Thank you to my friend Tom Hanna, a search and rescue diver living in Nunavut, Canada. Reprinted with permission.
Is Your Drysuit Ready for Your Next Call?
Care and Maintenance of Your Dry/Rescue Suits
Proper maintenance and proper storage of dry suits/rescue suits are important aspects of being ready for your next rescue call. If your suit is not in good condition, then how can you be sure that you will be able to perform your job well and return safely from the call? The following article will cover all aspects of care and preventive maintenance for your suits: neoprene, vulcanized rubber, and tri-laminate. I will cover individual parts of the suit as well as general items for repairs, cleaning, and storage.
HOODS, CUFFS, NECKSEALS, NEOPRENE & LATEX:
Rinse and Dry COMPLETELY after use.
Powder liberally with talc, or cornstarch, or cornstarch derivative such as gloving compound. Do NOT use any powder with fragrance, such as baby powder or bath powder, etc. – the fragrance may damage the rubber material, causing premature dry rot.
Powdering preserves the rubber and acts as a lubricant for donning the equipment.
Liquid lubricant can be used as an alternate to powder; however, it should be limited to only using PURE silicone, such as Aquaseal Seal Saver. Avoid using any silicone spray or any liquid in an aerosol can. The propellant in the can may damage the rubber. an aerosol spray has to be used as a last resort, then spray it on a cloth first, then wipe the cloth onto the neck seal, hood, cuffs. By spraying on the cloth first, the harmful propellant is dissipated before it touches the rubber material.
Zippers are made of brass teeth in a base of nylon fiber, that are coated with rubber for strength and waterproofing.
Zipper teeth should be brushed with a soft toothbrush after every 2-3 times of use.
After brushing, inspect the zipper for any fraying and loose fibers around the teeth. If there are any frays or fibers the zipper may leak. These can generally be repaired by taking a hairdryer and carefully heating the frayed edges until they seal over.
Check the zipper for any teeth that are bent, for gaps between the teeth, and for any fraying that has gone down to the edge of the teeth and/or sealing surface. At this point, zipper replacement may be necessary.
When the zipper has been brushed and inspected, zip the zipper closed. Apply wax/lubricant only on the exposed part of the zipper that can be seen.
Use wax or lubricant that is prescribed by the manufacturer of the suit – or use hard paraffin wax.- Do NOT use soft beeswax because it collects sand and grit; therefore more frequent cleaning of the teeth is needed.
Do NOT use petroleum-based products, such as Marvel Mystery Oil, Vaseline, etc… Petroleum destroys and is not compatible with rubber products.
After waxing the zipper, unzip the zipper for storing the suit. This keeps the integrity of the zipper in working order, and makes the suit ready for then next call.
ZIPPERS ARE ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE PARTS OF YOUR SUIT!
PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE IS VERY IMPORTANT!
NECKSEALS & HOODS:
LATEX neckseals and hoods must be replaced if they are torn or damaged in any way.
NEOPRENE neckseals and hoods can be temporarily patched with neoprene cement. The cement must be applied to a completely dry and smooth surface to maintain the integrity of the seal. Otherwise the hood and/or neckseal must be replaced professionally.
LATEX cuffs may be able to be temporarily repaired with a bicycle patch, however, usually a complete replacement will be needed.
NEOPRENE cuffs can be temporarily repaired in the same way as noted above for neckseals and hoods.
GENERAL REPAIR NOTES:
NEOPRENE: Minor tears can be patched with neoprene cement. Large holes can be repaired with Aquaseal (follow instructions on the tube). However, if professional repairs need to be done on the area of the Aquaseal repair, this area will have to be cut out and be replaced with neoprene material.
LATEX: All damaged parts should be replaced. Temporary patches usually do not work for very long.
VULCANIZED/RUBBER/TRI-LAMINATE: Holes and tears can usually be patched, ideally using patch kits provided by the manufacturer. NOTE: Zipper leaks in neoprene ice/surface rescue suits, such as Bailey’s, Stearns, and Imperial: It might be more cost effective to replace the suit rather than incur the high expense of zipper replacement on these suits. A good rule of thumb to follow before major repairs are done: Get price quotes for both suit repairs and suit replacement; then make your decision on which is more cost effective.
GENERAL SUIT MAINTENANCE:
CLEANING YOUR SUIT:
In an ideal situation, rescues would be done only in clean fresh or salt water. However, most times this does not happen and calls take place in contaminated water, and/or with oil and gasoline mixed in.
If the suit was used in NON-contaminated fresh or salt water, rinse the suit with clean water after each use. After every 6-8 wearings wash the suit with mild (Ivory) soapy water, rinse well, and dry completely.
If the suit was used in contaminated water, wash the suit with mild soapy water EACH time, rinse, and dry well.
Do not store suits that have not been washed- the contaminants will destroy the suit material.
Suits can be washed inside and outside. They MUST be dried thoroughly on both sides before storing. Turn suits inside out to dry the inside. An inside washing is a good idea every 6-8 wearings, as body odors can build up on the suit.
Neckseals, hoods, cuffs, and zippers should be maintained as per the previous sections.
NEOPRENE SUITS: Preferred method of stoning neoprene suits is to hang them on large, wide-shouldered hangers with the zippers unzipped. If the hangers are too small or too narrow, creases will develop on the stress points on the suit, i.e. shoulders.
Preferred method of storing vulcanized rubber suits is to roll the suit up and store in a bag.
After performing all proper maintenance and cleaning, close the zipper and lay the suit on a clean surface, zipper side down. (Folding the suit with the zipper closed prevents sand and grit getting into the sealing surfaces while the suit is being rolled.)
Take the boots, putting them together toes facing toe-to-toe, and roll toward the neck.
When you get to the neck area, place the arms one over the other folded to the center of the rolled suit.- Turn the suit over and unzip the zipper Suit is now ready to be stored in a clean, dry place, preferably in a storage bag.
Vulcanized rubber suits should NOT be hung. The weight of the suit on the hanger will destroy the material at the pressure points of the hanger.
To dry the suit, hang the suit at the waist over a wide surface.
LAMINATED SUITS: To store laminated suits, follow the same process as for the vulcanized rubber suits.
Suits should be stored away from gas and oil cans, away from areas of truck/car exhaust, and areas of motor exhaust. The ozone from electric motors and the fumes from automotive gas and/or diesel is detrimental to rubber.
Suits with gloves and zippers that leak; patches and holes that leak; cuffs, neckseals, and hoods with tears and dry rot should NOT be used until repaired. If you are in doubt about any aspect of your suit, check with your local service facility. A leak test will find any areas on the suit that need to be repaired.
Preventive maintenance on your suit is necessary after each use. Regular care ensures that your equipment will be ready for your next call.
Thanks Tom Hanna