Swim Cap vs. Shower Cap for Swimming – Which Is Better?

swim cap vs shower cap

If you have long, luscious hair and also love swimming, then you’re in a bit of a dilemma. Exposing your hair to the chemicals in pool water or saltwater in the ocean can dry out and damage your beautiful hair.

You look into what hair covering options are available and find that swimmers wear something called a swim cap. It looks kind of like a shower cap except much smaller with a tighter fit, and so you wonder: what is the difference between a swim cap vs. shower cap for swimming?

A swimming cap and shower cap have very different purposes. Both can limit the amount of water that can reach your hair, however they are not fully waterproof.

In fact, swim caps are not designed to keep your hair dry at all; their primary purpose is to improve your head’s hydrodynamics by streamlining its shape. Thus, it has a much tighter fit and may not feel comfortable.

A shower cap, on the other hand, is designed to keep your hair dry, but only from a showerhead. It is designed with long hair in mind so it’s much looser to give your hair more space. It’s not intended to streamline your appearance at all, because its job is to keep water out, not make you more hydrodynamic.

In this article, we will discuss how a shower cap compares to a swim cap in the context of swimming. Can you substitute a shower cap for a swim cap, and vice versa? Will you look silly and out of place with a shower cap in the pool? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

Can I wear a shower cap to the pool?

There is no rule against wearing a shower cap to the pool, so yes you can. In fact, if you are staying at a hotel with a swimming pool while on vacation, they may even provide you with a shower cap for hair protection instead of a swim cap.

Keep in mind that both swim caps and shower caps are not waterproof. If you fully submerge yourself underwater, water can and will enter both caps.

What you need to do is keep your hair mostly above water; a few dips here and there should be fine, but complete immersion would allow water to enter.

If you are wearing a shower cap to the pool, you may get a few curious looks because traditionally swim caps are the preferred choice. People associate shower caps with, well, the shower, and wearing it while swimming can draw unwanted attention.

What is a swimming cap used for?

Swim caps are the preferred option for swimmers because it provides them with many practical benefits that help them excel in the sport.

Unlike shower caps, swim caps are not designed to keep water out. The primary function of swim caps is to streamline your head by covering up your hair, making you more hydrodynamic.

By reducing drag in the water, swimmers can swim faster and improve their chances of winning. Even if the swim cap improves a swimmer’s speed by 1/100th of a second, that could literally be the difference between first and second place, or being on the podium at all.

Again, it is not designed to keep your hair dry. With that said, swim caps should fit tight to ensure your hair stays together, and this tight fit does limit the amount of water that reaches your hair.

Furthermore, by keeping your hair tightly wrapped up, it will also ensure that any strands of hair that naturally fall out will be kept in the cap and not released into the pool, where it may end up in someone’s mouth or in the pool filter.

Even if you don’t have any hair, it’s still a good idea to wear a swim cap while swimming.

Additionally, swim caps are often colored and may even come with some interesting designs on them. This is a great identifying feature that helps others keep track of you in a crowd, or to make it easier to spot you if you should get separated while open water swimming.

If you are having trouble with water entering your ears, again, swim caps do not keep your ears dry either. However, what you can do is wear them over your ears and in conjunction with swimming earplugs. The swim cap keeps the earplugs from falling out, and the earplugs in turn keep water from entering.

As you can see, swim caps provide many benefits. However, most of these benefits apply to competitive swimmers who are trying to maximize every advantage they can get. They are not a mandatory requirement for casual swimmers, especially if they don’t have long hair.

What is a shower cap used for?

Shower caps are typically worn in the shower by people trying to preserve their hairstyle. After you spent hundreds of dollars at the hair stylist, it would be a waste to ruin your hair’s perfect condition. However, skipping the shower is also unacceptable, so you can wear a shower cap to keep your hair from getting wet.

If you decide to go recreational swimming with very long hair, a shower cap is a better option for you. Shower caps are much more spacious because they are not designed to streamline your head.

They are a great way to protect your hair after getting a hair treatment and to extend your hairstyle. Wearing them will limit the amount of water your hair comes in contact with, protecting them from the harmful effects of chlorine and other chemicals.

Shower caps can also reduce frizzy hair. Unfortunately, moisture is a trigger for frizziness, so limiting your exposure to moisture by wearing a shower cap can help to reduce frizziness.

Even though shower caps are actually designed to keep water out, unlike swim caps, they are only effective in a shower setting. The shower cap is not going to keep water from flooding in if you decide to submerge your head underwater.

Thus, the only way you can swim while keeping your hair dry is still just to keep your head above water. The shower cap, in this case, will be effective at keeping your hair dry if water gets splashed on you.

Parting words

In the comparison between a swim cap vs. a shower cap, both provide great benefits depending on what you want to accomplish.

If your goal is to keep your hair dry, the best option is to simply swim with your head above the water. However, shower caps have the advantage here for people with extremely long hair because shower caps are more spacious.

A swim cap, on the other hand, is hands down the better option for swimmers who value performance. By streamlining your head by keeping your hair packed tightly away, swim caps reduce your drag and make you more hydrodynamic. They are the obvious choice for competitive swimmers.