Neoprene doesn’t breathe. That makes it a great insulator, but also makes it very good at absorbing and holding impurities and odors. Sweat, bacteria, pollutants encountered in the water, dirt, and urine accumulate in a wetsuit to cause an industrial strength stink. It’s not difficult to get rid of that smell, but it’s not as simple as rinsing your suit with fresh water and hanging it to dry. Those odor-causing contaminants really cling to neoprene, so a little more effort is needed.
Bathtub, large bucket or bin, at least 10gal capacity
Cool tap water
Hot tap water
Cleanser: A soap that’s specially formulated for neoprene use like Trident One Step Wetsuit Cleaner & Conditioner is best, but a clothing detergent that’s made for washing delicates will do in a pinch.
Deodorizer: An enzyme-based deodorizer will give the best results, because it includes microbes that literally eat odor-causing bacteria. Try Mirazyme or Sink the Stink. If neither of those is available, an antiseptic mouthwash can be used as a backup.
Soft toothbrush (optional)
Hanger: A hanger specifically made for wetsuits is ideal, because it’s built to handle the weight and won’t distort the shape of your suit. Barring that, you can use a heavy duty plastic hanger with a clean, dry, wide-mouth plastic juice or sports drink bottle covering each end of the hanger. The bottles create a wide, rounded shoulder support that won’t leave kinks or divots in your suit.
The Step by Step
1. Fill your tub, bucket or bin halfway with cool tap water.
2. Add your cleanser. If you’re using laundry detergent, pour in enough for a single load per label instructions. If using wetsuit soap, follow label directions for correct quantity.
3. Add enough hot water to fill the tub, bucket or bin about 2/3 full. This should make the water lukewarm. Gently swish the water to evenly distribute the cleanser.
4. If using mouthwash as your deodorizer, add 2-4oz to the water—quantity depends on the strength of the stink. If using an enzyme-based deodorizer, DO NOT add it now: the soap will kill the odor-eating bacteria, so that type of deodorizer must be used in a separate step.
5. Add your wetsuit and hand wash for about five minutes. Use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub out surface stains, if desired.
6. Let the wetsuit sit in the cleaning water for 15 minutes.
7. Remove the wetsuit and drain your tub, bin or bucket. Thoroughly rinse the suit and tub, bin or bucket with clean tap water. After rinsing the outside of the suit turn it inside out so you can get the other side, too.
8. If using an enzyme-based deodorant, prepare the solution in your tub, bucket or bin according to package directions. Add your suit and allow it to soak per package directions. DO NOT rinse the suit again.
9. Hang the wetsuit to dry, out of direct sun.
An Ounce of Prevention
To prevent your wetsuit from getting stinky in the first place, give it a thorough freshwater rinse after every use. Hang it to dry on a wetsuit hanger or a heavy duty plastic hanger, modified as above, to ensure maximum air circulation as it dries. Let it dry completely before packing it away for storage or travel: trapped moisture is where most odors get their start. Follow the cleaning and deodorizing routine given in this article once a month when your suit’s in regular use, at the end of any multi-day dive trip, and before storing your suit for an extended period.
Your neoprene—and your nose!—will thank you.