What are you DOING to your Wetsuit? [Proper Wetsuit Care]

A First Installment on Proper Wetsuit Care:

In order to keep your wetsuit in the best condition possible and to extend its life, it is imperative to be aware of its condition before putting it on, avoid unnecessary damage while wearing and removing the suit, and to properly clean and maintain the suit after your dives. By remembering to care for your suit, during and after each use, you’ll get the most use out of your wetsuit, and keep it around longer.

Wetsuits are comprised of several different materials. The neoprene may be either N2 (laminated with nylon fabric on both sides), or N1 (laminated with nylon fabric on one side and having a rubber texture on the other side). The rubber texture surface may be “Smooth skin” such as used specifically around the neck, ankles and wrists for a water-resistant seal. Or it may be coated with a friction-reducing or hydrophyllic finish, so that it slides over the body more easily. The Yamamoto neoprene manufacturing company calls this coating SCS. Some wetsuit brands trademark their names for it such as “glideskin” or “gold core”.  YKK zippers are made of Vislon (a nylon-plastic polymer) with either a Vislon slider or a metal slider.   I’ll blog more about zippers in a separate post.

Before Your Dive

Take a look at your suit’s seams and zippers, to make sure there are no splitting or unraveling seams.  A loose thread can be stopped from unraveling further with a small drop of super glue.  If you’re worried about a seam but can’t get it fixed, at least remember not to pull hard on that part of the suit until you can get it fixed.

Check that your zippers open and close smoothly before you put the suit on.  If your zipper is stuck, lubricate the slider with a little Zippy-lube™ or O-ring grease.  Wipe off any excess.  Don’t use a spray like WD40, as it will be difficult to keep from getting it on the neoprene. 

It is important to take extra care with the skin textured areas of your suit because the material can be cut more easily than neoprene with nylon fabric. Finger and toe nails tend to cause small tears, if not careful.  So this gives you an excuse for a mani-pedi before that upcoming dive trip!  The skin texture side of the wetsuit is usually not stitched, because the thread can tear thru the rubber texture as the suit is stretched. If your suit has skin-rubber texture facing to the outside, be aware of any sharp objects (bolts, metal backplates, etc…) on your BCD that could cut into the suit, and consider padding over these sharp places before your next dive trip.

Zipper damage is the most common wetsuit “ailment”. When putting on a back-zip suit, hold the bottom of the zipper down with one hand while pulling straight up on the pull cord with the other hand. If your suit has a thumb loop at the bottom of the zipper, use it! A thumb loop can be added if your suit doesn’t have one already. Pulling at the zipper on an angle or excessively hard and fast can cause the slider to pull off the track and/or break a zipper tooth.

After Your Dive

Normal wear and tear is to be expected, especially during dives. It is important to try to avoid rocks and other sharp objects while diving.  (I know a lot of readers will be saying to themselves “duh…”, but sometimes sea conditions will push you where you didn’t want to go).  If you do find yourself with some abrasion from rough surfaces, check for unraveling threads after your dive.  The suit can be repaired by replacing badly worn areas with fresh neoprene by a professional wetsuit tailor.

When removing your wetsuit, it is beneficial to unzip all of the zippers completely and then remove each section of the suit separately. If you are struggling with a zipper, ask your dive buddy, or even a stranger, to assist you.

Chemical and environmental exposure can also reduce the life of your wetsuit. It is best to avoid contact with volatile organic chemicals such as oil, gasoline, thinners and aerosols, which may dissolve the glue holding suit’s panels together and delaminate the fabric from the rubber. Heat and hard surfaces are also detrimental to the suit. Heat can cause the neoprene to shrink and loose elasticity. Hard, rigid surfaces can leave permanent creases in the neoprene that will wear out faster than the rest of the suit. Sunlight can fade bright colors on the outside of the suit.

Once you remove your suit, rinse it in fresh water if available, salt water if fresh is not available, and turn it inside out to dry.  If you’re on a multi-dive vacation, try to hang your suit where it will be out of the sun until the next dive.  Use as wide a hanger as possible, and NEVER a metal clothes hanger from the cleaners!! If a wide hanger is not available, wrap an old towel or even a T-shirt on the hanger to cushion the shoulders.

My next blog will cover cleaning and maintaining your suit after your dive trip is over.