Once you have selected your rope, it is important to know how to care for it. If you have chosen to tie with MFP or nylon, there is very little care involved and you can bundle it any way you want without worry. Just make sure it is dry before bundling it and putting it in your bag if it gets wet or you wash it.
If you are using hemp or jute, you’ll need to condition it and periodically oil it to keep it in good condition. There are many different thoughts on conditioning rope and a lot of it is personal preference. One thing that isn’t personal preference is the type of oil that you use to condition it. You don’t want to use anything that can go rancid like most cooking oils. Coconut oil is debatable. It can go rancid over time but if you use a food grade high quality oil that is fresh, it should be good for two to four years. If you use your rope often, you’ll most likely be retiring the rope before it goes rancid. Food grade mineral oil is good (if used sparingly) but my personal preference is jojoba oil. It is a massage oil that is also in many cosmetics and lotions. Also, you will want to bundle it in certain ways to minimize the bends and twists in it as natural fiber rope has a “memory.” If you leave it in a tight coil (or like a chain stitch / daisy chain) for a while it will have a lot of twists and kinks in it as you use it. There are a few different methods of coiling which are shown here.
The following are my preferred methods of conditioning rope. If you have another way that you prefer, let me know and I may include it here as an alternative.
If bought brand new rope that isn’t conditioned, you’ll want to condition it before you use it. Some less expensive rope comes with a strong smell. Hemp may smell strongly like grass or a barn. That is the nature of most hemp. Jute may have a smell like kerosene. That is JBO or Jute Batching Oil that is based on fossil fuels. Mass produced jute yarn/rope uses it to keep the yarn filaments together as it is spun quickly. JBO can be mostly removed from the rope and the hemp smell can be somewhat reduced by boiling it. This can also soften really stiff rope. Boil it for 3-5 minutes. Sometimes it can take 2-3 boils to remove most of the JBO. You’ll most likely see the oil at the top of the water as it comes out. Once the ropes have been boiled, you’ll need to dry them. Natural fiber rope needs to dry under tension. The weight of the rope itself is enough tension to keep all of the strands uniform. If you have enough space, tie one end of rope to something and then tie the other end to another point and let it hang in one long run. Otherwise fold it in half then drape it over something high to let it hang and dry. So long as it isn’t touching the ground, you should be good. It is much better to get rope make for bondage and doesn’t have tons if industrial oils. It will be much more enjoyable and have a longer life generally.
Once the rope is dry, you’ll want to singe all the loose fibers off. Some people will run the rope through a carabiner a few times to “break it in” or shed excess fibers first. That is optional and if your rope is soft to begin with, just shortens the life of it. To singe the loose fibers off, run the rope quickly through a blue gas flame. You want to avoid candles and such as that can leave soot on the rope. Do this 1-2 times until the rope doesn’t look fuzzy. Take a cloth and run the rope through it once or twice to wipe off the singed fibers.
If you are using hemp, you’ll most likely just want to oil the rope. Take your oil of choice and and wet a cloth or your hand with it. I prefer a cloth. Grip the cloth around the rope and pull the rope through it. You may need to do it a few times depending on how damp the cloth is with oil. You want the rope to slightly darken and change color from the oil. That is usually a good indication that you have enough oil on the rope. You don’t want the rope to feel wet or be able to squeeze out any excess oil. Once you have oiled the rope, take a baking sheet and cover it in paper towels then lay the rope on it. Bake it for 10 minutes at the lowest setting (usually 180), flip the rope then bake it for 10 more minutes. This heat draws the oil into the core of the rope and the paper towels will soak up excess oil. After you bake it, you are ready to use it.
If you are using jute, you can do the above method or you can wax and oil the rope. Waxing gives jute just a little more weight and some say helps align fibers, strengthens the core, and make it less prone to shed jute fuzz as you use it. I make a mixture of 25% beeswax and 75% jojoba oil by weight in a freezer bag (usually 250g wax and 750g oil in a gallon bag) and put it in hot water until the wax is melted. Once it is melted, I take it out, slosh it around some to mix it well and let it cool to form a flat thin block. I then break off chunks, put them in a cloth, wrap that around the rope and then grip it as I pull the rope through. I put a thin coat of the mixture on the rope. Just enough to fill in the valleys between each lay of the rope. You want to just be on the edge of thinking that you put just a bit too much on it. Once the rope is coated, bake it in the oven the same way as the hemp above. I like to run it through my hands a few times after it is out of the oven and cooled down just a bit but still warm. I feel like it evens some things out and also lets me see if it is conditioned enough. If it feels over-conditioned, bake it longer on fresh paper towels to try to draw out excess wax and oil.
If you would like to see the process from start to finish, Wykd Dave posted a video on how he processes his jute here. Madame Posh goes over her steps here. You’ll notice that they both use different wax / oil mixes compared to me. It is all personal preference so make sure to experiment before you condition a whole set of new rope.
As you use the rope, it will dry out. Dry rope is much more likely to break and usually doesn’t feel as good on the skin. The speed at which this happens depends on how much you tie, how the rope is stored and how it was initially conditioned. As your hemp or jute dries out, recondition it using the same method as the hemp above in both cases. There is no need to add more wax to jute ropes past the initial conditioning.
As you use the rope, it will keep a certain amount of “energy” in the rope. This can be seen by it naturally wanting to curl up or kink up. A good way to release that energy is to pull the rope from one end to the other while gripping it fairly tight. Let the free end naturally unwind that excess energy. This can be a good time to re-oil the rope by taking a cloth damp with oil and gripping it tightly around the rope as you pull it through. This will both reset and oil the rope all at once. I usually do it once in each direction. You can also hang them over a railing or suspension point so that the ends aren’t touching the ground. Let it hang for a few days and that will help.
Remember that natural fiber ropes have a lifespan. They will wear out. Taking good care of them will maximize their life so that you get the most out of them after they are initially broken in. One final note on extending the life of your rope. If you are doing suspensions, use dedicated rope for the uplines so that you don’t put all the stress on your rope kit. You can closely monitor the condition of the uplines and retire them when they show signs of wearing out. Most rope breaks come from dry ropes instead of ropes that have any obviously broken strands at the start of the scene. I personally use synthetic rope for my uplines so that I have an extra safety factor and save the jute for the rope that goes on the person’s body.
If you have any questions or another method of conditioning, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.