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Wetsuit Maintenance Tips

If you take care of your (delicate) wetsuit, and it will serve you well for many years.

In Canada it’s hard to compete in many early-season races without a wetsuit, but for many it can be yet another expense in an already expensive sport. If you take care of your wetsuit, though, it will serve you well for many years. Abuse it, and your brand new wetsuit will not last very long at all and you’ll have to spend more money on a replacement sooner than you should.

The first thing that many new wetsuit owners should know is that the best wetsuit neoprene rubber, made by a Japanese company called Yamamoto, is reasonably delicate. That’s because in order to have the smooth-skin side out, and to offer as much flexibility, buoyancy and hydrodynamics as possible, there has to be a bit of a trade off. That’s why the outside surface of most mid- to top of the line wetsuits is reasonably delicate. You need to be careful putting the wetsuit on to avoid fingernail cuts. Keep your fingernails trimmed short and, when putting on the suit, only pull with the pads of your fingers. Some people find it helpful to wear thin poly-pro running gloves on their hands when putting their suits on. I know that a number of retailers insist on people doing this when trying wetsuits on in stores. Finger-nail cuts are common, but not life threatening to a wetsuit. Many first-time wetsuit buyers are quite distraught when this happens at home or at their first race when putting the suit on. Small finger nail cuts can be fixed very easily, though, and once fixed you will hardly even know that the suit has been cut (see repair directions below). Fingernail cuts appear most usually on the upper thighs – as this is when people are trying to really pull up on a wetsuit to get it up and over their hips.

Wetsuit Don’ts
Avoid contact of the smooth skin side of the neoprene with anything abrasive. It’s best that your triathlon wetsuit be used only for open water swimming and never for diving, sailing, surfing or wind surfing. The rough side of the hook & loop (Velcro) closures at the top of the zippers of just about all triathlon wetsuits can really do a number on the smooth skin surface if not fully covered and closed when swimming. It’s also best to keep the rough part of the closure closed at all times so that the rough part of the closure never comes in contact with the smooth skin.

Never leave the wetsuit out in the sun for extended periods of time. Obviously, hanging up in transition after the swim is unavoidable. The sun’s UV rays and the heat, accelerate the break-down and perishing of the neoprene.

You should also avoid leaving the wetsuit inside your car. We have seen wetsuits completely melted after a few hours inside a car on a hot afternoon! Heat like this melts the glue and prematurely ages the neoprene.

That covers the Don’ts. What about the do’s?
Give your wetsuit a thorough fresh water rinse either just after you have used it or when you get home from a race or training swim. A garden hose or shower will work equally well. Many ask whether triathlon wetsuits can be used in chlorinated pools. It’s been my experience that occasional usage will not be a problem. Heavy usage may be a problem – mostly likely shortening the life of the wetsuit.  Again, after pool usage, give the suit a fresh water rinse.

After the rinse, hang the wetsuit up on a shaped, suit hanger inside-out to dry. I find that suits dry fastest when they are turned inside out. Again, if you can, avoid hanging the suit in the sun, but in the shade in the open air. Once the inside is dry to the touch turn the suit back right-side out and put it back on the hanger. Always hang the suit up in a cool dark place when not in use. The other option is to lay it flat on the floor under a bed.

At the end of the season check your suit over carefully, both inside and out. On the outside, look for finger-nail cuts and other abrasions. On the inside, check all the seams as well as the zipper to make sure all the teeth are there and it still is working smoothly. If you have any finger-nail cuts or seams coming apart get them fixed now, so the suit is ready to go in the spring. Don’t wait until one week before that first race next spring or summer! Minor fingernail cuts, as mentioned are not to be worried about and can be easily fixed at home. More major seam repairs are best left to wetsuit repair experts. First, contact where you bought the wetsuit to see if the suit is still under warranty. Note fingernail cuts are not covered under most manufacturer’s warranties but seam failures and zipper issues often are.

Finally, have you ever put you wetsuit back on for the first time in the spring and gone, “Wow. I think I put on a few pounds over the winter”! I have good news for you – it may be that your suit has lost a bit of flexibility over the winter because it has dried completely out.  The little micro bubbles in the neoprene hold in little amounts of water that make the rubber more elastic overall. Solution: soak your suit in the bath tub for a bit and then let it dry out and you’ll notice that it will have had its suppleness restored.

Repairing Fingernail cuts on your wetsuit
It can happen to anyone, and when you do accidentally put a fingernail cut into your wetsuit, don’t worry. You can repair it at home by just following these four easy steps.

1. Start with some neoprene glue and three basic household items. 
a) Aqua-Seal black Seal Cement 60 ml (2 fl. oz) tube (available at your wetsuit retailer or local dive shop)
b) cotton swab
c) scissors
d) household cellophane tape

2. Clean and prep the surface in and around the fingernail cut. 
Make sure the area in and around the fingernail cut is dry and clean. If dirty, use a warm damp rag to clean the surrounding area. Make sure that area is completely dry before commencing the next step.

3. Apply wetsuit glue to the fingernail cut. 
For best results, apply the wetsuit cement to the fingernail cut with an applicator. By cutting off one end of a cotton swab with the scissors, you’ve just made the perfect glue applicator. 
 Lightly pinch the neoprene together as pictured to open up the fingernail cut. Using the cotton swab, apply a small quantity of glue to the inside and outside edges of the cut. When you release the neoprene, some glue should ooze out. The secret to a good repair is to have a thin film of glue on the outside surface of the cut as well as inside

4) Make sure the cut remains together until the glue dries 
Now that the glue has been applied, you have to make sure the cut does not open up. This is done by applying a small piece of cellophane tape perpendicularly across the cut. This will hold the two sides together until the glue dries. 
 Ideally you want to allow the glue to dry over night, but a few hours will do. Once the glue is dry to the touch, gently peel the tape away. Due to the surface treatment of the wetsuit neoprene, the tape will come off easily and at the same time remove any excess glue on the surface. 

The cut has now been repaired, and you can use your suit as normal.

Steve Fleck is the Sales & Marketing Manager for Nineteen wetsuits. He is a nine-time Ironman finisher, was never a great swimmer and always loved wearing a wetsuit.