I’ve owned, uh, (counts on fingers, scribbles equation on back of an envelope, slides abacus beads back and forth), roughly ten gazillion wetsuits in the 25 years I’ve been surfing. For many reasons—carelessness, sloth, indifference, youthful idiocy—it’s only been in the last ten or so years that I’ve bothered to actually care for the blessed things. To take note of the finer points of wetsuit cleaning. Boy howdy, does it make a difference when you do.
If you surf nearly every day most wetsuits will last, oh, let’s say a bit more than a year, if you own only the one suit. I’ve replaced many suits far quicker than that, though, always because lack of proper care reduced them to cracked, leaking, beef jerky-looking piles of smelly rubber. Some of the suits simply eroded into nothing, I swear, after leaving them without a rinse in a plastic tub in the trunk of a hot car. Couple days later I’d lift the tub’s lid to find nothing but sand, salt residue, and a powerful stench, wetsuit simply vaporized.
I kid, I kid. It was more like a week.
But now I’m a wetsuit neat freak, consumed with ensuring that after a surf not a grain of sand nor blade of grass be left on my precious neoprene costumes to befoul them and shorten their life. These days my wetsuits last two, three years, and I replace them because I’ve grown bored with their appearance, or my head is turned by a newfangled doodad of wetsuit tech that I simply must have.
What’s maybe even better is that my wetsuits don’t stink. They’re funkless. As fresh as the day they came from the surf shop, off-gassing volatile chemical compounds with that wonderful new wetsuit scent. There are a few tricks to help keep them this way. Even if the rest of your life is a total mess, your wetsuit can remain a pristine source of pride. Nothing spoils a surf session faster than pulling on a grimy, sandy disaster of a wetsuit and being blasted with the scent of a funky mold when you drag it over your head.
Here is how to keep that neoprene armor so fresh and so clean.
• Take it easy when taking the suit off. Don’t stand on it and grind your suit into the oil-soaked pavement with one leg while trying to tear the other leg off. Don’t yank at any of the flaps around the neck when pulling it off, either. Nice and easy does it. Treat those seams with respect, or they’ll take revenge on you by letting frigid ocean water spill into the most sensitive parts of your anatomy.
• Freshwater rinse and hang dry after every use. Hilariously, salt and sun are the two things that degrade neoprene faster than just about anything. But we make wetsuits out of the stuff anyway. So, when you get home rinse the wetsuit inside and out with fresh, cool water. Then you want to hang it up properly—doubled over at the waist, somewhere out of the sun. Each day until it’s dry, alternate turning the suit inside out and right side in. This will help it dry thoroughly and quickly.
• Mix in a wetsuit shampoo every once in a while. Sink the Stink, Rip Curl’s Piss Off, McNett—just about any neoprene cleaner and conditioner should do the trick. A capful in a wetsuit tub, some cool water, then mix it around with your hands. Soak it a bit. It’ll chase salt and grime out of the trouble spots you missed when rinsing, will help clean the zipper, and washes away the body oils you left on the neoprene. I do this about once every two months.
• Try a little mouthwash to battle foul odors. For the suit, I mean, not your breath. Peeing in your suit, sweating in your suit, forgetting to rinse it, all contribute to some serious nastiness from time to time. Products with Mirazyme will work, but so does regular old mouthwash. Listerine especially. A tablespoon or so mixed in with rinsing water and a good long soak can work wonders.
There was a youthful time (shudders) when putting on a well-used, sandy nasty suit was a point of pride. Spoke to how often you surfed, and how you didn’t mind pulling clammy rubber over your naked body first thing in the morning. That was a dumb time.