Do Wetsuits Shrink? Exploring Factors and Solutions

Jörg Matzdorff
Jörg Matzdorff

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Wetsuit shrinkage can indeed present as a perplexing mystery. Picture this: you’ve meticulously planned a day of exhilarating surfing adventures at the world’s most beautiful surf spots. Eager to begin your day, you slip into your wetsuit in the morning, only to find that it no longer fits as snugly as before. 

Puzzled, you wonder if you’ve unknowingly gained weight overnight. But fear not, for the culprit is not your waistline, but rather your wetsuit itself that has undergone a mysterious transformation. How could this happen, you ask?

Rest assured, we’re here to unravel the enigma and provide you with the insights you seek. So join us as we unravel the mysteries of why do wetsuits shrink and ensure your next aquatic adventure is met with a perfectly fitting wetsuit.

In this article, you will get answers to the following questions:

  • Why do wetsuits shrink over time?
  • Does neoprene shrink?
  • Do wetsuits shrink in water?
  • Stichpunkt

Understanding Why Do Wetsuits Shrink

As a perplexing phenomenon, wetsuit shrinkage can leave you scratching your head when your once-perfect fit suddenly feels snug. 

But fear not, for we’re delving deep into the intricacies of wetsuit shrinkage. From exploring the science behind neoprene composition to examining environmental factors that explain the question “Does neoprene shrink?”, we’re uncovering it all. 

What Material are Wetsuits Made of?

Wetsuits are primarily made from neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber known for its excellent insulation properties and flexibility. Neoprene is typically laminated with fabric, such as nylon or spandex, to improve durability and stretch

Materials commonly used in wetsuit construction include:

  • Nylon: Often used as a lining material for added durability and comfort against the skin.
  • Spandex: Provides elasticity and stretch to the wetsuit, allowing for greater freedom of movement.
  • Polyester: Used in some wetsuit linings for moisture-wicking properties and added warmth.
  • Thermal linings: Some wetsuits feature thermal linings made from materials like fleece or titanium-infused fabric to enhance insulation and retain body heat.
  • Seam tape: Seam tape is often applied to the inside of wetsuit seams to prevent water leakage and improve durability.

These materials work together to create wetsuits that are not only insulating and protective but also comfortable and flexible for various water activities.

However, the quality of how long the wetsuit lasts and the required thickness of a wetsuit can vary depending on the specific type and construction of the neoprene used.

Standard neoprene serves as the foundational material in wetsuits, providing a moderate level of insulation and flexibility suitable for various water sports activities in mild to moderate conditions.

High-stretch neoprene is specifically designed to enhance flexibility and facilitate a wider range of motion. This feature makes it ideal for sports that demand agility, such as surfing and paddleboarding.

Thermal neoprene integrates additional linings or layers to improve insulation, effectively retaining body heat. This characteristic renders it suitable for colder water temperatures or prolonged periods in the water.

Attention! Depending on your sport of choice, investing in a more expensive high-quality wetsuit can pay off and be worth the investment.

Smoothskin neoprene boasts a sleek, water-repellent outer surface that reduces water infiltration and wind chill. This feature offers added warmth and comfort, particularly in cold or windy conditions.

Closed-cell neoprene features tiny gas-filled bubbles within the material, which enhance buoyancy. It is commonly used in wetsuits designed for activities like diving, where buoyancy control is important.

Yamamoto neoprene stands out as a premium option renowned for its superior quality and performance. It delivers exceptional flexibility, insulation, and durability, surpassing standard neoprene and often found in top-tier wetsuits.

Attention! Wetsuits come in different colors, but choosing the color black for your wetsuit is not only a classic, but also for many more reasons the best choice.

Additionally, some manufacturers offer eco-friendly alternatives to traditional neoprene, crafted from materials such as limestone or recycled rubber. These sustainable options aim to mitigate the environmental impact of wetsuit production while upholding performance and quality standards.

What causes a Wetsuit to Shrink?

Everybody who ever asked themselves questions like “How much does my scuba gear cost?” or “How much did I spend on Surfing this year?” understands one thing for certain: water sports gear comes with a price tag!

That revelation certainly makes the news about wetsuits potentially changing their fit worth a second thought! However, the silver lining is that by understanding the factors behind wetsuit shrinkage, you can take simple steps to prevent it from occurring.

Several factors can cause a wetsuit to shrink:

  • Heat Exposure: Exposure to high temperatures, whether from direct sunlight, hot water, or drying methods such as using a clothes dryer, can cause the neoprene material of the wetsuit to contract and shrink.
  • Improper Drying: Hanging a wetsuit in direct sunlight or using high heat during drying can lead to shrinkage. It’s essential to use gentle drying methods, such as air drying in the shade or using a wetsuit hanger, to prevent damage to the neoprene.
  • Storage Conditions: Storing a wetsuit in hot or humid environments can accelerate the deterioration of the neoprene material and contribute to shrinkage over time.
  • Age and Wear: Do wetsuits shrink with age? Yes, as wetsuits age and undergo regular wear and tear, the neoprene material may lose elasticity, making it more prone to shrinkage.
  • Improper Care: Using harsh detergents, failing to rinse the wetsuit thoroughly after use, or folding the wetsuit incorrectly can damage the neoprene and lead to shrinkage.
  • Fit: Wearing a wetsuit that is too tight or applying excessive pressure to certain areas of the wetsuit can cause localized shrinkage over time.
  • Using Lubricants: Petroleum-based lubricants can potentially cause damage to wetsuits. These lubricants, such as e.g., Vaseline, can degrade the neoprene material of the wetsuit over time, leading to loss of elasticity and increased susceptibility to tearing or puncturing. Additionally, petroleum-based lubricants may leave residue on the wetsuit, attracting dirt and debris that can further deteriorate the material.

Wetsuit shrinkage can be a frustrating issue for water sports enthusiasts, but by understanding the causes, it can be effectively managed. 

By prioritizing proper care, gentle drying techniques, and avoiding excessive heat exposure, you can prolong the lifespan of your wetsuit and ensure it remains a reliable companion for many aquatic adventures to come.

Do Wetsuits Shrink Fast?

As the answer to the question “Do wetsuits shrink over time?” is a definite “Yes!”, so the next question is: “How fast do wetsuits shrink?

The speed at which a wetsuit shrinks can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of heat exposure, the quality of the neoprene material, and the specific conditions in which the wetsuit is stored or used. 

In some cases, noticeable shrinkage may occur relatively quickly after exposure to high temperatures or improper drying methods, such as leaving the wetsuit in direct sunlight or using a clothes dryer with high heat settings. 

However, in other instances, shrinkage may occur gradually over time with repeated exposure to heat, improper care, or aging of the neoprene material.

Attention! When buying a wetsuit, compare wetsuit prizes and qualities first before choosing one.

Do Wetsuits Shrink in Water?

Wetsuits typically do not shrink in water. Neoprene, the primary material used in wetsuits, is designed to be water-resistant and does not significantly change its size or shape when submerged in water. 

However, wetsuits may feel tighter or looser when wet due to the compression of the neoprene and the presence of water between the suit and the wearer’s skin. 

Attention! Additionally, wetsuits may stretch slightly over time with repeated use, but this is usually minimal and does not result in significant shrinkage.

Only when thrown into hot water, the wetsuit might shrink. Common ocean or pool water on the other hand does not impact the size of the wetsuit significantly. It’s only exposure to hot water, such as that from a hot tub or overly hot wash, that can cause shrinkage.

Will a Wetsuit Stretch Over Time? 

Yes, wetsuits can stretch over time, especially if they are made from materials like neoprene. Neoprene is a flexible material that can gradually stretch with repeated use. 

Additionally, factors such as exposure to sunlight, saltwater, and other environmental conditions can contribute to the stretching of a wetsuit over time.

It’s important to note that while some stretching is normal and expected, excessive stretching can affect the fit and performance of the wetsuit. Proper care, such as rinsing the wetsuit with fresh water after each use and avoiding exposure to direct sunlight for prolonged periods, can help prolong its lifespan and maintain its shape.

How to Protect a Wetsuit From Shrinking?

Taking care of your wetsuit properly will not take much of your time and might save you a lot of frustration, money and possibly even pain from a wetsuit rash. 

Five easy steps can ensure you and your loyal water companion – your wetsuit, a long and happy life together. Whether you are trying boogie boarding for the first time, want to learn how to wake board or are on your way to become a pro surfer.

Step 1: Rinsing Your Wetsuit With Cold Water

Rinsing your wetsuit after each use is essential for preventing shrinkage and maintaining its quality for several reasons:

  • Removal of salt and minerals: Saltwater and minerals from the ocean can accumulate on your wetsuit during use. If left untreated, these substances can cause the neoprene material to degrade over time, potentially leading to shrinkage and reduced elasticity.
  • Prevention of bacterial growth: Rinsing your wetsuit helps to remove sweat, oils, and other organic residues that can attract bacteria. Bacterial growth can not only cause unpleasant odors but also contribute to the deterioration of the neoprene material, which may lead to shrinkage and decreased performance.
  • Avoidance of chemical reactions: Certain substances in seawater, such as chlorine or pollutants, can react with the neoprene material and accelerate its breakdown. Rinsing with fresh water helps to neutralize these substances and reduce the risk of chemical damage to the wetsuit.
  • Maintenance of flexibility and comfort: By rinsing away salt and debris, you help to preserve the flexibility and softness of the neoprene material. This ensures that your wetsuit remains comfortable to wear and provides optimal insulation and protection against the cold water.

Overall, regular rinsing of your wetsuit with fresh water after each use is a simple yet effective way to prolong its lifespan, prevent shrinkage, and maintain its performance for many seasons of use.

Step 2: Avoid Heat and Direct Sunlight

Avoiding heat and direct sunlight is crucial for preventing wetsuit shrinkage and maintaining its quality. Here is why:

  • Neoprene sensitivity: Neoprene, as mentioned before, is sensitive to heat. Exposure to high temperatures can cause the neoprene to shrink or lose its elasticity over time.
  • Degradation of materials: Direct sunlight can accelerate the breakdown of the neoprene and other materials used in wetsuits. UV radiation from the sun can weaken the fibers and cause them to degrade, leading to shrinkage and reduced durability.
  • Risk of overheating: Exposing your wetsuit to heat sources, such as heaters or radiators, can lead to overheating and damage to the neoprene. Overheating can cause the material to become brittle and lose its flexibility, making it more prone to shrinking and tearing.
  • Color fading: Direct sunlight can also cause colors to fade over time. While this may not directly contribute to shrinkage, it can still affect the appearance and overall quality of the wetsuit.

By avoiding heat and direct sunlight, you can help prolong the lifespan of your wetsuit, maintain its elasticity, and prevent shrinkage. It’s essential to store and dry your wetsuit in a shaded, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight and heat sources to ensure its longevity and optimal performance.

Step 3: Store Your Wetsuit Dry and Loose

If you have the space and the climate, your properly stored wetsuit will be thanking you for multiple reasons:

  • Preservation of shape: Proper storage helps maintain the shape of the wetsuit. Hanging it on a wide, padded hanger prevents creases and folds that can lead to permanent deformation of the neoprene material, which may contribute to shrinkage over time.
  • Prevention of compression: Folding or cramming the wetsuit into a small space can compress the neoprene and affect its elasticity. Over time, this compression can lead to shrinkage and loss of insulation properties.
  • Avoidance of moisture buildup: Storing the wetsuit in a well-ventilated area allows moisture to evaporate more effectively. Accumulation of moisture, especially in folds or creases, can promote the growth of mold and mildew, which may degrade the neoprene and contribute to shrinkage.
  • Protection from damage: Proper storage helps protect the wetsuit from damage caused by friction, abrasion, or contact with sharp objects. Hanging it up prevents it from coming into contact with rough surfaces that could weaken the material and lead to shrinkage over time.

The best place to store your wetsuit is in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Ideally, you should hang it on a wide, padded hanger in a location where it can air dry completely between uses. 

Avoid storing it in a tightly enclosed space, such as a bag or trunk, where moisture can become trapped and promote the growth of mold and mildew.

Step 4: Use a Specific Wetsuit Shampoo

By using a wetsuit shampoo regularly as part of your wetsuit maintenance routine, you can help keep your wetsuit clean, odor-free, and in optimal condition.

  • Removal of residues: Wetsuit shampoo is specifically formulated to remove salt, sweat, oils, and other residues that can accumulate on the neoprene material during use. These residues can attract bacteria and contribute to the breakdown of the neoprene, potentially leading to shrinkage over time.
  • Preservation of elasticity: Regular cleaning with a wetsuit shampoo helps to keep the neoprene material supple and flexible. This preserves its elasticity and ensures that the wetsuit maintains its ability to stretch and conform to your body shape without becoming stiff or brittle, which can contribute to shrinkage.
  • Prevention of odors: Wetsuit shampoo helps to neutralize odors caused by sweat, bacteria, and other organic substances. By keeping your wetsuit clean and odor-free, you reduce the need for excessive washing, which can contribute to wear and tear and potential shrinkage over time.
  • Protection against degradation: Some wetsuit shampoos contain conditioning agents that help to moisturize and protect the neoprene material from drying out and becoming brittle. This can help prolong the lifespan of the wetsuit and reduce the risk of shrinkage and damage caused by environmental factors such as sun exposure and saltwater.

Step 5: Minimize Friction, Stretching and Abrasion

Avoiding rough surfaces and stretching is crucial for avoiding wetsuit shrinkage because excessive friction and abrasion can damage the neoprene material, leading to degradation and potential shrinkage over time.

  • Preservation of material integrity: Neoprene, the material typically used in wetsuits, is durable but can be susceptible to damage from friction and abrasion. Excessive rubbing against rough surfaces or repeated abrasion can wear down the outer layer of the neoprene, weakening its structure and potentially causing it to shrink.
  • Prevention of tears and punctures: Friction and abrasion can also increase the risk of tears, punctures, and other forms of damage to the wetsuit material. These openings can allow water to penetrate the neoprene, leading to moisture buildup and potential shrinkage as the material breaks down.
  • Maintenance of flexibility: Friction and abrasion can stiffen the neoprene material, reducing its flexibility and elasticity. A wetsuit that has lost its flexibility may not fit as snugly or provide the same level of insulation, increasing the likelihood of shrinkage over time.
  • Reduction of wear and tear: This helps to reduce general wear and tear on the wetsuit, prolonging its lifespan and maintaining its quality over time. By avoiding unnecessary rubbing, stretching or contact with rough surfaces, you can help preserve the integrity of the neoprene material and minimize the risk of shrinkage.

Attention! But don’t skip waxing your surfboard! Especially as a beginner, it is important to use surf wax correctly. 

Conclusion: Why do Wetsuits Shrink?

Wetsuit shrinkage is a common concern among water enthusiasts, but with the right knowledge and proactive measures, it can be effectively managed. By understanding the factors that contribute to shrinkage and implementing preventative strategies such as gentle drying, proper storage, and careful washing, you can prolong the lifespan of your wetsuit and maintain the optimal wetsuit fit.

Remember to prioritize a snug but comfortable fit, avoid excessive heat exposure, and follow manufacturer’s care instructions diligently. With these practices in place, you can confidently enjoy your aquatic adventures knowing that your wetsuit is well-protected against shrinkage, ensuring many more memorable moments in the water to come.

FAQ – Most asked questions

Jörg Matzdorff
Jörg Matzdorff

Outdoor and surfing enthusiast.