DIY: Eliminating Wetsuit Smell and Odor

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Wetsuits often develop an offensive odor which can be quite pungent (this is a polite way of saying they stink as a skunk). Why does this happen? Seawater is not the main thing here as you would think. This smell is the result of the natural sweat, oils and other odors which are produced by our bodies. They get stuck in and on the neoprene where they became a perfect breeding ground for bacteria which are in fact source of the strong, unpleasant smells. Since wet warm places are perfect for bacteria the worst thing you can do is to leave your wettie wet in a plastic bag in the trunk of your car. This can even result in growing mold in the suit. If you’re someone who urinates in their wetsuit this can also cause additional smells.

So let’s say you did all the wrong things and your suit is stinky as hell. Now what?

Getting Rid of the Smell

Regardless of the cause of the smell, you want to eliminate it as quickly as possible before people start to look at you funny, try to give you small change or avoid standing downwind from you.

Prevention

Prevention is better than cure: the first thing to do is more of a preventative step than anything. Make sure you always rinse out your wetsuit with fresh water as soon as possible after getting out of the water and then leavi it out to dry. Doing this every time will help keep the odors to a minimum. Here you can find a few tips on how to do it right.

If, however, your suit does develop a smell there are some steps you can take to help get rid of it.

Wetsuit Shampoo

You can purchase soaps which were designed specifically for wetsuits. They are very effective at eliminating the odor and are also mild so they won’t damage the neoprene and are ok for more or less regular use. Popular wetsuit shampoo brands are for instance Piss Off, Sink The Stink, Slosh, McNett… and many others. To use them read the instructions on the bottle (obviously :) ), usually they say something like this:

Dilute the sampoo in water and then soak your wetsuit for about 10-20 minutes. Once you remove the suit let it dry without rinsing it off to help prevent further odors from developing.

Home Solution

If you’re the type of person who wants to use a cleanser which you make at home you can follow these instructions:

  • Fill up your bathtub with warm water.
  • Add a few drops of dish washing soap
  • Wash your suit, the dish washing detergent is especially good at breaking down the oils and also helps to get of bacteria in the wetsuit.
  • Rinse your wetsuit off with fresh water to ensure the soap washed is off and then let it dry in the fresh air.
  • Washing your suit in this manor every three or four weeks will help keep the odors away.

If you have any extra tips – they’re welcomed in the comments.

9 Comments

  • Paul Pickering says:

    I appreciate the information but I disagree that the skunk smell is the result of sweat and other issues. I bought my wetsuit brand new from the O’Neill store in Santa Cruz. It totally smelled up the car on the way home. I actually believe that the “skunk” smell is due to the out gassing of chemicals from the neoprene. O’Neill should take the responsibility to investigate the out gassing and determine the root cause. I doubt this is harmful but the smell is really annoying.

    • K says:

      Paul, there is the new wetsuit smell which is definitely noticeable, but it’s quite different from the smell your wetsuit gets after a season of surfing :)

      • Jordan says:

        I am going to have to agree with Paul on this one. I have owned many suits in my life and know what a new wetsuit smells like. My most recent quicksilver wetsuit is the first time I have ever encountered this “skunk” smell and it is driving me crazy. I have worn the suit maybe 5 times so far and every time I wear it I am stuck with this skunk smell for the rest of the day and it smells up my entire apartment when it is hanging to dry after surfing and has been since the first time I used it. I had a coworker walk into my office today and they thought I smelled like weed! I even took a shower and thoroughly washed myself after my surf this morning. It is super annoying to say the least. I have washed the suit several times in my bathtub with dish soap and I can not get rid of the smell.

      • K says:

        Weird, thats deffinitely not normal new wetsuit smell.

  • Rick says:

    Guys, this is weird.

    I’m from the UK and have had dozens of wetsuit throughout the years. So, I’m also pretty familiar with the difference between a “new wetsuit / new neoprene” smell and a “couple years old funky wetsuit” smell”!!

    Last two months, I’ve bought two wetsuits. After buying the first and using it a few times, it infected everything (and I mean everything) with the smell of weed. The suit, towels, clothes worn after getting changed, bed linen, even other clothes these garments were washed with – everything. Colleagues and others also commented on the smell of my clothes – it was awful.

    I put it down to something in the water, and a freak occurrence, and bought another suit (I was losing too many friends!). But when it arrived, it smelt like this too – right out of the bag. The plastic wrapping smelt like it, the invoice paper, the catalogue packaged with it – it all absolutely stank of weed.

    I’d never heard of it, and assumed it was the wetsuit brand (Gul) – searching on the web found a few Amazon reviews proving other Gul customers had the same issues.

    But – reading this, sounds like other brands have the same problem (presumably intermittently) too.

    I wonder if it’s some kind of new technique or ingredient that’s being used? I’ve certainly never smelt it before, and it’s one of the strongest and most infectious smells ever.

    I’ll be buying my next suit from somewhere I can test it (ie smell it) first.

  • Rick says:

    Hi K

    I can’t send it back, we only realised it was the wetsuit after I’d worn it.

    I got home after the first wear of the second suit, everything stank of weed (again) so we checked the packaging that was still here – and that stank, as well as everything that shipped with it (proving it was the wetsuit, not the water).

    After research it looks like it’s not only Gul wetsuits though, it’s others too, so I haven’t called them. I probably will. I can’t put into words how contagious and long lasting the smell is – never had anything like it!

    Cheers

    Rick

  • Rick says:

    Hi all, an update.

    Firstly, I called the retailer – a pretty big online retailer in the UK, who admitted that they HAD had this problem numerous times, and were “in active discussions with the manufacturers concerned”.

    They said that all the problems they had seen were confined to 3 wetsuit manufacturers – Gul, O’Neill and Mystic, and all related to brand new wetsuits where the smell of weed came somehow from the manufacturing process. They said that only a small number of wetsuits were affected (although I guess this “small number” statistic could be skewed by people not calling the retailer to tell them about the smell), and it was absolute chance when it happened, it wasn’t related to bad batches, or dates, or wetsuit types. Basically – it doesn’t on the surface look like a specific problem with the brand, and the majority of suits seem ok.

    Hmmm.

    I’m not sure what the “discussions” are, or whether it will resolve anything, but the retailer said that if I ever ordered from them again, and a wetsuit arrived smelling of weed, I could send it straight back – so it’s obviously a recognised, if unpublicised, problem over in the UK.

    Secondly, I found a way that SEEMS to clean the smell out of infected clothes / towels etc. Washing, even with antibacterial or enzyme killing additives in the wash didn’t work, so I’d given up hope. But putting a tshirt in a freezer for 3 or 4 days then throwing it straight into a normal wash seemed to cure it.

    I’ve since done this on a pair of jeans and a pair of boardshorts, and it cured those too. Not sure whether it would work on the actual suit or not (mine got thrown away), but it’s worth a try.

    Thanks

    • K says:

      Thanks for the update Rick. Neoprene is also used in construction where it is subjected to outside winter temperatures so I think it would not hurt the suit if you would put it into the freezer, you would have to make sure its completely dry and not wrinkled though…you would need a big freezer…just a thought if anyone will be reading this later.

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