Dry Suit  Maintenance

by

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

This is an electronic reprint of an article that has appeared on numerous web sites and computer bulletin boards. This material is copyrighted and all rights are retained by the author. This material is made available as a service to the diving community by the author and may be distributed for any non-commercial or Not-For-Profit use.

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A dry suit/underwear combination represents a substantial financial investment. Since the dry suit keeps the diver warm and comfortable (while lesser "wet" mortals become diver Popsicles), it makes sense that every effort should be made to maintain a dry suit in superb condition. A few simple tasks will help prolong the life of the typical dry suit. Much of the process of extending dry suit life comes from liberal applications of common sense. 

Before donning, lubricate the seals with unscented talcum powder (the scented variety often contains chemicals which will degrade rubber). Lubricate the outer teeth of the zipper with only pure paraffin wax. Remove rings, earrings, etc. to prevent snags and tears. Put on the suit with a minimum of stretch, following manufacturer's directions. When zipping up insure that the zipper runs free and does not trap any underwear.

When removing the suit minimize stretching the seals. Immediately cover the air inlet hose with a protective nipple. (DUI estimates that a minimum of 75% of ALL suit pinholes come from suit material rubbing on the sharp edges of this valve!) Brush or rinse as much dirt as possible from the suit before packing the suit at the dive site.

At the end of the diving day, thoroughly rinse the suit with fresh water. I routinely rinse all my dive gear under a running shower for 15 -20 minutes. Then, thoroughly rinse the valves and closed zipper with copious amounts of running water. (I usually spend about 5 -6 minutes rinsing the valves and zipper with the shower massage unit at maximum oscillation.) The valves are then air dried with compressed air. If the inside of the dry suit was wet after the dive, then also rinse the inside of the suit with fresh water. Wash wrist and neck seals with mild soap and water at a minimum of every 12 dives or before storage (body oils degrade rubber).

After rinsing, open the zipper and hang by the feet to dry. Many of the problems associated with dry suits are directly related to lack of proper zipper maintenance. When the suit is COMPLETELY dry, close the zipper and lubricate only the outer teeth with pure paraffin wax. If the zipper contains dirt or grit, clean with a tooth brush and mild soap and water. Do not close a dirty zipper.

When suit is completely dry, lubricate the wrist and neck seals with unscented talcum powder. (Remember, scented talc contains materials that degrade rubber)

Store the suit rolled up or folded with zipper closed and at the top of the roll.

(Making the bundle "large" will minimize zipper strain.) I also try to have my valves (snag points) on the outside of the roll. (DUI maintains that a high percentage of suit punctures are caused by folding suit over the inlet valve. To avoid this, I place a protective plastic cap on the inlet valve before I remove my suit and keep this protector on until the next time I dive.) It is very important that the suit be stored with the valves on the outside of the suit to minimize potential cuts from suit material rubbing against the metal valves.) To prolong seal life, I place my latex wrist seals inside a baggie that contains a little bit of unscented talcum powder.

One of the most detrimental practices is the use of silicon aerosol sprays. Never, ever, use silicon aerosols on any portion of a dry suit. Never! Parts that have been sprayed with silicon become difficult, if not impossible to repair or replace. In addition, it is believed that the silicone spray is responsible for some suit de-lamination

If possible, store the suit in an airtight bag in a cool, dry location.

Avoid storing near electric motors, gas burners or other heat sources.

If you suspect a leak in your dry suit, there are several options to locate the source. Fist, examine areas of the suit that correspond to wet areas found in the underwear after the dive. In general, a leak has to be fairly substantial to be seen on this first inspection. (Before becoming too concerned, remember that the cold outside environment will often drop the gas atmosphere inside of the suit to below its dew point. Thus, condensation (as much as a cup total) can typically occur without suit failure. Also, depending on exhaust valve configuration and amount of use during the dive, it is possible that some droplets of water will enter the inside of thesuit with each valve operation. Finally, if the inlet hose to the dry suit was attached underwater, small amounts of water can be trapped in the valve and will spray the chest area when the valve is operated. So, a little moisture is common and may not necessarily indicate a catastrophic suit failure or puncture.) Finally, leaks in the groin area are common if the suit zipper can not been totally closed. (its a good habit to give the zipper closure an extra "little" tug before entering the water to insure the zipper has been properly closed.) If I suspect a leak, the methods of leak detection that have worked for me are:

1. While wearing suit, over-inflate the suit and have a buddy spray the suspected area with a soap solution. Bubbles will indicate the leak point.

2. This is my favorite and, in my opinion, the easiest way to locate small, pinhole type leaks. Remove the suit and take it into a totally dark room. Place a powerful dive light inside the suit and slowly move the light while it is inside the suit. The leak points will be visible as bright spots of light.

The type of leak found will determine how it is patched. Small leaks can simply be sealed with Aquaseal (follow manufacturers directions.) Larger leaks, and zipper replacements are probably best handled by either a trusted dive shop or suit manufacturer. A video available from DUI has a good step-by-step description of suit and seal repairs.

Maintaining a dry suit does take a little time and effort, but a properly maintained suit with keep the wearer warm and dry. Lack of proper maintenance often turns a dry suit into a "damp" or, at its worst, a very expensive "semi-dry" or "wet" suit. Maintaining a dry suit, as all dive gear, is best summarized by that famous commercial ... "Pay me now (with time and effort) or pay me later (with a cold, wet dive)!

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About The Author:

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

 

  Copyright 2001-2004 by Larry "Harris" Taylor

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Use of these articles for personal or organizational profit is specifically denied.

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