Rules for Rope Care and Longevity

Karen Bockel Coiling a rope©Angela Hawse

Coiling ©Angela Hawse

Rocktober is upon us. No doubt our ropes have gotten use and withstood abuse with spring, summer and early autumn climbs. Soon we’ll be monitoring backcountry drips for ice and our rope will get a bit of a rest while we sharpen our tools in anticipation of winter.

Take stock of this time to inspect, wash, store and retire your rope properly.


 Your rope is your lifeline. Give it undivided attention and love before you put it away for a while.

Giving your rope undivided attention and love will increase your intimacy with it. You’ll get peace of mind knowing that it’s still a performer. And you’ll catch any problems that could reduce its longevity.

Run the entire length of your rope through both hands two to three times. Run the rope through your hands without gloves so you have sensitivity to any irregularities in the sheath.

Inspect it visually and with a firm grip so you catch imperfections. If the rope feels different from when you purchased it, ie. it’s now limp whereas it was once perky or it’s become a stiffy when it was once supple, it’s probably time to give it a new job. (More below.)

Fuzzy sheaths, picks, flat or unusually stiff sections merit closer inspection. If you find one of these, look at it more closely. Compare it to other sections of the rope. Although you can’t see the rope’s core, you can feel it.  Roll any sections of concern between your thumb and fingers and back and forth between your hands, paying close attention to how it behaves with bends, knots and twists.  Anytime the core of the rope is exposed at all, it is compromised. Cut it shorter to remove this section or retire it.

If your hands are black afterwards, this should reinforce that a good wash is in order.


Ropes like to be clean but they don’t like harsh detergents.

Use a mild detergent or better yet Sterling Wicked Good Rope Wash.

I use a large rubbermaid tub or my bathtub. Fill with just enough warm water to ensure the rope is submerged.

Add the Wicked Good Rope Washor a small amount of detergent (1 tablespoon). Swish it around and then pile your rope in there (flaked rather than coiled) so it’s all submerged.

Let it sit for 30 minutes to absorb the soapy water and dislodge dirt.

Get your hands in there and move the rope around, agitating the water like a gentle cycle on your washer. This will dislodge remaining dirt.

Remove the rope, dump out the water and replace it with clean, cold or warm water. Put the rope back in and give it another gentle cycle and repeat the process until the water is clear.

You can use a top loading washing machine on a gentle cycle, but I prefer to do it manually.

Some folks like to daisy chain the entire length of their rope, but I prefer having it in a pile.

Dry your rope out of direct sunlight. I hang mine over my pull-up bar or a door. You could use a laundry drying rack or flake it out on the floor.

Be sure your rope is fully dry before you store it.


I store my ropes stacked in a rope bag.

Although there is nothing wrong with coiling and hanging or stowing them away, flaking ropes prevents kinks and divits that come from tight coils. Most rope bags have a ground tarp incorporated. If not, get one and use it. A ground tarp at the crag will add considerably to the longevity of your rope by preventing small, sharp crystals of sand and dirt from penetrating it’s sheath. Rope Bags also give you a grab-and-go system for the next time you head to the crag, or you can easily coil it from a rope bag if you’re packing it for a project.

Store your rope in a cool, dry place free from direct sunlight and any chemicals. Acid to ropes is like kryptonite to Superman. Keep them well away.


Well cared for ropes last many years.

There is no hard and fast rule for how long ropes last because there are so many variables: How much do you climb with it? How many significant lead falls has it sustained? Did it cut the mustard of your rigorous inspection?

Here are some general guidelines for rope longevity: If you’re climbing 3-5 days a week, working routes and whipping regularly, your rope may only last a year or less. If you’re a weekend warrior, your lead rope could give you several years. If you climb less frequently you could get four to seven years out of your cord.  Much more than 7 years and it will, like all nylon, lose some of it’s dynamic and desirable properties.

Ropes, like us, can have several life stages if they’re not compromised.

My ropes start as lead ropes. Then my skinny ones go to my neighbor for his rafting trips and my fatter ones retire into the good life of topropes for 3-5 years.

All of my ropes are inspected regularly and retired liberally.

When they reach the end of their lifespan I either send them to Sterling Rope to recycle or give them to friends for art projects, rigging or doormats.

Give your rope the attention it deserves regularly and it’ll serve you well!