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Thread: How do i clean a scuba mask?

  1. #16
    Senior Member Divin'Hoosier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by airsix View Post
    <Sigh> I was totally expecting a Tobin the Science Guy answer.
    Let me try. I'm no Tobin, but I'll give it my best shot.

    I think there is a lot of misinformation about what's on your mask lens and how it got there. Most masks these days are made with silicone rubber skirts. The skirts are formed in a mold from liquid silicone rubber. When the molded skirt is still green (fresh out of the mold) it offgasses a lot of nasties. Stuff with names like phenyl benzoate and propanoic acid ester (sp?). Many of the chemicals offgassed are various silicone oils. (see this document for more sciencey details) They evaporate out of the silicone and unfortunately some condenses on the glass lens. It takes a long time for the silicone to fully cure. In fact it never really finishes. It will be offgassing 20 years from now, albeit at a much much slower rate than it was the day it was boxed up and sent to your LDS. So probably the worst thing you can do is keep your mask stored in an unventilated bag/box. Let it breathe and less oil should condense on the lens. I think the reason tooth-paste works so well is it mechanically removes the oils. Silicone oils are resistant to most solvents. It's about impossible to wash off, but toothpaste is a thick paste abrasive and removes it mechanically rather than chemically. I'm guessing, but I think that's why it is effective where so many other agents fail. This is why I love an old mask. As it ages the silicone offgasses less and less and it's easier to keep fog-free. In my opinion a brand new mask needs the toothpaste treatment rather frequently (monthly?). As the mask ages you have to do it less frequently. I'm down to annually on my current mask (3-4yrs old).

    -Ben
    Wow. You sound alot like the chemical engineers I work with. I can hardly understand them as well.

    Thanks!

  2. #17
    Senior Member b1gcountry's Avatar
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    You want long-winded??? I wrote this for the Q&A section of our newsletter...
    When I first got certified I asked my instructor why my mask always fogged up. She told me it was because of the heat from my body causing condensation on the mask lens. She told me if I spit on the mask, it would prevent the condensation from forming. I sort of shrugged, and spit, and didn't really question that logic. Then about eight years later a buddy of mine pulled out a tube of Colgate and started smearing it on his lens. I asked him what he was doing, and he said the toothpaste polishes the lens, and that doesn't give the fog any nooks and crannies to grab into (he then rinsed his mask in the camera dunk tank, which was okay since there were no cameras on our boat that day). I tried this out, and it worked better than the spit. A couple years after this incident, a different diver pulled out a little shampoo bottle filled with something and started smearing this on his lens. Yet again I asked what was up, and he said it was Palmolive dish soap, but why it worked he just didn't know. This finally motivated me to find out what the heck was up with all these things divers use to prevent fog, and why they worked. So here's what I found...

    For starters, it turns out my instructor was right about the condensation thing. The air we use to equalize our masks is heated by our bodies. Physics says that warm air can hold more moisture than cold air, so this air is also moist (the air picks up moisture from our lungs, and mouth, as well as any moisture that is in the tank.) The lens, unfortunately, is relatively cold (at least 15F cooler than our bodies even in warm water). So when this warm, moist air comes in contact with the cool glass of our masks, the air is cooled, and can no longer hold as much moisture. The water vapor then condenses on our masks as water.

    This still didn't make sense to me. If we are looking through a thousand of gallons of water in front of our mask, what difference does one drop make inside our mask? That's where surface tension comes in. Water has an extremely high surface tension caused by the strong hydrogen bond, coupled with the relatively small weight of a water molecule. This makes the water molecules attempt to stick together very tightly in the smallest volume possible. In short, it means water will form beads on a surface instead of forming an even sheet. So the condensation forms millions of tiny water beads on the mask interior, which refract incoming light at random angles and obscures our vision. The more numerous and larger the beads, the worse our vision is obscured. This is fog.

    There are two ways to prevent fog. We can either prevent condensation, or we can try to reduce the surface tension of the water that is condensing on our lenses. In order to prevent the condensation from forming, we would have to either: 1. Lower the temperature of our body to that of the surrounding water, 2. Lower the moisture content of our bodys so the air we exhale is completely dry, or 3. Add a dessicant to our masks. The first two involve hypothermia, and dehydration. The third would only work without the presence of water, so lets consider ways to reduce the surface tension of the water instead.

    Fortunately, we have many ways to alter the surface tension of water. Soap is a great way to reduce surface tension. Ammonia will reduce it even more. And grease will repel water and increase the surface tension. Since ammonia would probably make a person blind if you put it on their masks, lets look at grease and soap. A thin layer of soap applied to the inside of a mask would mix with any water condensing onto the mask lens. The soap molecules are long with opposing polarities on either end, so they cause the water molecules to spread out, and produce a lower surface tension. This means the water will form a more even layer on your mask, which will be close to transparent.

    Now lets see what happens when you coat the lens with grease. Oil repels water, which is why we can never clean a greasy frying pan using only water. So a tiny water droplet landing on a greased lens will bead more than a drop landing on a cleaned surface. This is because the natural surface tension of water is aided by the oil...not only is the water wanting to cling together, but the oil is also pushing the water together and causing fog.

    Obviously, this means you don't want any grease on your lens, but mask manufacturers use a silicone grease in the production process to facilitate getting the masks out of the mask molds. This leaves a thin layer of silicone grease coating your mask when you buy it. In order to remove this, you need to scrub it off. An abrasive such as toothpaste does a great job of this. Soft scrub also works. Apply a gritty PASTE (not gel) to all parts of the mask, and scrub with a toothbrush, or a finger. Make sure you get all the nooks and crannies, and concentrate on the inside of the lens. Grease is also naturally accumulated from your skin, the water you dive in, and also from the mask skirt, which is made of silicone, and contains oils of its own. To prevent this buildup, repeat the scrubbing every so often to keep the mask clean. This also has the bonus effect of washing away any bacterial growth.

    So, ideally, you want a mask free from any oil, and covered with a thin coat of some soapy substance. The soap on the inside of the lens should not irritate your eyes, and should also be rather transparent itself. Use a mild soap like Dawn, or Baby Shampoo to prevent irritation. To get a thin, even layer, either apply a diluted mix to the lens, and leave it there to dry, or smear a thick coat over the lens, and rinse off only the excess (I like storing my cleaner in a small eyedrop bottle and leaving it in my mask box). Don't rinse the mask so much you wash away all the soap, or you've lost your protection. Frequently flooding your mask also washes away this protective layer, so try to get a mask that doesn't leak.

    There is so much anxiety caused by loss or impairment of vision underwater, that a fogged mask is not only an inconvenience, it can prove dangerous. You will have more trouble keeping track of your buddy, you will waste time flooding and clearing your mask, and you will be more prone to panic if something else goes wrong. Taking the time to address mask fogging makes diving safer, more relaxed, and more enjoyable.

  3. #18
    Senior Member Divin'Hoosier's Avatar
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    Wow! The War and Peace treatise on mask cleaning!

  4. #19
    Senior Member b1gcountry's Avatar
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    I'm nothing if not exceedingly boring...

  5. #20
    Unified Team Diver Jason B.'s Avatar
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    I find Bon Ami to be the quickest easiest way to clean a mask. And no toothpaste smell (and cheap).


  6. #21
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    What's wrong with a minty fresh mask?

    Ben, I'll bet that's why I never had really bad fogging issues, I bought a demo mask off the wall at the LDS that had been there a few months "breathing" and I never stored it in the box, it just gets jammed in my fin foot pocket. I only gave it the toothpaste treatment once, and it's been fog free ever since.

  7. #22
    Senior Member CompuDude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason B. View Post
    I find Bon Ami to be the quickest easiest way to clean a mask. And no toothpaste smell (and cheap).
    I'm sure it works fine, but you'd rather have your mask smell like cleaning product than be minty fresh?
    Uh-oh... what happens if you chose both pills?!?

  8. #23
    Unified Team Diver Jason B.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CompuDude View Post
    I'm sure it works fine, but you'd rather have your mask smell like cleaning product than be minty fresh?
    There is no smell. It contains no chlorines or bleaches and is environmentally friendly.

  9. #24
    Site Moderator SubMariner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason B. View Post
    I find Bon Ami to be the quickest easiest way to clean a mask. And no toothpaste smell (and cheap).
    I'd be wary of the abrasiveness of this type of product on lenses, especially the non-glass ones.
    =SubMariner=
    No matter where you go, there you are!


  10. #25
    Unified Team Diver Jason B.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SubMariner View Post
    I'd be wary of the abrasiveness of this type of product on lenses, especially the non-glass ones.
    It's hardly an abrasive - I've been using on masks for many years with no issues.

  11. #26
    Senior Member Codyjp's Avatar
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    All these useful posts and the guy who came, dropped his links onto the site and ran hasn't been back since.

    DMX needs a way of requiring members to have X number of useful posts before they start advertising on the site.
    I think you guys are way over thinking this thing, if it was worth all this heavy brainiac thought, Tobin would be on here. Go diving. -- AzTek Diver

  12. #27
    Senior Member b1gcountry's Avatar
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    The OP also put it on Scubaboard, Midwest Dive, and probably a couple other boards.

  13. #28
    Site Moderator SubMariner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason B. View Post
    It's hardly an abrasive - I've been using on masks for many years with no issues.
    From the Bon Ami website:
    Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser is made from calcite & feldspar mineral abrasives, and biodegradable detergent.

    Also regarding their 1886 Formula Cleaning Powder:
    Since 1886—the original formula in the nostalgic can. Defogs windows and mirrors. Cleans and polishes glass, windows, mirrors, porcelain, unlacquered metals, chrome, aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic tile, cast iron cookware, whitewall tires and tools. Natural ingredients contain no detergent, bleach, perfume or dye.

    Note the fact that it indicates you can only use it on UNLACQERED METALS, further signifying that it is abrasive. Ergo, you cannot use either product on plastic lenses without risking scratches/damage.
    =SubMariner=
    No matter where you go, there you are!


  14. #29
    Senior Member airsix's Avatar
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    That would definitely ruin a coated lens (e.g., one of those masks with a color filter coating), but are there really diving masks out there with plastic lenses? I know there are bathtub/pool masks for kids that have plastic lenses, but are there actually scuba-grade masks out there with plastic lenses?

    -Ben

  15. #30
    Senior Member CompuDude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by airsix View Post
    That would definitely ruin a coated lens (e.g., one of those masks with a color filter coating), but are there really diving masks out there with plastic lenses? I know there are bathtub/pool masks for kids that have plastic lenses, but are there actually scuba-grade masks out there with plastic lenses?

    -Ben
    None that I would use, but yes, there are a few models out there with plastic lenses. Tusa makes several models, and there are others as well.
    Uh-oh... what happens if you chose both pills?!?

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