Brushing Holds for Rock Climbing

How and Why to Brush Holds for Climbing

So you know those crazy people in the gym that scrub every hold religiously before they work on their project? I am one of those people. The ritual of brushing holds is common among many climbers, but it is also seen as unnecessary to others. If you landed on this page I’m assuming you have one of three opinions:

  1. You love brushing and can’t wait for pressure washer to become ethical at crags
  2. You think people should stop wasting their time brushing and start climbing
  3. You have no idea about brushing and want to learn more and form opinions 1 or 2

If one of these explains how you feel keep on reading, and please, do not try to bring a pressure washer on your next trip to the crag…

Brushing Holds

Courtesy of Beta Monkeys Website:

To Brush or Not to Brush, That is the Question…

The thing is, brushing is essential to climbing. For example, in parts of the PNW every spring, most of the climbs need to be brushed as to remove the moss that built up that winter. However, in a place like Joshua Tree, this is defiantly not the case.

To Brush

So what are some reasons for brushing? Well, first off brushing lets you remove any material (dirt, sweat, chalk, leaves, rubber, pebbles, etc.) from the rock and expose, well the rock. This allows the surface to become more textured, therefore, increasing the friction between the rock and your hands/shoes. Last time I checked friction is a good thing for climbing.

Brushing also allows you to get up and personal with the holds before you climb. This works better for bouldering but our roped friends can do this as well. Scrubbing each of the holds lets you mentally walk yourself through the moves and memorize the beta.

There is a little hack for a busy day at the gym that involves brushing. If you want to get on a problem that has a line in front of it try to sneak your way in and brush the hold everyone is falling on. It is common climber courtesy to let the people who brushed it have the next go. It’s a bit sneaky but the guy or gal to go after you will appreciate it.

Nylon Brush Climbing

Not to Brush

So what’s the point? Is it really necessary to carry a brush around with you or are we all just making something up because we can’t make a move? If you can’t hold on just core up or get stronger, right? Well, the thing is some of this is true. That being said you don’t even need chalk or sticky rubber shoes to climb something either, it all just helps us push our limits.

The one legitimate reason (in my opinion) for being against using brushes is fear of polishing holds. This is a real concern and should be a consideration for anyone climbing outdoors. It disturbs me that so many climbers do not understand how and when to use a brush and which kinds are for what.

***Please, DO NOT use a Nylon Brush on Real Rocks***

Ok, so I hope that was clear, toothbrushes and nylon bristled climbing brushes are not safe to use on real rocks. Nylon will polish the rock at an accelerated rate. If you don’t believe me consider this, your climbing rope is made out of, you guessed it, nylon. Now I hope that your rope is STRONG and DURABLE. Would you rub something that is STRONG and DURABLE on a rock and expect it to not see any abrasion? Please be aware of what you are doing and try to conserve our climbs!


Now I love brushing but I’ve seen it get abused more than once. The trick is to get the correct gear and be respectful of the rocks we climb on. If you’re still a non-believer try this, next time your project is beating you try giving a quick scrub to hold you are peeling off of. It only takes one time and your hooked.

Be safe out there and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Owner and Operator of Every Last Rock. He is dedicated to spreading the Stoke about all things climbing. Often found Bouldering around the US and obsessively training.

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