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Gear Guy

Will Antifreeze Ruin Rope?

Last April I took a trip to Alaska and rented an RV for the month.  We stored our gear in the shower, which one day back-flushed.  My rope g...

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Last April I took a trip to Alaska and rented an RV for the month. We stored our gear in the shower, which one day back-flushed. My rope got soaked in the water, which had about two gallons of RV antifreeze in it. Is my rope ruined?


Let’s not dwell on why you and someone else were up in the Far North, driving around with your rope in the shower. Let’s just focus on the salient facts. So you had a little spill, let’s leave it at that.
The active ingredient in RV antifreeze is food-grade propylene glycol, a non-toxic, oily liquid with a wide range of applications from food additive to personal lubricant (bingo!). Antifreeze also has water, and might contain ethyl or “grain” alcohol.
Scott Newell of Blue Water Ropes says that, as a rule, “Anything that you can put on your skin that doesn’t burn is OK for your rope.”
Since we eat propylene glycol and rub it on swinging Henry, I feel pretty good about getting some on the nylon cord. Water is also certainly fine, and dousing a rope with a mild solution of ethyl alcohol is no worse than spilling a fifth of Jack Daniels on it. If that was a problem we’d all be playing hide-the-cat-o-nine-tails with the Horny One (in other words, dead).
Personally, I’d wash that rope and go about my business. However, if you feel the least bit uneasy—did anyone ever use bleach to clean that shower?—chop up your cord and tie it into monkey fists. (For details on chemicals that can ruin your rope, see “Acid Test,” in the Gear Guide, No. 158).
Now, Gear Guy knows you are wondering, “What’s the difference between RV antifreeze and auto antifreeze?” Elementary, child: Auto antifreeze uses ethylene glycol instead of propylene glycol. Ethylene is sweet. Dogs and children lap it up. It’s also extremely toxic, found in cheap moonshine, and causes renal failure to death. Ironically, the antidote to ethylene glycol poisoning is a big belt of ethanol in the form of whisky, vodka or gin. Salud!