Based on the fact that all competitive swimmers wear swim caps, clearly there is some kind of advantage that wearing them provides. Perhaps you may have tried wearing a swim cap before but found it annoying to wear and clean. So you want to forgo wearing it, but now you’re worried: what disadvantages will you encounter by not wearing a swimming cap?
The biggest disadvantage of not wearing a swim cap is that you will not get the speed increase that covering up your hair and streamlining your head shape provides. Depending on how long your hair is, the speed difference can be significant, which is why all competitive swimmers wear caps.
Furthermore, long hair can get in the way when swimming or get caught on the lane ropes or other objects if you’re swimming outdoors. Your hair will also be fully exposed to chlorine and UV rays, and your hair will shed into the pool which can clog the filtration system. You will not be as safe swimming outdoors because you will not be as warm or visible without a cap.
As you can see, the disadvantages of swimming without a cap are quite significant. Are you sure the pain points of wearing and caring for a swim cap exceeds the benefits that wearing one can provide you? In this article, we will go over these downsides in more detail to help you make a more informed decision.
Disadvantages of swimming without a cap
Hair that is not covered up increases underwater drag
To understand how wearing a swim cap can help you swim faster, you need to understand a little bit about hydrodynamics, which is the study of how water moves around and acts on solid bodies. The simplified version is that the bigger and heavier an object is, the more force is required to move it.
Now, if you go swimming with an uncovered head full of long hair, you are drastically increasing your surface area underwater (making yourself bigger by increasing your surface area), and allowing the hair to absorb the water (making you heavier).
By wearing a swim cap, you can streamline your head shape by pressing down your hair tightly so that your overall surface area is reduced. Swim caps also limit how much water will reach your hair, which means your hair will absorb less water. The end result is that you will have less underwater drag (less water resistance).
You may wonder how much of a difference this makes; does wearing a piece of fabric/rubber on your head really give you that much of an edge? The answer is yes, it will literally improve your speed as if you received the benefits of an entire season’s worth of training simply by shaving your body hair and wearing a swim cap over your head. Do you really want to miss out on this?
You won’t feel as fast
In addition to the actual, objective benefits that wearing a swim cap provides, studies have shown that swimmers get a psychological benefit where they feel like they are swimming faster.
This same phenomenon is experienced by swimmers who shave their body hair, and in fact, swimmers both shave their body hair and wear a swim cap to get the most benefits.
There’s just something about how the water feels on your bare skin, it’s almost like you’re gliding through the water as you swim. Thankfully, studies have confirmed that swimmers truly are slightly faster, but in terms of how they felt, the speed difference felt significant.
It was also found in studies that the psychological benefit could result in greater performance and improved motivation so that one is more likely to give his all during practice.
Your hair can get in the way
Even if you’re not a competitive swimmer and don’t care about speed or psychological benefits, there are many practical advantages you’d be missing out on by not wearing a swimming cap.
For instance, if you have long hair, you probably hate how long hair can get in the way. Sure, you can tie it up in a bun, but sometimes your bun can unravel on its own or it can still get caught on the lane ropes.
These annoyances can be solved by covering your hair up with a swim cap. You don’t need to worry about your bun unraveling, your hair getting caught on anything, or your hair obscuring your vision while swimming.
Hair will shed into the pool, clogging filters
Clogged filters are a problem whether you’re swimming at a public pool or your own private pool. The filtration system does the very important job of filtering out debris in the water so that the water quality remains high.
When you are swimming without a cap, where do you think the hair that you shed goes? That’s right, it floats in the water until it gets filtered about. Now imagine at a public pool how much hair is being shed that the filtration system has to deal with?
As you can see, there are many issues. You may accidentally end up with a few strands of hair in your mouth while swimming, which is gross. If the pool filters get clogged, then you better hope that the pool staff are on top of the situation otherwise the pool will get filthy very quickly.
If it’s your own pool, it’s just a pain in the butt having to clean your pool filters so quickly. Wear a cap and you will be amazed by how much longer the filter can go without getting clogged, especially if you have long hair.
Your hair and scalp are exposed to chlorine and UV rays
A benefit of covering up your hair is that swim caps provide great protection from chlorine and UV rays.
As mentioned, covering up your hair limits how much water your hair is exposed to. While swim caps are not waterproof, they severely limit how wet your hair can get; most people find that at least the top of their head remains dry after swimming with a cap. If you have long hair, tie your hair up in a bun higher up to keep the majority of your hair dry and free of chlorine.
Another way that swim caps protect your hair (and scalp) is by providing UV protection. Swim caps all have a UPF rating which means that the majority of the UV rays cannot make it through the swim cap, protecting you from sun damage.
If you are swimming in the ocean, swim caps can also limit how much saltwater your hair is exposed to. The point is, you can keep most of the harmful water, as well as UV rays, from reaching your hair.
Not as safe during open water swimming
Do you like to swim outdoors? Then you definitely need a swim cap. We’ve just mentioned how swim caps protect your hair from the sun, and that is applicable here.
Swimming caps have even more safety benefits that it can provide. For instance, if you are wearing a neoprene or silicone swim cap, then either material is very good at providing insulation for your head. The waters outside can be much colder than at a swimming pool, so heat retention is vital.
The water conditions are also constantly changing outside. It might suddenly start raining, and the wind can suddenly pick up, creating strong currents. In such turbulent waters, you will want to have as little drag as possible.
If you happen to get swept away, a swim cap can increase your visibility. Being more visible when outdoors is crucial because it makes it easier to spot you in case you need to be rescued, but also so that boats, kayaks, and canoes can see you and avoid you.
Covering up your hair with a swim cap also prevents your hair from getting tangled up on nets, hooks, kelp, coral, or anything that your hair might get stuck on.
As you can see, a disadvantage of swimming outdoors without a swim cap is that all of these safety benefits are suddenly gone. Is it really that much an inconvenience dealing with a swim cap that you are really willing to forgo all of these benefits?
Is it bad to swim without a cap?
In this article, we have discussed the various benefits you will be missing out on if you go swimming without a swim cap. It seems like a lot, however one thing to keep in mind is that these disadvantages only apply to people in very specific situations.
For instance, if you have long hair, are a competitive swimmer, like to swim outdoors, or some combination of these three, then you definitely need a swim cap. But what about someone who doesn’t fit this criteria?
As an example, you could have short hair, be a recreational swimmer, and swim infrequently, then a swim cap might actually be more annoying than it’s worth. Someone like this wouldn’t care about maximum performance, wouldn’t encounter much of the hair problems a longer haired individual would, and is unlikely to suffer hair damage since they swim rarely.
As such, even though there are some disadvantages to not wearing a swim cap, for a recreational swimmer it might be a moot point. Do not feel pressured to wear a swim cap; it’s not against the rules to swim without a cap at swimming pools, so don’t stress about it. This is something that mostly affects competitive swimmers or frequent swimmers with long hair.