The Ultimate Guide To Drysuit Care and Maintenance
This is the ultimate guide to drysuit care and maintenance in 2020.
And let me be clear about something: this is NOT your average "drysuit maintenance" post.
Yes, I’ll cover the most important steps to consider when looking after a scuba diving drysuit. But you’re also going to see some old and new strategies that we use that are working great right now. So if you want to make sure your drysuit is in as good a condition next year as it was last year, you’ll love this new guide.
- Drysuit Fundamentals
- Before Diving In A Drysuit
- After Diving In A Drysuit
- How To Care For A Drysuit
- How To Store A Drysuit
- Drysuit Do’s and Don’ts
1. Drysuit Fundamentals
It is important to know how to look after a drysuit to protect the suit and keep you dry. Drysuits can be one of the largest investments for scuba divers, and with some simple steps, you can ensure your drysuit will last you for many happy years of scuba diving.
How does a drysuit work?
Scuba diving drysuits are designed to be entirely waterproof. They trap a layer of air between the water and your body. They achieve this with a combination of suit construction and design, wrist and neck seals, and a waterproof zip. The suit seals you inside, with only your hands and head not protected inside the suit.
Why dive in a drysuit?
The reason divers choose drysuits for temperate to colder water is that water dissipates heat away from the skin 20 times faster than air. By keeping divers dry while diving, they stay warmer for longer, even in very cold conditions. It is important to note however that the drysuit itself does not really offer much in the way of thermal protection. Air itself is also not a great insulator. So how do divers keep warm? With the help of an enormous range of thermal undersuits available, ranging in thickness and style and suited for different water temperatures and dive durations. You can find out more about this in our guide to scuba diving undersuits.
Whether you are using a rental drysuit or your own, knowing how to maintain a drysuit is essential. No one wants to get wet when in a drysuit. In addition, some elements of a drysuit can be expensive to repair or replace, so by taking appropriate care you can also avoid a potentially hefty bill.
Knowledge is key
Understanding the basic care and maintenance procedures can help you protect the drysuit you dive in. The better prepared you are, the longer you will dive in your drysuit without costly repairs, thus helping you extend the life of your suit.
2. Before Diving In A Drysuit
Before you go diving you will need to ensure you have completed the following:
- Check the seals
- Inspect the zip
- Check valves are secure
- Test the inflator valve
- Test the shoulder dump valve
- Try on the suit
- Pre-dive checklist
Check your wrist & neck seals
Checking the wrist and neck seals is important. You will need to ensure that they are still soft and supple enough, not brittle and stiff. You will also want to ensure they fit comfortably, especially if you have had new seals fitted. Give your seals a light dusting with high-quality french chalk such as McNett Pro Talc. If you are using basic talc, make sure it is the unperfumed kind. The talc will remove almost all resistance and the seal should slip on without damaging the rubber seal or your hands/face!
If you have recently had new latex wrist or neck seals fitted, you will need to ensure they are not too tight. If the seal is uncomfortable and restricting blood flow, you may need to trim the seal. To do this, simply use a large pair of scissors that will allow you to make one long straight cut. Try and avoid making a number of short cuts that can result in an uneven edge to the seal. Some wrist and neck seals actually have ridges that act as guidelines to assist in the trimming of the seal, so look out for those. If these are on your seal, trim one ring off at a time. Don't be tempted to cut too much at once - you can always trim the seal again, but you can never get more back!
Inspect the drysuit zip
This is one of the most important parts of your drysuit to keep well-maintained. During your inspection of the zip, you are looking for the teeth that do not align. This can be a sign that the zip has been kinked, and would be a likely area for the zip to leak or worse, fail entirely. If these teeth fail while the suit is being worn, a couple of things can happen. You will either get wet, or your buddy may not be able to get you out of your drysuit and may need to cut the zip.
Check that your inflator and deflator valves are tight
It's good practice to double-check that your drysuits inflate and deflate valves are done up tightly. Occasionally checking to ensure the valves have not become loose over time is a smart idea, and it only takes a few seconds to check each valve. Although it doesn't happen often on trilaminate, the suit valves can work themselves loose over time. This is more common on neoprene drysuits that compress and expand on every dive. When you get a new suit, it's recommended to check that the valve has been securely tightened.
Test the chest inflator valve
As you descend, the air in the suit compresses and you need to compensate for this by adding air to your suit. The air is delivered into your suit by a power inflation valve located in the centre of your chest. These are often known as drysuit inflators. The air is delivered to a drysuit inflator from your regulator's first stage via a low-pressure inflator hose, similar to your BCD hose. It's a good idea to ensure that the inflator has not become sticky and the valve slow to release. You can test this easily by pressing the valve and seeing the speed of release. If in doubt, ask your instructor or drop into the dive centre.
Test the shoulder dump valve
Your drysuits shoulder deflation valve is also typically known as a shoulder dump, iand s there to allow air out of your suit during ascent. This is a really important check. Ensuring your suit can safely exhaust expanding gas will make sure you can safely ascend at the end of your dive. Most deflate valves offer the diver a twist for slow release of gas and a press for a sharp fast dump of gas. During your checks, make sure your valve has a smooth action and both operations work effectively.
Make sure your suit and undersuit combination fits
To ensure that your drysuit fits, you have to try it on. Seems obvious. But make sure that you try it on with ALL the undergarments you are planning to wear under the suit on your next dive, not just some of them. Adding additional layers when you get to the dive site because the weather has turned or the wind started to howl on the dive boat, may not allow you to move easily in your suit.
Once the suit is on, kneel with one knee on the floor and the other foot on the floor, now extend your arms to the sky. If you can not reach up fully, the suit may be a little tight.
Next, you will want to sit on a chair, cross one leg onto the other as if you are putting a fin on. This will show if there is enough length in the suit to don and doff your fins (while wearing all your undersuits). At this point, it is worth mentioning that not all fins that fit you with a neoprene wetsuit boot will fit over a chunkier drysuit boot. So before making your way to the dive boat with your new drysuit, try your fins on first to make sure they fit.
The last thing before suiting up at the dive site or on the dive boat is to be sure to re-check the following:
- Check your zip
- Talc to dust latex seals
- Test the inflator and dump valves
3. After Diving In A Drysuit
After a fun day of diving, it's far too easy to get changed, get in the car and head off for a post-dive debrief and catch up with your friends. But it's best to not forget about your kit until another day. This is a bad habit for you to get into where your drysuit is concerned, especially if you are diving in salt water. Making time to follow these simple steps will pay dividends in the long run without a shadow of a doubt.
Rinse Your Drysuit
It is recommended by the majority of drysuit manufacturers to rinse your drysuit with fresh water inside and out after diving. I realise that it is not always practical to rinse the inside of your suit after each day's diving, as you will likely be unable to dry the suit out overnight, leading to a cold wet dive the next day.
To rinse your suit, you will need a hanger that is wide enough to hold the weight and strong enough to not collapse and break. The Waterproof Hanger offers you all this in a hanger designed intentionally to protect your suit while it dries. My top tip is to make sure that your drysuit is zipped up BEFORE you start rinsing it off. This will not only keep the inside dry if you are diving the following day, but it will also allow you to thoroughly rinse the drysuit zip, wash seals, and flush valves effectively.
There are times when simply rinsing with fresh water is not enough. It's true that this will remove the surface salt and muck and help your suit, but if your suit has reached "that stage" and it smells like what can only be described as wetsuit funk, then you will need to upscale your cleaning tools. The McNett Wet & Dry Shampoo has been specifically designed to remove that smell. It will give your suit a much more thorough clean, which is needed from time to time.
The zip should receive a small amount of care after every dive. Grab an old toothbrush and "do a cleaner wrasse" between each of the teeth on the zip. If you can, we would recommend warm freshwater for this task.
When you know you are not diving the next day, it is strongly recommended to rinse the inside of the suit. This prevents the suit from getting a build-up of muck and body odours that can accumulate over time. Wipe the inside of the suit with a damp cloth. If you have fitted boots, give these a rinse inside and dry with a towel. Any stubborn stains can usually be shifted with mild soapy water.
Get your boots turned inside out after a wash, these will take some time to dry. You will want to make sure that these are completely dry before putting the suit into storage.
Clean Your Drysuit Zip
Removing the salt, sand, grit and dirt from your zip is key to the zip lasting a long time. If you have been diving in very sandy or silty water with lots of debris, it is advisable to rinse the zip before unzipping and getting out of the suit. Ensure that your dive buddy, or whoever is unzipping you, fully opens the zip before you get out of the suit, otherwise you can damage the zip's teeth.
Hang Your Drysuit To Dry
It is most effective to hang your drysuit out to dry in a well-vented area. Specially designed hangers, such as the HangAir Hanger from Underwater Kinetics are ideal for protecting your suit while it hangs to dry. The HangAir has the added advantage of having an electric fan built into the hanger body to accelerate the drying process and ensure a fresher suit for your next dive. A plastic hanger from the supermarket is definitely NOT the tool for this job.
If you have encountered a leak in your suit, or you have just rinsed the inside, including the boots, I would suggest hanging the suit upside down or inside out to allow it to drain effectively. This also allows the moisture to work its way out of the suit rather than accumulate in the boot or sock. Leave the suit hanging either way round until it is completely dry.
Once the drysuit is dry, have a look at the seals for signs of tears or aging. If any signs are found, get the seal replaced. Leaving this to the week before your next dive trip will likely mean you are diving in a rental suit for that trip. Look for abrasions, especially on the knees and elbow, and ensure that there are no visible tears that will allow water to make its way in. If nothing is found, then talc the seals and you are done.
4. How To Care For A Drysuit
Caring for your drysuit seals
Give latex seals a good wash to remove contaminants such as sun lotion, body oils, perfumes, and pollutants which can quickly damage them. Lightly talc latex seals to help prevent perishing, the seals degrading, and sticking together. Be sure to use the unscented kind and avoid baby powders, as these can contain petroleum which can damage the seals. If you haven't got any high-quality French chalk, then McNett Pro Talc is perfect for this job.
Avoid using moisturising body cream, suntan lotion, and other oil-based products where the skin will be in contact with a latex seal, as this will allow the seal to perish quickly. One of the most unknown products that is absolutely ideal for protecting your drysuit seals is the McNett Seal Saver. This amazing stuff will help to preserve and maintain latex and neoprene neck and wrist seals while preventing oxidation and deterioration.
As I mentioned in the section about drying your suit, you should avoid exposing your seals to direct sunlight. I have also mentioned a few times that using French chalk or non-scented talc on the seals before storing and wearing is an absolute must. Avoid storing the drysuit near or on any copper as exposure to this material can accelerate the aging and process and speed up the deterioration of the rubber seals.
Caring for your drysuit zip
Bees wax or other products such as McNett Zip Tech that haves been specially designed for lubricating your zip. Avoid using oil-based lubricants that will attract foreign particles to accumulate on your drysuit zip.
Making sure that you wax your zip must become second nature to you. Regular application of wax will help to protect the zip. You only need to wax the external teeth of the zip, not the inside. There are many types of wax out there, however the McNett Max Wax has been specifically developed for use with drysuit zips. It is inexpensive and simple to apply. your drysuit zipper. Once again, avoid waxing the inner sealing surface of your zip.
5. STORING YOUR DRYSUIT
Before you store your drysuit for any length of time you will want to make sure it is fully dry. You will want to store the suit with the drysuit zip open in a dry and well-ventilated area. Many divers store their drysuits in their garage or shed, if this is the case, keep your suit away from chemicals or paints that damage your suits latex seals.
If you plan to hang your drysuit for storage, you must close the zip. If you are unable to hang the suit for storage, then leave it unzipped and be cautious when rolling your suit to avoid folding the zip. Where possible hang your suit for storage. Once the drysuit is thoroughly clean and dry and the zip lubricated, you should store your drysuit in a cool (0-20c) dry and dark place away from devices that produce ozone such as electric motors and heaters.
Choose a heavy-duty hanger for your suit and hang it dry, cool area out of direct sunlight. Consider the HangAir to help dry your suit before storage. A little preparation before putting your suit back into storage can really help keep it in good condition
6. Drysuit Do’s and Don’ts
Here are some simple things you should do regularly:
- Inspect your
- Check your wrist/neck seals and clean with fresh water
- Open and close the zip to ensure smooth running and check from damage
- Use a light or soapy water if you suspect minor holes/tears
It is better to prevent or spot damage early than to be ready to go diving and find wear and tear or damage the day before a dive. It is also advisable to get your suit pressure tested every couple of years, this can help identify small problems escalating into major problems in the future. You want to prevent your suit from failing on a dive boat, just before that dive you have been waiting months for!
Do not laugh at some of these, we have to say it! Here are some things to avoid:
- Do NOT ever wash your drysuit in a washing machine
- Do NOT tumble dry your drysuit
- Do NOT hang a drysuit on a radiator
- Do NOT store in direct sunlight as the ultraviolet light will break down seals
- Do NOT force the zip if it is stuck, clean the teeth and lubricate it then try again
The heat from any of these can damage the seals and adhesives used to bond your suit. The above can also cause damage to your drysuit zip!
Now It’s Your Turn
That’s all for our Guide To Drysuit Care and Maintenance. Now we’d like to hear from you:
- What tip from this guide do you want to try out first?
- Are you going to change your post-dive procedures?
- Or maybe you want to try some different products for your suit?
Either way, let us know by leaving a comment below.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not sponsored by McNett, nor have we taken any bribes or freebies to promote their awesome products.
PS: However, if anyone from McNett does read this, please feel free to send as many freebies as you like!