While there is no expiration date on snorkeling equipment, using older snorkel masks can bring noticeable differences in the quality of suction, fit, clarity, and overall snorkeling experience. If you are a frequent snorkeler, replacing your equipment also helps to keep you safe without the risk of worn materials breaking or cracking.
Snorkeling masks will typically last 3-5 years if used frequently. They may last up to 10 years when in dark and dry storage, but sun, sand and saltwater result in deterioration of the silicone around the face skirt when used often. Cheaper rubber masks have shorter useful lifespan.
Choosing a high-quality mask (see our recommendations) and taking appropriate care of it (as we previously covered) are the best ways to ensure that you will get the most use out of your mask. There are different methods you can implement to keep a snorkeling mask in the best shape, especially if you plan to use it frequently. This article will discuss these care methods and how the material quality and design impacts the life of a mask.
Snorkeling Mask Life and Material
The best snorkeling masks are made from silicone as they will not only be the most comfortable and provide the best fit, but they will also last the longest. Silicone has one of the lowest sensitivities to aging effects compared to other elastomers, making silicone products durable and giving them at least a 10-year shelf life. (Source: Silicone Engineering Ltd)
Masks that are made with mostly silicone will be the highest quality and are typically more expensive than rubber and plastic alternatives. Considering that you will get more use out of a silicone mask over time, the higher initial investment may prevent you from having to purchase a new one prematurely.
Silicone is particularly useful in mask construction when used for the skirt (the material that suctions to your face for a tight seal) and the head strap. They are durable and maintain their function as well as tightness for the best fit.
If you do not want to invest in a quality silicone mask, cheaper alternatives will use soft plastics and rubbers in their construction. These rubbers have a shorter shelf life and are more susceptible to cracking and becoming brittle with extended use. While shelf-life does matter, the most critical consideration in choosing a quality mask is comfort and proper fit. (Source: Hawaiian Snorkeling Guide) Read our helpful tips on choosing the right size and fit.
Common Snorkeling Mask Damages and Breaks
Understanding where snorkeling masks usually break or wear out first will help you to be more careful in handling the equipment and know where to focus when cleaning the mask. More initial caution will minimize the need for replacement.
These are the most common damage points on a snorkel mask and often need to be replaced or repaired:
- Silicone discoloration: Exposure to water and humidity over time can cause your clear mask silicone to turn yellow and darker colors. The change in coloring is the result of temperature conditions that allow for the growth of mold. (IEEE Access) Cleaning and drying are most effective for prevention.
- Leaking mask skirt: Most leak situations are easily fixable (hair getting caught in the seal or overtightening of straps), but some folds in the skirt may be permanent, making it impossible to hold a seal. Consistent use on a mask that does not correctly fit will not only leak but could lead to permanent changes in the skirt. Make sure you use a mask that seals to your face. (Source: Kraken Aquatics)
- Snapped head strap: The head strap on a mask is typically made with more durable silicone or plastic to firmly hold the mask on your face and prevent snapping with frequent stretching. Unfortunately, extended use may lead to snapping. Cleaning after use and keeping the mask out of the elements will help to keep it in the best shape. (Source: Primasil)
- Build-up on the lens: The lenses on a mask are particularly susceptible to build up, especially as you try to keep them fog-free while snorkeling. If the lenses are not cleaned and maintained, this build-up can damage the lens or make it very difficult to remove. Lenses are made of plastic and can easily scratch if not handled with care.
Maintaining and Caring For Snorkel Masks
To extend the life of your snorkel mask (regardless of the material quality), there are essential steps for mask care both before and after snorkeling. Adequate maintenance of your snorkeling mask is the only way to get the most value and time out of the mask.
Pre-Snorkeling Preventive Measures
Before you use your snorkel mask, you will want to make sure that you implement the following checklist to keep your snorkeling mask in good condition and ready to use:
- Inspect for Damage: Checking out the condition of your mask before use is the best way to properly handle the equipment when putting it on and finding damage that could be a safety risk. Cracks or tears in the lens, straps, or skirt can render the mask ineffective at keeping water out or completely break the mask. (Source: SportDiver)
- Fog Prevention: There is a wide range of ways to prevent a mask from fogging while snorkeling, all contributing to an enhanced experience. These methods are used to remove the thin layer of silicone in a mask that will be susceptible to cloudiness while breathing in the water. (Source: ScubaDiving.com) Anti-fog solutions can be added to the inside of your mask, cleaned out, and then repeated until the mask is transparent. Another solution to fogginess is applying toothpaste to the inside of the lens. Use low-abrasion toothpaste to prevent scratching the lens, while still taking away the silicone finish for better visibility.
- Bring Backups: It is always a good idea to bring backup equipment in case your mask or snorkel breaks. Specifically, look at having an additional head strap on hand as these are susceptible to tears or snaps with extended use.
While it can get tedious spending additional time cleaning and maintaining your mask after every use, it is highly recommended to maximize the life of your mask. Post-snorkeling care is arguably the most effective in keeping your mask in the best shape.
Make sure to add these steps to your snorkel mask care routine:
- Rinse After Every Use: Saltwater is abrasive and should always be removed from your mask to prevent wear and tear. Rinse your mask thoroughly with freshwater, making sure you use a soft cloth or your hands to remove salt that may get stuck to the surface.
- Utilize Soap to Prevent Deterioration: While cleaning with soap is not needed every time, using a mild detergent after every few uses with the freshwater will help to keep the silicone (and plastics) in their best condition.
- Protective Storage: Silicones and plastics are susceptible to damage with prolonged exposure to sunlight. Try to keep your mask in a safe place away from the sun to prevent warping the material or breaking down the silicone. Consider putting your mask in a case to block sunlight and prevent lens scratches. Cracks in a lens make them useless and can be prevented with proper storage.
Making Your Snorkel Mask Last
As this article has detailed, the life of a snorkel mask is mostly dependent on the time and energy spent on care. While silicone is the premier choice for over ten years of life in a mask, lack of care can quickly compromise its durability. Taking the necessary measures to keep a mask clean and in good condition will make it reliable and useful for long-term use.
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