When it comes to cleaning dive gear, our biggest worry — under normal circumstances — is keeping saltwater from drying and forming crystals on our equipment. We also don’t want to leave our gear in a damp, humid place and allow mold to grow. But now, with the world trying to slow the spread of Covid-19, salt and humidity have taken a back seat and disinfecting has become our main priority.
Even though the guidance on how to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus changes from day to day in different parts of the world, we are now certain that it can survive on surfaces for hours or even days. We also know that effective hand washing with soap and water goes a long way toward avoiding the spread of the virus.
If you are in an area where diving is still allowed (at the time of writing the cenotes in Cozumel remained open to those already in the area), stay on top of your own personal hygiene including hand washing, keeping a distance from others when possible, and avoiding touching your face.
Most of us, however, are likely to be landlocked for at least a few weeks, so deep cleaning and disinfecting our equipment is a great way to keep busy and make sure gear is in top shape when it’s time to get back in the water.
What to use
Depending on what your gear is made of, the virus’ survival time may vary from a few hours to potentially several days.
Prioritize any equipment that comes in contact with your face and respiratory tract when it comes to disinfecting, including masks and regulators — especially mouthpieces and areas surrounding them — BCD inflators and snorkels. Rebreather divers have a bit of an advantage when it comes to disinfecting equipment, as this is part of their regular equipment maintenance. If you have friends who dive CCR, they may be able to help with tips and advice.
You can easily make an effective disinfectant solution with standard household products. DAN Europe recommends a solution of sodium hypochlorite (standard household bleach) and water, using 1 percent of bleach only. Another useful disinfectant, which rebreather divers will be familiar with, is Steramine, based on the active ingredient quaternary ammonium. If you’re unsure if your household cleaning products will be effective, check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s regularly updated list of useful disinfectants.
Cleaning your gear
Before mixing this solution and immersing your equipment in it, however, check manufacturer recommendations for your specific brand of equipment. If the instruction manual doesn’t specify, it may be worth contacting the manufacturer to confirm recommended products and procedures.
Once your disinfectant mix is ready to go, immerse the equipment and let it soak for 15 or more minutes. It’s important that your solution is not too strong as this may permanently damage the metal parts of your equipment.
There are a few areas to pay particular attention to: for masks, focus on the inside of the skirt. Especially if you clean your mask by spitting in it, take care to clean it thoroughly. Pay particular attention to creases or layers in the skirt, as well as the area where frame and glasses meet and the nose pocket — in short, all the areas where dirt and contamination are likely to stick.
If you carry a back-up mask, don’t forget to disinfect that as well. Especially if you often store it in a pocket and it remains wet between diving days, spend some time cleaning and disinfecting it, as well as the storage pocket itself and any other items you keep there.
Regulator second stages and mouthpieces are another key piece of equipment requiring special attention at this time. If a simple cable tie secures your mouthpieces, consider cutting that and removing it completely. This allows you to clean the area that’s normally under the mouthpiece and often prone to dirt build-up. Inspect the mouthpiece and check on its overall condition. If it looks a bit old or is even partially torn, consider replacing it. Those who are a bit more familiar with second stages should consider removing the front cover and thoroughly cleaning the inside.
Next, on to your BCD. Oral BCD inflation is part of standard pre-dive checks, meaning you blow into your BCD every time you dive. Not only should you disinfect the actual inflator assembly, but also the inside of the BCD’s bladder.
Once you’ve completed the disinfection, thoroughly rinse your equipment with clean, fresh water. This sounds obvious, but especially on tropical islands, fresh water can be hard to come by and — depending on supplies — you might consider using drinking water.
After rinsing comes drying. Find a clean, shady area to dry your freshly disinfected equipment thoroughly before storing it.
If any of this sounds complicated or laborious, get in touch with your local dive shop. Chances are that things are very quiet for them at the moment, and equipment and servicing are two of the things they can still offer their customers while practicing social distancing.
A note on rental equipment: with most of the diving industry on hiatus, not many divers are renting equipment at the moment. However, when you next dive, take a close look at rental equipment and cleaning facilities offered by the shop or boat. By definition, many divers use rental masks, snorkels and regulators, so ask about the shop’s cleaning routine post COVID-19 and whether equipment has been regularly disinfected.