Nobody likes to wear swim caps. They can be a pain to put on, especially if you have long hair. They can also pull on your hair or even fail spectacularly if you don’t wear them properly.
With that said, the benefits they provide are too good to pass up. Swim caps can protect your hair from chlorine, keep hair out of your face, keep your head warm, make you more visible in the water, and very importantly, they reduce drag in the water.
Even though they can be a pain, swim caps are a must have if you are a competitive swimmer. For people with longer hair (both men and women), the fact that they can keep hair out of their face and from snagging in the lane ropes is already reason enough to wear them. While you do not need to wear a swim cap, especially if you are only a recreational swimmer with short hair, people with longer hair or who are competitive swimmers consider the swim cap to be an essential piece of headgear to wear while swimming.
In this article, we will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of swim caps in more detail so that you can decide for yourself whether you think it’s worth the hassle or not.
What are swim caps and what do they do?
Swim caps are worn over the top part of the swimmers head to cover their hair. Swim caps can be made from silicone, latex, lycra, or neoprene, and they each have their own benefits.
Silicone and latex swim caps are best at keeping your hair and ears dry, whereas a lycra cap does not offer as much protection from the water. Neoprene swim caps are primarily designed to keep your head warm.
The purpose of wearing swim caps is not necessarily to keep your hair 100% dry, but rather to limit the amount of chemicals that can reach your hair. Swim caps can also protect your hair from the sun if you’re swimming outdoors.
In addition to the protection swim caps provide, most swimmers wear them for the competitive advantage they offer: they can reduce drag in the water by keeping your hair out of the way.
As a competitive swimmer, you need to either shave your head or wear a swim cap to be more hydrodynamic or else you are at a disadvantage. This reason alone is why many swimmers wear a swim cap.
Do I need to wear a swim cap?
If you’re a recreational swimmer, and especially if you have short or no hair, then you probably don’t need a swim cap. You can read up on the advantages that a swim cap offers you below to see if anything strikes your fancy.
On the other hand, if you are looking to swim some laps, improve your swimming skills, and especially if you are a competitive swimmer or open water swimming, then a swim cap becomes more of a necessity.
Benefits of wearing a swim cap
Protects your hair from chemicals
The chemicals in pool water – particularly chlorine – are notorious for damaging your hair. If you have dyed hair, chlorine can cause your hair colors to fade over time if you aren’t wearing a swim cap. Even though there are products that can help remove chlorine from your hair, a better solution is to simply limit any interaction with chlorine by wearing a swim cap.
That said, a swim cap does not completely keep your hair dry. It does, however, drastically reduce the contact between your hair and the pool water.
Another tip that you can apply while wearing a swim cap is to thoroughly soak your hair with fresh water prior to entering the water. The hair will absorb the freshwater and be saturated with it. Thus, when you enter the pool water, very little of the chlorine water will get absorbed into your hair, limiting the damage it can cause.
This is the same trick that scuba divers and other outdoor water sports enthusiasts do to keep the saltwater from drying their hair out. Don’t forget to thoroughly rinse your hair afterwards either.
Keeps hair out of the pool
Few things are worse than when you’re swimming in the pool and your fingers catch on a ball of someone else’s hair. I’ve even had strands of hair in my mouth before which is always a fun surprise (just kidding, it’s disgusting).
Your hair sheds naturally all the time. The difference is, when you’re wearing a swim cap, all of your hair will be contained in the swim cap until you take it off. People sometimes blame the swim cap for “tearing out” their hair, when in reality it’s just catching all of the hair that would’ve ended up in the pool’s filters.
Don’t contribute to the rogue strands of hair in the pool. This is a serious problem, and if you’ve seen how clogged the filters can get, then you’d probably agree.
P.S. If you’re bald, then obviously you won’t contribute to this problem. However, does this mean you don’t need to wear a swim cap? No, it’s still a good idea for the reasons listed in this article.
Keeps hair away from your face (and others’)
Since we’re already talking about it, let’s discuss another hairy issue.
If you have long hair – it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl – the strands of hair can easily get in your own face, another swimmer’s face, or it can even get caught on the lane ropes. Plus, any hair you shed can cause problems down the line (or drain, rather) as mentioned above.
I think it’s quite self-explanatory to understand the benefits of keeping your long hair out of your face. But just so we’re absolutely clear, you will be able to see better so you know where you’re going.
Also, trying to breathe a mouthful of air but ending up with a mouthful of hair is not very pleasant, especially if it’s not your own hair.
If you have bangs or your hair goes past your ears, then chances are high that your hair can obstruct your vision when swimming. Wear a swim cap, and you won’t have to deal with your hair getting in the way anymore.
Helps you swim faster
Yup, you read that right. Swim caps help you swim faster. How is this possible, short of wearing a swim cap with propellers attached to them, you ask?
A swim cap keeps your hair bundled up and out of the water. This ultimately makes your head more hydrodynamic when moving through water, and keeps your hair from slowing you down (and getting in your way).
This might not seem like a big deal, and it really isn’t if you’re just a recreational swimmer. However, competitive swimmers are, well, competitive, and even speeding you up by a hundredth of a second can be the difference between second place or taking home gold.
If you thought swim caps were designed to keep your hair dry and to keep the pool filters from getting clogged up, that’s actually just a neat bonus benefit. They were designed primarily to help swimmers reduce drag, not to keep their hair dry!
Makes you more visible
If you are a parent and want to keep a close eye on your child, then a swim cap is a great identifying feature to help you quickly spot your child in a pinch.
Once your child gets in a crowded pool, it can be like trying to play a game of Where’s Waldo, but if you know exactly what you’re looking for, then you can speed up search.
For this reason, it can be beneficial to get a swim cap with an eye-popping design. It could just be a team name or logo, or bright colors to contrast against the blue pool water.
Just be careful not to get a swim cap with a design that is very common, otherwise you could just as easily encounter a duplicate and confuse your child for another.
Similar to the above, if you or your children want to try your hand at open water swimming, making yourself visible is a mandatory safety precaution.
You should favor utility over fashion at this point; wear a brightly colored swim cap that sticks out against the blues, browns, and greens of the ocean. In case something happens, it will help your rescuers spot you more quickly.
Furthermore, the water temperature outdoors is not regulated like a swimming pool, so staying warm is also a priority. You can get neoprene swim caps (the same material used in wetsuit construction) to keep the top of your head warm (where a significant portion of heat loss occurs).
As a side note, every open water swimmer should look into wearing a wetsuit for the warmth and buoyancy it provides, as well as a swim buoy. Swim buoys are available in a wide range of colors and they float behind you as you’re swimming. This further increases the odds of you being spotted in case something goes wrong.
Protects your ears
A swim cap can offer some limited protection against swimmers’ ears by keeping some of the water out of your ears. It’s not going to keep it 100% dry, but limiting exposure to the water is a step in the right direction.
If you got an ear piercing recently then a swim cap may be able to keep water away from your open wound. Though swim caps are not waterproof, they are still effective at covering your ears and hair so that significantly less water reaches them.
If you swim with earplugs and have problems with them falling out, a swim cap that covers your ears can keep the earplugs lodged firmly in place. Even if it does fall out, it will still be caught in the swim cap so you can retrieve it after.
Types of swim caps
If you’re having trouble deciding which type of swim cap you want, in this section we briefly go over the types available and what they excel at. The options are silicone caps, latex caps, lycra caps, and neoprene caps.
- Silicone: Caps made of silicone are durable, thick, and long-lasting. They are a great default option if you have extra long hair or aren’t sure what you need.
- Neoprene: If you want an even warmer swim cap for colder pools or open water swimming, then neoprene is the way to go.
- Latex: Thin, less durable, and inexpensive, latex caps are an affordable option for swimmers that feel too warm when wearing other types of swim caps.
- Lycra: Caps made of lycra are best-suited for water activities where you do not submerge your head, such as aqua aerobics, since they can come off more easily. Out of all the caps, they offer the least water protection.
It’s important that you buy the correct size swim cap, as there are children’s and adult sizes. Remember that swim caps should fit you tight; any wrinkles in the cap can drastically increase the amount of drag you experience (and the amount of water that enters the cap), defeating the purpose of wearing a cap in the first place!
How to properly put on a swim cap
After all of this talk about how a swim cap can help you, we would be remiss not to include a section on how you can properly put on your swim cap. If the swim cap is not put on properly, it not only won’t work, but it will actively slow you down. It’d be worse than useless, so this step is important to get right.
We will provide instruction on how you can put a swim cap on your child as well as on yourself.
How to put a swim cap on your child:
- If your child has long hair, tie it up in a tight bun or pony tail.
- Let your child hold the front of the cap to their forehead while you hold the back.
- Optional: Ask your child to look down so you can cover all of their hair with the cap in one motion.
- Pull the cap over your child’s head in one motion, squeezing the hair down as you go.
How to put a swim cap on yourself:
- If you have long hair, tie it up in a bun or pony tail.
- Place both your hands into the cap and stretch it as wide as it allows.
- Place the front of your cap on your forehead.
- Quickly pull the cap over the rest of your head (it should already be caught on your forehead) from front to back in one fluid motion.
- Tuck in any loose strands of hair as needed.
There are many advantages to wearing a swim cap for swimming, and it is basically mandatory if you’re a competitive swimmer.
Whether you’re a recreational swimmer or a competitive one, swim caps have something to offer for everyone.
For example, swim caps can limit your hair’s exposure to chlorine and saltwater which are known to dry out and damage hair. Swim caps can also keep your hair out of your face and keep loose strands from entering the pool and going where it shouldn’t go.
If you’re a parent and you want to keep a watchful eye on your child, a swim cap is a great identifying feature on your child that you can easily spot in a crowd.
Lastly and most importantly, swim caps make your head more hydrodynamic and can reduce your drag in the water, ultimately speeding you up. This is the reason why you see competitive swimmers wear swim caps; it’s a much better solution than shaving their head just for the sake of swimming.
Plus, swim caps are so affordable that there’s no reason why you couldn’t get one. That said, you do not need to wear a swim cap if you don’t want to, especially if you’re a recreational swimmer with short hair.