Wetsuits are made from a synthetic rubber called neoprene but the real question is do wetsuits shrink. Due to the composition of neoprene, your wetsuit can shrink. Your wetsuit needs to be extremely form fitting, with some professionals resorting to rash guards and a layer of sunscreen to help them slide into their tight-fitting suit. A tight wetsuit is essential to keeping warm in the water, but a wetsuit which fits too tightly may be uncomfortable to get into.
Even a wetsuit which takes a rigorous routine of wiggling and squirming to get into will loosen up significantly when in the water. Before retiring your wetsuit to your dumpster, make sure that the neoprene has lost its structural integrity. In many cases, a pound or three of extra weight can make it tricky to fit the suit, but will make little difference once water is trapped within.
Here we’ll be taking you through a look at why wetsuits shrink, what is more likely than shrinking, and how to identify an over-worn suit.
How Neoprene Works
Neoprene is comprised of a closed cell synthetic rubber structure which can be thought of as similar to countless layers of compressed bubble wrap. Shrinkage occurs for one of two reasons. Excessive heat can cause the air bubbles within the rubber cells to expand to the point where they rupture.
Immense pressure can compress the air bubbles to the point where they escape the neoprene, damaging its structure. This will eventually occur due to excessive exposure to the sun, the repeated pressure of diving, and incorrect care such as putting your wetsuit through the dryer or wearing the wrong thickness of suit for a deep dive.
Most Wetsuits Lose Elasticity Eventually
Rather than your wetsuit stretching, most suits will lose their elasticity as the neoprene degrades in thickness and structural integrity. This results in a wetsuit which is too big for you and far too flexible. As the air cells within the neoprene begin to break, the suit will lose its elasticity.
When your wetsuit stretches without having adequate elasticity, it becomes thinner. This thinning begins to affect the insulation of the suit while drastically dropping any protection you have against cuts and abrasion. Taking good care of your wetsuit will stop it from stretching and thinning or shrinking. A well-maintained wetsuit will give you many years’ worth of warmth and protection.
5 Wetsuit Maintenance Tips
If you maintain your wetsuit properly and don’t use it to dive to unsuitable depths, then it will end up being one of your best buys. Keep the following insight in mind and you’ll have a wetsuit which lasts.
Keep Your Wetsuit Clean
Never wash your wetsuit with scalding hot water as it will destroy the elasticity of the suit. Instead use warm water only and a mild liquid dishwashing detergent. Alternatively, buy yourself a wetsuit cleaner for the safest results. Soak your suit in warm soapy water for roughly 15 minutes before rinsing it off thoroughly with cold water. Reverse your wetsuit (turn it inside out) and hang it outside in a shaded area to dry.
Always Completely Dry Your Wetsuit
You must never, ever, allow your wetsuit to stand and dry in the hot sun. It will break the structure of the neoprene almost as quick as a dryer can. If you know that your dryer is capable of a gentle temperature and are willing to take the risk then run it through a tumble dryer at the lowest setting possible.
The best way to dry your wetsuit is to hang it inside-out in an area which is protected from direct sunlight. Don’t rush the process. Rather, leave your suit out to dry for a day or two instead of using a dryer.
Store Your Wetsuit Properly
Wetsuits don’t fold. The best way to store a wetsuit is hung upright in a cool dry place such as your closet. Hanging it between soft clothing such as jackets and coats is a good idea, as long as no embellishments on the outside of the apparel come into direct contact with the wetsuit. You don’t want to run the risk of nicking or tearing it.
Don’t Urinate in Your Wetsuit
This point is not stated for reasons of personal hygiene. The ammonia present in urine will break down the structure of your wetsuit, destroying the air pockets of the neoprene. Don’t pee in your suit, and if you do by accident then wash the crotch area of your suit thoroughly after use.
Your Wetsuit is Yours Alone
A wetsuit will adapt to the form of your body. Any stretching which could occur when being fitted by a friend will ruin the insulation and flexibility for you. There is no nastiness in refraining from loaning out your wetsuit. It is an investment which will last if you don’t distort its dimensions and custom fit.
What Doesn’t Change the Size of Your Wetsuit
The go-to cliché for spring’s first dive may be “Did your suit shrink over winter,” but this is utter nonsense. If your suit doesn’t fit after a season’s gorging, then it’s highly likely that you expanded rather than your wetsuit degrading and shrinking.
Your Wetsuit Will Shrink Eventually
The neoprene which most wetsuits are made of does degrade in rigidity and flexibility due to various factors. Eventually, it will need to be replaced. However, this shrinkage is a very slow process. Your wetsuit won’t shrink or lose its elasticity in just one season unless you use it incorrectly.
Wetsuits come in varying thicknesses, and different cuts of suits are sold for diving and watersports. If you had to take a 7 mm thickness wetsuit down to a depth of just 65 feet, the water pressure compression would make it an equivalent of a about a 2 to 3 mm thickness wetsuit.
At these depths your wetsuit will not insulate you as well due to the compression, and, over time, this water pressure compression will cause some structural damage, which allows water to flow more freely through the suit instead of trapping the water to be warmed by your body.
In a similar way, after years in the sun and after undergoing countless beatings by the minerals in sea water, general abrasion, and stretching you perform to get into the suit, the neoprene of your wetsuit will eventually lose its integrity.
Don’t buy a wetsuit hoping that it will one day shrink. Any degradation of the neoprene will take place over a very, very long period of time.