When to clean your cams

  • When their performance starts to decrease
  • you hear grinding
  • the mechanisms feels sticky, gritty, or slow
  • before you do a cam inspection

If your cams are consistently used in dusty conditions it wouldn’t hurt to do a seasonal cleaning even if they’re not showing signs of degradation.

If you climb at sea-cliffs or your cams are exposed to salty air (mist) even just for one session, they deserve at least a rinsing, if not a full on clean as salty water is particularly corrosive even to the steel parts.

Cleaning cams before cam inspection is also beneficial. Although we don’t go into cam inspection in this post, if you’re wondering about cam maintenence (age, function, lobes, axels, trigger, wires, stem, and sling), DMM has a wonderfully thorough page on their website: http://dmmclimbing.com/knowledge/dmm-cam-maintenance and Metolius covers many of these themes on their site as well: http://www.metoliusclimbing.com/cam-care-and-maintenance.html.

Ideal Cleaning Materials

  • hot water in a pot or basin
  • a soft bristled brush
  • “mild” dish detergent (any brand without bleach or “extra tough” cleaning chemicals)
  • drying rag
  • optional: hair dryer, fan, or compressed air
  • optional: scrap to catch extra lube (paper towel, newspaper, etc)

How to Clean a Cam

  1. Rinse the cams in hot water
    This can be under the hot tap, or in a pot or basin of sitting water. Opening and closing the heads in the hot water will help loosen the grime. As to temperature you want the water to be hot but not scalding (more for your sake than the cams). A perfect temp would be~120°F / 50°C which is just hot enough that it feels hot but doesn’t make you jump or cringe when testing it.
  2. Add dish soap (a mild cleaner) to the water
    Swish the cams around in the soapy water, open and closing the lobes. You can also add dabs of soap directly on the heads, lobes, springs and axels. The goal here is to clean the cams like you’re washing a [complicated] dish. Try to get soap in all the crevices where dirt may be hiding. Note: For a quick touch-up clean you can skip this step. 
  3. Use a brush to remove extra gunk and grime
    Use a toothbrush or bouldering brush and softly but thoroughly brush the head of the cam on the outside, inside, and in all the crevesses. Avoid heavy pressure as it could dislodge the cam springs from their ideal spot.
  4. Rinse with fresh water, opening and closing the heads
    The goal is just to get all the soap off so the lube will stick. If your cams are still gritty after rinsing, repeat steps 1-4.
  5. Use a rag to wipe off the big water droplets
    The cam needs to be totally dry before apply lube. After wiping away the excess water let it sit for a few hours so the small crevasses may dry completely. For faster drying, use a hair dryer (no heat), fan, or compressed air.
  6. Apply a lubricant
    The lube could be Teflon, Silicon or a wax lubrication, which are all under $10. Apply to the springs, axles, and between the side plates. You can work the lube in by squeezing the cam trigger a bit. Avoid lube getting on the sling — for extra safety measure you can cover the sling in a newspaper or a plastic bag. It may also be helpful to apply the lube over a paper towel, newspaper or other scrap to avoid excess lube dripping and spreading to other unwanted areas.
    Lube notes: Teflon, Silicon and wax-based lubes are the best. Most oil based lubes should be avoided as they will collect dirt much faster (for oils only use manufacturer recommended brands). We recommend wax-based lubes like: Metolius Cam Lube, White Lightning (found in bike shops), or a Teflon-based lube like Tri-Flow (also found in bike shops). We talk about lube a little bit more in our carabiner cleaning post: When, Why, and How to Clean Your Carabiners.
  7. Wipe off the extra cam lube
    Usually this is done with a rag and the purpose is just so it doesn’t spread to unwanted areas like the sling or other gear.

Video of Cleaning Cams

See all these steps in action! Beth Rodden presents a straight-forward video of the cam cleaning process:

If you can’t see a video above, this is the direct link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSr97PxQH_M


Ask in the comments and we’ll help sort it out!

Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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