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Gear Guy

Can Ropes and Slings Be Contaminated By Essential Oils?

With the recent popularity of people making their own lotions/oils/balms, I am wondering if there has been any testing on ropes and slings that have been contaminated with essential oils.

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With the recent popularity of people making their own lotions/oils/balms, I am wondering if there has been any testing on ropes and slings that have been contaminated with essential oils. I’m most concerned about tea tree oil because I use it undiluted for many uses around the house.

—Taylor Waind, via rockandice.com

The issue of “contamination” is vexing to me. What are you people doing with ropes and other gear?
People have made and used lotions/oils/balms since 200 B.C.E., when the Hindu philosopher Vatsyayana wrote in the Kama Sutra that oil and the sting
of the shuka, a tree-dwelling insect, will increase penile dimensions, so your premise of “recent popularity” is questionable unless you are talking
geologic time. I also wonder just what you are doing with tea tree oil. Slathering it on and then rolling up in your rope?

Casual contact between a rope and a hand or arm with some tea tree oil on it is likely not a problem, although this exposure has not been tested and probably
never will be tested. In the question right before yours,
I noted that any substance that is safe to put on your skin should also be safe on ropes and cordage. Tea tree oil is an herbal liniment that can kill
bacteria and fungus and reduce allergic skin reactions. It is used to treat scabies, insect bites, boils, herpes and toothaches, to note just a few.
Using essential oils, or the distilled essence of plants and herbs including peppermint, lemon, clove and the tea tree, is a pseudoscience and untested,
but anecdotal evidence and their popularity shows that they might actually work, as folk medicine often does. “TTO,” though, can cause blistering on
some people, and I have heard of it melting plastic bottles, so a heavy dose could possibly damage a rope or harness or slings.

The issue of “contamination” is vexing to me. What are you people doing with ropes and other gear? Use a climbing rope for climbing only and not for the
Chinese Basket Trick. Store your gear away from chemicals, solvents and acids in particular, and never place nylon anywhere near a car battery. Treat
your gear right, and it will reciprocate. Gear Guy has spoken!

This article originally appeared in Rock and Ice issue 229 (September 2015).