A carabiner can last much longer than most climbers usually keep them (well over 15 years). Often new gear is so enticing that many climbers choose to retire their older carabiners before it’s even close to necessary. That said, a lack of care, or significant daily use (think guide level, with no rotation in carabiners) can result in a carabiner needing retirement in less than 5 years. As with most gear, the easiest and most effective way to ensure your carabiners live a long and healthy life is through regular inspection and maintenance before irreversible problems arise.

Cleaning gear, especially carabiners, is not a common practice. Cleaning hasn’t been common because:

  • a lot of times it’s not necessary
  • climbers can be lazy
  • the climber might not be aware how/when/why cleaning is needed

To keep on top of your gear’s health, we recommend taking note of your carabiners all the time. Is the gate starting to feel a little sticky? Or stickier than you remembered? This is a great signal it’s time for a cleaning.

It’s helpful to inspect gear more thoroughly 1-4 times a year, especially if you know it’s gone through a rough adventure. Although inspection should be at least an annual practice, it is uncommon for carabiners to need any regular maintenance, unless you climb in dusty or salty environments.

Exception: If you often toss your gear on the ground (and not on a rock, tarp, or backpack), your gear is prone to needing some maintenance due to dirt/debris that may easily enter the carabiners crevices.

What to look for upon a carabiner inspection

These are the most likely symptoms that signify its maintenance time:

  • Carabiner gate does not open/close like it used to, the gate sticks or is sluggish or if you experience the gate feeling jittery and not smooth
  • Small burrs appear (worse for your rope than the carabiner – by DMM)
  • Sand or grit gets in the gate hole and you hear a grinding or squeaking noise, or any new noise upon operation
  • Exposure to salt-water environments or mild chemicals (stuff you don’t want in your eye, but it wouldn’t ruin your eyesight)

Note 1: If your carabiner does not show any of these symptoms and you can’t find anything “wrong” or “abnormal” with the carabiner, then there’s no reason to clean it. That is, unless you enjoy the shiny look, in which case, you cannot “over clean” your gear if you follow the steps for cleaning listed in this post.

Note 2: These are symptoms that can possibly be fixed if found on an inspection. There are worse symptoms that may exist that signify that it’s time for retirement. We’ll talk about those next.

Below is an example of a sticky gate. At first glance the gate might look like it’s closing, but the wire doesn’t close fully into the nose. This would be the equivalent of the gate being open for strength (significantly weaker). If this gate cannot be fixed with cleaning the wire gate attachment point area, then it’s time for retirement.

Sticky Carabiner
The Gate of this carabiner has become sticky and weak and does not always close on its own.

When to Retire Your Carabiner

Please head to this post to see all the detailed reasons (plus some photos) to retire your carabiner

  • If, after cleaning, the gate or lock is still “sticky” or does not open/shut consistently as expected
  • Excessive wearing (deep grooves, sharp edges, very thin material)
  • Deformed, bent, or elongated carabiner body, gate, or nose (most often resulting from cross-loading or misuse)
  • Cracks or cracking on the body or gate (this does not include light scratches).
  • Loose, deformed, or missing rivets (where the gate is connected to the carabiner body)
  • The carabiner is caught in a fire or submerged in sea-water for any prolonged period
  • If the carabiner is in more than momentary contact of battery acid, fuel, or other strong chemicals (stuff that could ruin your eyesight if you were exposed)

To Clean Your Carabiner

Tools to thoroughly clean your carabiner

1. Grab these Tools:

  • A toothbrush (or any other brush. FWIW, Metolius’ M16 brush is nice because it has different brush heads)
  • Hot soapy water (a “mild” dish soap is perfect: no bleach/chlorine/degreaser added)
  • Compressed air (compressor, canned air, or a hairdryer on the no heat setting)
  • A lubricant* (more details of types of lube below)
  • A rag or your roommate’s shirt (for excess lube)

2. Soak and scrub/brush the carabiner in hot soapy water.

  • Make special note to scrub around the gate, rivets and springs.
  • Soaking time should be limited to whatever it takes to loosen the dirt/grime (2-30 minutes).
  • “Hot water” is a relative term; ideally it’s as hot as you can handle without burning yourself. The hot water is your best bet for removing a lot of grit—lube doesn’t remove grit.
  • Never boil a carabiner in water, unless you can ensure it doesn’t lie against the bottom of the pot while boiling, becoming hotter than the boiling water.

3. Burst some compressed air in the holes to remove any remaining particles and dry.

  • An air compressor air is ideal, but not essential. Canned air is second best. Third: a hairdryer on the no heat setting. Or you can try and blow with your mouth.
  • You could skip step 1 if you had compressed air and it might remove all the dirt.
  • You can also air dry the carabiner. Let is sit for about 3 hours in an open air environment to ensure it fully dries.

4. Once completely dry, lubricate the gate/rivet/spring/lock area, making sure to wipe off any excessive lube.

  • For best results use room temperature lube.
  • Always use a minimal amount of lube to avoid buildup (especially with wax-based lubes), to avoid waste, and to avoid extra cleaning.
  • To get rid of extra lube you may need to rinse the carabiner in water if a rag doesn’t do the job.
  • Do not use any tools to pry open a space where the rivet is to help lube penetration.

Our Lube Suggestions (all under $10)

#1: A Wax based lube, like Metolius Cam lube or White Lightning Clean Ride bike lube. 

Metolius Cam Lubewhite lightening wax lube

Wax-based lube is beneficial if you’ll be climbing in dusty/desert environments, because it’s somewhat “self cleaning.” This works when small particles of dirt touch the dried film of lube, the wax lube breaks off and carries the dirt with it, away from your gear. Wax-based lubes can still build up over time so they may need extra soaking to completely clean it off.

#2: A Teflon-based lube, like Tri-Flow

Tri Flow Lubewhite lightening epic ride lube

The only downside to Teflon (and graphite) lubricants is that they are corrosive to other gear, like slings. A nice bonus about Teflon lube is that only a drop or two is needed—the liquid is just a carrier to move “flakes” of teflon, so 2oz will last a very long time. You’ll want to rinse with water to remove the extra teflon-carrying liquid.

#3 Other Bike Lubes that are not oil-based.

See all the Bike Lube options at REI.

There are a TON of options out there in the metal lubing world. Most don’t say what they’re made of on the front of the bottle, so we’re only recommending brands that have been specifically mentioned to us by climbing gear manufacturers.

We DO NOT suggest using oil based degreasers (like WD-40) or graphite based lubes (like what locksmiths use)

Many climbers use WD-40 because it’s what they have at home, yet most also admit the benefits don’t last long. Likely that’s because oil is a dirt attractant vs dirt repellant. Though the biggest problem with WD-40 (and why Petzl doesn’t recommend it) is that it’s a degreaser and will actually remove any factory lubricants, potentially accelerating wear.

Graphite lube can potentially cause corrosion (graphite + aluminum + steel + moisture = galvanic corrosion). Since most carabiner bodies are aluminum and the rivets are usually steel, one can assume it’s not the best for your carabiners. We know some climbers use it as a lubricant, but just a heads up that it’s not the safest option despite the fact that we have not heard of any reported accidents due to lubing carabiners with graphite.

To Remove Small Burrs

A burr is often most harmful to your rope (and less harmful to the carabiner). It may or may not need to be the end of a carabiners life. Most often burrs are caused by falling on a quickdraw, and the steel bolt nicking the aluminum carabiner.

Worn carabiner with burr
This burr visible in the worn part of the carabiner was caused by a bolt hangar. Unable to remove the burr completely, Jeff has decided to retire it.

Use very fine or extra fine sandpaper, between grades (220-360), and carefully rub to remove the burr.

  • To avoid ruining the structural integrity of the carabiner, never use a file or anything electrical to sand the carabiner.
  • You could try using a super fine sandpaper too (360+) but it’ll take longer/more paper.
  • If the burr doesn’t come out with the macro grit sandpaper (220+), then it’s too deep to fix safely, and should be retired.

Carabiner Storage

You’ll read not to store your carabiners (and everything else you care about) near corrosive materials or chemicals, but it’s also important to be aware of the damage that can be caused by humidity and salty ocean air. Humidity could even occur in dry-air regions when you dump all your damp outdoor clothing next to or on top of your climbing gear.

Although you can hang and proudly display carabiners up on a gear wall (and we feature this heavily on our IG), it’s worth noting that this out-in-the-open space is prime for collecting dust, especially if the gear doesn’t move for awhile. There’s nothing wrong with dust, other than it might necessitate some cleaning to keep gear in tip top operating condition. Storing gear inside containers, in a closet, isolated from significant temperature swings and UV from sunny windows, is the cleanest and safest bet.

Final Life-Prolonging Carabiner Tips

  • Keep your rope clean. Ropes easily pick up dirt that over time will wear substantial grooves into the carabiner, decreasing its lifespan significantly.
  • Inspect quickdraw carabiners that are on the bolt side for burrs more frequently, particularly if there’s been lead falls. These bolt-side carabiners can develop burrs rapidly if they’re contacting bolt hangers, which are made of harder steel, on a regular basis (DMM helpfully reminds us why).
  • Speaking of quickdraws, always use quickdraw in the same orientation, so 1 carabiner always connects the rope and the other carabiner always contacts the bolt. This will help thwart the above problem. It’s also why many manufacturers have one side of the quickdraw silver and the other side some other color. This makes it easier to always use the silver side as the bolt side (matching-ish the color of the carabiner to the bolt).

Did we miss anything you want to know about carabiner cleaning and storage? Ask us in the comments!

To Find The Best Carabiner

We recommend trying out the carabiners your climbing partners and visiting as many gear shops and handling as many carabiners as possible. Often, you will know ‘the one’ after you test it, it’ll either fit in your hand really well, or somehow just make life easier.

Want to See All The Carabiners (over 1000)?

At WeighMyRack, we list every carabiner and give you filters for shape, gate type, gate opening, price, weight, brand, and features like visual warning, keylock, available in a rack pack, or if it has a belay keeper. You can also filter by on sale carabiners with discounts >20%.

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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