How long a wetsuit lasts depends largely on how well you take care of it, and the quality of the wetsuit in the first place. On average, a good wetsuit from a quality manufacturer should last anywhere from 4 years to 10 years or more, depending on heavily you use it. A cheaper brand wetsuit that doesn’t have the same construction quality may only last for a season or two before things like zippers become issues.
The most common causes of wetsuit problems, the ones that really shorten their life, often fall into a handful of categories.
- The wetsuit is used in a rough manner, causing the zippers or velcro to rip beyond repair
- A wetsuit is used in salty or chlorinated water without being thoroughly rinsed after
- A small tear becomes a big tear before it can be repaired
The good news is that most of these problems are preventable, so extending your wetsuit to the maximum possible lifespan should be without your control.
Wetsuit Quality Matters
If you have shopped for wetsuits, you know that wetsuit price ranges can vary greatly. With those price ranges is generally a difference in quality levels, with higher-end manufactures often using technology that will last a long time when compared to their cheaper counterparts. Differences in things like zippers, stitching and seams, and construction in high-contact parts is noticeable when comparing two wetsuits side-by-side. That is why we usually recommend buying the best wetsuit you can afford, as once you get in to a high-quality tier of wetsuits, you will find that the technology and materials become obsolete far before the wetsuit itself wears out.
How to Take Care of Your Wetsuit
How you use and care for the wetsuit can expand its life, so here are a couple tips on caring for your investment.
Do not use your wetsuit in pools. The chlorine in a pool as bad for a wetsuit, and will accelerate the process of the wetsuit become old, brittle, and stiff. Many people are tempted to use their wetsuit in the pool a few times to get the feel for it, but doing so will likely reduce the lifespan of your wetsuit, and could reduce it dramatically if you use it in a chlorinated pool repeatedly. This rule applies to other triathlon clothing, like singlets, suits, or tri shorts as well. Chlorine will decrease the lifespan of all tri gear rather considerably. If you must use a wetsuit in a pool, such as for a coaching session or to test a new wetsuit, make sure you thoroughly rinse the suit inside and out afterward. And realize that even with the rinsing, the chlorine really is not good for the suit.
If you are a salt water swimmer, rinse your wetsuit often. Salt water has a way of comprimising the neoprene, and can create pithing and weakness that will affect the lifespan of the wetsuit. If you are a salt water swimmer, rinse the wetsuit after using with fresh water, and soak it in a tub of cool water occasionally. Use a simple garden hose is better than nothing — anything to replace the neoprene cells with fresh water before the suit dries. Doing so will mitigate the effects of swimming in the salty water, but even with those steps you might expect to replace your wetsuit more often than an inland lake swimmer.
Transport and store your wetsuit carefully. Most of the damaged wetsuits we see are not from overuse or swimming wear, but rather from the wetsuit being damaged while not in use. A puncture from a bike pedel while in the back of your car, or a loose seam from a poor job of hanging the wetsuit over the winter are more likely culprits of wetsuit problems. Be sure that when you are hauling and storing your wetsuit, you have it hung carefully or folded loosely, in a dark place, away from sharp objects that could cause a puncture. If you do puncture your suit, know that you can repair it with a wetsuit repair cream — an incredibly simple and quick solution to what might look like a major problem in your neoprene.
Don’t Store Your Wetsuit in the Sun. Keep your wetsuit in a cool, dry place, out of the sun. The corner of a garage, a basement, or tucked away in a closet are all great. Hanging on a hanger in front of a window, or draped over your deck fence are all OK for a day, but after that the sun will begin to break down your neoprene and make it much more prone to cracking and tearing.
Patch Tears and Holes When you See Them. A small tear in a wetsuit will become a large tear, given time. You will naturally nick and tear your wetsuit when you are using it, the key is to patch it so that you don’t create a major issue. It is incredibly easy to do with a simply neoprene patch. You apply it like you would paint a small area with a paintbrush, and watch it dry instantly. Do this after any use, it only takes 2 minutes. There are lots of patches out there, we like the McNett seal because it dries so fast.
We have long been advocates of spending on quality instead of skimping and buying garbage. In fact, investing in quality gear is one of our rules for buying the right tri gear. If you skimp, you will find yourself cursing your equipment, not enjoying training as much, and likely going out to buy an upgrade sooner than you otherwise would have. You would have been better off just getting a higher-quality piece from Day 1. Still, there is a limit on what kind of wetsuit makes sense for your particular situation. You can maximize your investment by taking care of the piece.
With a few easy steps, you can get lots of life out of your next wetsuit. Speaking of your next wetsuit, make sure to check out our recent triathlon wetsuit reviews. We keep them well-updated with each brand and model year.