Snorkeling is one of the least expensive, easiest, and quickest ways you can think of to enjoy the ocean. You only need 3 inexpensive and easy to carry items: a mask, fins, and snorkel. Your mask is the most important part of the activity. It is your window into the underwater world. It needs to be cleaned regularly. So, how do you do that?
How to clean your (glass) snorkel mask in 5 minutes or less.
- Shake the mask to remove any loose sand or debris.
- Rinse with fresh water
- Apply toothpaste (not gel) to the mask lens.
- Using a soft-bristled toothbrush or clean cloth, gently clean the mask lens inside and out.
- Rinse thoroughly with clear water.
- Dry with a soft cloth.
- Store appropriately.
Seriously, could that be any easier? Those steps are specific to a glass mask lens only. If your lens is plastic, there are different steps. If your mask is brand new, there are different steps, which we cover in that post.
Your snorkel mask, if properly maintained, should provide you with 5-10 years of enjoyment. Why waste time and money replacing it when maintenance is so easy?
When Do You Clean Your Snorkeling Mask?
Let’s start at the beginning. When should your mask be cleaned? Regardless of whether it is glass, plastic or full-face, every mask has certain cleaning guidelines.
When you first purchase your mask, it ships with a thin layer of plastic or silicone coating sprayed across the mask lens for protection and also for shelf appeal.
That same dry condition protective layer will be a cause of blurriness and decreased visibility underwater if not removed. You must remove this coating entirely from the mask lens before your initial use.
The steps are exactly as given to you above, if your mask face is made of glass.
If the lens is plastic, DO NOT use a brush on it, you’ll scratch the lens all up. Instead, use a clean soft cloth (a microfiber cloth is perfect) and gently massage the paste in. Again, paste, not gel. Also, avoid any paste that has scrubbers or abrasives in it.
An alternative to toothpaste is dishwashing soap dissolved in water or, my personal preference, a small amount of baby shampoo dissolved in water.
The best ratio, if you want to use dishwashing soap or baby shampoo is about 15 drops to a 2.5-ounce spray bottle of water.
Spray it directly on the mask face. Using your soft dry cloth, rub the spray around, both inside and outside of the mask lens. Be sure to get the corners and edges.
Rinse thoroughly with tap water. You can use clean areas of your cloth to help remove any bubbles. Dry thoroughly with a different dry clean cloth.
I like the baby shampoo method because it is easy to make, easy to carry with me, helps with fogging issues, smells good and never hurts my eyes, even if I should fail to adequately rinse. But many dive and snorkel boats keep dishwashing soap on hand, as well, should you forget to do this step before your first trip.
After Each Adventure
How thoroughly you clean your mask after each dive or snorkel adventure depends on its use that day and your own preferences. Some people simply run a little tap water over the mask, dry it and call it a day. That can work if you are on a multi-day vacation and just want to do quick rinses each day.
But to get the most of your mask, you should clean it thoroughly after each use. Follow the exact steps outlined after your new mask purchase. Again, the same differences between cleaning plastic or glass lens applies. It is important to thoroughly dry the mask before storing it until it’s next use.
Also important is a careful examination of the “skirt” and strap(s).
The skirt is the rubber, soft plastic, or more commonly silicone, portion of the mask that goes around your face, holding the mask in place. This skirt is what gives the mask its seal and keeps the water out of your eyes.
Inspect the skirt area thoroughly. Carefully remove any sand, rocks or other debris that may be present. If you’re snorkeling in saltwater, look for any salt build-up. You want to look most carefully at crevasses and juncture points.
Any dirt, debris or salt buildup needs to be cleaned away and removed from the skirting before you put the mask away. I do this on the first freshwater rinse after use so that sand doesn’t set in there are scratch rubber or glass components.
At the end of snorkel season, or when you know it’s going to be a while before you have the chance to snorkel again, do a complete and thorough cleaning of the mask, skirt and strap.
Be careful to thoroughly dry all areas with clean, soft cloths. Then, store your mask in safe place.
Good storage includes out of direct sunlight. It also includes in a place where nothing will rub up against that mask face, potentially scratching it. You want a room temperature area, with only moderate humidity. Though the mask lens won’t be damaged from sunlight or humidity, the silicone parts will degrade faster over time with sunlight exposure.
Regardless of when you are cleaning, you want to avoid putting your fingers on the mask lens itself. Old school, we used to use our fingers for applying the toothpaste, smearing anti-fog and just about everything else you can image.
However, if we think about it, our fingers are very oily and can be dirty. Skin oils from the fingertips can get on the mask lens, giving dirt and bacteria a wonderful place to hold onto. I recommend you use a cloth instead.
Glass Lens vs. Plastic Lens vs Full-Face Mask
As I’ve already outlined the cleaning steps for glass or plastic lensed facemasks above, let’s look at any other differences in cleaning concerns we may have.
Full-face masks have an integrated snorkel built into the facemask itself. This is an area of potential failure if you don’t clean the skirting and hinge thoroughly.
Let a little sand or debris build up in that hinge and you’re going to be replacing that mask a lot sooner than you think.
You can remove any visible sand or debris by rubbing across the area lightly, while running tap water across it. Again, we are talking about the skirting only. Do not rub across sand or debris that is on the face of the mask. You could scratch or abrade it.
If that fails, consider trying canned air to blow the debris out of the hinged area.
As many of the full-face masks have options for GoPro attachments, make sure these are also clean and debris-free before tucking that mask away for next time.
Clean the Skirting, too.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, it is equally important that you clean and maintain the skirting of your mask. People tend to focus on keeping the lens clean and may skip the other areas of a mask. Since the skirting is what keeps the mask properly in place and it is the feature that provides the watertight seal you’re looking for, you want to clean and maintain it just as well as the other portions of the mask.
Most skirtings are made of silicone. Keeping it clean, dry and out of sunlight when not being used will give you equipment that lasts longer and performs better. Beyond simple longevity, having a damaged skirt will result is less time playing, less fun in the water and can ultimately ruin a really great day.
It is important to clean the skirting because this is a primary source of mask failure. The only thing I can think of that causes a mask to fail quicker is buying an ill-fitting mask in the first place.
If your skirting gets too dirty, it can’t form a really good seal against your skin.
Remember, your skin has oils occurring on it naturally. On top of that, you’ve probably slathered a ton of sunscreen on. All of this rests right on the silicone skirting of your mask.
Oils are dirt magnets. Leave the skirting uncleaned for a while and you’ll be surprised by how quickly it grimes up. Those oils also hold salt particles and sand against the skirting and your skin.
Over time, the silicone can become brittle and begin to break down. It can also develop bends or warps. All of these issues contribute to a mask failure.
Do you want to spend your day fiddling with the water in your mask or checking out great coral formations and marine life?
Assuming this is a general cleaning, and your skirting isn’t yellowed or mildewed, you can clean the skirting with toothpaste and your soft bristle brush. You can also use your microfiber cloth, if you prefer.
If the skirting was opaque and is now yellowing, or has mildew on it, I recommend cleaning with a bleach/water mixture.
Literally 5 drops of bleach in 2.5 ounces of clean tap water should be enough. Cover your lens first, so you don’t risk any damage to it. Spray the mixture on the skirting and/or strap. Let it sit for about 2 minutes, then wipe off with your cloth.
If you choose the bleach mixture, you need to rinse it thoroughly. Make sure you get all the bleach off, no matter how weak the concentration used. The bleach will actually destroy the silicone if it’s not fully rinsed.
I prefer the bleach method because it will also destroy any mold or mildew that may be on the skirt or strap.
When done, dry the entire mask thoroughly. Use a towel and/or just leave it out for a few hours. You can use a blow dryer, but keep it on low setting and not too close to the silicone parts, as it will warm them and distort them. If you don’t want to take the risk, just place it on a towel every night on vacation or for a few hours at home when your post-trip cleaning is done.
Why is Mask Cleaning Important?
You’re probably wondering why all this cleaning is so important. There are some very practical reasons behind keeping that facemask clean and sparkling.
The whole purpose behind wearing a snorkel mask is to see. Underwater, visibility tends to be a little distorted anyway. Add to it a dirty, smeared or unprepared mask lens and you may just simply not get the enjoyment out of 50-100 feet of underwater visibility. You came to see all the great reef colors.,and some of the most interesting marine life is tiny. Snorkeling is simply just a lot more fun when you don’t have a blurred or fogged mask.
Almost as annoying, if the skirting is the problem, rather than the lens, your mask will leak. Water, probably saltwater, will enter the mask and end up in your eyes. If you don’t already know, saltwater stings those eyes pretty badly.
Here is the biggest issue most snorkelers face. Fogging of the mask. Fogging is nothing more than water droplets inside the mask condensing. What are they attaching to in order to condense?
Dirt, dust, debris, the initial layer of silicone shipped on the mask, etc. A clean mask lens helps reduce mask fogging hugely. Some experts report that, if you clean your mask each time as described, no additional anti-fogging measures are needed.
That’s right, no anti-fogging spray, no spitting in your mask, none of the nonsense. Just basic good maintenance. I still spit in mine for good luck. My wife hates that habit. So there’s a secondary benefit, too.
I’ve mentioned this a couple of times now, but it bears repeating. A clean, well-maintained facemask will last longer. With facemasks running upward of $50 or more, you can extend the lifetime use of your purchase from a few short years to 5 or even 10 years with good care.
My go-to scuba mask, my boring double lens clear skirt, clear frame colorless mask, is 15 years old and going strong. Why replace something that works and works well? Besides, by getting longer life out of your mask and other equipment, you reduce waste by not discarding things as frequently.
I’m really not a clean freak, but our masks get really grungy. If you take your mask on a cruise, an extended stay at a resort or family vacation to the beach, you may use it several times per day. Maybe only for a short while each time, then again later the same day.
With constant salt water exposure every day and repeated applications of sunscreen, my mask and strap get pretty oily and gritty. And we travel year-round, sometimes diving, sometimes snorkel and usually both. So if we didn’t clean our equipment regularly, it would quickly end up fairly dirty.
Cleaning Snorkel and Fins
In addition to cleaning your mask, you might also consider cleaning your snorkel and fins, at least occasionally.
The fins are pretty straight forward. Hose them down with clean tap water, hang them in the sun the dry. When they’re fully dry, store them out of direct sunlight in a cool, dry location. I stack mine in a mesh bag on a garage shelf. My wife keeps hers in the closet next to her suitcases.
The snorkel is a bit more complicated, yet probably more important for cleaning than any other part, excluding your mask.
I know many people don’t clean their snorkel regularly. I want you to consider, for just a moment, what happens to anything that has water sit in it for a while. It grows bacteria, mold and/or mildew.
Consequently, I clean my snorkel regularly. It is very simple to do, inexpensive and has some health benefits, as recent viral pandemics have shown. There are a couple of different methods.
Bleach and water. Dilute 1 Tablespoon bleach in a bucket of water and mix thoroughly. Place your snorkel in the bucket (wear gloves for your protection) and let it sit for 30 minutes. Make sure the water is inside the tube. Rinse very thoroughly and let air dry.
Dish detergent and water. Mix 4 Tablespoons of liquid dish detergent in a bucket of water. Bubbles will form. Place your snorkel in the bucket, again making sure the cleaning solution goes inside the tube. Let is sit for about 30 minutes. You can use an old toothbrush to scrub away any remaining dirt or debris. Re-submerge the snorkel for an additional 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and let air dry.
Vinegar and water. If you don’t care for either bleach or detergent, vinegar can be your go-to. Understand, you will probably need to do more scrubbing with vinegar and with detergent. Use the exact same directions as the dish detergent and water step.
As far as I’m concerned, there are few activities more stress-reducing and awe-inspiring than snorkeling. Anywhere. Give me clear water and a mask, and I can pass time watching out for large marine life, closely inspecting complex coral details (without ever touching or bumping,) or just watch as all fish dart in and out of coral formations. It can be physically active, or a completely passive activity.
And if you carefully plan a specialty trip, such as snorkeling or diving with Manta Rays in Kona or a shark trip in the Bahamas, and you’ve made travel arrangements, booked hotels, and paid for a boat to get you to that special spot, nothing is worse than having a leaky and fogged mask ruin your one hour chance to see something you might never again experience.
Before purchasing a mask, make sure you get a good fit. I don’t care what it looks like or what it costs. Fit is all that matters when we’re talking about your snorkel mask. If you aren’t sure how to tell if the fit is right, ask a professional. Go to a dive shop and get some assistance. Read my guide to choosing a standard mask or my perspective on full-face masks as a physician, long-time diver and snorkeler.
Once you have the right fit, everything else is up to you.
Clean that mask. Give it the maintenance it deserves. Clean that snorkel and those fins. Properly maintain and store them and your gear will reward you with years of fun in the sun.
So get your mask, prep it for your next trip, get out there, stay safe and have fun!