Ropes – Care and maintenance
The Dynamic and Static Resistance of a rope (as stated on its label) apply only when in new and pristine conditions. Friction against rocks, karabiners and belay devices, as well as the inexorable deterioration caused by UV rays, dust, aluminium oxide and water reduce considerably its initial resistance.
Should we be saying that it is imperative not to step on a rope resting on sharp rocks, walk on it wearing crampons or spill battery acid on it? This should be common sense, so let’s move to matters for which we’d need knowledge instead of judgement.
A wet rope, even if new, loses up to 66% of its resistance. This means that if a new rope is guaranteed to withstand 8 falls, it will only withstand 2 or 3 falls if wet. For a rope to lose resistance it is not necessary to be completely drenched, even thin rain affects its performance. All ropes actually on the market are treated either with chemical agents (Superdry or GoldenDry) or heating techniques (Duraflex or Dry Cover) to prevent water and dirt affecting their resistance.
Funny enough, a frosted rope loses only 50% of its initial resistance.
If a rope undergoes abrasion or a heavy fall when wet, it is strongly recommended to stop using it. Ropes recover the 100% of their resistance once dried out. It is important to dry ropes away from direct sun light, as UV rays damage the external nylon fibres.
If a rope is exposed to dust and mud, microcrystals penetrate the sheath and affect the performance of the kernel. Even the friction against anchoring points, karabiners and belay devices frees particles of aluminium that deposit on the sheath.
If a rope is dirty and leaves your hands black when belaying, you can be sure microcrystals have deposited on and penetrated the sheath. Subsequent friction (against anchoring points and belay devices) can only press the microcrystals against the internal bobbins, causing damages to the nylon fibres.
To keep a rope clean it is good practice to brush it after each use, by using special spiral-shaped brushes.
All manufacturers claim it safe, and also necessary, to wash dirty ropes in lukewarm water with no strong or improper cleaning agents. Although we recommend washing a climbing rope by hand, it is safe to use washing machines. We advice placing the rope inside a cotton bag (such as a pillow case) and throw it in a washing machine avoiding soap, high temperatures (30 deg. Celsius is fine) and tumble-drying. Dry the rope on shady and ventilated areas, uncoiling and moving it every now and then to avoid mould.
We know by experience that after you wash a rope something will not be quite right with it. If a wash makes it lose its external dry treatment, the rope will be exposed to faster water and dust assimilation. But most importantly you will experience stronger friction on belay devices, making the rope very uncomfortable to use.
To avoid stronger friction and faster abrasion we advise to complement the washing using wet-protection agents, which you can easily buy from the same rope manufacturer. The most common products used are produced by Beal, Camp and Nikwax.