Your wetsuit is a substantial investment, and proper care will extend its life considerably. Learning the best ways to accomplish that will help you get a few years of good service out of your suit, rather than just one season (or less).
Wetsuits are made primarily out of neoprene, which is an artificial rubber compound. Neoprene is tougher than rubber, more resistant to chemicals and provides much more elasticity. Unfortunately, there are many things that can degrade those properties. Here are some tips on how to minimize the wear and tear on your wetsuit and ensure that you’ll get many seasons of service from that second skin:
1. TemperatureExcessive temperatures are hard on any neoprene product. Never use hot water to wash or rinse your suit, don’t dry it in the sunlight and don’t leave it in your car. On a 90 degree day, it’s not uncommon for the air temperature inside a car to reach 140 degrees within a half hour or so. In your trunk, you can add another 10-15 degrees to that.
Heat will cause neoprene to lose its elasticity, and to some degree, even its shape. With the loss of elasticity, it becomes less flexible, more prone to tears and more likely to allow excessive flushing of cold water, due to an imperfect fit. Always use cold or tepid water whenever you wash or rinse your suit.
2. UV RaysExposure to the ultra-violet rays of sunlight is probably the most destructive thing that users subject their wetsuits to. UV breaks down the molecular bonds in almost any material, and neoprene is all about molecular bonds. Your suit will quickly become hard and brittle on the surface, which will result in surface cracks and eventually, tears.
As a result, the suit will lose some of its insulation value, as well as much of its flexibility and elasticity. A single day in the sun can literally cut a year or more off the life expectancy of your wetsuit. NEVER leave your wetsuit to dry in the sun, and never leave it where it will be exposed to sunlight, such as in the backseat of your car or hanging on your porch.
3. Dry your Wetsuit Inside-OutWhen drying your wetsuit, turn it inside out first. There are a couple of benefits to this:
First, even when not in direct sunlight, your suit can still be subjected to slight amounts of reflected UV radiation. This, as well as normal aging, can slowly cause a loss of surface flexibility. Better that you protect the flexibility of the outer surface.
Second, in case your suit hasn’t had sufficient time to fully dry by the next time you need to don it, the inner surface will be the driest side, which will make slipping into it a LOTeasier. 4. Clean and Dry your Wetsuit ImmediatelyWhen you’re out of the water, your first order of business should be to get out of your suit and clean and rinse it thoroughly. Sand, salt, vegetable matter and the tiny, invisible no-see-ums present in water are all detrimental to your suit.
If you’ve been in salt water, it’s particularly important to thoroughly rinse all the salt out as soon as possible. When chlorides dry, they crystallize and will quickly cause the surface areas of your wetsuit to deteriorate. Short of excessive heat and UV exposure, this is the most damaging treatment you can give your suit.
5. Store it the Way you Want it to LookYou should either store your wetsuit on a wide hanger or folded once on a flat surface. Remember, your suit is a good bit heavier than a shirt or sports coat, so don’t hang it by the shoulders or folded across a standard hanger…it will stretch the material or leave permanent creases, both of which will break down the material.
Most wetsuit suppliers carry broad hangers specifically for wetsuits, in order to avoid damage from storage. Whatever you do, don’t fold it tightly and jam it into your dive bag or a drawer, unless you’re anxious to buy a new suit.
6. Surf Wax is ForeverIf you’re a surfer, you have undoubtedly already learned this. Surf wax sticks to neoprene – REALLY well! If you have hours to kill and lots of patience, you might get most of it off. But you’ll soon learn the other thing that surf wax sticks really well to – other surf wax. Live with it.
7. Don’t Play in the SandIf you’ve ever tried to don a wetsuit that was put away full of sand, you’ll understand why this is to be avoided. When you’re taking your suit off, do it someplace that’s free of sand and mud. And DON’T rinse the sand off in the ocean! There’s a lot of sand being tossed around in that surf.
8. Washing Machines are NOT for WetsuitsA roommate, partner or child who doesn't own a wetsuit might be trying to be helpful when he or she tosses your suit in the washing machine. Even if cold water is used and no detergent is added, the residues in the washing machine can do a lot of damage. Needless to say, if the machine washing is followed up with a dryer cycle…you’ll soon be buying a new suit.
9. Ironing your Wetsuit. Need we say this?Amusingly, most use & care instructions point out that ironing your wetsuit is a bad idea. Applying a hot iron to synthetic rubber isn’t considered wise. It shouldn’t be necessary to say, but nevertheless, don’t do it! You’ll ruin the suit and the iron…and your day along with them.
10. Stay Away from ChemicalsAvoid using any sort of chemical in cleaning your wetsuit that isn’t specifically intended for use on wetsuits. Laundry detergents, bleach (a no-brainer!) and dry-cleaning fluid (another one) are NOT for use on neoprene. There are some cleaning agents that can be gotten from your wetsuit supplier for the purpose, and mild dishwashing liquid is normally safe, as well. But normally, this shouldn’t be necessary, if you are thoroughly rinsing your suit immediately after each use.
Also, be careful not to go in the water when you suspect there are any chemicals, oil or gas present. While petroleum products don’t “eat” neoprene like they will rubber, they will leave a residue and you’ll find that neoprene cement will not stick when they’re present.
11. Does your Wetsuit Stink?If the smell of your wetsuit causes you (or others) to gag or cover your nose, it’s probably because you didn’t clean it properly before putting it away. All those no-see-ums, plus your own natural body oils, perspiration and skin flakes break down and provide a veritable feast for bacteria. That’s where the odor comes from.
Another common source of an offensive odor can be urine. Most of us have gotten caught short in the water and have urinated in our suit. If so, it’s extremely important to thoroughly rinse the suit afterward, as in addition to leaving a strong odor, the ammonia in urine will break down the material.
12. Be Careful What you Use on your ZippersThe safest thing to use as a lubricant on your wetsuit’s zippers is beeswax, as it will remain on the zipper when wet and won’t harm the material. Things like petroleum jelly will make it impossible to get a good bond with wetsuit cement. And don’t make the mistake one person I know did… WD-40 should never even be allowed near a wetsuit.
At the End of the Day
People have managed to get many years of good service from a wetsuit, even under heavy use. They do that by being conscientious about its cleaning and being cautious how their suit is stored. While wetsuits aren’t nearly as expensive today as they once were, the investment is still substantial enough to warrant good care and maintenance, so you get the best bang for your buck.