Wetsuits are made from a fabric called neoprene. While the garments themselves are hard-wearing, the fabric is rather delicate. It is important to clean your wetsuit the right way to prevent damaging the neoprene.
But sometimes your wetsuit is pongy and you want to throw it in the washing machine to give it a good solid clean without much effort. But can you safely put your wetsuit in a washing machine?
Wetsuit CAN be put in a washing machine but it's not recommended. It can shorten the lifespan of your wetsuit or even damage it. Only ever put your wetsuit in a front loader washing machine, as top loaders can rip apart your wetsuit, and only use cold water and delicate washing detergent.
There are always occasions where you're going to want to wash your wetsuit in the washing machine is unavoidable. In these instances, you have to practice extreme caution.
Here, we discuss in detail why it is not good to wash your wetsuit in the washing machine. We also cover how to safely clean a wetsuit in the washing machine if you absolutely have to!
Is It Okay To Wash Your Wetsuit In The Washing Machine?
Ideally, one should not clean a wetsuit by throwing it in the washing machine. Washing machines are bad for wetsuits for a number of reasons. To prolong the lifespan of a wetsuit, you should avoid putting it in the washing machine.
Surfing and diving schools sometimes have to clean the wetsuits they rent out to their clients in the washing machine because handwashing each one would be impractical.
It is okay to wash a wetsuit in the washing machine very infrequently if you take the necessary precautions.
How To Safely Wash A Wetsuit In A Washing Machine
If you're going to ignore the “handwash only” recommendations and throw your wetsuit in the washing machine then there are some important guidelines you should follow to ensure the washing machine doesn't completely destroy your wetsuit.
In most cases if you follow these guidelines washing your wetsuit in the washing machine shouldn't ruin your suit. It may shorten the lifespan a little from all the tossing and turning, but it shouldn't be too bad.
Take the following precautions when throwing your wetsuit in the washing machine:
- Set the washing machine to the coldest possible cycle. Hot water can damage your suit and make your wetsuit shrink.
- Select themost delicate possible washing cycle without a spin cycle. Newer models of washing machines have a ‘delicates’ setting – use this for a wetsuit.
- Never use standard laundry powder for a wetsuit. Only use wetsuit shampoo or a very gentle laundry detergent, like Woolite. Click here to for wetsuit cleaner alternatives.
- Use a front loader washing machine, never a top loader. The reason for this is the stick in the middle of the top loader can catch on your wetsuit and tear it to shreds…especially during a spin cycle.
- Use the washing machine very infrequently to clean your wetsuit.
- Never put your wetsuit in a tumble dryer if you can avoid it. But again this can be done rarely – read the guide on drying your wetsuit in a tumble dryer.
Why Shouldn’t You Wash A Wetsuit In The Washing Machine
Neoprene fabric is made of rubber that contains millions of tiny air bubbles. The heat from a washing machine (if you use a hot water cycle) can cause the air in the bubbles to expand and pop. This destroys the fabric’s insulating ability.
Washing your wetsuit in the washing machine will cause the neoprene fabric to lose its flexibility and elasticity. The heat can cause your wetsuit to become brittle.
The tumbling action of a washing machine, particularly top loaders, puts a lot of stress on a wetsuit’s seams. When you wash a wetsuit in the washing machine, you risk damaging the stitching.
The chemicals in standard laundry detergents are very harsh on neoprene fabric. Neoprene can easily be damaged by chemicals.
What Will Happen To A Wetsuit If You Put It In a Washing Machine?
What exactly will happen if you put your wetsuit in the washing machine?
If you put your wetsuit in a front loader washing machine on a cold wash with no spin cycle your wetsuit shouldn't get damaged. But top loaders, hot water and spin cycles can damage your wetsuit in the washing machine. Regular washing in a washing machine will lower the lifespan of your wetsuit.
If you frequently wash your wetsuit in a washing machine, you will notice more water getting in because your wetsuit will not adhere to your body the way it should. You will feel the cold water a lot more! Does this not defeat the whole purpose of a wetsuit?
The taped seams on wetsuits can come loose with regular washing in the machine. Stitching on thicker wetsuits, like 5mm ones, is a lot more susceptible to damage in the washing machine than the stitching on thinner wetsuits.
Does Neoprene Shrink In The Wash?
When you wash a neoprene wetsuit in the washing machine using a hot cycle, the wetsuit can shrink. The shrinkage effect is caused by the heat, which degrades the material, causing it to lose its elasticity making it feel tighter.
It is also possible to stretch a wetsuit. Check out this article on how to do so.
Can You Spin Dry A Wetsuit?
Using the spin cycle on the washing machine to get the excess water out of your wetsuit before you hang it up to dry might seem like a good idea. However, you should not do this!
I would actually advise to NEVER EVER do this, especially in a top loader. The risk to your wetsuit is just too high.
You're better off wringing out the excess water by hand and then hanging your wetsuit in a well ventilated area to dry. If you need your wetsuit to dry quickly then get a powered wetsuit hanger that can dry wetsuits in as little as 20-100 minutes.
Your wetsuit’s fabric can melt if it comes into contact with the non-spinning part of the washing machine while it is spinning.
Avoid spin drying your wetsuit in the washing machine! Select the gentlest spin setting possible or none at all.
How Should You Wash Your Wetsuit Properly?
The correct way to clean a wetsuit is to handwash it in soapy, lukewarm water. You do not have to do this every time you wear your wetsuit.
Most times, you should just rinse your wetsuit with some water to get the sand and saltwater off. You can read my full guide to cleaning your wetsuit properly or following the instructions below:
To deep clean your wetsuit, gather the following:
- A plastic tub or bucket big enough to fit your wetsuit
- Wetsuit shampoo
- A soft-bristled brush or old toothbrush
Follow these steps to wash your wetsuit:
- Fill the bucket with cold to lukewarm water and add about a cup of wetsuit cleaner to the water.
- Soak your wetsuit for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Use a soft-bristled brush to clean the zips and Velcro, ensuring you get all the sand and wax out.
- Remove your wetsuit from the water and rinse it thoroughly under fresh, cold water.
- Hang your wetsuit on a wide hanger to dry in the shade.
How To Safely Dry A Wetsuit
The safest way to dry a wetsuit is to turn it inside out, hang it up on a wide hanger, and leave it in a shady spot to dry. A breeze blowing on your wetsuit will help it dry faster.
The hanger over my bath in my bathroom works perfectly for me, especially when there is a good breeze outside and I open the bathroom window for airflow.
Using a hanger that is specifically designed for wetsuits will speed up the drying process and will prevent your wetsuit from stretching around the shoulders and arms.
The reason you should dry a wetsuit in the shade is that bright, direct sunlight damages neoprene fabric. The heat and UV rays cause the fabric to lose flexibility, much like putting it in a washing machine.
Never be tempted to hang your wetsuit up to dry in front of a heater or radiator. For tips on how to dry wetsuit boots quickly, check out this article. To find out how to dry wetsuit gloves quickly, read this article.
Putting a wetsuit in the washing machine is not ideal and you should not do it regularly.
However, if you do so carefully and very infrequently, you CAN wash your wetsuit in the washing machine. The key is to use a cold, gentle setting to avoid damaging the neoprene fabric and the stitching.