There are certain consideration and steps you’ll want to take to get the most use out of your rope, though the specifics of those steps will vary depending on the type of rope you’re using.
There’s no right way to bundle your rope … though, depending on the type of rope, there are some wrong ways.
In general, the longer you plan to store your rope, the less stress and folds you should have in your rope. This is particularly true of natural fiber rope, as it will retain the folds and kinks from how it was stored, making the rope more difficult to work with later. In particular, we recommend never storing natural fiber rope using the “daisy chain” method!
We differentiate the way we store rope based on how long the rope will be there and how it will be used:
- Long-term storage: when the rope will be somewhere for longer than a few days; we recommend hanging it over something with a relatively thick diameter (large padded carabiner, pole, bamboo, etc.) or keeping it in a large, loose coil
- Short-term transport: when your rope is in a bag for travel or to/from a play space; we recommend loose rope hanks, like folded bundle options
- Ready for play: when you’re getting your rope ready for use in an actual practice, play, or performance interaction; some people use the folded bundle approach, others prefer the tighter wrapping options
We also recommend that you store your ropes in a cool, dry, open location away from sunlight when possible. Rope likes to “breathe,” may be susceptible to mildew and/or dry rot, and most kinds of rope are susceptible to damage by UV rays (though nylon and polyester are not).
Keep your rope as dry as possible. Not only does this lengthen the life of the rope, but it also helps to kill any contaminants on the rope. Consider using a desiccant in your rope bag.
Inspecting & Replacing Rope
You should regularly inspect your rope for any damage or excessive wear. Depending on the type of rope, you may also need to regularly “reset” and recondition them (particularly for hemp and jute).
Twisted rope (as opposed to braided rope) can be reset by running the tension in the rope back and forth through the rope a few times to make sure all strands are evenly balanced. To do this, start at one of the rope, grip it tightly, and run the rope through your hands all the way to the other end. Repeat at the other end going in the opposite direction. (Using gloves or a cloth can help save your hands some wear.) See this video by M0co for a demonstration.
You may also want to regularly recondition your natural fiber rope (particularly jute) to keep it performing well. This could include removing fuzz, oiling, or waxing the rope. See “Conditioning Rope” below for more details.
- Avoid bending your rope across sharp edges (anything with a 90 degree bend, like a metal bed frame, for example).
- Avoid any jagged or rough edges.
- Avoid getting the rope dirty or stepping on the rope. Dirt works into the fibers, and the sharp crystals in dirt can cut the fibers and weaken the rope.
- Avoid getting natural-fiber rope wet or soiled (particularly for jute rope). Natural fiber ropes are made of dry plants, and moisture will degrade the fibers and weaken the rope.
- If your rope does get wet, it should be dried under tension (natural fiber rope) or laid in very loose coils on a clean surface (most synthetics)–and definitely not in an electric dryer. Heat will degrade natural-fiber rope (much like baking plants makes them softer), and may cause the core and sheath of some synthetic ropes to shrink at different rates, causing the rope to become unstable.
- Inspect your rope often. Look for any high-stranding, nicks, kinks, abrasions, or softened areas.
- Depending on the amount of damage, you can either repair the rope (this is mostly in the case of high-stranding), replace the rope completely, cut the rope into smaller pieces free of problem areas, or mark it in a way that designates it for only certain types of use (i.e., floor work).
Notes on High Stranding
Any rope made of strands that are twisted together (as opposed to braided) is susceptible to high-stranding. This happens when one of the strands in the rope is pulled out of balance with the others and gets “out of place” in the twist pattern.
Most of the time, this problem can be fixed with a little patience by slightly untwisting the rope and massaging the problem strand back into the overall lay of the rope. This often means working from one of the rope to the other a few times in order to get all three strands back into equal balance throughout the length of the rope.
It is important that you do not simply cut the rope to “fix” or remove the high strand. When high-stranding happens, it means that one strand has more (or less) tension on it (depending on its position in the rope). If you use that rope without fixing the problem, then the rope will either be 2/3 or 1/3 as strong as it was intended to be, since the strand that is out of balance will either not be taking any load or will be taking the majority of the load (again, depending on the position in the rope). So, if you cut the rope without rebalancing it, you are permanently trapping that diminished strength in the rope.
- In general, the best practice is to avoid getting your rope dirty. Natural fiber rope, in particular, is porous and not easily cleaned.
- We also recommend partner-specific rope if there are any concerns about transmission of infection. (For example, if you use crotch rope on a partner, keep that rope for dedicated use with only that partner.)
- For concerns about pathogens and STDs, using an anti-bacterial wipe (or 70% alcohol solution wipe) on your rope will generally kill all harmful pathogens.
- Hanging your rope in direct sunlight for a period of time (1-2 days max) can kill viruses and bacteria to disinfect the rope. But note that UV rays also harm the rope over time, so keep the exposure limited. (Polyester and MFP in particular are more UV resistant, so this method may be best for them.)
- Most synthetic ropes can be washed, but we recommend doing so by hand with a very mild detergent. Some synthetics can be washed in a machine, but be careful with knotting or abrasion by the agitator.
- If you must get natural-fiber rope wet in order to clean it, use cool water and a mild detergent, then air dry the rope under mild tension (see above for more notes on drying).
Synthetic rope doesn’t need any conditioning (though you may want to put specific knots on the ends of the ropes). However, many people prefer to “treat” their natural fiber rope, and jute in particular, to make it less fuzzy and scratchy.
- There are a few methods you can use to remove some of the “fuzz” on natural fiber rope:
- twist the rope around a carabiner and run it back and forth through the twist
- pass the rope through a natural gas flame, near the nozzle (where the flame is blue); avoid using the flame from candles, wood, or other non-gas sources as the combustion temperature is higher and may scorch your rope
- tumble loose rope in a clothes dryer on the lowest heat setting for five minutes
- Normal use will transfer oils onto the rope, which should keep it from drying out. However, should you need to condition your rope (whether new or used), the best approach is to use the same treatment (if any) originally applied to your rope. If you’re unsure which treatment was used, apply a small amount of mineral oil (or other oils that will not turn rancid) to a clean cloth and rub the cloth across sections of the rope, one small area at a time.
- Some people also prefer to wax their rope after oiling it. Beeswax is the most recommended method. Rubbing a small amount along the length of the rope can improve its feel and handling. Waxing can also help to minimize shedding and reduce friction without significantly affecting the way it holds knots. For photographers, wax also adds a little shine to the rope.
- You can also find or prepare a mix of oil and wax to apply at the same time to the rope (for example, butcher block conditioner is a mix of mineral oil and beeswax).
- With all of these methods, it’s better to do a little at a time. You can always make another pass, but it’s nearly impossible to repair the negative effects of overdoing it.