You might expect that one of the most asked questions among those who take part in water sports and wear a wetsuit, might be ‘What are the best places to surf?’ or ‘Where’s are the top scuba diving locations?’ Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Instead, that question is the rather more mundane and down to earth: ‘Why does a wetsuit stink?’
It is a query which seems an ocean away from the image of scuba diving among sea creatures, fauna, and coral reefs, but it a vexing issue for many people who are concerned, and possibly embarrassed about the smell emanating from their wetsuit.
Stinky to Begin With
Most wetsuits are manufactured from neoprene, which is a rubber-like material with the perfect properties such as flexibility, durability and buoyancy. Neoprene was first created in laboratories of the DuPont company in the early 1930s, as the need for an alternative to natural rubber was required.
Wallace Carothers was the DuPont scientist most credited with developing the chemical processes which led to the creation of neoprene as a viable material, which could replicate the properties of rubber, and be used in the manufacture of products.
Whilst it was an effective replacement and used to make gaskets and insulation products, it had one major drawback… it stunk terribly. Keen to overcome this issue, DuPont, changed the production processes they used to make neoprene and by the end of the decade, the foul smell had been eliminated and that is still the case today.
So, if it is not the material that’s is the source of the smell, what, or who, is?
You Might Be the Biggest Cause of the Smells
There is no getting away from the fact that one of the main reasons that your wetsuit might stink, is you. Your body expels all sorts of fluids including sweat and body oils. The other fluid which will certainly leave a smell is urine, and while we are sure this does not apply to you, there are plenty of wetsuit users to which it will.
Just as your everyday clothes would soon start stinking if they weren’t washed and freshened, the same applies to wetsuits. The problem is that many users think that because their wetsuit is being used in the water there is no need to clean it. That is not the case.
There’s No Escaping From It
Modern neoprene is a far more advanced product that it was back in the 1930s, but although it certainly doesn’t have the horrible odor it had then, the nature of its construction lends itself to the possibility of smells occurring, simply because they can’t escape.
Unlike fabrics used for normal clothing, such as cotton, which is breathable and therefore lets air flow, a piece of neoprene does not. Instead, it has thousands of tiny air bubbles which trap the air within the wetsuit.
Unfortunately, it is not just the air which it traps, as it joined in there by the body fluids we have previously mentioned, as well as all the odors which will have already started to accumulate.
Think about the nasty combination of all those body fluids and odors, and you quickly realize that it is a recipe, not so much for disaster, but for a very stinky and unpleasant wetsuit.
Doing Nothing Doesn’t Help
Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do to prevent the body fluids we have spoken about, apart from the obvious one which begs the instruction – ‘Go before you put your wetsuit on!’ In the case of body oils and sweat, they are going to occur to one degree or another.
This is where many people who use wetsuits simply shrug their shoulders and accept it… and the stink that follows. What they do whenever they get home, is to simply throw their wetsuit in the nearest corner of the room, on the closet floor, or hang it up on a hook or coat hanger. Worst of all, they will leave it scrunched up in a bag or hold-all.
The problem with all of these, apart from being lazy, is that all the bacteria from sweat etc. do not really care where they are. Whether it is your bedroom, garage, or wet room, they will continue to fester, and the stink levels will continue to increase.
Easiest Way to Prevent Your Wetsuit from Stinking
Of all the things you can do to prevent your wetsuit from stinking, the easiest by far is to rinse it with fresh water using a hose or under a tap, after you have taken it off. It will take you less than a minute to do this, but it is worth it. Compare those mere 60 seconds to the countless hours where your nose is assaulted by the foul odors emanating from your unwashed wetsuit.
If you want to dry your wetsuit, simply hang it from the nearest tree if there is one about, or over a railing of some sort. Make sure that when it is drying, it is in the shade rather than in direct sunlight; drying it in direct sunlight can lead to the neoprene becoming stiff. This could mean your wetsuit will be more difficult to put on the next time you want to use it.
Using Detergents to Keep Your Wetsuit Clean and Stink Free
Using a detergent to wash and clean your wetsuit is possible, but just as you need to follow washing instructions for the fabrics in your normal clothes, the same applies when washing your wetsuit.
The first thing to do is check the advice given by the manufacturer in relation to cleaning your wetsuit. If you do not have those instructions, get in touch with them via their website to ensure that you can use detergent to wash it.
Once you have established that it’s safe to use a detergent, the next question is which one? It is possible to use simple, everyday dishwashing soap, and if this is all you have, then it is better than not cleaning your wetsuit at all. The ideal solution (literally) is a wetsuit detergent specifically made for cleaning neoprene.
These are sometimes called ‘wetsuit shampoos’ and are mild detergents which you can use to wash your wetsuit in a bathtub, or large sink. They won’t damage the neoprene, and most important of all, they will deodorize your wetsuit so that those nasty odors disappear. This means the next time you are wearing your wetsuit, the surf waves may overcome you, but the stink from inside your wetsuit won’t!