Some divers recommend that you burn your new mask to remove the protective film and alleviate fogging. But is that safe or wise?
Getting your new mask ready to dive
Dive instructors often encourage new students to purchase a mask. The comfort and confidence that comes with wearing their own mask helps them feel more comfortable in the water, less distracted and more capable of dealing with the task-loading that learning a new skill entails. In addition, your mask is a very personal piece of equipment. Much like a pair of your favorite sneakers molds to your feet, the mask’s soft silicone skirt molds to your face over time and becomes increasingly comfortable.
However, new masks do require pre-treatment before you dive with them. Masks leave the factory with an invisible protective film coating the tempered-glass lenses. Left untreated, a mask is prone to fogging, condensation due to water vapor, and microscopic water droplets on the inside. Fogging will reduce your visibility, as well as compromise your comfort and safety if you can’t see properly underwater. And, if you can’t comfortably keep track of your dive buddy and read your instruments, you’re putting yourself and the rest of your dive group at risk if you become separated or exceed depth, time and turn points.
Ask a group of experienced divers and each will claim to have their own foolproof way to pre-treat their mask to ensure it remains fog-free. There are a few options available and often a combination of methods is the most effective.
Burn your new mask
Many divers are adamant that using fire to burn the silicone coating off the lenses is the most effective way to pre-treat your mask. It is sometimes controversial as, unsurprisingly, taking a naked flame from a cigarette lighter to your shiny new mask may seem counter-intuitive. However, when done correctly, it can be very effective. Importantly, you can only use this method on masks made of tempered glass and which do not have bifocal lenses. The steps are:
- Find a sheltered area at the dive site or on the boat if you’re outside. Don’t position yourself on a windy dive deck where the flame will dance in the wind. You must be precise to make sure you don’t damage the mask’s skirt and frame.
- Try to use a lighter that has a mechanism at sufficient distance from the flame. Unlike using it for a second to light a cigarette, you’ll need to keep the flame ignited for at least several seconds and you don’t want to burn your fingers or the mask’s skirt.
- An ideal tool is a wand-style lighter for candles or barbecue grills that’s got a longer stem and keeps your fingers far away from the flame. If you’ve got one at home, burn your new mask before your trip.
- Hold the lighter’s flame close to the inside of the lens, but not directly in contact with it. Begin at approximately 1.5 to 2 inches (35-50 mm) away from the surface.
- Gently move the flame around the center of the lens in a continuous motion. The intense heat from the flame will make the mask fog and blacken slightly, but you will be able to see the silicone burn away and leave a clear area. When moving the flame closer to the frame be extremely careful not to get too close to the edge or you may burn or deform the skirt.
- When you’re done, remember that the lenses will be hot. Put the mask down on a safe surface where it will remain untouched for 2-3 minutes. Wipe any soot away using a tissue or cloth. Make sure to wipe the soot away from the skirt without smearing it, especially if you have a clear or pale skirt. Once the mask is completely cool, rinse it with water to remove any remaining residue.
If you have time to spare, carbonated drinks like Coke or Pepsi are effective sometimes. These types of drinks are known for their abrasive properties. As a diver, you can use them to your benefit.
- Place the mask on a flat, stable surface where you can leave it unattended for an extended period.
- Add Coke or Pepsi to the inner part of the mask so that both lenses have a light covering.
- Leave the mask overnight and, in the morning, rinse with fresh water.
Some toothpastes also have abrasive properties that can help remove the silicone coating on your new lenses. For the most effective results, many people use the cheapest and most abrasive toothpaste available.
- Gently squeeze a small, pea-sized blob of toothpaste into the center of each lens on the inside.
- Firmly rub the toothpaste around the inside of the lenses with the tip of your finger until you’ve worked the paste into all parts of the lens. In contrast to the burning method, there is no danger in going right to the edge of the lenses where they meet the skirt.
- When done, put a small amount of warm — but not boiling — water into the mask to cover the lenses. Finally, and similarly to the Coke method, leave the mask to stand on a surface where it will be undisturbed for 20-30 minutes.
- Thoroughly rinse your mask and repeat two or three more times. The greater the repetition, the less chance you’ll have a foggy mask or condensation on your initial dives.
The market offers an abundance of commercial pre-treatment products, each claiming to be the most effective. Usually sold in small bottles, these are hygienic, often effective and unlikely to cause damage to your new mask.
The application process is similar to toothpaste, although it may vary from brand to brand:
- Gently squeeze a small, pea-sized blob of the product into the center of the mask.
- Firmly rub the solution around the inside of the lenses with the tip of your finger. The solutions often have gritty particles that feel similar to sand, facilitating the removal of any silicone coating.
- Leave for a period as recommended by the manufacturer. Rinse your mask and repeat as necessary.
Having completed some or all of the above, your mask should be ready to dive. Despite taking all these steps, there’s a chance you’re your mask will fog during the initial dives. You will also need to treat your mask before each individual dive as normal, whether you choose saliva or a mask de-fogging product.
Treating your new mask and taking a few minutes to remove the factory coating will pay dividends on the initial dives. If you do it properly, you can safely burn your new mask without fear of damaging it. And, while there are no guarantees, carefully preparing your mask may help you have a safer, more enjoyable dive.