I thought I’d ponder a little bit about the ‘myth’ of jet washers and caving ropes. I say myth because it appears that there is no real test data out there in the caving community. Recent caving forum discussions about jet washing happened to coincide with an associate company requesting we don’t use jet washers on their kit earlier this week and the two events spurred me to type something up.
Disclaimer – This is not a scientific, empirical experiment and you should always follow the care instructions of the equipment manufacturer.
I have used all sorts of methods for washing ropes over the years and most of my older ropes have been subjected to each at one time or another. Some times a rope may simply get dunked in the stream by the cave, other times I see fit to pull it through my home made rope washer but, more often than not, I get the jet wash on them.
The jet wash is always set to its lowest power and widest spray pattern. I’ve caused real damage to wood and clothing before by using the jet wash on full power so I am cautious. Some site this as the reason you should never use a jet wash on ropes. I agree. If you don’t know how to wash with a jet wash don’t do it. That, and if you don’t know how to operate your washing machine and it ends up on a boil wash, you probably shouldn’t put your ropes in there either.
This Beal 9mm got a super fine jet of water for about 30 seconds at point blank range in a test today.
Apart from being incredibly clean for a 7 year old rope, you can clearly see the elongated sheath fibres. I’m not convinced the jet wash cut any fibres, more that it simply forced the already cut and abraded fibres out from under the other braids. The core was not exposed. I’d not want to do this to my ropes ever but I would call it far from ‘cut’ or ‘shredded’ as some anecdotal tales from the web recall.
Moving on. The rope I chose to retire was a Beal Antipodes 9mm semi-static that I purchased in 2007. The rope was one of my main users for 3 years as a 40m before being cut into 2 shorter lengths for cave leading handlines and general Italian Hitch duties. For the last 2 years it has languished unloved in the shed and has been the subject of much abuse in non life-critical applications. It’s probably not been washed for a year but before that it saw regular jet washing and stream dunking.
I cut the length in half and removed a control sample from either piece. The two 1m control sections came from the very end of the rope, where it was marked, and roughly half way along the 20m length respectively. I single daisy-chained one 10m length and double daisy-chained the other.
The 2 longer lengths were soaked in cold water for 10 minutes as a pre-treatment.
As this was happening I cut open the 2 control lengths for a comparison.
End of rope section: Mid rope section:
The 2 samples looked very similar and I’m happy to say, despite years of being jet washed, were relatively clean and un-abraded inside. The fluffing you see was caused by the cut into the rope.
I dropped one of the test lengths in the washing machine. I set it to ‘delicate’ on a cold wash with no spin after first running a rinse cycle to clear any detergent. It had a 62 minute wash time.
While this was going on I jet washed the other test length in the same manner I do all my ropes. The process took approximately 5 minutes and once complete the rope was allowed to drip dry until the washing machine had completed it’s cycle.
In both photos the washing machine cleaned rope is at the top and the jet washed one at the bottom.
I think it’s clear to see from the photos, and certainly was in real life, that the jet washed rope was far cleaner than the machine washed rope. It also had a much suppler feel and was more knotable over all. Remember the ropes have been identically treated until this very last wash in this test.The rope on the left is the machine washed and the one on the right has been jet washed.
It is hard to draw conclusions from the comparison here as this is only one wash cycle. The jet wash seemed to get the better results in terms of appearance and suppleness but the internals of the ropes looked very similar.
The one thing that I do take from this test is that despite the differences in the test washing, all the samples from this rope did not show any appreciable abrading of internal fibres from grit ingress. The anti jet wash argument is that the force of the water pushes grit into the core, causing damage. What I observe here is that this is an incorrect assumption as the 4 sections of visible inner on this very old, well used and heavily jet washed rope show no signs of damage by internal abrasion.
My theory is that the jet washing forces the grit and mud through the core and out the other side of the rope, as opposed to moving it into the core and it magically stopping there. I always clean my ropes after each trip. Perhaps they simply do not stay dirty long enough for the grit that does enter the core to be damaging. The outer sheath shows far more wear and damage than any of the internal structures of the rope.
I continue to believe that regular low-power jet washing does no harm to my ropes. I do know that some manufactures do not suggest using a jet wash on ropes and you should make your own choice with reference to the manufacturer’s guidelines. I will continue to cut open ropes as they are retired and will update this blog should my opinions or observations change. Meanwhile, if there is anyone out there prepared to take this subject up for a dissertation or just for interest then get in touch!