Let’s be real for a second. We all pee in our wetsuits. And even if you don’t, you know wetsuits can start to stink pretty bad just from normal use.
Luckily, getting those foul smells out of a wetsuit isn’t that hard if you know what you’re doing. Having surfed for over 20 years now I've learned a thing or 2 about getting bad smells out of your wetsuit and making it smell brand new.
The best way to get bad smells out of a wetsuit is to wash it with a dedicated wetsuit shampoo or homemade alternative and leave it to soak before drying it in a shady area.To prevent bad smells from developing at all, rinse your wetsuit every time you use it, dry it quickly, and wash it semi-regularly.
Neoprene wetsuits are great at insulating us agains the cold water. They trap a thin layer of water inside and prevent cold water from entering. Unfortunately, they can also trap urine, sweat and oil during use and they can be slow to dry which can allow mold and mildew to grow.
This combo is why wetsuits begin to smell so bad after a while. Especially semi-dry suits or rental suits that see a lot of usage can become pungent very quickly.
Below, I’ll show you some of the best ways to get bad smells out of a wetsuit, how you can prevent those smells to begin with, and the best way to give your wetsuit a thorough cleaning.
1. Use A Wetsuit Shampoo/Cleaner
Many regular soaps and detergents are too harsh for neoprene and will damage your wetsuit over time. Sometimes they also fail to remove the smell or urine or other bad smells that your wetsuit has accumulated over time.
Wetsuit shampoos and cleaners are designed specifically with wetsuits in mind. They work to remove body oils, wax, and odor-causing bacteria from your wetsuit while still being gentle on the neoprene.
The best wetsuit cleaners even include conditioners that leave your wetsuit feeling softer than before the wash and can help to extend the lifespan of your wetsuit. They are also made from bio-degradable products so you won't harm any ocean life when you use your wetsuit after a good clean.
Strong scents like citrus or lavender help mask any remaining and future odor (it can be tough to get all the smell out with only a single wash, especially if you pee in your wetsuit).
For the best results you want to put your wetsuit in a bucket of cold or lukewarm water with your wetsuit shampoo and give the wetsuit a good scrub, focusing on the problematic and smelly areas like the groin and underarms.
Then leave your wetsuit to soak for around 20-30 minutes (or even up to an hour) to really let them deodorizer do its job.
After a good soak you can scrub your wetsuit again and then hang it to dry.
Many wetsuit shampoos recommend NOT rinsing the wetsuit after washing as this means it will dry smelling fresh and clean.
For more specifics about washing your wetsuit properly, check out How To Wash A Wetsuit The Right Way.
A good wetsuit clean is the O'Neill Wetsuit Cleaner. It's got a great citrus smell, has a proven record of removing urine smells from wetsuits and its fairly cost effective. It's also non-toxic and biodegradable, I highly recommend it.
With a nice citrus smell this wetsuit cleaner is great at removing stubborn odors. Includes a conditioning agent to help extend the suit's lifespan while killing odor inducing bacteria.
Non-toxic and biodegradable it's a great way to give your wetsuit the cleaning it deserves.
2. Use A Natural Homemade Alternative
If you don’t want to shell out for a wetsuit cleaner, prefer something a bit more natural or you need to get the stink out now and don’t have a wetsuit shampoo handy, some homemade cleaners can be just as effective at removing bad smells from a wetsuit.
Baking soda, vinegar, baby shampoo, dishwashing liquid, plant-based disinfectants, and mouthwash (yes really) are six of my favorites but most people tend to lean towards vinegar and baking soda.
Vinegar is naturally acidic and great at killing bacteria and mold. For a general wash a few cups of white vinegar in a bucket of water and leaving it to soak will remove most bacteria and bad smells. For EXTREMELY bad smelling wetsuits then a high concentration of vinegar to water is recommended.
While vinegar is acidic, baking soda is alkaline and also has anti-bacterial properties. It's also great at absorbing bad smells and odors from wetsuits.
You can shake dry baking soda through your wetsuit and leave it to absorb smells and then clean your wetsuit or you can make a baking soda paste and give your wetsuit a good scrub before rinsing or washing with vinegar.
Learn more about each homemade wetsuit cleaner and how to use them in my deep dive on homemade wetsuit cleaners.
3. Mild Fabric Cleaner or Deodorizer
If you want to remove the stink from your wetsuit but don’t have the time or energy for a full wash, a fabric cleaner or deodorizer may do the trick.
Simply fill a bucket with cool water, add a cap-full of fabric cleaner or deodorizer, and dunk your wetsuit inside for 10 to 15 minutes. Febreze, Woolite, MiraZyme, or whatever you have on hand will work.
Air dry the suit when you're done.
If your wetsuit is especially rank, you may need to repeat a time or two or you can use a spray directly onto the problematic areas.
Febreze Sanitizing spray is designed to destroy bacteria living on soft surfaces. Kills 99.9% of bacteria and eliminates odors and sanitizes with a nice scent.
For the best results, wash your wetsuit with a wetsuit shampoo as described above and add a cap-full of deodorizer to your rinse bucket.
4. Put Your Wetsuit In The Washing Machine
This one isn't for the faint hearted and I will admit it goes against the socially accepted idea that you should NEVER wash your wetsuit in the washing machine.
But believe it or not, wetsuits can be put in the washing machine — and it’s pretty effective at getting rid of stubborn odors.
You just have to use the right setting, in the right type of washing machine and use the right detergent. Not any old washing machine will do.
You do run the risk of damaging your wetsuit or shortening its lifespan if you don’t follow a few simple rules:
- Only use a front load washer. A top load washing machine may rip or shred your wetsuit.
- Use cold water.
- Use a delicate detergent.
- Use a gentle cycle.
- Don’t put your wetsuit in the dryer. Hang dry it in the shade instead.
How To Stop Your Wetsuit From Smelling Bad In The First Place
While it’s not too difficult to remove bad smells from a wetsuit, the best method is still prevention.
Rinse After Every Use
Be kind to your wetsuit. Don’t just toss it in a bag in your trunk to soak in sweat and urine every time you take it off.
A quick rinse in cool, fresh water after every use goes a long way to preventing nasty smells in the first place.
It will also extend the lifespan of your wetsuit and help it to last longer which will save you money on new suits.
Make Sure You Dry Your Wetsuit Quickly and Efficiently
After you rinse your wetsuit, let it dry quickly and fully before storing — the bacteria that causes odor thrives in warm, wet environments.
The best way to dry a wetsuit is to hang it outside, in the shade, on a wetsuit hanger.
Wetsuit hangers have rounded shoulders that prevent the neoprene from stretching and separate the front of the wetsuit from the back, allowing increased air circulation to help it dry faster.
I really like and recommend the Ho Stevie! Foldable Wetsuit Hanger (at Amazon). It's affordable, great quality and even folds down small so you can take it traveling with you on your next surf trip/
With increased airflow from vented shoulders helps your wetsuit dry much faster than other hangers. Wide shoulders support the heavy wetsuit without damaging it and it folds with the push of a button making it perfect for travel. Plus if you hanger breaks you can contact Ho Stevie! for a refund or replacement.
If you live in a cold wet climate and you find that you wetsuit take a long time to dry then I've got some great tips on how to dry your wetsuit super fast (in just a few hours) or I recommend a good wetsuit dryer – which is like a wetsuit hanger but with built in fans to circulate air through the inside of your wetsuit drying it in 1-2 hours.
The most cost effective one is the UK HangAir (at Amazon) which contains and fan that plugs into either your home power socket or the 12 V power outlet in your car.
This waterproof wetsuit hanger runs a fan that will blow air through your wetsuits and dry suits - drying them in hours not days. Stop bad odors and dry suits quickly.
This wetsuit dryer can run off mains power or the 12V power from your car for on the road drying.
Wash Your Wetsuit Semi-Regularly
Rinsing and drying on their own are great habits, but a wash is still needed fairly regularly to prevent bad smells.
If you wash your wetsuit after every few wears with a quality wetsuit shampoo, you can cut odors off at the pass.
How To Clean Even The Worst Smelling Wetsuit – Step-by-Step Guide
Cleaning a wetsuit isn’t rocket science but sometimes the smell is REALLY bad and your wetsuit needs some extra attention in order to get rid of the foul odors.
A few simple steps will have your gnarly wetsuit smelling fresh and clean in no time.
1. Turn Your Wetsuit Inside Out and Rinse It
Unzip any zippers and run your wetsuit under cool, fresh water for a couple minutes. Turn it inside out and rinse the inside too.
2. Scrub Suit Focusing On Problematic Areas
Fill a bucket or bathtub with cool water and add your wetsuit shampoo. You can apply some directly to the most gnarly spots.
Massage the wetsuit. Rub it against itself. Focus on the areas that smell the worst — usually the crotch and armpits.
3. Soak In Wetsuit Shampoo
If your wetsuit was particularly nasty, you might want to let it soak in the cleaner.
Let the wetsuit chill for a couple hours, then move on to step four.
4. Move Into Deodorizer Bucket and Scrub Then Soak
In a second bucket of cool water, pour a cap-full of deodorizer, like MiraZyme or Woolite.
Dip your wetsuit inside, making sure water flows through the sleeves, legs, and body. Let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes, turning it every few minutes.
5. Leave To Dry (Don’t Rinse It)
Without rinsing, hang your wetsuit on a wetsuit hanger in the shade to dry.
If you use a leave-in conditioner or deodorizer, double check that it’s biodegradable and non-toxic before hopping in the ocean. Otherwise, it may need another rinse after it dries.
Getting nasty odors out of a wetsuit is easy if you know what you’re doing. The best ways to get bad smells (like urine) out of a wetsuit are to:
- Use a wetsuit shampoo or cleaner.
- Use a homemade wetsuit cleaner — like baking soda, vinegar, baby shampoo, dishwashing liquid, plant-based disinfectants, or mouthwash.
- Use a mild fabric cleaner or deodorizer.
- Put it in a front-load washing machine with a mild detergent on a gentle cycle.
Or better yet, prevent bad smells from developing by rinsing your wetsuit after every wear, drying it quickly on a wetsuit hanger, and giving it a wash after every few wears.