Choosing a Scuba Mask – Tips to Stop Leaking and Fogging
There’s not too many things more annoying than having a leaking mask when scuba diving. Being one of the less expensive items of gear you will buy as a newbie scuba diver, sometimes means that your mask is purchased before you really know what you should be looking for.
Although a small leak is annoying, a badly fitted mask could lead to a dangerous situation if not fitted correctly.
Scuba gear such as a dive computer or a divers watch can easily be assessed and bought online but things like fins, masks and wetsuits need to fit properly.
The only way to figure this out is by trying them on at your local dive shop. Before heading off to the dive shop, have a read of the following tips to help you pick a good mask that fits properly and won't leak.
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The difference between a Snorkeling Mask and a Diving Mask
First off, a diving mask will be more expensive than a mask made for snorkeling. This is because a diving mask will be made of better quality materials, making it well worth the extra few dollars.
Many of the cheaper snorkeling masks on the market have low quality plastic or glass faceplates. These are perfectly fine for snorkeling, but aren't recommended scuba diving or any diving at depth.
Some masks have a one-way purge valve located under the nose to let water out. This type of mask is commonly used by snorkelers but most scuba divers don't like these at all. This is mainly due to the possibility of the valve failing at depth which will cause the mask to leak.
Prescription Lenses and Scuba Mask Face Plates
The face plate on a scuba diving mask should be tempered glass (which is also known as toughened glass). This is much stronger than regular glass. Tempered glass will have a sticker or mark identifying it as tempered on the glass plate.
Diving masks have either a large single faceplate or two lenses in front of the eyes.
Divers who need prescription lenses often go for masks with two lenses. Having two glass plates can make it easier to have prescription lenses fitted directly into the frames. It’s also possible to have prescription lenses glued to the inside of the original flat glass, either fully or partially - partially will make the mask function the same way as bifocals.
The Diving Mask Skirt
The mask skirt is the flexible part of the mask that connects to the face plate and fits your face creating a water-tight seal. Most skirts are made of quality silicone, although some are synthetic rubber. The better quality the skirt, the greater flexibility it has, which in turn makes the mask a nicer fit.
There are masks with different colored skirts but these aren’t common and often have a special purpose. Most mask skirts will be opaque, almost transparent, or transparent. A skirt that is almost transparent provides better peripheral vision and often reduces the feeling of claustrophobia that some divers experience.
The skirt must enclose the nose in a pocket section. Masks that don’t cover the nose are not suitable for diving. This nose pocket must be flexible enough for you to pinch your nose and clear your ears during descent. This equalizes the pressure in your middle ear and prevents the ‘squeeze’ feeling caused by the increase in pressure.
There should be a ridge of silicon around the edge of the skirt where it comes in contact with your face. This provides a double-seal.
Strap Comfort and Good Fit
It’s important to buy a mask that is the correct size for your face. Over tightening the straps in order to get a good seal ineffective and just plain uncomfortable. It also puts pressure on the skirt and will cause damage over time.
Mask straps are usually made of rubber or elastomer which can be annoying for divers with longer hair, causing tangling. The straps can be covered with a neoprene cover, or completely replaced with a neoprene strap. Either of these options will make the straps feel more comfortable.
If the strap's in the wrong position it can make the skirt to buckle slightly losing it's watertight seal. The strap should always be positioned around the back of your head so that it is neither higher nor lower than the center of the mask.
At the beginning of each dive, make sure that the mask is in the correct position on your face, and your hair is out of the way. After entering the water, re-check the position of your mask. If you need to remove it, then dunk your head to clear your hair and replace your mask.
How to check that the mask is a good fit for you
Start by putting the mask on using the strap. If there's a mirror around, check to see if the mask is centered on your face and the skirt doesn’t extend past the outside of your cheeks. If there’s no mirror around, ask someone to help check this for you.
Does your nose feel comfortable? If there’s any pressure on your nose at the front or bottom means this shape and fit isn’t the correct one for you.
With the mask on, look around to check how well you can see. If it looks and feels comfortable, then take it off and hold it on your face without using the strap. Gently inhale through your nose, then hold your breath. If the mask stays on without any help, then it means no air is being drawn in and it’s a good fit.
If it's possible, try a mask on with a regulator or snorkel in your mouth. This can make a difference on how a mask fits under your nose.
Men with facial hair often have problems getting a good seal. Putting some petroleum jelly on the hair where it meets the mask can help in getting a good seal.
If you don’t get a mask that's a good fit for the size and shape of your face, then it will be impossible to keep the mask from leaking.
How to stop your new mask from fogging up
New dive masks are all sold with a protective seal over the faceplate. This causes them to fog up once you’re underwater.
There are plenty of mask defoggers on the market, but one of the most reliable methods to stop your new mask from fogging is toothpaste. Buy a cheap brand of toothpaste that doesn’t have whitening agents as this can damage the mask skirt.
Make sure your hands are clean before you start, then spread a liberal amount of toothpaste onto the faceplate. You should start to feel the face plate change in texture and become smoother. Wash away the toothpaste with clean water once the whole faceplate area feels smooth. Now perform a breath test. There should be no fogging. If the mask still fogs, repeat the process or try the same method with baby shampoo.
Many divers keep both a defogger and a cleaner in their kit but don't forget good old-fashioned spit. Don’t worry about others seeing you spit in your mask. Most people do it. Spit in the mask before diving and spread the saliva around the inside of the faceplate. Rinse with a little water. The saliva residue allows any condensation to wet the glass and form a continuous film rather than form droplets and fog up.
If you're like me and not keen on using your own spit, there are good cheap anti-fog products available that do this for you. Click here to see Amazon prices.
It’s also normal to have to defog your mask between dives. Your spit will act as a de-fogger but will lose its effectiveness once you remove the mask at the end of the dive.
If you're diving in a warmer climate, try putting your head underwater before you put on your mask as this helps cool down your temperature which may help stop the mask from fogging up.
TIP: When surfacing after a dive, don't remove your mask until you reach the boat. This is a good rule to stick to also if you have prescription lenses fitted to your mask. This will avoid any vision impairment between surfacing and climbing back onto the boat.
Mask Storage and Maintenance
Many masks will come with their own plastic storage case. If not, then a mask storage case is well worth the investment. There's a range of storage cases on the market and many can be purchased for around $10-$15.
Protect your mask by keeping it in the storage case whenever it’s not being used. A good storage case will keep weight off the mask itself which may cause the skirt to become deformed. It will also protect the glass surface from scratches. Keep your mask out of direct sunlight which will damage it over time.
After each diving day, rinse your mask in fresh water. Inspect the mask to make sure there's no sand or salt water residue around the skirt seal, faceplate and nose pocket areas. Dry with a micro-cloth and place it in its storage case. Make sure your mask is always stored at the top of your gear, with nothing else on top of it.
These few easy steps will keep your mask in good working order and leak free for many years.
Have you got any other helpful tips to share? We'd love to hear them.
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