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How do I clean my Wetsuit? (AKA - Why does my Wetsuit STANK?!?)

Having owned a few wetsuits in our time, we’ve struggled through the ins and outs of wetsuit care and maintenance. The question we get asked more often than any other is ‘Why does my wetsuit stink?!’ followed closely by ‘How do I clean it?’. 

Let’s start with why your wetsuit stinks. It’s simple, really. When you dive, you use a wetsuit to keep you warm and comfortable, and to stave off hypothermia. However, before you get in the water, it’s usually warm so you sweat a little and that sweat gets into your wetsuit. Additionally, if you’re diving in murky water or water with a lot of organisms in it, those get into your wetsuit and start to decompose. Finally, even in clear water, there are organisms in the water that find their way into your wetsuit. As with all other organisms, when they start to break down, they release an odor.

Now that we’ve addressed the why, let’s talk about how to get rid of the stench.

Regular Wetsuit Maintenance

After every dive/day of diving:

  • You may want to wash your wetsuit after each use (or even weekly if you’re diving frequently) with a gentle, antibacterial cleanser or shampoo. Before using any product on your wetsuit, check the wetsuit label and product information to ensure it can be used on your wetsuit.
  • Fill up a bathtub, large sink, bin, or big bucket with cool or room temperature water. Note that hot water will cause compression of the neoprene and ruin your wetsuit. 
  • Once your tub is full, add in the appropriate amount of cleanser or shampoo per the directions on the shampoo and swirl it around. 
  • Now get your wetsuit, open all the zippers and turn it inside out. 
  • Submerge your wetsuit in the mixture and begin methodically kneading it in the solution.
  • When you’re done, empty the tub and rinse out the soapy water. 
  • Rinse your wetsuit in cool to room temperature water until the water runs clear.  
  • Rinse the outside of your wetsuit thoroughly with cool fresh water. 
  • Turn it inside out and make sure you rinse the inside just as thoroughly. 
  • Once it’s rinsed, hang it to dry on a thick wetsuit hanger inside out. 
  • When the inside feels dry, turn your wetsuit right side out and let it finish drying. 
  • Some wetsuit hangers feature a sturdy crossbar so you can start the drying process by draping your wetsuit in half over that bar. This helps extend the life of your wetsuit.

Intermittent Wetsuit Maintenance

If you start to notice your wetsuit is taking on a funky smell (or if your friends alert you to the stench), it’s time to grab a wetsuit shampoo.

  • Check your label and product information to ensure the wetsuit cleaner can be used on your wetsuit. 
  • Fill up a bathtub, large sink, bin, or big bucket with cool or room temperature water. Note that hot water will cause compression of the neoprene and ruin your wetsuit. 
  • Once your tub is full, add in the appropriate amount of wetsuit shampoo per the directions on the shampoo and swirl it around. 
  • Now get your wetsuit, open all the zippers and turn it inside out. 
  • Submerge your wetsuit in the mixture and begin methodically kneading it in the solution.
  • Follow the directions on the wetsuit cleaner. Some ask that you leave your wetsuit in the solution for an extended period of time. 
  • When you’re done, empty the tub and rinse out the soapy water. 
  • Rinse your wetsuit in cool to room temperature water until the water runs clear. Make sure to rinse the inside and outside thoroughly. 
  • Once the water runs clear, make sure your wetsuit is inside out and hang it to dry. 
  • Once the inside of the wetsuit feels dry, flip it right side out and let it continue to dry.

Though this is the standard procedure for cleaning most wetsuits, double check your manual or tag before starting to clean your wetsuit. Where details differ, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

FAQs

Can I just dip my wetsuit and my gear in the pool?

No. The chemicals in most pools will do more damage to your wetsuit and gear than the saltwater. Always rinse with fresh water only.

Can wetsuits go in the washing machine?

No. Because of the agitation and spinning, you risk damaging your wetsuit.

Do wetsuits stretch over time?

Yes. This is why you want to get a hanger with a sturdy crossbar so you reduce the amount of stretch and extend the life of your wetsuit.

Can wetsuits shrink?

Yes. In the heat, the cells tend to compress and shrink. Over time, this will happen naturally.

Can wetsuits go in the dryer?

No. The heat will compress the cells in your wetsuit, compromising its intended performance and you won’t be very happy with the result.

Can wetsuits be tumble dried?

No. Even if you have it on no heat, you risk damaging your wetsuit with the rubbing and tumbling action in the dryer. 

Can I iron my wetsuit?

You’re kidding, right? No. Just no. Since neoprene is a type of synthetic rubber, you do not want to apply heat to it.  

What if I left my wetsuit in my trunk by accident?

This is usually recoverable if it hasn’t been left in there a long time. Just grab your wetsuit shampoo and follow the intermittent wetsuit maintenance instructions above (or the manufacturer’s instructions if they differ). 

Can I just use bleach instead of a wetsuit shampoo?

No. No. No.  Please do not ever use bleach on your wetsuit. Please. It will damage your wetsuit and its intended purpose. Additionally, because of the porous nature of the wetsuit, you always risk leaving some of the cleaner behind and you just don’t ever want to risk burning your skin with bleach.