The Wetsuit Care Guide: Learning How to Wash a Wetsuit

Jörg Matzdorff
Jörg Matzdorff

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Wetsuits are, as easy as they are to slip into, a piece of science, specifically designed to support your performance in and outside the water. Look at it more like a supportive friend by your side than a simple piece of clothing — a loyal companion, if you’d like. And if you don’t take good care of your close friends, you might end up all by yourself. Cold and alone out in the wild ocean. Is that a bit melodramatic for your taste? Okay, okay, fair enough! But, seriously: Without the right maintenance routine, all the benefiting traits like thermal control, protection of your skin and support of your muscles will have an inevitable expiration date. Luckily, you found just the right place to learn how to wash a wetsuit properly and keep your companion by your side for many more adventures to come.

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

  • How to wash a wetsuit after use?
  • Can you put a wetsuit in the washing machine?
  • How to remove bad smells from a wetsuit?
  • Can I use normal laundry detergent to wash a wetsuit?

Why is it so Important to Wash a Wetsuit?

Before diving into the washing process, it’s essential to grasp why wetsuit care matters. Wetsuits are made from neoprene, a flexible material that can degrade over time if not properly maintained. Factors like saltwater, sunscreen, and body oils can contribute to the deterioration of neoprene, affecting its insulation and flexibility. By adopting a regular cleaning routine, you not only extend the lifespan of your wetsuit but also ensure optimal performance in the water.

What Does Your Wetsuit do for You?

When the first wetsuit, as we know it today, became available on the market in the mid-1950s, the demand was high. Surfing became a new trend sport, the list of secret surf spots was significantly longer and the community growing immensely.

Yet, the water was not warmer and the sun not softer to your skin. That made the list of benefits you were gaining from wearing a wetsuit just as long as today:

  • Thermal Insulation: The neoprene material traps a thin layer of water between the suit and your skin, which your body then heats up. This layer acts as an insulator, keeping you warm even in cold water temperatures.


By choosing the best wetsuit thickness for your needs, you get to maximize the amount of time and fun in the water.
  • Buoyancy: This reduces the effort needed to stay afloat and allows for better energy conservation during activities.
  • Protection: Wetsuits provide protection against various environmental elements. They shield your skin from harmful UV rays, preventing sunburns and long-term sun damage. Additionally, wetsuits offer abrasion resistance, guarding against cuts, scrapes, and stings from marine life or rough surfaces.
  • Enhanced Performance: The snug fit and streamlined design reduce drag, allowing for smoother movement through the water. This can lead to increased speed, agility, and efficiency in activities such as surfing, diving, and swimming.
  • Muscle Support: Some wetsuits feature compression panels or strategic seam placement that provides targeted support to key muscle groups. This compression can help reduce muscle fatigue and improve endurance, allowing you to perform at your best for longer durations.
  • Hydrodynamics: The sleek design of wetsuits enhances agility and responsiveness, particularly in dynamic water sports like surfing and boogie boarding.
  • Comfort: The soft neoprene material conforms to your body shape, offering flexibility and mobility without sacrificing warmth or protection.
  • Versatility: Whether you’re swimming in cold ocean swells, diving in tropical reefs, or paddleboarding on a calm lake, a wetsuit can adapt to varying temperatures and environments, keeping you comfortable and safe throughout your adventures.

What do the Elements do to Your Wetsuit?

The elements such as time, sun exposure, and exposure to ocean or pool water can have various effects on wetsuits over time and none of them are gentle:

UV radiation breaks down the molecular structure of neoprene, causing it to become stiff, brittle, and prone to cracking. This degradation not only compromises the integrity of the wetsuit but also reduces its insulating properties.

→ How to Avoid: To minimize sun damage, it’s advisable to avoid leaving wetsuits exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods and to store them in a shaded area when not in use. 

Saltwater can have corrosive effects on wetsuits, particularly if not rinsed off properly after use. Salt crystals left on the neoprene surface can gradually wear down the fabric and seams, leading to accelerated deterioration and weakening of the material. Additionally, saltwater can cause discoloration and odor buildup in wetsuits.

→ How to Avoid: Thoroughly rinsing wetsuits with fresh water after exposure to saltwater helps remove salt residue and prolongs their lifespan.

Chlorine, commonly used to sanitize swimming pools, can also affect wetsuits. Prolonged exposure to chlorinated water can cause neoprene to lose its elasticity and become stiff and less flexible over time. Chlorine can also cause discoloration and fading of wetsuit materials.

→ How to Avoid: To mitigate the effects of chlorine, it’s essential to rinse wetsuits with fresh water after swimming in chlorinated pools and to wash them regularly with wetsuit-specific detergent to remove chlorine residue. By The Way: Have you ever heard of Chlorine resistant wetsuits

With time and use, wetsuits naturally experience wear and tear. Friction from movement, contact with abrasive surfaces, and repeated stretching can gradually weaken the neoprene material and seams of wetsuits. Over time, this wear and tear may lead to small tears, punctures, or seam failures, compromising the wetsuit’s integrity and performance. 

→ How to Avoid: Regular inspection, maintenance, and timely repairs can help prolong the lifespan of your wetsuit and ensure continued functionality and safety.

How to Take Proper Care of Your Wetsuit?

No need to be scared, taking proper care of your wetsuit will not take you any more time than learning how to wash a wetsuit — promised! Five simple steps, easily included into your swimming, surfing or diving routine, will make a big difference.

How to Wash a Wetsuit After Use?

Washing your wetsuit after each use is crucial for removing salt, sand, chlorine, and other contaminants that can degrade the neoprene material and cause odor buildup. Depending on how often you use your wetsuit, it is not necessarily needed to wash it with detergent every single time you wore it. 

But since salt, sand, sweat and — in cases of wearing a wetsuit in a pool — chlorine, tend to stick to your wetsuit, they can build debris on the material, causing it to rip faster or lose its fit. How long does a wetsuit last? That lies in your hand. Whether it is a month or up to ten years is up to you.

Rinsing your wetsuit with cold water after each use can prevent the most crucial damages of the neoprene. Immediately after removing your wetsuit, rinse it thoroughly with fresh water. Use a hose, shower, or bucket to flush out saltwater, sand, and debris from both the outside and inside of the suit. If your wetsuit is particularly dirty or has accumulated sand or debris inside, you can turn it inside out and rinse the interior as well. But, be gentle to avoid stretching or damaging the neoprene. 


If you use your wetsuit daily, you might want to think about getting a second one to rotate every other day. Like that, you give the wetsuits more time to dry properly.

If you wore your wetsuit for a couple of times or want to store it for some days or weeks, a deeper clean should be done. For that, fill a tub or basin with lukewarm water and add a small amount of wetsuit-specific detergent. Submerge the wetsuit in the detergent solution and gently agitate the water to ensure thorough cleaning. Allow the wetsuit to soak for 15–20 minutes to loosen dirt, salt, and oils.

Using your hands or a soft brush, gently scrub the entire surface of the wetsuit, paying extra attention to areas prone to odor buildup, such as the armpits and groin. Afterward, ensure that all soap suds are completely rinsed out, as leftover detergent can irritate your skin and cause discomfort during your next wear.

How to Properly Dry Your Wetsuit?

Nobody wants mold or mildew growth in their wetsuit, right? Yet, so many times the laziness after a hard session on or in the water wins and the wetsuit maintenance loses out. But taking those two minutes of rinsing and hanging your wetsuit in the right way will pay off for anybody, who manages to fight off the inner lazy demon.

Once you are done washing your wetsuit with fresh water, you want to hang it on a padded hanger to drip-dry. Not directly in the sun, though, because the UV rays will degrade the neoprene even faster than the mold would grow. 


Avoid hanging your wetsuit by the shoulders, as this can cause the shoulders of the wetsuit to stretch out over time. Instead, use the waist or hips of the wetsuit to support its weight on the hanger.

To prevent water from pooling inside the wetsuit and causing stretching or damage to the seams, properly invert the seams after hanging the wetsuit. Gently pull on the seams to open them up and allow water to drain out. In general, it may take 24 to 48 hours for a wetsuit to dry thoroughly.

Once dry, store your wetsuit in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Avoid folding or creasing the wetsuit, as this can cause permanent creases and weaken the fabric. Instead, hang it on a wide hanger or roll it loosely to preserve its shape.

Can You Put a Wetsuit in the Washing Machine?

Most wetsuits are actually not meant to be put in a washing machine. The spinning, the temperature, and the possible stretching could damage the material significantly. Before washing your wetsuit in a washing machine, check the manufacturer’s care instructions. Some wetsuits may be specifically labeled as machine washable, while others may advise against it.

How to Wash a Wetsuit in Washing Machine?

While hand-washing is generally the preferred method for cleaning wetsuits, you can use a washing machine with caution and specific considerations

  1. Use a Mesh Laundry Bag: Place your wetsuit inside a mesh laundry bag to protect it from getting caught on other items in the machine. This helps prevent stretching and damage to the fabric.
  1. Use Gentle Cycle and Cold Water: Set your washing machine to a gentle or delicate cycle with cold water. Avoid using hot water, as it can damage the neoprene material.
  1. Use Mild Detergent: Use a wetsuit-specific detergent or a mild, non-abrasive detergent designed for delicate fabrics. Avoid using bleach, fabric softeners, or harsh chemicals, as they can damage the neoprene.
  1. Avoid Aggressive Spinning: Skip or minimize the spin cycle, as the high-speed spinning can stretch and distort the wetsuit. If possible, set the machine to a low spin speed or manually interrupt the spin cycle before it starts.
  1. Monitor the Wash: Keep an eye on the washing machine while the wetsuit is being washed to ensure that it is not being agitated too vigorously. If necessary, pause the cycle or manually adjust the settings to reduce agitation.
  1. Rinse Thoroughly: Once the washing cycle is complete, remove the wetsuit from the mesh bag and rinse it thoroughly with fresh water to remove any detergent residue.

Can I use Normal Laundry Detergent to Wash a Wetsuit?

It’s generally not recommended to use normal laundry detergent to wash a wetsuit. Standard laundry detergents often contain harsh chemicals, fragrances, and additives that can damage the delicate neoprene material of wetsuits. 

These detergents can strip the neoprene of its natural oils, leading to stiffness, loss of flexibility, and reduced lifespan of the wetsuit. If you don’t have access to a wetsuit-specific detergent, you can use a mild detergent like baby shampoo or a gentle, non-abrasive detergent designed for delicate fabrics.

How to Remove Bad Smells from a Wetsuit?

If a wetsuit is used for more than just hanging decoratively on the wall of your home, it will — unfortunately, yet inevitably — develop a questionable odor

Luckily, we can let you in on some easy solutions for this very common problem:

  1. Use a Wetsuit Cleaner: Use a wetsuit-specific cleaner or deodorizer designed to neutralize odors and remove bacteria from neoprene. Some wetsuit cleaners come in spray form, making them easy to apply directly to problem areas.
  1. Soak in Vinegar Solution: Fill a tub or basin with a mixture of water and white vinegar (about 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar). Submerge your wetsuit in the solution and let it soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Vinegar is effective at killing odor-causing bacteria and neutralizing unpleasant smells.
  1. Baking Soda Paste: Make a paste by mixing baking soda with water until it forms a thick consistency. Apply the paste to the inside of your wetsuit, focusing on areas with stubborn odors. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight, then rinse thoroughly with fresh water. Baking soda absorbs odors and helps neutralize them.

Those three options are a gentle method compared to putting your wetsuit in a washing machine.

However, it’s essential to use vinegar in moderation and properly dilute it with water. Using undiluted vinegar or soaking the wetsuit in vinegar for an extended period may cause the neoprene material to become brittle or degrade over time. 

Besides that, rinsing your wetsuit after each use with fresh and cold water should keep the smells to an acceptable minimum.

Conclusion: Easy but so Important: How to Properly Wash a Wetsuit

In the end, maintaining your wetsuit properly is paramount for its longevity and performance. Following the steps outlined in this guide—such as regular rinsing, gentle handwashing, and thorough drying—ensures cleanliness and comfort. With good care, your wetsuit will remain a reliable companion for many sessions on the water, providing essential protection and support and keeping the costs of your wetsuit usage minimal. Remember, each washing session is an investment in the durability and functionality of your gear, ensuring it’s always ready to perform at its best when you take to the water. 

FAQ – Most asked questions about how to wash a wetsuit

Jörg Matzdorff
Jörg Matzdorff

Outdoor and surfing enthusiast.