Why Are Climbing Gyms So Dusty?
Climbing gyms & especially bouldering gyms can be dusty crowded places that don’t look too appealing to outsiders. It’s not just the chalk powder we use as climbers but a whole combination of factors that contribute to gyms being what they are. Even many "clean" gyms still show levels of fine dust at levels that are considered unhealthy in other work envrionments.
Overall, roped sport climbing gyms are a little less dusty because there simply is more space & the action is not all concentrated on a few holds and climbs. Generally speaking, the bigger the gym, the less dust there will seem to be. Over the last couple of years, gyms have tended to grow in size as the sport has become more popular, making investment in larger gyms feasible.
This new generation of gyms also tends to have far better ventilation systems, again because modern gyms simply tend to invest more in air quality and construction as the industry professionalizes. Air filtration systems that were previously not viable are now being installed in gyms, both as a retro-fit to existing gyms (so-called chalk-eaters) & integrated into the HVAC system.
Filtration can help but if gyms don’t tackle the dust problem at the source, these systems will have a tough time dealing with the mess climbers make. The main culprit is chalk powder. Gyms who prohibit the use of chalk powder tend to be far cleaner & healthier. The best alternative to chalk powder is liquid chalk. The second-best is chalk balls.
An often overlooked source of dust is rubber. Especially for gyms with extra-gritty surfaces, the rubber from shoe wear can cause a thin layer of black dust to form on all smooth surfaces. One of the reasons why gyms are switching to carpet-covered floor protection instead of the more old-fashioned vinyl-covered mattresses is that carpet tends to be far easier to vacuum & can stop both chalk and rubber dust from becoming airborne again after it has settled on the floor. Most modern gyms clean daily & if yours doesn’t, we strongly suggest talking to management and encourage them to clean frequently.
A final & pretty disgusting source of dust, grime & dirt is skin. Climbing holds become slippery not only from wear but also because skin tends to clog up the pores of the holds & then falls off once it dries up or is brushed away. Generally speaking, climbing gyms tend to be full of germs and COVID-19 has taught us the importance of keeping gyms clean, even going as far as encouraging climbers to use liquid chalk for its natural disinfecting properties.
If you have a home gym, you will be well familiar with the amount of effort that is needed to keep it clean, especially if you use chalk. This is one of the reasons to have a separate place in your home dedicated to climbing training, even if you just use a hangboard. Good alternatives to chalk powder exist: either traditional white liquid chalk or completely clear so-called “Crystal Chalk”.
We encourage everyone to use less chalk to maintain the cleanliness of our gyms & to keep the experience a good one for all climbers.
Photo by ClimbLab.dk