Does Neoprene Shrink
Sliding into a 7mm neoprene wetsuit is never as easy as it sounds. You cannot simply slide in. There is a funny-looking dance that a diver does when they wrangle their neoprene into its proper position.
You can tell the professionals. They wear full rash guards and even put sunscreen on the inside to help them slip into that form-fitting suit.
But, when your suit has sat in a dive bag for a year or more, you may find that it doesn’t quite fit right? There is a joke on dive boats around the world about the wetsuit shrinking over the offseason, and it usually is pointed at the person who gained the most weight.
So, what really happened to that neoprene vault you slide your body into every dive? Did it shrink or did you put on some pounds?
Neoprene is Made Of Tiny Bubbles
Picture layers and layers of bubble wrap. That is what basically makes up a closed-cell synthetic rubber suit (brand name neoprene, thanks, DuPont!) When you have air bubbles exposed to heat, pressure, and repeated dives what happens?
Well, two things can happen to cause a neoprene suit to shrink.
1. The air bubbles encased in the rubber cells become so heated that they expand to the point that they cause the cell to rupture.
2. The air bubbles get so tiny under pressure that they escape their rubber prisons to live a free gaseous life in the ocean.
Do The Bubbles Account For All The Shrinking?
The air bubbles can account for a big percentage of shrinking in a wetsuit. They are not the only element that adds to the shrinking of the wetsuit though. In addition to the wetsuit losing those precious air cells, it can also lose its elasticity.
The elasticity and the loss of air cells in a wetsuit can cause shrinking of as much as 5-inches on a 72-inch wetsuit or 2-inches on a 36-inch wetsuit.
Can You Prevent Shrinking In A Wetsuit?
There are plenty of things that you can do to care for your wetsuit properly. Making sure that you clean your suit well and store your suit in a dry cool location are two of the most important things you can do to ensure the long life of the material.
Cleaning A Wetsuit
One of the worst things that you can do for your wetsuit is to leave it salty and nasty from diving. Washing your wetsuit and drying are vital steps to making sure that you have a nice piece of neoprene for years to come. The best time to wash your wetsuit is right after you finish using it.
When you wash your wetsuit make sure that you are not washing it in hot water. Very hot water is going to damage the neoprene cells and cause it to lose its elasticity.
Warm water with a gentle detergent like liquid dishwashing detergent is all you need to clean your wetsuit. They do make special wetsuit cleaners that you can purchase. Some of them even promise to extend the life of your neoprene suit.
The claims of soap companies aside, dishwashing soap like Dawn will break down the oils from your skin that have attached themselves to your suit. It can also be good at getting any ammonia smells left in the suit from relieving yourself inside your wetsuit. Soak the suit in the warm soapy water for about 15 minutes to give the liquid dishwashing soap enough time to break down any body oils attached to the wetsuit.
When you are done soaking the suit, you will need to rinse the suit thoroughly with cool water. Not rinsing the suit is just as bad as not cleaning it. To better preserve the elasticity of the suit, many wetsuit manufacturers recommend that you hang your suit inside out to protect the outer layers from exposure.
Drying Your Suit
Never, ever, dry your suit in the hot sun, this will damage your suit faster than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Also, you will want to avoid putting your neoprene inside a dryer on high heat. Low or tumble dry settings are ok for neoprene, though drying in fresh air is the best. Never take an iron to your wetsuit.
Storing Your Wetsuit
Your wetsuit should not be stored folded. It shouldn’t be stuffed deep in the bottom of your dive bag at the back of your storage unit.
The best place to store your wetsuit is hung up in your closet with your jackets and coats. This will ensure that the wetsuit does not experience damage and shrinkage or loss of elasticity due to heat or compression.
Never Loan Your Suit
No one likes to be mean, but if you have a friend who is larger than you are, do not loan them your wetsuit. The stretching of the neoprene will damage it. To avoid any hurt feelings, I simply tell people no one pees in my wetsuit but me.
Don’t Pee In Your Wetsuit
Ok, jokes aside, if you want to take the best care of your wetsuit try not to pee in it. The ammonia can break down some of the neoprene, and it smells horrible. There are soaps designed to get the smell out and get the ammonia off of the suit, but it can be avoided if you just pee before you dive.
What if I Gained Weight?
If you have taken care of your suit and you just happened to gain a little weight. Don’t worry, your suit isn’t headed for the trash. There are plenty of businesses that make their mark in the scuba world by repairing and expanding wetsuits. Adding a little girth to your waistline is going to be a lot easier on the wallet than buying a whole new wetsuit.
Everything you ever needed to know about why your wetsuit feels a little tight is now in your arsenal of knowledge tools. If you take good care of your wetsuit, you should get lots of dives out of it. Even if you just need a little extra wetsuit, there is a solution to that too.