside) the colorful outside of the rope is called the mantle and is only there to protect the kurn, so stop fussing over a bit of dirt. Wipe it off and retire the rope!

Grammar Police says: Paul... A little common sense to instill into this conversation. What do you think is more likely...Chemical breakdown of the molecular structure of nylon through soaking of the material in water (the least volatile liquid on the planet) or physical breakdown of the fibres in the rope from silica (sand), a crystalline structure? You yourself say that "dirt does act like little knives when in the kurn of the rope" but then suggest that you shouldn't wash the rope! You're right that adding water does decrease the strength of a typical nylon rope, but not after it's dried! Secondly... it's "Kern"-"mantle", commonly known as kernmantle Third, you say "he best way to clean a rope is to see the manufacturers instructions for cleaning because company cleaning instructions are always a little different." and then later on say "washing the rope will not benefit you it can actually move the dirt particles farther into the kurn (sic) resulting in more damage" Which is it? Also... Not all of us can afford to replace our ropes when they get dirty...and your comment to "Stop fussing ofver a bit of dirt" is somewhat unreasonable. Lastly... Nobody's suggesting that you wash the rope and go out while it's still wet and give a good hard fall on it... That would be idiocy! This is simply a way to wash rope that reduces the chances (after all the water is continually flushing dirt off the rope) that you're re-circulating the dirt from one part of the rope to the other. Your argument is consistent with what most of us do in a lot of places, but there are so many inconsistencies...

Curtis says: For Paul and those of you who claim water will damage the rope, can you please explain why PMI makes the Bokat rope washer almost identical to this (except for the price, $35, which is why I made my own and that one has brushes inside.) Not to mention the CMI rope washer, which is where my inspiration for this one came from.

Also please explain the following quote:

"Keep your rope clean Dirt can shorten the life of your rope by increasing internal and external abrasion. It is a good idea to occasionally wash a rope to remove dirt and rock crystals. Put the rope in a pillow case or washing bag and use a front loading machine with cold water only to prevent shrinkage. It is acceptable to use a mild soap to remove oil or grease but avoid harsh detergents. DO NOT USE BLEACH OR BLEACH SUBSTITUTES. Make sure to rinse thoroughly. Small amounts of fabric softener may be used to give better flexibility and a softer hand as a rope stiffens with use. Your rope should be air dried away from direct sunlight. It will not harm a rope to store it wet. Nylon is not affected by water and will not rot or mildew."

That quote is taken from, which is the Bluewater Rope Technical Manual. Paul, in case you weren't paying attention, THAT IS A MANUFACTURER AND THEY SAY "Nylon is not affected by water and will not rot or mildew." Are you going to argue about that?

My goodness people can you not see what this is about? This page isn't about whether you do or do not believe that a rope is capable of getting wet, this page is simply an inexpensive alternative to existing commercial products.

John says: Yeah, Curtis pretty much has it on the nose...washing a rope is not going to hurt it, and almost every reputable rope manufacturer (Beal, PMI, Edelweiss, Mammut, Maxim/New England, Sterling, BlueWater, etc.) recommends washing rope on occasion to remove grime buildup. Water is *not* going to rot nylon. Keep in mind these ropes are made of the same material, by and large, as nylon clothing but with a different weave pattern. Think of how often you wash clothing. Have you had any rot apart yet? Bottom line: Climbing rope is a lot more durable than most people think. Washing is fine, but a lot of ropes go their whole useful life without a wash, so make the call either way yourself. I will say, without hesitation, that almost any dynamic rope should be retired simply due to age long before "dirt wear" becomes an issue. Wash or no wash, you will be fine if you use and store your rope properly.

bill says: Wow,you would think a guide with "6" years of buying rope would have seen somewhere its ok to wash your rope, i guess it only takes 6 years and a half dozen climbs to make up new rules for the sport, ya you know the manufactures dont know crap about the rope they make.

Chem. Eng. says: Curtis I must thank you. I recently built your rope cleaner to clean all my gear (rope and webbing) after a recent climb in an area I later discovered was filled with poison ivy. I added a brush and a soap dispenser to your design and now I can continue climbing itch free. To the rest of you, Nylon does not rot (UV rot is a different matter) but the small enclosed spaces in the weave of a rope combined with embedded organics (ie skin, sweat, etc) may provide an excellent environment for mould or mildew to grow. As to the effect of water on Nylon 6, you shouldn't worry as long as you're not washing in very hot water. Water can cause degradation of Nylon through de-polymerization but only at elevated temperatures. At ambient temperatures Nylon will absorb water (at an fairly slow rate) proportional to the ambient humidity. Increased water content in Nylon actually increases plasticity while water content much below 0.1% will lead to brittleness in the Nylon and will drastically change the failure mode from plastic deformation to brittle failure. Water is actually used extensively in the manufacture of Nylon (the original polymerization in the autoclave is nucleated by water) and all Nylons are selectively dried during manufacture to help determine their final properties. Moral of the story, wash your gear in cold water with mild detergent (as per every manufacturer's advice) and air dry. Do not use hot water or put your rope (or webbing or harness)in the dryer or near a heat source and don't store your gear in a bucket of water for extended periods. But most importantly LEAVES OF THREE ... CLIMB SOMEWHERE ELSE!!!

Anon says: Grammar Police: I'm afraid you know squat about chemistry. Good old H20 is known as "the universal solvent", and for good reason. Otherwise, we wouldn't be using it to wash everything; it would slide right off and leave the dirt behind! Leave the chem comments to Chem. Eng. Also, you need the Selective Quoting and Logic Police. One may not agree with Paul, but his logic was good. He said that you could possibly push dirt further into the rope rather than out of it, and that dirt in the rope is bad. Learn to parse the grammar before you try to police it.

Sailor & Enginerd says: This would be a splendid device for cleaning the running rigging on sailboats. I usually have to soak and slosh the halyards and sheets in a blue pool about once a year. Also, as someone involved in polymer mechanics research, I'll throw in with Chem. Eng. -- hydrating nylon typically increases the toughness (ability to absorb deformation energy) of the structures. The best example of this was when we built gas powered model airplanes years ago, the nylon propellors would shatter if they struck something -- boiling in water them made them so durable you could literally sand the tips off on the concrete with the motor running. I'm not a climber, so I'm not sure what final effect this would have, but I'm thinking that ropes that stretch and absorb impact are likely to be more desirable than ones that snap.

expedition leader #1 says: I do rope access work (IRATA), and have led expeditions in Asia & Africa since 1991... Hey, WoW! Some feisty characters here... ;-) My .02.... 1.Adding brushes makes this a perfect gadget for rope cleaning. Even at basecamp, a bucket rigged with this kit with brushes will save time & do a good job, IF you get things messy. 2. After washing, dry your ropes in the shade, or in darkened conditions preferably. UV attack is magnified on a wet rope. 3. Use a groundsheet! A nylon sheet 3m square weighs very little, and costs less than the fancy climber's opening rope 'bag'/groundsheet- these seems pointlessly small to me. 4. In order of importance for wear/tear/damage of ropes.... a) Falls, b) abrasion 'over the edges', during use, c) Heating/melting mantle by repeated abseiling, d) Repeated use of dirty rope ( speliologists speak up! This trashes the rest of your gear too..), e) UV damage, f) Using rope while wet, g) err.... possibly washing the rope. In my experience, cleaning all kit (including ropes), in cold water with mild detergent is fine. I would say though, that repeated washing is wear & tear, in itself. Like a rope might be rated for 6 falls, I would be surprised if I have ever been using a rope that has had six washes. It would have probably been retired in under 4 months, in dirty work conditions, or after one/two climbing expeditions of high altitude use.... or just one epic fall, even. Great device fella! Keep up the good work.

Andy Read says: This is a bad idea,using water under pressure on a dirty climbing rope may appear to clean it but infact the pressure of the water forces dirt particles into the core of the climbing rope causing the fibres to be cut by the sharp paticlers, although not visable to the human eye. Death awaits

TC Holtzclaw says: I have been a user of climbing rope for over 12 years. Ihave owened wet, dry, static, and sport lines. I have retired lines for many different reasons, the least of witch being dirt. There is only one way to be cconfident in your use of any piece of equpment and that is to KNOW its history! There are times when washing ropes is a must, however, the rope type, intended use, age and history must be taken into account. For example, the expected performance of ice, rock, Caving, and utility,[i.e. cell tower] ropes is diferent. Example: if you have ever done any moderate or seruious caving you hae no doubt gotten an entire 60m line mucked from end to end. If you you entend to use this device again you better wash it. This being said though, these ropes will have a shorter lifespan than that of an ice rope. All in all the worst enemy of your rope is not a pull through rope washer. My advice is to keep an up to date rope log for all lines. Try to have a different line for all your needs,[i.e. don't rapell your dnamics unless doing long lead pitches, keep all ropes in a rope bag, working lines are just that, and know your rope, I think that this is an issue of washing frequency vs use. Does washing a rope in this method adversly affect the rope? maby some, but under any type of rigorus use The rope is moer likely to be retired due to other more obvious rerasons. For example, I have a 600 foot line of static reacently taken out of use from a cell tower crew, it is dirty and has a mild fuz, I will wash this rope an use it only for long drops with a secondary back up. This is a rope at the end of it's lifespan an washing it is an atempt to protect the rest of my gear, not to prolong the life of the rope. On the other hand I have a 125' 5/8 rescue line almost identical to said 600' line that is only a life line and has never been washed in the 3 years I have used it, but this rope is in emaculate shape and protected whenever an wherever possible. The point that I am trying to make is that a ropes lifespan is determind by the frequency and types of use not whether it has been washed or not. Rope washing definately hass a place but should not be a ritual. I pesonaly do not wash my dry dynamics but have found it benificial to wash sport lies and statics, and besides if you have ever rapelled a waterfall what is the diff. Make peace and love your rope replace as needed. Trust your gut on this one mates.

Tom D says: ya'll are a bunch of rope dorks

Rick B says: I am a new climber and just ran across this thread. I am interested in what you all think about a similar device with brushes on the inside but hooked up to a shopvac instead of water. After reading about the problem with dirt microcrystals, it would seem that it might be better to try and suck them out before washing. Thoughts?

Curtis says: Rick, To answer your question I haven't even seen the vacuum devices though that sounds like a great way to get dirt out. Part of washing for me though is to get the "grime" off that seems to accumulate on a rope, especially after a couple days of top-roping. Some things just require water, though if your rope doesn't leave a black smudge on your hands and only gets dusty I'd think it would be a great idea to vacuum it. -- C

Mike says: This is cool and I bought one from PMI a while back but I also have the bokat rope washer and it is the best method I have found for cleaning my ropes quickly.

Tony says: SO, if I am just going to repel, I shouldn't use my dynamic rope?

Jay says: I made your device, I must say it does work. The only problem I had was you said to get Sprinkler riser .75". And you used a 7/8 spade bit. The 7/8 spade bit made the hole to small. I could not get it to work. I finally used a 1" spade bit and that worked out perfectly. I drilled the 1/16th holes in the riser at a angle and that also worked real well. Thank you for putting the idea here.

troutchicklet says: Curtis, et al. For those of you who would rather replace than wash your ropes, anyone want to sell a used climbing rope or I'll pay the shipping to get it out of your garage? I used to climb, don't worry I am not going to climb on it.

Jeff says: It astounds me that anyone would question the chemists who have replied to this. My wife is an analytical chemist for a major pharmaceutical company, no expert on polymers, but she knows enough about them that she laughed at the notion that washing your rope will harm it in any way. We've been doing it for many years. Most arborist climbing rope materials are hydrophobic, and although nylon isn't, it certainly isn't going to care about being washed. We use a washing machine (high efficiency with no agitator coming up through the tub) and Zum Clean laundry soap.. no detergents in it, smells great, does fine job. We also use a similar device as being discussed here, but it is made of brass and we hook it to an electric pressure washer. Many times the output of a garden hose. It does not force the dirt deeper into the rope, and neither will the garden hose. We have cut many ropes up, pull tested the sections on a fixture at a nearby rigging company, cut them open to inspect the core, etc. Rather than speculate, we test and inspect. The rope sections that were from old, dirty ropes always break at lower forces than the old, clean rope sections that were washed. Use your heads. If you climb, surely you have climbed in the rain or in winter. Did your rope break when it got wet? Have you ever seen a sailboat that didn't get wet? Nice, cheap way to clean ropes in the field, Curtis...

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