Neoprene is a type of synthetic rubber fabric that wetsuits are made from. Getting a wetsuit to fit tightly is key. If your wetsuit is a bit loose on your body, there are some ways to make the neoprene shrink so that your wetsuit is more form-fitting.
Neoprene wetsuits shrink naturally over time as they are exposed to the sun, heat, saltwater, and wear and tear. To shrink a wetsuit quickly so that it fits you better, carefully put it in the dryer, wash it in warm water, leave it in the sun for a while or put it in front of a heater.
One must be very careful when trying to shrink neoprene because it is easy to ruin the fabric. Keeping it in the sun or in the dryer for too long can be disastrous!
But a wetsuit should fit perfectly and if it's too big then you'll find it fill up with water and will make you colder than you should be. It can also lead to chafing which nobody likes. Here, we discuss the best ways to make your neoprene wetsuit shrink without doing long-term damage to the fabric.
Can You Make Neoprene Shrink?
Neoprene naturally loses its elasticity and flexibility over time and, therefore it tends to shrink over time due to the fact it no longer stretches as easily over your body. If you use your neoprene wetsuit correctly, it should not shrink within one or two seasons. It takes years for a wetsuit to stiffen up and shrink significantly.
You can make neoprene shrink. This is usually due a a stiffening of the rubber leading to less elasticity and a tighter fit. Prolonged exposure to heat or UV rays tends to have this effect on neoprene.
However, there are ways that you can make neoprene shrink quickly. Neoprene wetsuits can be shrunken intentionally so that it fits you more tightly, providing better insulation. Surfers wear wetsuits to keep them warm and a tight fit is really important for optimal warmth.
Wetsuits also look better if they fit correctly. So if you're in the situation where your wetsuit seems a little too big, yes it is possible to stretch the neoprene however, it's quite difficult to do and results vary.
You also risk damaging the fabric and lowering the lifetime of your wetsuit. But if it doesn't fit anyway and it unusable it may be worth the risk.
Why Does Neoprene Shrink?
Neoprene fabric is made from a type of synthetic rubber. The material is composed of lots of little cells filled with nitrogen air bubbles. This gives it excellent insulation properties. It is essentially like hundreds of layers of bubble wrap.
The structure of the fabric is what causes neoprene to shrink when it is exposed to heat and high pressure. The rubber and elastic in the fabric can stiffen over time.
Wetsuits suffer from heat damage and may shrink when you:
- Leave it in a hot car after using it.
- Leave it to dry in full sun.
- Put it into a hot cycle in the washing machine.
- Dry it in a hot tumble dryer.
If your wetsuit is too tight then you don't want to shrink it further. Instead, check out these tips on how to stretch your wetsuit to make it bigger.
4 Best Ways To Shrink Neoprene
If your wetsuit is a little loose-fitting and you would like to shrink it, there are four ways you can do this without damaging the neoprene. Heat can damage neoprene, but just the right amount of warmth can work wonders to shrink a wetsuit.
These are some reliable ways to down-size your neoprene wetsuit slightly:
1. Put It In The Dryer
I know we said putting your wetsuit in the dryer can damage it, but if you take the necessary precautions, you can shrink neoprene safely in a tumble dryer. It is always risky putting neoprene into the dryer, so you have to be very careful.
If you want to dry your wetsuit in a dryer then there are specific instructions you need to follow to ensure your wetsuit doesn't shrink or get damaged. Read about whether or not you can put your wetsuit in the dryer.
Putting a neoprene wetsuit in a hot tumble-dryer is a recipe for disaster. The temperature needs to be set to low, otherwise, the heat will ruin the fabric.
Before you put your wetsuit into the dryer, place it into a dryer bag. This will ensure the long zipper lanyards do not get tangled up, and it will reduce friction on the wetsuit.
Only put it in the dryer for 15-minute intervals. After each interval, check on your wetsuit and check how much your wetsuit has shrunk.
Never use the tumble dryer to dry wetsuit gloves or boots. Check out this article to learn how to dry wetsuit boots the right way. This article will teach you how to dry wetsuit gloves correctly. But again if you want to shrink your wetsuit boots or gloves a dryer is a decent option.
2. Wash It In Warm Water
Hot water can potentially damage neoprene, but if you wash a wetsuit in warm water, you can shrink it slightly without causing lasting damage to the fabric.
Get a bucket large enough to fit your wetsuit and fill it with warm water. If your wetsuit is dirty, add some mild laundry detergent, baby shampoo, or dish detergent to the water.
Allow your neoprene suit to soak in the bucket for about half an hour. Remove it from the bucket, rinse it thoroughly with cold water and hang it in a shady spot to dry (or a sunny spot if you want to encourage it to shrink even more).
Once your wetsuit has dried completely, try it on to see how much it has shrunk. If your wetsuit is still too loose, repeat the process, but with slightly warmer water and continue to hang in the sun or dry in the drier.
3. Leaving It Out In The Sun
Generally, you should never leave a neoprene wetsuit out in full sun. The heat and the UV radiation causes the neoprene to lose its elasticity.
However, if you leave it in the sun strategically for a given period of time, you can shrink your wetsuit slightly.
Hang your wetsuit on a wide clothes hanger and let it hang on your washing line in full sun. Leave it outside for half an hour.
I suggest using a wetsuit hanger specifically designed for wetsuits as opposed to a regular clothes hanger as this help to stop your wetsuit from stretching in the shoulders while it's hanging to dry.
Bring your wetsuit back inside or into the shade to dry fully. Once dry, try it on to see if it has shrunk enough. If it is still a bit loose, hang it out in the sun for another round.
4. Leave It In Front Of The Heater/Radiator
Hang your neoprene wetsuit on a wide hanger a few feet away from a heater or radiator. The gentle heat will help to shrink the fabric without damaging it. Just make sure you don't get it so close to the heat that it melts the rubber.
Only hang your wetsuit in front of the heater for 30 minutes before checking to see how much it has shrunk. If it is still loose, leave it for another 15 to 30 minutes.
Be careful not to forget that your wetsuit is in front of the radiator! Leaving it in the heat for too long will ruin the fabric.
Dangers Of Shrinking Neoprene
Wetsuits are expensive pieces of equipment. You do not want to damage your neoprene wetsuit and if I'm completely honest with you trying to intentionally shrink your wetsuit is a last resort.
Before trying to use heat to shrink your wetsuit, be aware of the dangers involved. Putting your wetsuit into a tumble dryer can void its warranty.
The biggest issue with using heat to shrink neoprene is that the fabric loses its elasticity. The heat can also damage the stitching, so seams may rip when you wear your wetsuit.
Alternatives To Shrinking Your Neoprene Wetsuit
Instead of jumping straight to shrinking your wetsuit you should try some of the following things first.
- Wear a rash vest under your wetsuit
- Wear clothes under your wetsuit
- Get your wetsuit tailored/resized
- Buy a new wetsuit
- Put hair ties or elastic bands around your wrists and ankles to stop water from getting in
There are a bunch of other items you can wear under your wetsuit to keep you warm.
Can You Safely Put Neoprene In The Dryer?
You can never put neoprene in the tumble dryer 100% safely. Avoid putting your neoprene wetsuit in the dryer because no matter how low the heat is, there is always a chance that the dryer will damage your wetsuit.
If you are worried that your wetsuit is too loose-fitting to keep you warm, there are some ways to safely shrink neoprene using gentle heat. To shrink a neoprene wetsuit, you can either wash it in warm water, put it in a cool tumble dryer, leave it in the sun, or in front of the heater.