How to Clean Your Climbing Rope!




This is a project I made to clean my ever-growing number of climbing ropes, as well as the many ropes I use at my local Scout camp's climbing tower.Previously I had only ever used the "big bucket of soapy water" method, until I was introduced to this one this fall. Cleaning a climbing rope regularly will significantly increase it's lifespan and safety.The scrubber is based on a design used by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), specifically the Southwest Branch out of Tucson, Arizona. This design works with both Static and Dynamic ropes of pretty much all designs and sizes from cordelette to rescue lines. It consists of relatively few components and is powered by a garden hose. More on that later, but the whole thing costs under about ten bucks and can be assembled in under half an hour.

Note: I actually built three different versions of the same apparatus over the course of the project. Their only real difference is in the diameter of the PVC pipe used to make them. I used a 1" diameter tee, a 1 1/4" one, and a 1 1/2" one. I had the best success with the 1" model, though you could even go down to a 3/4" diameter one for better pressure at the cost of slightly more friction against the rope, though that might also be mitigated by aforementioned higher water pressure

Step 1: Materials!

So the first step is to gather your materials and tools(what few there are)
The materials can be had for around $10 bucks at your local Home Depot. I already had a glue gun, PVC cement, and a boxcutter handy. I didn't care to look up the average cost of those three, but chances are you can find them or borrow them.
1. (1) Watts 3/4" FH x 3/4" MIP x Tapped 1/2" FIP (also known as Model A-679 Hose Adapter)
 -This attaches the hose to the PVC Tee. Costs less than $4.00 normally, depending on what kind of metal you get
2. (1)1" Diameter threaded PVC Tee(or also called a DWV Hub I think) (I lost the receipt, so I apologize for not having a more detailed name as I did for the hose adapter. See the photos for a better idea of what it is.) This is the main component of the scrubber. It costs less that $3.00 normally
3. (1) 4" x 4" Astroturf sample. This serves as the abrasive/scrubbing component in the system. This can be found in the flooring section, normally for free. Otherwise the smallest section you can buy from them (at least at my Home Depot) is a 12' x 1' section, which is rather impractical though pretty cheap at about $8. I chose astroturf because (A) It is what was used in the original design, and (B) it is a fairly simple, cheap material than say cheap carpet, which is likely to contain a smorgasborg of chemicals that would damage your rope, as well as being more likely to get rocks and junk stuck in it (the carpet I mean)
Hot Glue Gun
PVC cement
Not pictured: Long Screwdriver

Note: The project can be completed without the use of the Hot Glue gun or PVC Cement, and I actually suggest not using them, as it ended up complicating things (like getting the astroturf in just right)

Step 2: Phase 1: Prepare the Astroturf!!

Note: These instructions may vary a bit depending on what diameter PVC tee you use,and what diameter rope you're using, so just take ths with a grain of salt. I included pictures from all three of the incarnations of the scrubber to help better document the process. Just pay attention to which model is which.
Let me also stress that before you start gluing and cementing everything together, please do a dry run and make sure everything fits correctly and is the right size/threading/etc, otherwise you'll end up wasting parts.

1. First off, you should start by taking the tape off of the Astroturf sample. 
Remove the sticker on the back that marks its model number and information. Otherwise this will become wet and get all gooey, and you don't want that seeping into your rope. It should be fairly easy to remove with your fingernails. If that fails, try bending the astroturf to break the glues grip, or perhaps using the steam function off of a laundry iron.

2. Next, fold the Astroturf piece like a taco (or 'Hot Dog Style" ) and try slipping it into the PVC Tee. It should preferably fit fairly snugly, not so tight that you can't push a sharpie through from one of the other, but not so loose as to not provide contact with the full circumference of the rope. Remember that the astroturf will mat down once it becomes saturated, so you can make it moderately tight. I recommend building the scrubber without cutting the astroturf first and testing it before you decide to increase the interior diameter. Also, you can now call this "The 'Turf Tube"

3. If you must cut the astroturf down to size, do so in small increments down the entire length of one side, so as not to over do it. Remember, measure twice, cut once.

4. Once you are fully satisfied with the interior diameter the rope will pass through, cut two small triangles on opposite sides of the 'turf square. Cut them right in the middle if you can. See the photo for details. These triangles open up a hole once the 'turf is in the  PVC tee so that the water will come through more quickly, increasing the amount of water that is contacting the rope and reducing the amount just spilling out the sides

Step 3: Optional:Phase 1B Glue the Astroturf in Place

This part is really quite optional, and I might actually advise against it depending on the situation and environment you might be using the scrubber in, as well as how often it will be used. If I could do it again, I would have built the scrubber without cement or glue before I committed to using them, mostly due to potential for screwing up the project (and injuries).
-The benefit to not using glue or cement is that if one part breaks later on or if you accidentally miscut the 'turf, you can simply disassemble the scrubber and reassemble it with a new part, rather than building an entirely new one from scratch. In my case, it was that I did not insert the 'turf fast enough after putting the hot glue in, causing me to scrunch it and twist it quite a bit to get it in as the glue was already solidifying. I also sustained some minor glue burns in the process.
-The benfit to the hot glue is that it insures that the astroturf cannot slide out when the scrubber is being used and lubricated with gratuitous amounts of water. However, in practice, I didn't really find that much difference in slippage between the non-hot glue version and the glue version(remember I made 3 models, with slightly differing construction methods). The downward action of the rope, pressure of the water, and spring-like uncoiling action of the 'turf piece in the tee provided sufficient friction to prevent it from sliding out.

That being said:
Using a well-heated (and full of glue, don't you hate it when you run out half-way through making a line of glue?) glue gun, make a single ring of glue just inside the tee on one end. Quickly push the 'turf through from the opposite side. You should push the 'turf piece past the end with the glue in it so that the end is sticking out about a half inch. Then, put another ring of glue on the inside of the currently un-glued end, and push the 'turf piece back into position. This will reduce the amount of time needed and also makes for a more even hold. Unfortunately, I tried to put glue on one end, push the 'turf through from the same end, and then glue it again on the opposite end. It ended up smearing the glue into a thin film on the inside, which caused it to cool and solidify very quickly, jamming the 'turf in halfway, and I had to pretty much muscle the thing into the correct position with my thumbs and the aid of a screwdriver. Nonetheless, it works quite well.

Step 4: Phase 2: Attach Hose Adapter

Yey! Already halfway done!!

The final step of construction is to attach the hose Adapter. 
Now basically, it goes like this: The female end is 3/4" diameter, and the male end of the adapter is 1/2" diameter. Fairly hard to mess up.
1. The male end goes into the threaded section of the tee, and the female is left on the outside to attach to a standard garden hose. Remember, righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. Then again, if you don't understand that, you probably sure as hell shouldn't have access to climbing equipment.
2. You may want to tighten the adapter in fairly well by using a pipe wrench to grip the adapter and a long screwdriver to twist the tee. Don't get too overenthusiastic, otherwise you may shatter the pvc

Optional (Phase 2B):
You may choose to use PVC cement to further secure the adapter into the tee and prevent leakage. At the pressure I used it at, I had no leakage with or without the cement. If you do choose to use cement, I would recommend attaching the hose adapter before you put in the astroturf, and letting it dry for at least two hours to prevent any wet cement from migrating into the 'turf and possibly contaminating your climbing rope upon first scrubbing. However, I feel that risk is fairly minimal if not entirely hypothetical.

Step 5: Clean Your Ropes!

Now to get to the fun part! 
Let your newfangled gadget dry for at least an hour or two if you used glue or cement. if not, feel free to use it immediately.

-I found that hanging the scrubber had the best overall scrubbiness because the rope was not rubbing between the two folded edges of the Astroturf, but rather on the main section of it. Note from the earlier pictures that the two sides of the 'turf which close together to form the tube of the scrubber should do so right next to the hose adapter. To improve the scrubbers stability, you can try zipties or duct tape to lash it in place against a fencepost or similar object
-By running the rope through the 'turf tube, it scrubs the exterior and rinses it at the same time with the ever replenishing supply of water. You can get mad at me and say this wastes water. I actually used water from my rainwater cistern that was collected off my roof. Personally , I found that this system uses less water than filling up a garbage barrel with water and then sloshing the rope around in it, a method used by some climbers to wash their ropes. 

Methods of cleaning:
Some people aim for speed, and simply pull the rope through in one go while the water is going. I opted for a more thorough approach, pulling the rope back and forth through the 'turf tube about a foot at a time. I feel that this makes for the most effective, if time-intensive cleaning, especially if you have an 80-meter rope.

Step 6: Final Notes/Disclaimer

So there you have it, your very own super-cheap, super-portable, super easy rope washing machine. Here's some variations I might suggest:

-Rig a garden-sprayer type bottle(The kind that attaches into a tee-piece in a hose) into the hose just before the scrubber. Fill it up with a very mild detergent such as woollite or possibly even campsuds. The detergent will even more thoroughly clean the rope, and it will rinse out quite easily.

-Use a thicker or thinner astroturf, depending on the type of rope

-Or any other stuff you can think of! Feel free to try it out on your own, or just post some suggestions on this page!

Also, I did not invent the rope scrubber, and did not intend to infringe upon anyones patent's or intellectual property rights if it is already registered to someone.

Participated in the
Epilog Challenge



    • 1 Hour Challenge

      1 Hour Challenge
    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest
    • Pets Challenge

      Pets Challenge

    48 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    clever, could be adapted for gresing cables too I guess


    4 years ago on Step 6

    mine had a series of jets without a brush, but i do like the fertilizer applicator idea, thanks


    4 years ago on Step 5

    Did you have to cut holes in the end of the end caps to allow the rope to slide thru?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for a very handy and useful instructable.

    In return, I offer a 10 second doodle.

    I sail a lot, and sometimes it might be impractical to untie the ropes for washing, and some of my ropes have both ends woven into loops or permanently attached to metal rings.

    So I made a quick doodle of a possible tweak to allow you to attach the rope washer anywhere along the length.

    In addition to the bits in the original instructable, you'd need a hacksaw and another length of tubing, of same or slightly larger diameter. Cut a section off the T-tube. Glue the astroturf. to the tube, and to the inside of the section you cut off. Glue the section to the inside of another tube (For a really snug fit, use the same diameter of tube and just cut it open and bend it outwards, otherwise use a slightly bigger one).

    The section you cut should be wide enough that you can insert your ropes in.

    To use, slide the tubes apart, put your rope inside and slide the tubes back together. To lock the outer tube in place, you could use the T-section as a bolt by cutting small notches on the outer tube (see image, it's easier than me failing to explain it properly).

    The outer part has been drawn from two angles.

    Haven't made this yet, and it'll probably take me a while to make one but I'll post some experiences after I've made one for her (boats) spring cleaning.

    Sorry for the picture quality, I only had post-it notes and my laptop's web camera at my disposal.

    rope washer tweak.jpg
    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Insomniac, (by the way, it's 4am and I can't sleep ;) )
    I love your Ible. It's dreadfully simple for anyone to do and uses simple components and tools!! I think it's great and I don't have a single rope to my name!

    Gaist, I love your addition. Also simple, and your drawings are better than some whole Ibles! Thanks for including them!!

    My addition: My only suggestion would be to attempt to use this with some sort of water trough to catch as much of the water as you can, and a pump to reuse it. You will lose a good deal of water in the rope itself and drying, but if you are washing 1000 feet of rope at a time, you should be able to reclaim and reuse a good amount of water!

    All in all, Nice Ible!!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    who cares about wasting water? i dont. it all goes back into the ground to be used again....


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Clean drinking water costs money to produce, and waste water costs money to process.

    There is a growing world shortage of safe drinking water, and dirty water now kills more people every year than all forms of violence (including war) combined.

    Some analysts think there more future wars will be fought over clean water than over oil.

    There are more people in Africa without access to clean water than the entire population of the USA.

    Dirty water kills five thousand children every day.

    Yeh, who cares about wasting water?


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    While you do make a valid point, there is also a real need for those engaging in risky activities such as rock climbing to maintain their equipment properly. When it comes to ropes, washing (with water) is essential or you will do two things, first, you will put yourself and anyone else climbing on your equipment at risk of injuring or killing themselves. Second, you will dramatically decrease the life of your rope, requiring you to throw it out and buy a new one, thus wasting more resources, money, etc. I find this to be a very good solution for maintaining life saving equipment, that utilizes an acceptable amount of water. How would you improve upon this design to make it better?


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Balance priorities: this technique uses more potable water than many families see in a month.

    There's nothing wrong with a bucket of soapy water being used for several ropes. Take it to the extreme, the water you use could be "grey" from your bath or shower, or collected rainwater from your garden butt. Heck, take the rope into the shower with you!

    More people need to realise that fresh drinking water is a limited and diminishing resource, even in (so called) developed countries.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    You know, I'd rather USE some water (it is not 'waste', it is performing a useful function) and have properly maintained equipment. A rope failure or shredded skin on your hands due to dirt and grit that can be avoided by using something like this to clean a rope is worth the water required.
    Placing a disc of plastic or metal with a small hole in the centre (1/8 inch works well) between the hose end and the hose adapter will not only use less water overall, but will increase the pressure hitting the rope as well - the 1/8 inch 'jet' is more effective at knocking dirt loose.
    I also found that putting the hole in the centre of the 'turf square rather than notching the edges also makes the water flow around the rope better without tending to just follow the cut edge right to the ends of the tee.
    And using some scotchbrite or similar scrubber pad (NOT FOR ROPES PLEASE!) instead of turf carpet works great for cleaning garden stakes,pipes, etc!
    Just a couple of suggestions from another backyard and basement inventor - Cheers!

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, I agree - a small washer in there is a good idea. - Higher pressure, less water.

    It might be better to place it in-between the hose-adapter and your PVC tee.

    This way it won't fall out when you unscrew the hose.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea! I was trying to find a good way to clean my rope. Question: Does the cleaning process damage the rope at all? I have a very expensive rope that I want to take care of. Thanks!

    1 reply

    Thanks! No, the process doesn't damage the rope at all, whether it's a dynamic or static. NOLS uses this same system quite regularly on their ropes.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Quick comment on the hose adapter. In the optional part of step 2B, you mentioned glueing it in place with PVC glue to avoid leakage issues, but cited possible chemical issues with the rope. As an "optional optional" solution, why not use a few wraps of the teflon tape that is used in plumbing? It will help seal the threads against leakage, should make it easier to tighten, and shouldn't have any kind of nasty chemicals to leach into your rope. Also, it isn't permanent, so if you wind up breaking the PVC tee somewheres down the road, you can replace part of the rig instead of buying another adapter as well.

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Step 4

    Wouldn't wear the rope even more?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable!

    For those of us who want to avoid the glue and make the 'turf' replaceable: Cut the turf longer than the tube (so it sticks out both ends), fold the exposed ends back over the tube, and secure with zip ties around each end. Double benefit of holding the turf in place for rigorous scrubbing and making it easy to replace. Just snip the ties and insert new turf.

    Thanks, Insomniac.


    8 years ago on Step 4

    I have no use for this but read it anyway, very nicely done. I assume it works well.