Ropes are an essential element of the arboriculturist’s repertoire and represent a considerable outlay. Having taken the time to choose the right solution to your needs, it is essential to put in the time and effort to ensure your ropes are looked after correctly, not only from a risk point of view but also to protect your original investment. Here, Paul Dyer, technical manager at Marlow Ropes, offers some key tips and advice.

A good regime will ensure that lines last longer, while fulfilling your safety responsibilities as a practitioner and employer. Key housekeeping aspects to address include the following.


Forestry Journal:

There are a variety of materials used in the manufacture of ropes to suit different climbing and safety requirements. The properties and performance characteristics of any rope are reliant on the materials from which they are made but also the ongoing care they receive and the conditions in which they are kept. 

Incorrectly coiling ropes when putting them away will introduce a twist into them which can cause operational issues further down the line. The ideal method to coil a braided rope for storage is in the form of a figure 8. This avoids twisting and will ensure correct running behaviour when used with other equipment. 

Do not allow dirt or abrasive materials to penetrate between the fibres of ropes by dragging them over rough surfaces or dirty ground. Abrasive particles like salt and dirt in particular, will easily work themselves into the fibres, causing hidden damage. 

Always keep ropes in a clean, dry place and avoid exposing them to direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. Depending on the technical fibres used, ropes may be compromised by prolonged direct UV exposure and will degrade and lose performance over time. Also avoid exposure to water which could affect elasticity and cause shrinkage.

For more information on rope composition and material qualities please visit


The recommended way to clean ropes is by coiling the rope into a bucket and soaking fresh water. Add mild soap flakes and gently agitate before tipping the soapy/dirty water away and filling with fresh water to rinse off. Resist using or doing anything too aggressive or abrasive such as scrubbing or jet washing. Every fibre counts so make sure they all stay together.

Hang up and let ropes naturally air dry in an area with good air flow. Do not put the ropes in the sun or use heaters to speed up the process. 

Certain circumstances may require disinfecting the rope. In this case, submerge the rope in 70-per-cent isopropyl alcohol solution for a short duration (2–3 minutes) at room temperature. Alcohol solutions can reduce the fibre tenacity for some ropes, so the number of times an alcohol solution is applied throughout the lifetime of a rope should be limited.


Forestry Journal:

Regularly inspecting ropes for signs of damage and to ensure they are still fit for service is vital. The entire length of rope should be examined. Essential ‘wear-and-tear’ points to check when deciding the condition of ropes include:


External abrasion: when a multifilament rope is subjected to abrasion the outer filaments will quickly become broken and a furry finish will develop. This furry layer will protect the yarns underneath preventing further abrasion. If this condition does not stabilise and continues to develop, then there may be excessive abrasion that could lead to significant loss of strength.

Internal abrasion: where possible, the rope should be opened up so that the condition of the internal yarns can be assessed. If they show signs of abrasion, then there could be some exposure to abrasive particles or there may be inter yarn abrasion.

Rope fastenings

It is worth noting that a percentage of the strength in ropes will also be lost when a rope is terminated, either in the form of a knot, sewing or splice. 

Knots: while this is a common way of terminating, joining and securing ropes, significant strength (up to 50–60 per cent) can be lost when ropes are knotted.  If you do decide to use a knot, we recommend the following ‘Magnificent Seven’ knots, which can be used to solve almost any rope problem: 

• Figure 8 
• Alpine butterfly 
• Reef knot 
• Sheet bend 
• Clove hitch 
• Round turn and two half hitches 
• Prussik knot 

If you only learn one knot, a figure 8 is likely to be the most useful to you. When knotting a rope, strength is lost due to:  

• D:d ratio – (the diameter of the bend compared with the diameter of the rope) 
• Compression 
• Friction 
• Twist 

Collectively, this will affect the performance of the rope. To avoid a lack of strength you must make allowances for strength reduction and as a rule, we recommend splicing over knotting. 

Splicing: where ropes are spliced, maintaining the care of spliced eyes is important. You will need to ensure that any spliced climbing lines have been CE/UKCA approved and spliced by a certified rigger to CE EN1891 standards. Keep an eye on whether the splice is slipping or pulling apart, as this may indicate a problem with the splice.


At the same time that you are inspecting the ropes, it is recommended that you also inspect your hardware and clean where needed. Any dirt or abrasive materials that get caught inside hardware can damage ropes and some damage can create sharp edges that are likely to cause severe damage to the fibres of the ropes resulting in them needing to be retired and replaced. 


Forestry Journal:

If the recommended use, cleaning and inspection procedures are followed, rope performance should not be impacted (elongation, strength, weight, or diameter), allowing the rope to be used for longer. In addition to the above, other causes for ropes to fail are usually as a result of the following, either collectively or in isolation. 

• Chafe 
• Cutting 
• Damage in hardware
• Chemical damage
• UV degradation 
• Fatigue 
• Tensile overload 

Critical signs of degradation which may affect when a rope is retired are:

Glazing: if a rope has been subjected to excessive heat, then there may be glazed or glossy areas of rope. The glazing is caused when the yarns melt: if this has happened, then the nearby yarns will also have been exposed to elevated temperatures and will have been affected. This type of damage is often seen if ropes slip and rub on tree branches etc.

Discolouration: this could denote the presence of dirt that may cause internal abrasion or could be an indication of chemical damage. If the latter is suspected, then the amount that the rope has been weakened is exceedingly difficult to assess and the rope should be retired.

Inconsistencies: if any section of the rope is found to contain lumps, flat areas or thin bits then this could indicate that the rope has been damaged internally. This type of damage is often caused by overloading or shock loads.

No rope will last forever, and it is important in preventing risks to check any rope failures and if necessary to retire the rope after an appropriate period.

At Marlow we passionately believe that if you take care of your ropes, they will in turn take care of you. For more advice, visit or call 01323 444 444 for further information and advice.