Step 1: Put away the duct tape.
When your swim cap rips, you buy a new one. Ditto for when your goggles start to leak. But your wetsuit cost hundreds – maybe even thousands – of dollars, so a quick replacement isn’t always an option. Taking good care of your wetsuit can keep it strong season after season (check out our guide on how to make your wetsuit last seven years), but sometimes, things go wrong and you need to figure out wetsuit repair. Tears happen, zippers get stuck, and funky odors emanate, causing us to take the do-it-yourself route to salvage our expensive suits. But this isn’t a project that can be undertaken at the local hardware store – using common household materials like duct tape or floss can make the problem worse, not better, says Kristen Suddarth, owner of Just Wetsuits.
Wetsuits are not cheap, so don’t try to repair them with lower quality substitutes,” warns Suddarth. “Fix your wetsuit properly and you can get years out of your investment.”
Wetsuit Repair: Before You Get Started
When you damage your suit, it’s best to repair it right away. “Each time you pull the suit on and off of you, you increase the chance of any tear expanding and getting worse,” says Suddarth.
It’s also a good idea to check with your wetsuit manufacturer to see if your suit is under warranty; many will work with loyal customers to repair or replace a damaged wetsuit for a low cost (some even fix suits for free).
If you do decide to take on the repair job yourself, always make sure the suit is completely dry before starting. Wetsuit repair materials are designed to be applied to dry neoprene, so lay the suit flat until completely dry before starting the repair process.
Wetsuit Repair: A Small Tear
For a tear of any size, Suddarth says to resist the urge to sew up your suit: “Using thread or floss to try and sew back a triathlon wetsuit is a bad idea. Because triathlon wetsuits are made with closed cell neoprene, it’s not going to hold the way it may in a surf or dive wetsuit.” Ditto for duct tape: “The tape is not flexible, it will restrict movement. It will also peel away and will leave behind the sticky adhesive that will make putting on your wetsuit that much more difficult.”
So long as the damage is to the neoprene and doesn’t go through to puncture the liner, a small tear (like a fingernail tear) can be treated with specially designed glues like Aqua Seal + Neo ($7.75, Gearaid.com). “It’s essentially a rubber cement for wetsuits,” says Suddarth, who recommends viewing this YouTube video from TriSports to learn proper application.
Wetsuit Repair: A Large Tear
If the damage to the suit goes all the way through to the liner, glue won’t be enough to mend the rip. A patch kit, like Tenacious Tape ($12.50, Gearaid.com) will provide some extra reinforcement to the neoprene, sealing the tear and keeping it from re-opening when stretched and hopefully eliminating the need for further wetsuit repair.
“One side of the patch has an adhesive that is activated when heated by an iron,” explains Suddarth. To apply, turn your suit inside-out and cut the patch to a size that is slightly larger than the area torn inside the liner. Ensure the torn material is put together as closely as possible, then apply the hot iron to the patch to adhere to the suit liner. Once cooled, turn the suit right-side out and use cement to seal the neoprene side.
“Be sure to let it sit for about 20 minutes before tugging on it to see that it’s completely sealed,” says Suddarth. “If you notice any areas where it is still open and exposed, reapply more of the cement.”
Sand and salt water can cause a wetsuit zipper to rebel, so keeping the suit clean is the first line of defense against a stuck zipper. If the issue persists, skip harsh household lubricants like WD-40, which can both disintegrate wetsuit material and collect sand, making the issue worse. Instead, use a formulation designed for wetsuit materials, like SeeBee Zipper Lube ($11.99, seasoft.com). Apply to the stuck zipper and wiggle the zipper pull back and forth until it is free. Continue applying the wax regularly before each use, to keep your zipper moving smoothly.
If you left your soaked wetsuit in your transition bag for days (or even weeks), the odor awaiting when you finally open it will be…ripe. And persistent. It should go without saying, but just in case: Don’t put your wetsuit in the washing machine. Ever. Instead, all cleaning should be done in a bathtub or large bucket.
For basic cleaning needs, a mild detergent soap like Jaws Slosh Wetsuit Shampoo ($8.48, jawsproducts.com) should do the trick for removing salt residue and odors. More persistent odors, like urine or mold, should be treated with an enzyme-based formulation like Revivex ($8.95, Gearaid.com). Gently agitate the wetsuit in the water/shampoo mix, then let soak for at least 24 hours. Rinse several times, and let dry.
“Don’t store your wetsuit on a hanger,” says Suddarth. “Thank about how heavy that neoprene is – what happens to a sweater you hang on a hanger?” Dimpling on the shoulders and thinning of the material is one issue that with no wetsuit repair solution – you can’t “take in” a suit like you would a shirt at the tailor. If it’s already happened, it can’t be reversed. It’s best to store the suit folded up with the chest areas flat.
When to Call The Wetsuit Repair Pros
Some repairs are simply too big or too challenging – a suit that gets tangled up with a bike chain In transition may have a long and jagged tear, for example, or a zipper that has completely come off the track. In that case, it’s best to call in the professionals. Suddarth refers customers to Swell Stuff for big repairs – though based in Leucadia, Calif., the shop accepts repairs shipped in from all over the United States.
But Seriously, Don’t Damage Your Suit
The best wetsuit repair is to prevent it from getting damaged in the first place. Suddarth’s tips:
Put your wetsuit on correctly
“Turn the suit completely inside out, minus the very bottom of the legs and use the inside of the wetsuit to roll the suit onto your body. The liner is much more durable, and tugging and grabbing it on the liner means no nail pokes on the outside of the suit.” (Check out this video for a step-by-step instruction for putting on your wetsuit.)
Handle with care
“The higher the quality and flexibility of neoprene – something you want for maximum flexibility and range of motion – the easier it is to nail poke. Small shifts in the material make a big difference in how it fits, so handle carefully.”
Don’t hang your wetsuit over your bike
“We see lots of arms and legs of suits get torn up in the bike chains and pedals,” says Suddarth.
To keep the suit fresh and pliable (and hopefully avoid wetsuit repair), always rinse your suit in fresh water after a swim. Additionally, Suddarth advises washing the suit in a small bath of mild detergent soap approximately every 5 wears if you swim salt or chlorine water, and every 10 wears if you swim fresh water.