Wetsuits can become a source of unpleasant and often pungent odors (that is a nice way of saying that they can start to stink like a skunk).
Why does this happen, and what can you do to prevent this?
Sweat and oils that are naturally produced by our bodies become trapped in and on the neoprene material where they become a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Bacteria is the source of the offensive odors that come from our wetsuits.
Warm moist places are perfect for the rapid growth of bacteria, so the worst thing that you could possibly do is take your wet wetsuit off and toss it in the trunk of your car. The heat and humidity caused by doing this could also start mold growing on your wetsuit and other items in your trunk.
Don’t just think that wetsuit smells are caused by sweat and body oils trapped in the material. Urinating in a wetsuit also causes its fair share of wetsuit odors. A mentor of mine told me once that there are two types of divers: those who urinate in their wetsuits, and those that lie about it. So which of the two are you?
So, before everyone on the dive boat or at the beach starts whispering about you and avoiding being downwind of you, or people start trying to hand you spare change when they walk by you as if you were homeless, what can you do to get rid of the stink from your wetsuit?
As with anything else, prevention is better than cure. Preventing the odors from forming in the first place is where we want to start. Start by taking a shower before you put your wetsuit on. This will remove sweat and oils that are already built up on your skin before the dive. After the dive make sure you always thoroughly rinse out your wetsuit with fresh water as soon as possible after getting out of the water and then hang it out to dry in the shade away from direct sunlight. Doing this every time you use it will help keep the odors to a minimum, and help extend the life of your wetsuit.
“I rinse mine every time, but it still stinks“. Ok, so you are still having an odor problem even though you are thoroughly rinsing the wetsuit out every time you use it, your in luck. There are several products on the market made for this specific purpose. Wetsuit shampoos are formulated to remove sweat, body oils, and other things which can cause offensive odors in wetsuits, and are specifically formulated to be safe for delicate neoprene fabrics.
Neoprene is made from petroleum (oil), so using a harsh cleanser, dish detergent, or degreaser could potentially damage the material or shorten the lifespan of the wetsuit. For this reason I do not encourage the use of such cleaners on wetsuits.
Wetsuit shampoos come in a variety of brand names such as: “Sink the Stink, Piss Off, McNett, Slosh, Suit Fresh, Stinky Pete’s, and many, many others.
Be sure to read the directions carefully on the product label because some of the wetsuit shampoos are made to be thoroughly rinsed after washing, while others are not meant to be rinsed off at all.
Generally you would dilute the shampoo in fresh water and then soak the wetsuit for 10 to 20 minutes, then depending on the brand either rinse thoroughly in fresh water and hang to dry, or just hang to dry without rinsing.
Remember to always hang your wetsuit on a thick coat hanger to avoid tearing up the wetsuit material, and hang it in the shade away from sunlight. Sunlight and UV rays are the mortal enemy of wetsuits, making them age much quicker and making them less flexible and easier to tear.
Most wetsuit shampoos are mild enough that they can be used for more or less “regular use”. If you’r like me however and you dive multiple times per week, I would recommend thoroughly rinsing the wetsuit each day, and only use the shampoo on it once a week.
Remember, keeping your wetsuit looking, and most importantly smelling clean, will make it easier for you to find a dive buddy willing to spend the day around you.