It is important to always take care of gear and equipment personally owned. One of my favorite old adages says, “Take care of your equipment and your equipment will take care of you.” If gear is properly cared for and cleaned after use it will last longer. That being said, the most important pieces of equipment in rappelling is the rappel rope. Learn how to clean rappelling rope, care for it, and store it. You can’t rappel without a rope and you won’t get far if the rope is distressed in any way.
Rappelling rope will have you suspended high above the ground, tethered to it. Complete confidence will be placed in the rope once you thoroughly care for it and check for any imperfections. The rappelling rope must be in the best condition it can be, strong enough to support your weight and reliable enough to lower you down to the ground with ease. This trust needs to continue to be placed in the rope even after you have used it rappelling countless other times.
Now the best way to maintain this trust in your rope, an inanimate object, will be to know how to clean rappelling rope as well as basic care techniques. Any climbing or rappelling rope must be regularly maintained. When a little extra time is take to clean rappelling rope and care for it you will become more aware of any imperfections or distress. In fact your eyes will begin to quickly spot any signs of distress or fraying that the rappel rope may be undergoing through continued use. By truly becoming one with the rappel rope, through use and proper care, potential danger can be avoided.
In addition, the longevity of the rope will increase as you become mindful to properly store it, care it, and clean it. Let’s learn how to do each of these well to prevent any unnecessary damage.
Rappelling Rope Care
Never ever treat the rappel rope like a sack of potatoes. Don’t throw it on a dirty floor or drag it. Your rappel rope is more important than a sack of potatoes and should be treated as much. You may like mashed potatoes but you don’t want to use a mashed rappel rope, metaphorically speaking. Carefully pack and care the rappel rope to avoid any undue stress.
I have mentioned to take care of your rappelling rope but now let’s break down the specifics of what that entails:
- It means to not drag any part of your rope on the ground, indoors or outdoors. Always properly carry your rope so it doesn’t get damaged and dirty unnecessarily because of your laziness to properly coil and carry the rope.
- Never leave your rope lying on the dirt or an unclean surface.
- Avoid stepping on the rope.
- Do not allow any chemicals or foreign liquids to drip, spray, or come in contact with the rope.
- Only use this rope for rappelling. Never use it to tie off anything at home, to pull or drag anything, etc.
As you care for the rappel rope the rappel rope will care for you.
Carrying Rappel Rope
One of the best ways to carry your rappel rope is in a rope bag (here’s a good one I like on Amazon). This isn’t any normal bag but something that was made with the intention to protect these specialized ropes when in use during a rappel or while in storage. When a rope is removed from a rope bag the bag converts into a mat that you can lay out the ground. The rope can then be placed on the mat. This mat will also serve as a point of contact when rappelling. The ends of the rope that are tossed from the top can lay on this rope and provide additional protection to the rope so it doesn’t whip around on the dirt back and forth as someone is rappelling.
A rope bag is recommend due to the ease of use, the additional protection it provides the rope, and multi-use purposes.
When coiling and carrying the rappel rope make sure to run your entire hand over the length of the rope. As you do this you can also feel any blemishes that will help give you greater insight on your ropes current condition.
Clean Rappelling Rope
To clean rappelling rope is like a work of art. When you wash it you shouldn’t dump it in your washer and dryer. This can add unnecessary stress to it that may make it unsafe to do its one job, rappel it’s occupant down. Instead, you should take the following clean rappelling rope steps:
- Begin by filling a bath with cool water.
- Lay your rope out, uncoiled in the cool bath water.
- Wash the rappelling rope by hand with mild soap, it is recommended to avoid any type of detergent. Be gentle as you rub or brush down the rope.
- Make sure to thoroughly wash off the rope by swishing and moving it around in the bathtub.
- Drain the tub after the rope is fully clean and all the soap residue is completely washed off.
- If you feel that the rope is still excessively dirty, draw more bath water and repeat the previous steps until the rope is clean.
When drying the rope it is best to leave it out to air dry, in a shady corner. You will want to make sure that there is no direct sunlight on it at any point that it is drying as the sun can bleach and damage the rope. Also, do not use any other heat source to dry the rappel rope as it can damage it as well. That means no hair dryers, electric heaters, etc. It needs to dry slowly and naturally.
Why You Clean Rappelling Rope
Over time your rope will collect dirt and grime. If you are rappelling near trees or are anchored to a tree it may collect sap. If you rappel near the ocean it may collect sea salt. Are you starting to see the pattern? Where you decide to rappel your rope will collect residue from that area. Any dirt or other particles can work in and weaken the rope fibers over time. Lucky for you, most of the time when a rappel rope is taken care of the dirt it collects will be minimal and will not affect how you rappel.
If the rope does feel excessively dirty and leaves your hands darkened from use it may be time to cleaning rappelling rope. You want it to be so fresh and so clean, clean!
I don’t recommend washing it after every use or even semi-frequently. Your rope has been crafted to withstand all types of elements and conditions. The specific purpose of your static or dynamic rope is to be used in the great outdoors. Washing any rope excessively can wear out the rope quickly. The idea is to wash it only when it is absolutely necessary due to extreme amounts of dirt or grime.
Storing Rappel Rope
After you clean rappelling rope and give it time to air dry the last step will be to properly store the rope. Make sure that when the rope is stored that it is completely dried and kept in a storage space or container that will keep out any moisture. Keep the rope in a bag to keep it free from dust or dirt.
A preferable place the rappel rope elevated above the ground in place of on the ground. If the rope is placed on the ground this could lead to unforeseen wear and tear. Whether it is constantly pushed around, occasionally having items unintentionally placed on top of it, or damaged by gnawing rodents that chew through the easily accessible storage bag and then eat through the rappel rope. For all of these reasons I highly recommend to play it smart and elevate the rope.
Rappelling Rope Replacement Recommendations
Aside from knowing how to clean rappelling rope, carry it, take mindful care of it and properly storing the rappel rope it is equally important to be aware of its replacement schedule. A static rappel rope will not last forever, no matter how you treat it. Here are a few general guidelines for replacing rappel rope:
- Infrequent Use – If the rappel rope is used once every couple of weeks or monthly you may need to look into replacing it about every 4 years.
- Frequent Use – You are out rappelling once every week. In this instance it would be best to retire and purchase a new rope possibly every year.
- Significant Damage – Sun bleached, frayed, a big fall, stiff, flat or soft spots. Replace Immediately
- Unknown Rope Condition – If you have used the rope in the past but are uncertain of its specific history, age, or quantity of use it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to Replace Immediately.
- Rappelling Daily – If you can’t get enough of rappelling and head out almost every day than I would recommend replacing the rope every 3 – 6 months.
It is recommended to keep a log for your rope that details the purchase date, dates of use, and any other rare events that could have placed additional stress or wear on the rope. By doing this you can make a better plan of when to replace your rope.
Know that all of the above tips or guidelines about how to clean rappelling rope, taking care of the rope, and recommendations on retiring the rope are general statements. In no way should this be interpreted as all-encompassing for each situation. Every instance of use and care differs from person-to-person. You will need to use your best assessment of the extent of use of the rappel rope, how the rope has been kept, were there any drastic falls or events that caused additional strain, etc.
If new to rappelling it can be difficult at times to assess the condition of the rope. Always seek the assistance of a professional to make the right assessment when it appears to be ready to retire the rope. If there was a specific incident or you feel in your gut that something is not right with the rappel rope then follow your instincts. Just replace your rope and remove that burden from your shoulders. For recommendations on a rope that may fit your needs read Choosing the Right Rappelling Rope.
It is my opinion that gear can be tended to and cared for increasing its lifespan. But when it’s time to retire the gear don’t stretch your luck. Spend some money to replace it so rappelling can be done safely.