In all my time surfing, I’ve met exactly one person who didn’t pee in his wetsuit – a Belgian named Lucas. And I’m 99-percent sure he was lying.
When you stop and think about it, the life cycle of a wetsuit is pretty short (and rugged). While wearing one, you flop around in salt water, emptying your bladder and coating it with sweat. Then peel it off and hang it up to dry, often in the sun, with salt still crusted to it. Then you pull your suit on while dragging it over parking-lot asphalt and repeat. Over and over again. It’s no wonder we’re buying new ones so damn often.
However, a small $10-$15 investment can help extend the lifetime of your wetsuit, keeping it fresh-smelling, supple, and soft longer. Rinsing your suit after every surf is a great first step (obvs.), but using a wetsuit cleaner/conditioner will truly do wonders for your suit. I’m not even kidding (and I’m not soft).
I used to be the guy who scorned wetsuit cleaners, passing them off as another unnecessary trinket of the surf-industrial complex. I was wrong. Your wetsuit doesn’t need to constantly smell like piss, and the only reason why it doesn’t feel as soft and supple as the day you bought it is because you aren’t using a cleaner.
I tried out some of the most popular wetsuit cleaners on the market to arm you with information before you buy. In pure commitment to the job (some would say fanatical), I’ve been pissing in my wetsuit as much as I can to give these products a run for their money. This one’s truly for you, dear reader.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on wetsuit care. Check out our guide to the best wetsuit changing mats, the best wetsuit hangers, and if you’re in the market for new neoprene heading into winter, check out our guide to the best winter wetsuits for men, and the best wetsuits for women.
What Are The Best Wetsuit Cleaners?
1. O’Neill Wetsuit Cleaner and Conditioner ($15.95)
2. JAWS Slosh Wetsuit Shampoo ($8.49)
3. West Path Wetsuit Cleaner and Conditioner ($8.99)
4. GearAid Wetsuit/Drysuit Shampoo ($8.95)
5. GearAid Odor Eliminator ($8.95)
6. Pau Pilau Wetsuit Cleaner and Conditioner ($19.17)
7. Rip Curl Piss Off ($15.82)
What Matters In A Wetsuit Cleaner?
This is going to come down to personal preference. I like my wetsuit cleaners concentrated (to get more use out of it), and pretty viscous, the consistency of a good liquid soap, all the more versatile for different washing environments. All-natural and biodegradable are important features, especially for a leave-in conditioner where it’s inevitable that some is going to end up in the ocean the next time you wear it. All of the products featured here are biodegradable and non-toxic (another duh). Smell is also important – the cleaner needs to replace some pretty ripe smells (as you’re surely aware if you’re reading this), so it’s a good idea to choose something you like.
How Should I Use My Wetsuit Cleaner?
The best technique I’ve found for beating the wetsuit stench is to get out ahead of it before it happens. Use a wetsuit cleaner regularly, before the stink even presents itself. After every surf isn’t necessary, but every few is generally a good idea. My go-to method is to dump it inside-out in the bottom of my shower, turn on the water (cold), sprinkle some of my wetsuit-cleaner of choice on both sides with an extra focus on the crotch and give it a good scrub against itself. Rinse until I don’t see suds (or not at all for leave-in wetsuit conditioners), and hang to dry. For extra-bad smells, a nice long soak is also ideal.
Smells Like: Citrus
Size: 8 fl oz
Price Per-Fluid-Ounce: $1.99
This one kills stink like none other. The strong citrus smell lasted well after my suit dried, and the conditioning agents (whatever they are) left my suit feeling as buttery as brand-new O’Neill Technobutter neoprene (shameless plug there). I can’t recommend this stuff highly enough. It’s not the cheapest, but this eight-ounce bottle goes a long ways.
Smells Like: Lemon Lavender
Size: 4 fl oz
Price Per-Fluid-Ounce: $2.12
If you want a multi-purpose cleaner, JAWS Slosh Wetsuit Shampoo is the choice. This stuff can rid your wetsuit, ski gear, tents, backpacks, basically any outdoors gear of any horrid smell, and it works as a body wash and shampoo for humans too. I’ve been tempted to pour it all over myself while I’m still wearing my suit like Denethor pouring oil on himself in Return of the King, but thankfully I was able to stop myself before accidentally summoning the Elder Gods of Rotten Wetsuits.
This stuff is awesome. It kills the stink in a single wash, smells great, and is highly concentrated. It’s a bit more expensive per-ounce than other options (it comes in a four-ounce bottle), but it’s multi-purpose use justifies the price.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Smells Like: Citrus
Size: 10 fl oz
Price Per-Fluid-Ounce: $0.90
Gear Aid comes in a weird-looking package but it actually makes it simple to get out every last drop, and the cap screws down securely. But that’s not why you should buy it. The formula is strong, and the conditioner works great to keep the neoprene feeling soft and supple. It also clocks in at half the price-per-ounce as the above two options. It’s also just as concentrated and works nearly as well.
For Unbeatable Smells
Smells Like: Industrial Cleaner
Size: 10 fl oz
Price per Fluid Ounce: $0.90
Does your wetsuit smell really, really bad? So bad your normal wetsuit cleaner won’t do the trick? Then check out this stuff. No, it’s not a regular-use wetsuit shampoo, nor does it condition your wetsuit, but that’s not the point. The point is to eliminate odor. And that’s what this product from GearAid does.
Smells Like: “Hurricane Citrus”
Size: 8 fl oz
Price per Fluid Ounce: $1.12
All of the products on this list are non-toxic and biodegradable, but only this one and the Pau Pilau Wetsuit Cleaner are completely all-natural. And between the two, I’ve gotta recommend this one as I found it to be a bit more concentrated and I liked the smell better. The strong citrus smell sticks around even after the suit is dry, and it leaves the suit feeling nice and supple.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Smells Like: Lemon
Size: 16 fl oz
Price per Fluid Ounce: $1.15
Pau Pilau has been the stock-standard all-natural wetsuit cleaner for ages and a surf-shop staple. That being said, it’s a bit lower in concentration than other options I’ve tried on this list and the scent doesn’t stick around quite as well as I’d like.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
No Rinse Option
Smells Like: Soapy Eucalyptus
Size: 8.45 fl oz
Price per Fluid Ounce: $1.87
Rip Curl’s Piss Off has a great name, isn’t a terrible product, but there are better ones out there. The concentration is low, meaning you only get a few washes from each bottle, and it seemed watery to me – so it’s not easy to scrub in. It does do a good job of leaving your gear nice and supple, especially if you do as directed and skip the rinse. But it smells soapy (and maybe eucalyptus-y) and doesn’t stick around after the suit is dry, making it all the easier for your suit to smell like urine again.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.