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How to Clean and Deodorize Your Wetsuit

Wool-safe soap from the 99c store and my inside-out O'Neill wetsuit in the sink
Wool-safe soap from the 99c store and my inside-out O'Neill wetsuit in the sink

Any regularly used wetsuit will start to develop a mildew stench, especially if left wet in the trunk of your car or floor of your closet. I’m no fan of squeezing into a bacterial bodysuit so I undertook a week-long project to de-funk my wetsuit.

The process: Each day I used a new method of cleaning, trying to determine which one was the best for bringing a fresh neoprene smell back to my morning sessions. This study was hardly scientific – there was no reset and no control group in any way at all. The only thing determined is, “can you really get the stink out of a wet suit?”

Here’s what I did:

Day 1 – Soak for 60 minutes with Seventh Generation non-toxic soap (30 minutes inside and 30 minutes outside), rinse in the shower. Surf the next day.

Day 2 – Soak for 45 minutes in Joy anti-bacterial soap (inside and out). Rinse. Surf.

Day 3 – Soak for 60 minutes in a mix of white vinegar and listerine. Rinse. Surf. This step seemed to make the biggest difference.

Day 4 – Soak for 60 minutes with generic Wool Wash gentile garment. Scrub with a very soft brush. Wow did the water turn brown.

After these four days of cleaning, I’m happy to say that the smell was markedly improved. I’ll be monitoring it to see if the smell resurfaces over time.

Read the details on El Porto Fridays: Cleaning My Used Wetsuit to Get That Stink Out

Update 1-09-12: A little over two years later, with regular rinsing, the Oneill never re-developed a strong mildew odor. I just replaced it with a new suit for winter time (too many leaks for the cold water), and gave it a good soak and rinse in the woolite soap before hanging it up for possible summer use. There’s no smell at all, sleeves or elsewhere. And the booties I bought a bit over 2 years ago just got a listerine rinse that has my gear bag smelly like a sanitized dentist’s sink.