How to Clean Cams

Although I live in the desert (and yes, throw my gear in the sand sometimes!), I don’t have to clean my cams very often. When they get sticky and don’t re-cam after you let go of the trigger, it’s time to fix them up, for obvious reasons…

I am a huge fan of Aliens. From the black up to the red, I think they are the all-time best small gear ever made (I like the Metolius cams from big fingers size and up). Nothing else has ever come close to Aliens, in my opinion, for weight, versatility, pin scars (especially the red one!), cam spacing, and all around awesomeness. Anyway, I’m really glad I have some, because tragically they are no longer being produced…isn’t it always the way, that the very best gear somehow ends up going obsolete? (Please, someone buy Colorado Custom Hardware, and make them again, please!!! And if anyone wants to sell any red ones, let me know!).

These little Aliens do require some extra care (especially because they are now treasured, irreplaceable gear!). There’s just not that much range of motion on those mini-sized lobes, and if they’re sticky, they might not do their job at the crucial moment, through no fault of their own. I’ve been using them a lot recently, and it’s time to clean these guys up. And reflect once more on how much I love them 🙂

I was shown this method once in Camp 4. Get a piece of cardboard (a medium sized box made flat is good), a pot you don’t care about (I like to use a can), and some Tri flow or WD 40 or pretty much any kind of bike or chain lube. Lay out your cams, and treat each one with the lube. Squirt it everywhere, and work the trigger until the action is good. (If it’s not, you have other issues.) If you are heating up the water in the can nearby, keep in mind that this stuff is flammable. Also, try to keep the slings dry.

Now get some water boiling in your can, and one by one, hold the cam so just the head is in the boiling water. Don’t let the piece touch the metal of the can or pot. You are just using the boiling water to scrub away the excess lubricant, so it will be clean and won’t attract sand and dirt.

Lay each one down as you finish and let them drip dry. While you are doing this, you can scheme up ways to steal Aliens from your climbing partners. Not that you would ever do that.

Alternatively, you could think about your next desert trip…

  • Adam Beck

    Nice! Thanks for this.

  • Steph Davis

    😀 you’re welcome!

  • Steph Davis

    Just got a great email, with some good extra tips on this…
    Thanks! (and did they say anything about Tri-Flow?)
    p.s. That’s exactly the book I’m working on RIGHT NOW 😉

    Hi Steph,
    Thank you so much for tips you’re sharing with community. You rock 🙂

    I like your last blog-post, especially the part with getting rid of excess lubricant.

    Just a note to using WD-40. It’s probably good idea to pay special attention about not getting any WD-40 on the slings. According to wikipedia 50% of WD-40 is hexane, which is similar to kerosene and may cause structural changes of nylon slings (damage polymer chains). It’s also better to do this outside as you effectively evaporate hexane with high temperature water – which may reach explosion level and ka-boom.

    Maybe it’s better to use some wax-based lubricant (sold by Metolius for $4) for lubrication or just be careful when applying wd-40.

    Keep up the good work and please, please write another book. This time about base-jumping/wing-suit flying ? I loved High Infatuation.



    You might want to check this out if you really are interested buying some Aliens. Just posted.

  • Steph Davis


  • Andrej

    Hi Steph ,

    I did some searching and found actual composition of Tri-Flow for you. In short, it uses hexane (35%) and petroleum(10%) as a solvent for minerals, so it’s similar to WD-40.

    You can find details here: Tri-flow


    Be safe and good luck with book-writing. (Can’t wait)

  • Darcy

    I want your tea kettle! 🙂

  • Steph Davis

    i have a little tea kettle collection….! i’ve brought them home from pakistan, chile and argentina. i have some other ones too…

  • Pingback: Cleaning your climbing cams so you don’t die | tech.climbing.carrotcake()

  • Sammy

    Unrelated to cleaning, but related to Aliens, what are your thoughts on the new Fixe Aliens? Are they up to par with the CCH originals?

  • I haven’t checked them out yet: I’ve gotten so into the small Metolius cams, and I have lots of the old Aliens.

  • Cody Blank

    They are the same as the CCH originals. But the totem basics have even improved upon the design with little tweaks and a MUCH smoother trigger action.

  • nice!


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