Wetsuits are a gift from the gods, they help us stay warm, surf longer and even protect us from reef cuts. But, like all great things, they never last.
From festering in the boot of your freezing car for days on end to being unceremoniously jammed into bags for next year, wetsuits go through the proverbial wars!
Add a price tag that keeps on getting higher every year and you’ll quickly understand why taking care of your wetsuit is key to keeping you warm and saving your precious wallet.
Keeping your wetsuit clean and salt-free will do wonders for prolonging its already short life but do it wrong and you could do more help than harm. That’s why we’ve created the ultimate guide on how to wash your wetsuit with detailed steps to ensure the longevity of your suit.
How to wash your wetsuit the right way
Now we’ve covered the why let’s look at the how. Washing your wetsuit doesn’t need to be a hassle but it needs to happen, we’ve detailed all the tricks and tips we’ve learnt after thousands of wetsuit dips and compiled them into a simple-to-follow process you can replicate yourself.
The classic bucket of water
The simplest and easiest of all the wetsuit-washing approaches involves a bucket of cold water and some good dunking.
- To start fill up a receptacle of some sort with approximately 10l of cold, fresh water
- Make sure you unroll the arms and legs to help the freshwater reach the whole suit
- Place your salty wetsuit into the bucket and leave it to soak for a minute or two (this helps remove any seawater trapped in the neoprene)
- Give your wetsuit a few rapid dunks and remove
- Place your wetsuit on a line or clothes horse by folding it at the waist and letting it drip dry
*Pro tip – If you’re wetsuits filthy you can add some washing powder for a posh wash and soak for 5-10 minutes. Just make sure to rinse off any excess water before you hang it out to dry.
The shower for two
If you live in a shared house or with your significant other this method probably won’t make you many friends but it’s probably the easiest and laziest way to wash your wetsuit.
When you go for your after-surf shower simply bring your wetsuit along for the party. Better yet if you’ve got a bucket you can bring that in the shower and give your suit a proper rinse.
Once complete simply place your wetsuit over your shower rail or screen and hey presto! Bonus points if you put a bucket under the suit to catch the drips and clean the pile of sand out of the shower.
The natural approach
My personal favourite and great if you’re trying to save on the water bill. Simply look for a natural water source on or close to the beach and use it to wash your suit.
Just be wary of this approach after heavy rain when all sorts of unpleasantness can get washed off the fields down to the beach.
The washing machine
Considered sacrilege by some surfers but an undeniably convenient way to wash your wetsuit. The washing machine’s rinse function only lasts ten minutes and it’s not too aggressive (at least on my washing machine).
I strongly recommend avoiding the spin function or increasing the temperature of the water, both of these can damage the neoprene, zips and cuffs of your wetsuit, considerably reducing its flex and lifespan.
Pro tips for washing your wetsuit
Now we’ve how to wash your wetsuit I’ll let you in on all the tips and tricks I’ve learned after literally thousands of salty dips.
Never use a hanger
Hanging your wetsuit to dry on a thin clothes hanger is a definite no-no! It’ll stress the shoulders of your suit leading to stretched rubber, a poor fit and probably some cold flushes down the back of your neck as you duck dive.
You can get specific wetsuit hangers that are built specifically to not damage your suit or you can go for the traditional approach of folding at the waist over a fence, line, clothes horse, gate etc.
Mouth wash soak
I can’t remember when I learnt this one but it’s a game changer for old wetsuits. If you’ve ever left an old suit in the back of your car for too long you’ll know that the smell can get pretty offensive.
The bad smell associated with older wetsuits is often caused by a build-up of bacteria. Mouthwash’s antibacterial properties are the [perfect way to tackle nasty odours in your wetsuit. Simply empty 1l of mouthwash into approximately 20l of water and leave it to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Your wetsuit will come out smelling minty fresh and it actually lasts rather than just covering up the smell. I normally just grab the cheapest mouthwash I can find as it all seems to work perfectly. If your suits really filthy add a little washing powder as well.
Piss Off by Rip Curl
Piss Off is a specially formulated washing liquid designed by Rip Curl. As the name suggests its primary goal is removing the distinct smell of urine you get in suits that have been avidly peed in.
Great for a pissy suit that stinks every time it gets wet and does actually smell pretty good for the first few surfs but it does fade over time.
The towel trick
If you’re in a hurry to get to your next surf but it’s mid-winter and the thought of peeling on a wetsuit fills you with dread, then this tip just might be your saviour.
- Place a large towel on the floor
- Place your wetsuit onto the towel
- Place another large towel over your wetsuit in line with the bottom towel
- Starting at the bottom begin to roll all three into a tight tube slowly moving up until you’ve rolled the whole thing up like a yoga mat
- Before you know it most of the water in your wetsuit will be transferred to the towel significantly reducing your drying time
Why do you need to wash and rinse your wetsuit after each use?
At the bare minimum, you’re going to want to give your wetsuit a rinse after every surf. Peeling on a damp wetsuit with sand lining all the cuffs is like a medieval torture device and before you know it those tiny granules of sand will start to tear away at your skin and create an uncomfortable rash that will only get worse as your session continues.
Worse yet, as your wetsuit dries saturated in salt water all of the salt will start to crystalise when the salt dries within the neoprene of your wetsuit it can start to push apart and split the cells that create neoprene leading to:
- Reduction in flexibility
- Microtears that start to let in water
- Reduced lifespan of your suit
Dried salt within your zip can build up over time leading to a stiff zipping action and the chance you could tear off your zip string or toggle (try wandering around the car park and asking people to zip you up, not a good look).
Answering your wetsuit-washing questions
Now I’ve given you all my wetsuit-washing secrets let’s take a look at some questions I see over and over again and set the record straight.
Do I still need to wash my wetsuit if I’ve been in freshwater?
Yes, even though you don’t need to wash the salt out of your wetsuit all the rubbing causes dead skin to transfer onto the neoprene of your suit. Fresh water can contain lots of debris that may not be visible but could lead to mould if you don’t give your wetsuit a good rinse.
How long should my wetsuit last if I look after it properly?
This all depends on how much you surf and enter the ocean and the price/quality of your wetsuit. Most wetsuits should last at least one year before they start to degrade and let in significant amounts of water.
Can you wash your wetsuit in the washing machine?
Yes, while it’s not the best option for ashing your wetsuit the washing machine rinse setting is a quick and easy, solution. Just don’t spin it or use anything but cold water.
How do you clean a wetsuit that smells?
Fill a bucket of water with approximately 20l of fresh water and mix with 1l of the cheapest mouthwash you can find. Soak for 30 minutes plus and the antibacterial properties will remove the odour causing bacteria, leaving you minty fresh.
How can I dry my wetsuit fast?
Follow our handy towel trick by placing your wetsuit between two towels and rolling it into a tight tube, squeezing the after out of your suit onto the towels. Just be prepared for a cold wet towel after your surf session!