SPRING CLEANING ~ FOR YOUR GEAR
By Melissa McGibbon
Photo props provided by: Ballard Designs, Household Essentials, Maytag, The Good Home Co., and World Market.
Is there an odd aroma coming from your gear room? Has a fungus sprouted in your climbing shoes? Mildew growing in your backpack? Did you shove your stinky down sleeping bag in its compression sack after your last camping trip and forget about it all winter?
You have spent a lot of your hard-earned loot on your adventure aids, so you’ll want to do some upkeep to help preserve your booty. It’s surprisingly easy to clean gear, especially with tech–savvy laundry pairs. You can wash everything from climbing ropes to harnesses in a washing machine, so investing in energy-efficient front loaders is a wise choice. I used Maytag’s Made-in-America Maxima7000 Washer and Dryer for my testing because they have specific features that make them ideal for gentle use with outdoor gear and apparel, such as sanitization and allergen cycles, extra large capacity sizing for high-volume loads, steam cycles, oxi-boost, and extra rinse options.
Down Jackets and Sleeping Bags
You can wash down and synthetics using the same technique. Down jackets and down sleeping bags can hobnob around with each other in the washer, but synthetics can’t, so wash them separately. Front loaders are key for washing down because the articles fold over each other, whereas machines that use agitators can damage the fabric and stitching. Nikwax’s Down Wash for feather-filled gear and apparel works really well. Add an extra rinse if your washing machine gives you the option. Tumble dry on low heat for 20–30 minutes, then air dry them until they’re almost completely dry. To maintain the loft, even out the insulation, and add a little hint of lavender fragrance, toss them back in the dryer on air-only for 20 minutes with Nellie’s Scent-stick Compatible Dryer Balls.
You can get most filth and grime off your backpack by wiping it down with a little soapy water, maybe a little splash of bleach, and a really good rinse. After a canyoneering trip last summer, I suspected my backpack was growing a science project of unknown consequence. It needed intervention beyond a good scrub-a-dub…so I fed it to my washer in a mesh bag with Nikwax’s Tech Wash. Extra rinse? Yes. Sanitization cycle? Hell yes! You can’t use regular detergent with coated nylon materials because it ruins the waterproofing. Washing your backpack in a machine will likely void the manufacturer’s warranty and should only be done as a last resort. I dried mine on a delicate cycle with low heat for 20 minutes with some Good Home Summer Grass Scented Dryer Sheets and hung it outside in the shade to dry. Now it’s as good as new and smells like unicorn breath.
Running Shoes and Sandals
Just so you can’t say that no one told you, it’s not okay to subject others to the noxious tang of your well-worn shoes—it’s almost as sleazy as failing to wash your hands after using the bathroom. Toss them in your front loader using a minimal sudsing detergent that won’t leave behind residue, like ReviveX Synthetic Fabric Cleaner. Wash Chaco and Teva-type sandals in a washer and employ a mesh bag to protect the webbing. If you don’t want to or can’t wash your shoes and sandals in a machine, wash by hand with Nikwax Sandal Wash. It’s safe for leather, fabric, and synthetics. Use a stiff brush and rinse thoroughly to get the foot funk out. Re-waterproof as needed.
Your activewear is likely made from some kind of superfabric, well I hope so anyway. If you’re running marathons wearing cotton, you have other issues. Your fabric care tags may include the following materials: polyester, ripstop nylon, strands from Superman’s hair, spandex, CoolMax, Lycra, fairy dust, eVent, Gore-tex, moon rock properties, Drymax, Tech-Light, etc. If so, choose a techy cleanser like Caldrea’s Palmarosa Wild Mint Sport Wash, made especially for technical fabrics, and wash them separately from your other clothes that are made from…mediocre fabrics. For stained sporty garments, pick something with plant-derived surfactants like Caldrea’s Sweet Pea Stain Remover.
Did you know you can wash your climbing rope in a washer? Yep, it’s safe as long as you do it properly. You can only use a front-loading washer because agitators in top-loaders would destroy a rope’s internal structure. A mesh laundry bag will protect the rope (available at Household Essentials and other specialty stores). Pick a mild soap, like Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda, and avoid designer detergents with bleach or scents (dish soap and baby shampoo are okay if you’re going to wash it by hand). Wash with warm water and an extra rinse. Drying it outside in the shade is good, as direct sunlight will corrode it. It should not overlap itself and needs to be laid out for optimal airflow. The rope will be substantially heavier when it’s wet, so dry it on something sturdy enough to withstand the pressure. You can also add Nikwax’s Rope Proof, which adds water repellency, helps maintain strength, and reduces weight gain in wet weather.
Wear your climbing shoes just for climbing. This may seem obvious, but many people wear their climbing shoes on the approach and all day at the crag. This is bad for your shoes because it gets them grimy and reduces their stickiness. If your shoes are dirty, scrub the uppers using a wire brush with soap and warm water, and then set them outside in the shade to dry. Be sure to remove the laces first. If they smell rancid, use MiraZyme’s Rank Away Odor Eliminator or a generic foot powder to deodorize them after each session. You can wash your climbing shoes in a washer too, as long as you use a mesh bag and mild soap, though there’s a chance they will shrink. Definitely do not ever put them in the dryer. It helps to put paper towels in the shoes to absorb the dampness while they are drying.
Check the manufacturer’s instructions for your harness first and inspect the belay loops, buckles, stitching, and tie-in points for signs of wear and tear. Retire your harness immediately if you think its integrity is even moderately questionable. How long your harness lasts greatly depends on how much you use it, and the conditions you’ve climbed in, regardless of use, you should definitely send it to live on the farm after seven years. Black Diamond’s harnesses are okay to wash in a washer, but each manufacturer has different recommendations, so check before washing. Keeping your harness clean will prolong its lifespan. Use a mesh laundry bag and wash it with Caldrea’s Earth-friendly Delicate Wash.
If you think your life jacket may be the victim of a fungal invasion, you can easily remedy the problem by scrubbing it with warm water and dish soap. Don’t forget to scour the creases in the jacket where mold and mildew are likely. Hose it down with clean water and hang it outside to dry in the shade or a well-ventilated area.
The biggest warning signs for cam decay are worn out teeth, bent trigger wires, and the slings. The easiest way to clean cams is to use Simple Green. Dilute with water about 4:1, unless your cams are extra icky, then adjust accordingly. Scrub them with a clean brush like the Metolius M-16 Bouldering Brush or a new toothbrush. Rinse them with warm water and air dry. You can use compressed air too. It will help get the remaining water droplets off the cams. Mrs. Meyer’s All-natural Dish Soap is a good alternative if you don’t have any Simple Green on hand. Lay them out to dry on a shammy towel or piece of cardboard to absorb the moisture. You will need to re-lube your bouquet of cams when they’re done drying. Metolius makes a very affordable lube specifically for cams called, funny enough, Cam Lube.
Cleaning out your water reservoir is muy importanto because the bite valves you put in your mouth can be a hot house for nefarious bacteria growth. Camelbak makes a handy Reservoir Cleaning Kit that includes a brush kit, cleaning tablets, and hang dryer. It’s easy as pie. Just put the tablet in the reservoir with a little water, scrub out the inside and rinse it out. Use the tube brush to clean the bite valve and drinking tube. Hang it up to dry. Repeat frequently.
There are two types of people. Those who pee in their wetsuits and those who lie about peeing in their wetsuits. To clean, try hosing down your wetsuit, then swish it around in tub of warm water with McNett’s Wet/Dry Suit Shampoo and follow with a thorough rinse. If that isn’t enough, try turning the suit inside out and romancing it with some Woolite Dark Care Detergent with a sanitization boost in your washer. If you add splash of Listerine (yes Listerine) in with the detergent your suit will have a nice fragrance to it. Hang it up to dry, preferably outside in the shade.
Washing DO’s and DON’Ts
DO: Use your washer’s delicate cycle with cold or warm/cold water for all of your outdoor gear.
DON’T: Opt for the coin-op laundry, it’s not the same.
DO: Run your washer through a couple cycles with nothing in it to clear out the residues that may have been left behind by your grubby washables.
DON’T: Put everything in the dryer. Check the care instruction tag to see if tumble-drying is okay.
You may think your stuff looks cooler when it’s dirty, but really it’s just gross. Hey I’m just looking out for you—and okay, me too. I don’t want to smell you approaching. Being a good steward will promote the longevity of your gear AND your friendships.