Our garden after a day of diving

FAQ: How do I clean a stinky wetsuit?

Maybe your wetsuit smells funky because you perspired in it. Maybe there are other reasons… Whatever the cause, here are some tips for keeping it fresh and fragrant.

Give it a hot rinse

This is the most important part of regular pong prevention. Don’t waste your time dipping the suit into a communal rinsing tank at the dive centre. Unless you get there first, that water is full of contaminants…salt, body fluids and sand. The easiest way to do this is to take your suit in the shower with you, otherwise lay it down flat in the bath and give it a good once-over with the shower head. Hot water is better than cool water for breaking down the mineral salts from the ocean and your body.

Our garden after a day of diving
Our garden after a day of diving

Hang it in the shade

After rinsing, hang your suit to dry on a thick wooden or plastic hanger, preferably one specially made for wetsuits. You can tape two normal plastic hangers together to make a (much cheaper) good solution. Try to keep the front and back of the suit apart so it can dry more quickly. Even a length of plastic piping pushed through the arms of the suit to make them stand out helps a lot with drying. (Plus, it makes the suit look like someone is in it, which scares away burglars and pigeons when it’s hanging outside!) Air circulation is key. Avoid direct sunlight, it will dry faster but will be stiff and hard to get on the next time you try.

Soap the suit

Every once in a while give your suit a shampoo. Scrub it well inside and out, using a sponge on the neoprene and a soft brush on any nylon or plushy linings. Almost any kind of soap will work to reduce the smell, but some are better than others. The best soaps for the job are “wetsuit shampoos” (check your local dive store) or a gentle baby shampoo like Johnson’s. Next best are regular bath soaps and shampoos.

I also use the cheapest, smelliest shampoos and bubble baths that I can find. Examples are Colgate shampoo and those 1.5 litre bottles of luridly coloured bubble bath that cost almost nothing. The cheaper it is, the stronger the smell, it seems! Dish and laundry soaps (like the green Sunlight laundry bars) are too harsh to use regularly on your wetsuit, but will do the job in an emergency. Don’t ever have your wetsuit dry cleaned (unless you want to destroy it)!

Clare and I occasionally put our suits through the washing machine – on the coolest temperature setting (it’s 30 degrees celcius on our Bosch), with mild organic laundry detergent (Pick n Pay and Woolworths have good in-house brands) and some baby fabric softener for smell (Sta-Soft has a good baby-safe fabric softener fragrance that is very mild and smells great). Turn off the spin cycle and let the suits air dry out of the sun. Just be careful when you open the drum – there will still be water inside if you didn’t spin the wetsuits, and arms and legs tend to trap gallons of liquid!

We also use laundry detergent to wash the suits by hand in my plastic tubs in the garden – the best seems to be something with enzymes in that will clean off the biological waste (you know what I’m talking about) inside the suit. Woolite, which works like a charm, has been discontinued (at least in Pick n Pay in South Africa) but something like Bio-Classic, added to the washing water and foamed by hand, also seems to work quite well. Purpose-made wetsuit shampoo will be your very best option for a long term solution – there are quite a few available.

Of course, all of this applies to booties too, which can develop an unearthly smell quite of their own accord. A good soak after rinsing in some Dettol or Savlon helps to keep bacteria at bay. Once dried I silcone the zips. I put talcum powder (the smellier the better) inside all my pairs now and then to keep them fresh. The only problem is that you may resemble a cocaine smuggler the first time you put them on after powdering. But your dive buddy won’t mind!

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Scuba diver, teacher, gadget man, racing driver, boat skipper, photographer, and collector of stray animals