How to put on your wetsuit without damaging it
Looking after your wetsuit starts the day it arrives. One of the biggest mistakes people make (as I found to my cost) is rushing to put their suit on. For the purposes of this feature, we’re talking about the swimming wetsuits made from coated neoprene (rather than the fabric surf-type suits). This coating makes the suits more hydrophobic, so you slip more easily through the water, but it also makes your suit easier to damage.
We spoke to two wetsuit repair experts for help with this feature – Techneopro and Bodyline Wetsuits, both based in Cornwall. Alex at Techneopro agreed wholeheartedly with the need to take time getting into your suit.
‘This might sound obvious, but most damage we repair happens when people are pulling on or taking off their suit,’ he says. ‘To put it on, use a towel or a changing mat to avoid standing on the cuffs and causing damage in gravelly car parks and on stony beaches.’
As for those evil nail marks, Gary at Bodyline says ‘make sure that your fingernails aren’t sharp, so that you don’t rip the neoprene when putting the suit on. The use of cotton gloves is a good idea’. You could also cover your feet to avoid potential toenail damage – plastic bags make the legs slide on more easily, or just wear a pair of socks.
‘Next, work the suit up your body methodically,’ says Alex. ‘Get the knees in place, then up to your hips and waist before fitting one arm at a time. If you don’t get the knees right then it’s the big haul around the shoulders that’ll do the damage. If you get this right the zip will pull closed without wriggling and fighting and your swim will be much more comfortable.’
How should you maintain and store your wetsuit?
Next up, you need to make sure you are not exposing your suit to anything harmful that could degrade the neoprene. Petroleum-based products can damage it, so avoid using things like baby oil or Vaseline to avoid chafing (or if you must, wash it off straight away afterwards). We would advise buying a wetsuit lube that is specific to this purpose, such as Bodyglide, Leaping Fish, HUUB Luub or Zone3 Natural Glide. It’s worth thinking about the chemicals you are introducing to the open water too – another reason to avoid chemicals on your suit.
After your swim, always rinse your suit in cool fresh water. Saltwater will degrade the neoprene over time so should always be washed off, plus if you swim in various different lakes, it’s good practice to rinse your suit to avoid cross-contamination of plants (for example). You may also want to use a specific wetsuit cleaner now and again to give your suit a good refresh especially if (and we know this is gross, but let’s be honest!) you sometimes pee in your wetsuit. We like Coco Loco Wetsuit Eco Cleaner, but Ripcurl’s Piss Off Wetsuit Cleaner is also a favourite.
When drying your wetsuit, hang it to drip dry out of direct sunlight and away from direct heat sources such as radiators or drying rails. You can also buy wetsuit-specific hangers which are handy if you have neoprene gloves and boots to dry too, as well as being sturdy enough to cope with the weight.
If using a traditional hanger, especially over long periods of time, Alex has this budget tip: ‘Bulk out the arms of the hanger with some old socks, insulation tube, that sort of thing. This spreads the load on the shoulders and avoids the stress you often see in this area.’ If you aren’t hanging it to store it, we would tend to store a wetsuit inside out and roll it rather than folding it, to avoid areas that may create deep creases over time.
Should you home repair your wetsuit?
Say the worst happens and despite your best intentions, your suit does get damaged. What can you do? There are wetsuit glues and repair kits on the market which many will turn to. Black Witch is one you will see most often, as well as other similar products from surf brands. These thick, black glues quickly dry to seal small nicks. You can also buy kits which come with small circles of lining fabric that can be put on the back of a tear to strengthen it alongside the glue, especially if a tear has gone all the way through.
This isn’t always a good idea with a premium wetsuit, though. It’s about weighing up how much longer you want your suit to last and how good you want the repair to be. Alex from Techneopro advises getting a damaged suit to an expert.
‘Accidents do happen and normally at the most inconvenient time. A small nick or tear just before a swim or a race might be annoying, but it’s not the end of the world,’ he says.
‘I would avoid the temptation to put glue of any kind on the suit. Modern swim wetsuits are super soft, stretchy, comfortable and quick through the water, which is brilliant, but they are delicate things. The majority are made with what’s called “single-lined neoprene”. We’ve yet to see a glue available in the shops that is as stretchy.
‘If you use glue/adhesive/cement, it’ll create a stiff spot in the neoprene. The repair might look great, but very quickly it’ll start tearing away from the repair and things just get worse from there. Get it sorted properly before it becomes a bigger problem.’
How to get your wetsuit repaired professionally
A good wetsuit repair company will be able to assess the damage to your suit and repair it to keep you going for longer – whether that means reglueing and stitching a seam or replacing a damaged panel. Both Techneopro and Bodyline can turn a repair around (depending on its severity) in anything from one to four weeks, and Techneopro tell us most repairs cost between £35-50 – much less than the cost of a new suit.
It’s not just material repairs, either – wetsuit repair companies can replace zips and make modifications to your wetsuit if you have any personal needs (eg limb loss). If you want a truly bespoke service, though, Snugg Wetsuits in Newquay is the only company in the UK that offers a made-to-measure wetsuit service. After taking measurements of your body and asking about your personal swim style and preferences (do you have sinky legs, for example) the team will make you a wetsuit from scratch, and you can return it to them for repairs during its lifetime.
How to get your old wetsuit recycled
So, there you have it – everything you need to know to care for your shiny new wetsuit and keep it in top condition for as long as possible. When it does reach end of life though, don’t put your suit in the bin. Many wetsuit manufacturers now offer a take-back scheme, where you send the wetsuit to them and they will either repair it and sell it second-hand, or have it recycled so the rubber can be used again. Fingers crossed (and nails kept short) that you and your wetsuit don’t face that day anytime soon, though.
You can read more articles about swimming equipment and maintenance in issue 7 of Swim magazine.