How to Wash and Care for Your Wet Suit

Blue and black wetsuit hanging over wooden fence to air dry

The Spruce / Almar Creative

A wet suit isn't typical daily laundry. You can't just throw it in the hamper, toss it in the washer and dryer, and find it clean in a drawer. While a wet suit needs some cleaning and care, it must be done appropriately to make your investment last longer.

What Are Wet Suits?

At the peak of the Hollywood fascination with surfers and their lifestyles, wet suits hit the mainstream market in the 1950s. A wet suit is a garment, usually made of foamed neoprene, which is today worn by surfers, divers, windsurfers, and anyone engaged in water sports. The suit provides thermal insulation, abrasion resistance, and buoyancy. There are many different types of wet suits for specific uses and temperatures. These suits range from a thin two millimeters thick to a full eight millimeters of neoprene. Suits can be short, long, vests, or jackets and can be complemented by neoprene boots, gloves, or a hood.

Your First Wet Suit

It is important to pay attention to sizing when purchasing a wet suit. It should fit snugly but not be stretched too tightly. If the garment is too tight, the seams will pull and cause longevity and wear problems.

It is also important to learn how to put on wet suits. While the neoprene fabric is durable, it can easily be punctured by any sharp object such as a fingernail or toenail. Always handle the fabric with your fingertips and not your fingernails. Since the garments are snug, put them on in slow steps.

For long-legged pants, pull the first over your feet and ankles. Then work up the legs in sections, pulling gently until you reach the hips. Continue with the arms, inserting your arms into the sleeves or armholes then carefully pulling up to your neck. Close the collar then pull up the zipper with your shoulders back. Ensure the collar flap is flat and the Velcro tab cannot rub your back.

Work in reverse when removing the suit. Do not pull too hard. Remove the gear slowly and carefully.

Try to put on your wet suit in a clean, dry place away from sand, trees, and rocks that can snag the fabric. For full wet suits, wearing a rash guard under the suit will make putting it on and off easier.

Wet Suit Care

To clean and care for your wet suit, make sure you adhere to these guidelines:

  • After wearing, immediately rinse your gear with fresh water.
  • Do not use hot water; use cool or tepid water. In hot water, neoprene loses some of the flexibility, so if you are changing in a shower, use cool water to rinse the suit and then soak yourself in warmth.
  • Never wash your wet suit in a washer or with other garments.
  • Use a special wet suit cleaner that will help remove salt, chlorine, and organic residues. Never use bleach or any harsh cleaner.
  • Hang to drip dry away from direct heat and sun. The UV rays cause the neoprene to age much quicker. It gets hard and loses its flexibility.
  • Hang to dry inside out. The outer surface will be protected and the inside will dry first to make putting the suit back on much easier.
  • Use a hanger designed for a wet suit or a heavy, padded hanger—never a flimsy wire hanger—to store and hang.
  • Store on a hanger or flat—do not fold or cram into a drawer because it can weaken the fabric.
  • To keep the zipper working smoothly—salt and chlorine can corrode the teeth—use a zipper lubricant such as Zip Tech often.
  • To remove strong odors, fill a sink or bucket with cool water and Mirazyme Odor Remover. Dip the suit in and out of the water, then rinse with cool water and dry in a breezy spot.
  • Never iron wet suits—high heat should always be avoided.
  • Stay away from oil, gasoline, chemical solvents, and aerosols because the stains are impossible to remove and will weaken the fabric.

By far, the most important care tip is to never wad up your wet suit and throw it in the trunk to bake. Rinse it immediately even if you never get around to washing the gear. Sun, salt, and chlorine will take a toll on the fabric, so get it out as soon as possible. Saltwater can cause neoprene to lose its flexibility.

Black and blue used wetsuit rinsed in plastic bin with fresh water

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Special wet suit cleaner poured over black and blue wet suit in plastic bin

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Wet suit turned inside out to dry outside

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Heavy padded hanger in black wet suit hanging on wooden fence to air dry

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Zip Tech lubricant used on wet suit zippers to remove salt and chlorine

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Repairing a Wet Suit

Neoprene can be easily cut by fingernails or sharp objects. A small tear does not mean that you must throw it out or have water seeping into your suit. Inspect your suit often for damage. It is easier to fix cuts when they are small. You can repair the suit yourself with a few products and a bit of instruction.

You will need Aquaseal Urethane Repair Adhesive & Sealant. Or, you can buy a puncture repair kit from any bike store—the sealant used to fix bike tire inner tubes is basically the same.

Fold the wet suit over at the point of the cut so that the cut opens up to reveal the two surfaces that need to be glued back together. Apply a thin, even layer of sealant to both surfaces. Continue to hold the cut open while the glue dries. Do not rejoin the surfaces while the glue is still wet or tacky. The glue will only take a couple of minutes to dry. Once it appears dry, it will feel only slightly tacky and will not stick to your finger.

Flatten out the suit so that the two cut edges come together. The bond is instant. Pinch the two edges firmly together. It is best to wait four to six hours to use the suit. But, it can be used right away.