Looking after your ropes correctly is a major factor in their performance and longevity. Understanding how ropes are affected by external influences and learning how to inspect them will ensure your ropes are safe and will save you money on premature replacements.

Care In Use

Ropes should be stored in a suitable clean, dry place out of direct sunlight and away from extreme temperature. Do not store ropes on dirty floors or drag over rough ground – dirt and grit can work between the fibres and cause abrasion damage. Keep ropes away from chemicals and in cases of long term storage, hose down with fresh water to reduce dirt and salt that can affect the life and efficiency.

3 Strand ropes may become damaged if they are taken from a coil the wrong way. If this happens turn the coil over and withdraw the rope from the centre – the rope should run correctly without kinking.

Braided ropes can have excessive twist imparted into them by incorrect handling. Ideally these ropes should be “hanked” in a figure of 8 fashion avoids putting twist in and will ensure free running when deployed.

If supplied on a reel, this must be allowed to rotate freely on a central pin so that the rope may be drawn off from the top layer. Never take the rope from a reel lying on its side unless placed onto a turntable.

When any rope is used around a sheave there will be a reduction in its strength and life. For most non-specialised applications a sheave diameter 8-10 times the rope diameter will suffice, however certain materials such as Aramids may require a sheave size of up to 20 times diameter.

The profile of the groove in a sheave should support the entire rope. Normally a semicircle of 10% greater diameter than that of the rope is appropriate. ‘V’ groove sheaves should be avoided since they compress the rope and have points of local friction reducing the life of the rope. Sheaves should be maintained so that they rotate freely in use.

When a rope is wound onto a winch it is important that the wraps are neat and tightly wound. This can be achieved by winding the rope on whilst under tension. If the rope is wound on slack then it will be more prone to burying between the turns of the previous layer.

When using ropes on winches or capstans the friction between the rope and the barrel is vitally important since this will determine the amount of slip and the number of turns needed. This friction is dependent on the rope material and construction as well as the surface finish in contact with the rope. Since the rope’s geometry will change depending on load the friction can also change slightly.

Visit our page on rope related formulae to calculate how much rope a winch drum can hold.

The materials used in the construction of synthetic fibre ropes can be affected by exposure to chemicals, often this will reduce the strength of the rope – see physical properties section for more information. Each of the materials is affected differently by different chemicals, if chemical exposure is expected contact Marlow ropes for more details. If a rope has been exposed to a chemical that may have caused damage it should be retired from use. Chemical damage often appears as discoloured or powdery/dusty yarns however the rope can be significantly weakened with no visible effects.

Exposure to elevated temperatures can change the properties of a rope. In some cases these changes can be beneficial e.g. Pre stretching and heat setting. More often the effects of heat will be to reduce the strength and damage the rope. It is important to avoid exposing a rope to localised heat sources or elevated temperatures. This must be ensured both in use and when the rope is stored.

When a rope is used on a winch or capstan it is possible to generate enough heat through friction to melt or fuse the fibres of the rope resulting in a reduction in performance. To avoid this care should be taken to avoid excessive slipping or surging. Many ropes are designed specifically to withstand friction generated heat – please contact our technical department for more details.

All the materials used in the construction of synthetic fibre ropes are to a greater or lesser extent effected by exposure to UV radiation. Wherever possible try to limit the exposure of the rope to sunlight. Smaller ropes are effected more than large ropes since they have a larger exposed surface area in proportion to their volume. The effect of UV radiation on a rope is directly linked to the inherent UV properties of the yarn used in design and manufacture – see physical properties section for more information.

All ropes can be damaged if they are exposed to abrasive surfaces or sharp edges. Care should be taken to try and avoid running a rope over any non-moving surface. If the rope is run over sheaves or rollers they should be kept in good order with a smooth surface and they must be free to rotate.

Abrasion can also be caused by the ingress of particles into the rope. Conditions where a rope will come into contact with sand, dirt, grit and other abrasive particles should be avoided. Damage caused by this type of abrasion may not be visible on the outside of a rope yet the strength may be severely reduced.

The properties of nylon in particular are changed slightly when they become wet. The fibre shrinks, the strength is reduced by up to 15% and the extension increases. You will notice a general stiffening of the rope. Other materials used in rope making are largely unaffected by even prolonged exposure to water.

In light of the current situation regarding the Covid19 pandemic we recognize that our customers are concerned about how they can stay safe while using our products.

The information regarding the virus and the transmission paths is constantly evolving as the results of research becomes available. At the moment, transmission from objects is not considered to be the main way the virus spreads. However, it is considered possible.1

There are a number of ways to reduce the risk of contracting Covid19 from ropes and other equipment that do not require the rope itself to be disinfected.

Basic hygiene measures:

In order to spread, the virus must come into contact with a mucus membrane. This means that transmission from a rope can be prevented by handwashing or sanitising after contact with the rope and before touching the face. Therefore, in many situations, hand washing after contact with ropes may be more practical than attempting to disinfect the rope itself.


The SARS-CoV2 virus does not survive for a long period of time on surfaces.2 This means that simply quarantining the rope between periods of use will reduce or eliminate the risk of virus transmission. The longer this quarantine period is the more effective it will be. 72 hours will, in most cases, render the virus unviable. Recent studies have shown that when on a surface the virus is sensitive to temperature, 3 this suggests that a warm dry place is most effective for quarantine storage.

Cleaning and disinfection:

If ropes do need to be cleaned and disinfected, then the following methods may be used:


Marlow have always recommended that ropes are washed in pure soap. Based on the current guidance we believe this will be effective at combating Covid19 as soap breaks down the virus’s lipid shell rendering it unviable.4

To wash a rope, immerse the rope in warm soapy water, up to 30 deg C, and agitate well. The rope should be left to soak for at least 20 minutes allowing the soap solution to fully penetrate the fibres. After washing, the rope should be rinsed thoroughly to remove any soap residue. The residue will not harm the rope but may alter the friction properties which could cause unintended consequences in use. After rinsing, the rope should be hung up to dry. Elevated temperatures (greater than 40 Deg C) should not be used to dry the rope.

While wet, a nylon rope will be weaker than when dry and will have less ability to absorb the energy of a fall. Nylon ropes will shrink and become firmer after washing, this is normal. Normal laundry detergents are not recommended due to the presence of additional chemicals such as surfactants and optical brighteners. If nothing else is available, then detergents can be used as these additives are not anticipated to affect the strength of the rope however, they could cause the rope to be more susceptible to moisture absorption and other minor effects. Isopropyl alcohol: Marlow Ropes have tested Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) on type 6 Nylon ropes including Static ropes, polyester ropes and HMPE ropes.

In these tests exposure to IPA has been shown to have no detectable effect on the performance. Therefore, it is possible to disinfect ropes with a solution of 70% IPA and water. This solution can be applied by either dipping the rope into the solution and allowing it to air dry or it can be applied as a spray to the rope surface. Caution must be taken when using any Alcohol disinfectant.

IPA is highly flammable. Inhalation of the vapour can be harmful. Use only in a well ventilated area and not in the presence of any source of ignition or heat. Disinfection in this way should not be done on a regular basis as IPA can be absorbed by Nylon fibres and may act as a plasticizer weakening the ropes over prolonged exposure.

General notes

Any washing or disinfection of ropes will cause them to be degraded slightly if only by the mechanical action of washing. The process should therefore be done as little as is possible.

Do NOT expose ropes to bleach. This can cause severe damage to rope fibres, in particular the polyester used in in many of Marlow’s arborist products.

Do NOT expose ropes to oxidizing agents such as hydrogen peroxide. These can severely damage fibres like Nylon without any visible indication of harm.

Do NOT use UV lights to sterilize ropes, the UV will damage fibres, in particular UVC used in industrial sterilization equipment can be expected to do more harm than other types of UV.

Do NOT use elevated temperatures to sterilize a rope. High temperatures can affect fibres, particularly materials like HMPEs. As always, if there is any reason to think a rope’s performance may be in question it is best to retire that rope from service.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html
  2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
  3. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanmic/article/PIIS2666-5247(20)30003-3/fulltext#sec1
  4. https://www.qub.ac.uk/coronavirus/analysis-commentary/how-soap-kills-covid-19-virus/


Rope Termination Splices

SPLICES: Most Marlow ropes can be spliced, this is normally the preferred method of termination. A good splice using the recommended method should not reduce the strength of a rope by more than 10%. Take a look at our splicing instructions on different types of splices.

Rope Termination Knots

KNOTS: A knot is the simplest way to terminate or join a rope, but will reduce the strength of the rope, sometimes very significantly. This loss is caused by the tight bends and compression found in any knot. The amount a rope will be weakened will depend on the knot, type of rope and the material from which it is made but can be up to 60%.

SEWN EYE: A Sewn eye is made using an industrial sewing machine and are usually only done at the factory or by a specialist. Sewing has advantages over a splice in that it allows for easy inspection and clear retirement criteria. However, a sewn eye’s strength is a factor of the stitching pattern and thread and not related to the strength of the rope so in many cases will not be as strong as a splice. Cosmetically it is also not as attractive as a good splice.

EYE SIZE: Wherever possible the angle formed at the throat of a splice when it is loaded should be 30 degrees or less.  This means that the length of the eye when flat must be at least 2.7 times the diameter of the object over which the eye is to be used and the distance from the bearing point to the throat when in use should be at least 2.4 times the diameter.

Some materials like Aramids and HMPEs will require a larger eye with an angle at the throat of 15 degrees or less.


It is important that a rope is regularly inspected to ensure that it is undamaged and is still fit for service. The entire length of rope should be examined. The following are some of the points that should be checked. The degree to which any of the following may be allowed before the rope is retired will be dependant on the assumptions made when the rope and safety factors were determined.

External abrasion

When a multifilament rope is subjected to abrasion then 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 strength loss.

As the surface of a rope wears some of the filaments will break, this will result in a fluffy/fuzzy appearance. This provides a cushioning layer that protects the fibres underneath and stabilises the abrasion process.

This type of abrasion is typically caused by the environment the rope is used in and can be reduced by ensuring the rope is clean and sheaves etc are in good condition.

Internal abrasion

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.

As a rope is loaded or flexed the fibres will rub against each other, especially at the intersections of the plaits. This can cause filament breaks that are visible when the rope is opened up. This is related to tension and bending fatigue and can be reduced by using larger sheaves or reducing the loading severity.


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 on winch barrels or capstans.


This could indicate the presence of dirt that may cause internal abrasion or could be an indication of chemical damage. If chemical damage is suspected then the amount that the rope has been weakened is very difficult to asses and the rope should be retired.

The example on the left shows a sewn eye termination that failed due to chemical contamination. The rope was exposed to a chemical that turned the black sewing thread red! If this had been inspected and retired due to the abnormal discolouration, failure would have been avoided.


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.


Outside of the factors already highlighted and explained above, there are a number of other dynamic forces that influence the life of a rope and should be taken into account when calculating retirement points.

Tension fatigue will occur any time a rope is loaded. It is related to the loads that the rope is subjected to. It is possible to improve the ropes resistance to this type of fatigue by applying marine finishes to the yarn. The life of a rope can be improved by using at a lower load. Rope constructions with low ‘construction’ have good resistance to this type of fatigue.

Bending fatigue occurs any time a rope is flexed.  It is important to allow for this if a rope is used on sheaves or rollers.  This form of fatigue is related to the load and can still occur at very low tensions.  Rope constructions with high ‘construction’ have good resistance to this type of fatigue.

This is a rare form of fatigue that only occurs if a rope or components of a rope go into compression.  In this situation ‘kink bands’ can form in the individual filaments reducing their strength.  Compression fatigue can be avoided by maintaining the tension in the rope, using a rope with more ‘construction’ and ensuring that any sheaves and rollers are large enough to prevent any component of the rope from going into compression.  Most fibres are resilient to compression but care needs to be taken when Aramids are used.

Creep is a permanent extension due to molecular slippage, it occurs when a load is held on a rope for a period of time.  Most materials will exhibit creep to some degree.  Creep rate will increase at higher temperatures or higher loads.  The fibres most effected by creep are polypropylene and polyethylene.

Read more about creep in HMPE (Dyneema) ropes