How to Clean and Maintain a Wetsuit and Keep it Looking New

Neoprene costumes

You’ve saved up for the best surfing wetsuit money can buy, so ensuring you know how to clean and maintain a wetsuit is crucial if you want to protect your investment and keep your wetsuit smelling and looking good for the season. Wetsuits are worn because they can keep the surfer warm and comfortable, preventing hypothermia and even protecting the skin from the harmful rays of the sun, abrasions, and bites from brave marine wildlife. But if your wetsuit has tears, mold growth, or weakened areas, then it’s not going to provide the type of protection it’s meant to. In this in-depth guide to wetsuit maintenance, you’ll learn everything you need to know to properly maintain your wetsuit so you can get your money’s worth and enjoy your time on your board.

What are the Steps to Cleaning a Wetsuit?

There are many advantages and disadvantages to using a surfing wetsuit. Most surfers can agree that maintaining and cleaning their wetsuit is probably the biggest drawback. You can’t just toss your suit in the washer and dryer. Instead, it must be washed by hand, hung dry, and stored carefully. If you don’t stay on top of wetsuit care then you’ll end up with a moldy, stinky, worn-out wetsuit, in no time.

However, with the right tools and products, keeping your wetsuit clean should be a cinch. If you don’t want to clean your suit with a cleaning product each time, then at the very least, hop in your shower wearing your suit and give it a good rinse off. But if you wear your suit several times a week, then you’ll need to clean it appropriately at least once a week.

Wetsuits and drysuits work very differently, so you should not use the steps in this guide to clean your dry suit. To learn more, click here to read my article on the differences between wetsuits and drysuits.

Cleaning a wetsuit is a fairly simple, straightforward process.

To do, you’ll need to:

  • Purchase a wetsuit cleaner, which is a product that’s specifically formulated to clean neoprene and other types of materials that are used to make wetsuits.
  • Fill up your tub with cold water and add the cleaner, mixing well.
  • Open up all of the zippers on the wetsuit, then turn the wetsuit inside out and submerge it.
  • Work the cleaning solution into the wetsuit and allow it to soak for fifteen to twenty minutes.
  • Next, thoroughly rinse the suit out and allow it to dry.

How to Dry a Wetsuit

For the drying process, never place a wetsuit in a dryer or hang it outdoors in direct sunlight.

In order to prevent stretching out the shoulders of the suit, make sure you hang it using a thick hanger and keep all of the zippers unzipped to promote air circulation, which will result in faster drying time. About forty minutes after you have hung up the wetsuit, go ahead and turn the suit right side out, then allow it to continue hanging until the outer portion of the suit is dry as well. Some suits can take longer to dry than others. This can depend on the thickness of the neoprene. Obviously, thicker neoprene will take much longer to dry compared to thin neoprene suits.

What Can Ruin a Wetsuit?

Woman on beach

Improper care can easily damage your suit or have a negative impact on the integrity of the suit, so it won’t be able to keep you warm or protect you from the elements the way it was meant to. In order to avoid damaging your suit, follow the care instructions below.

  • Never use hot water to wash your suit. If you use really hot water, it can ruin the neoprene and affect the material’s flexibility. This means you will also need to avoid using hot water in the shower if you prefer to rinse off your suit in the shower before removing it.
  • Avoid constant sun exposure. Never hang your suit in bright sunlight. UV rays can rapidly age neoprene, so avoid leaving your suit out in the sun. If possible, dry your suit in the shade. UV rays can cause the neoprene to age quickly, hardening it and causing it to lose some of its flexibility. If you dry the suit in the sun, then make sure you check on it every fifteen minutes and bring it indoors as soon as it’s dry.
  • Avoid storing your suit in your hot trunk. Cooking your wetsuit is never a good idea and will damage the neoprene material much in the same way that hot water can.
  • Always dry your wetsuit from inside out. Doing so will ensure the suit remains flexible. If your suit is not completely dry when you put it back on, at least the interior will be.
  • Always remove your wetsuit from your backpack or tote bag as soon as you get home. Immediately clean it and allow it to dry.
  • Never wash your suit in a washing machine. Wetsuits should always be washed by hand.
  • Avoid using bleach or a strong detergent when cleaning your wetsuit, since both can damage the neoprene. Instead, use a cleaner that’s specifically designed for wetsuits.

Deep Cleaning a Wetsuit

If you’ve tried cleaning your suit with the standard wetsuit cleaner and you’re still noticing it looks stained, or there’s caked-on debris and salt, then deep cleaning your suit may be a better option. Follow the instructions below to have your suit looking new again.

  • First, your suit should be soaked. Soak your suit in cold or lukewarm water. Remember, you need to avoid using hot water since it can cause your suit to lose flexibility. Use a mild solution of wetsuit shampoo, mixed with one tablespoon of baking soda. The baking soda will help to remove any built-up grime and will also work to eliminate odors. The suit should be soaked for half an hour, then, turn the suit inside out and allow it to soak for another thirty minutes.
  • Next, scrub the Velcro patches and zippers with a toothbrush. Work each of the zippers up and down in order to help dislodge any dirt, sand, and grime.
  • After the suit has soaked for one hour total, rinse it thoroughly. Inspect the suit for any gouges or tears, especially along the seam.
  • Hang the suit inside out, flat, or on a hanger. Keep the suit out of direct sunlight.

Surf Wax

Many people new to surfing stress out about surf wax getting all over their new wetsuit. But there’s really no way around this, so you’ll have to accept it as part of surf life. There’s no way you can remove the wax without damaging the suit itself. Some surfers recommend trying ice, rubbing the ice over the wax in order to harden it. The wax may or may not come off. Avoid using solvents, scrubbing pads, and chemicals that are not specifically designed to treat wetsuits.

How to Clean a Moldy Wetsuit

Are you guilty of neglecting your wetsuit? Does your wetsuit possess a strong odor? While odor can be contributed to the build-up of body oils and sweat, both of which can cause bacteria growth, the odds are your suit is extra stinky due to a mold problem. In fact, with a careful inspection, you can probably see the mold growing inside and on the outside of your suit. This is a common issue you’ll run into if you fail to at least rinse your suit off after a day at the beach and hang it up to dry. Many surfers admit they leave their surf gear in the trunk of their cars or in their gym bags. The heat alone can increase mold growth, which will leave you with a smelly mess on your hands that can be difficult to clean, especially if you haven’t washed your suit in several days.

To get rid of the mold, you’ll need to use the special wetsuit cleaner and soak the suit in the tub for an hour or more, depending on how bad the mold growth is. Remember, you’ll need to avoid using bleach and hot water, which is why the suit should be soaked for a long period of time. This will help loosen up the mold so you can drain the tub and take a soft sponge and wipe down the suit. Next, you’ll rinse it again in cold water and closely inspect the suit for any spots you may have missed. You’ll want to hang it up to dry and ensure it’s fully dry before you store it.

Storing Your Wetsuit

If left folded for a long period of time, the wetsuit material can develop a permanent crease. Because of this, I recommend storing the wetsuit lying flat. If that’s not possible, then hang it up on a hanger in your closet. Try to find a thicker than average hanger, which will be better suited to handle the weight. You can even go online and find hangers that are specifically designed for wetsuits. Remember, the thicker the neoprene material, the heavier the suit will be.

Your suit should be stored in a dark, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Avoid storing your suit in your garage if you also keep your vehicle in the garage. This is because the emissions from your vehicle can deteriorate the neoprene over time.

Maintaining Your Wetsuit’s Zippers

The zippers on a wetsuit are designed to be pulled open or closed in a straight line. Avoid pulling on the zipper pulls at an odd angle. If you have a hard time reaching your zipper, have a friend help unzip you. When you’re washing your suit, keep an eye out for signs of damage to the zipper, including rust, or issues with opening and closing the zipper.

How to Get a Stain Out of a Wetsuit

While a brand-new wetsuit starts out the purest shade of black and smells strongly of neoprene, it can end up looking and smelling pretty rough if you don’t take care of it. If your suit ends up stained, it can be embarrassing to wear around other surfers with their clean, pristine, spotless wetsuits. Fortunately, there are some tricks you can try that can help remove stains out of neoprene, restoring your suit back to its former glory.

There are many tricks you can try to remove a stain out of neoprene, such as plant-based disinfectants, baby shampoo, and even mouthwash. If you decide to use any of these products, do so sparingly and only apply them directly to the stain. Most surfers will simply spot clean their suits using the appropriate wetsuit cleaner. Add a small amount of your chosen product, mix in equal parts cold water, and dab the stain. Allow the mixture to sit on the stain for thirty to sixty minutes before rinsing. If the stain is still there after you’ve rinsed the suit, then you’ll need to reapply the solution.

How to Repair Wetsuit Rips and Tears

Just because your wetsuit has a tear or rip in it doesn’t mean that you have to run out and spend hundreds of dollars on a new one. Fortunately, you can stitch up your existing suit using a proper sew and stitch job, which, if done correctly, can extend the life of your suit. However, it’s crucial that you take care of any tears and rips as soon as you notice them and avoid using your suit until it’s repaired.

For most tears and rips, you’ll need a needle, some floss, glue-on seam tape, and wetsuit cement. Most tears happen on the rubber or neoprene. Keep in mind, stitching will punch tiny holes in the neoprene, which will result in small leaks. Because of this, you’ll need to sew a blind stitch to your suit in order to counteract this issue. You should also consider using the single needle stitch or the flatlock stitch. Fortunately, a torn seam repair is a pretty simple fix.

Before you start repairing your suit, make sure it’s clean and dry. The suit should be turned inside out. Use rubbing alcohol to clean the area around the tear. Give the alcohol time to evaporate. Make sure there’s no wax, sand, or dirt, around the damaged area. If the area isn’t properly cleaned, then the adhesive or glue may not properly adhere to the surface of the wetsuit.

To repair a damaged seam:

  • Apply glue to both of the edges and allow it to dry for fifteen minutes
  • Apply another layer, allowing it to dry for five minutes
  • The wetsuit must be laid on a flat surface, where you’ll then push the seams together.
  • Use dental floss to sew a blind stitch. This stitch should only penetrate approximately twenty-five percent of the fabric.
  • Next, use glue-on seam tape and place it on the inside of the suit
  • Allow the seam to dry overnight

For Tears:

  • If the rubber on your wetsuit has become damaged, then purchase wetsuit cement.
  • Apply the cement to both sides of the tear
  • Allow it to dry for five minutes
  • Add an additional coat and wait for fifteen minutes
  • Press both sides of the tear together
  • Use floss and a needle and carefully repair the damaged area.
  • Once sewn up, apply another layer of cement for added strength
  • Allow the tear to dry overnight

Always inspect your suit for tears and rips after each use. These tears will be much easier to repair when they’re fairly small, however, they can easily grow in size if left untreated. Tears that are bigger than four inches may require professional repairs.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to clean and maintain a wetsuit will lengthen the lifespan of your suit. You can’t leave your suit with your other surf gear for days at a time. Instead, your suit must at least be rinsed off as soon as you get home. You don’t have to use a wetsuit cleaner after each use, but it should be used at least once a week, if you’re surfing three times a week or more. Aside from rinsing off saltwater and debris, ensuring your suit dries thoroughly is also very important. The tips in this guide will ensure you get the most use out of your wetsuit possible, while protecting the integrity of the suit, preventing any odors, and making sure you look great out on the water.