An Introduction to Swimming Caps

The Benefits of Swim Caps


Swimming caps are designed for competitive swimmers in order to reduce hydrodynamic drag while swimming. By creating a smooth surface area for the water to flow over, caps allow swimmers to move more quickly and fluidly through the water than they could without a cap. This, in turn, improves mobility while swimming – helping you to perform better in competition.

In addition to their performance benefits, there are many other reasons to wear a cap. Some people use swim caps to help keep water out of their hair, which helps to reduce the damage that chlorine and other pool chemicals may cause. Unlike shower caps, however, swim caps are not designed to keep the water out. Thus, there’s no guarantee that your hair will stay completely dry. Swim caps can also be used to help cover your ears while swimming, retain heat, and keep hair out of the pool.

Swim Cap Materials – Let’s see what you’re made of!

Swim caps are made from a variety of different materials. The most common are silicone, latex, and lycra/spandex, but you may also come across caps made from rubber, neoprene, and polyurethane.

Silicone Caps

Silicone is one of the most ubiquitous materials used for swimming caps. Additionally, it is extremely durable. Silicone caps will last for years, when cared for properly. As a competitive swimmer, silicone is definitely my favorite cap material. Not only is it long-lasting, but it also lends itself well to slipping on and off without pulling hair (a plus for both men and women!).

Latex Caps

Latex is a far thinner material than silicone. It is also less durable. Latex swim caps rip more easily especially if you do not put them on properly or fail to take proper care of them. Since they are lighter than silicone, latex caps allow for more “breath-ability.” Retaining less heat, these caps may be better suited for warmer climates in which heat loss is not an issue. Latex caps are also generally much cheaper than other types of swim caps. So if you’re looking for a cap that won’t break the bank and durability isn’t a concern, then latex is the way to go.

Rubber Caps

Rubber is a common elastic material that is made from latex. Rubber caps are slightly thicker than their latex counterparts and, because of this, are usually not as stretchy. Similar to latex, rubber swim caps are also light weight and relatively inexpensive. However, if you have a latex allergy, a rubber cap would not be an ideal option due to the fact that it is derived from latex. Also made from rubber are crepe bubble swim caps. This style of swim cap is particularly well-suited to swimming in colder conditions. Because of its heavy-weight rubber and air bubble insulation, crepe bubble caps hold in heat in order to keep swimmers warm and tend to block water entry better than any other style. Crepe bubble caps are also known for their durability and longevity because of the thickness of the material.

Lycra and Spandex Caps

Lycra™ is a trademarked name for a synthetic fiber commonly known as spandex or elastane. Swimming caps made of spandex are very durable and will typically last for a long time if rinsed of chlorine after every use. Lycra swim caps are known to be very soft and will never catch or pull your hair. Since Lycra is a fabric, however, these caps will allow water to flow through the material while swimming. A permeable cap material is not as efficient as silicone or latex, but will still reduce drag to a greater extent than wearing no cap at all. Because of this, Lycra swim caps are not ideal for use in competition. They should primarily be used for practice or sun protection. Wearing a higher resistance cap during practice will actually help you perform better when wearing your silicone race-day cap. Getting your body accustomed to a higher level of resistance will allow for better performance when it comes to competition.

Neoprene Caps

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber, commonly used for wet suit material. Just like wet suits, the purpose of a neoprene swim cap is to keep a thin layer of water close to your body to act as insulation. This makes neoprene caps an excellent choice for people who swim in cold pools, lakes, rivers, or the ocean. You will still need to wear a wet suit though: contrary to the popular myth that 45% of heat loss is through your head, the head actually only accounts for 10% of your body’s surface area. So a thermal swim cap will only help you if the rest of your body is covered as well. Since they do not efficiently reduce drag, neoprene swim caps are more suited for open-water swimmers and triatheletes than for competition swimmers racing in heated pools. In addition, neoprene caps do not pull hair.

Ouch! Swimming Caps That Won’t Pull Hair

Caps made from softer fabrics like Lycra and neoprene won’t pull your hair at all. But, as discussed above, these materials are not the best for reducing drag. If you need to swim with a rubber, silicone, or latex cap for competition, try using baby power, talcum power, or corn starch in the cap while in storage, making it easier to put on without snagging.

How Water Temperature Can Effect Swim Caps

Although neoprene and silicone swim caps are very durable, they are a thick material and tend to hold heat. If you’re swimming in a pool that is 80 degrees or warmer, a cap made of a thick material like neoprene can cause your body to overheat quickly. A better choice for warmer water is a latex cap. The thinner material will not hold heat as well, making your swim more comfortable.

How to Put On a Swimming Cap

Before you put on the cap, you will want to make sure that your fingernails are not long or jagged to avoid snagging or tearing the material. Also, be sure to remove any jewelery such as sharp rings that may catch the cap. If you have long hair, you’ll want to put your hair up in a tight bun and secure it with an elastic hair band just as you would for competition. Then, hold the swim cap wide open with both hands ensuring that your fingers are on the inside of the cap and thumb is on the outside. Starting at your forehead, pull the cap over your hair and down towards the nape of your neck. The cap should be tight, but comfortable when you have successfully put it on. Any stray hairs can be tucked under the cap.

Sizing Swimming caps

All caps are different, especially depending on the type and elasticity of the fabric. For the most part, you should be able to find a cap that is a one size fits all. But, sometimes you may have to order caps in sizes. If this is the case, the chart below should help you size your cap perfectly to your head.

Small 20 ½ to 21 5/8 inches

Medium 22 to 22 3/8 inches

Large 22 ¾ to 23 1/8 inches

*Measure the circumference around your head with the tape measure above the brow ridges.

Swim Caps That Keep Your Hair Dry

Finding a cap that keeps every drop of water out is going to be difficult since swimming caps are meant to reduce drag – not keep your hair dry. Oftentimes, swim caps are confused with shower caps or bathing caps (which are designed to keep your hair dry while showing or taking a bath). Shower caps work because the head is rarely fully immersed in water. Rather, the cap blocks splashes and droplets of water. Conversely, most swimming caps will keep a small amount of water out, but they won’t keep your hair completely dry. A swim cap, worn in the shower, will keep your hair dry. Similarly, if you’re doing water aerobics and your head will stay above the water the whole time, you can use a swim cap to keep splashes of water from getting on your hair. But when swimming in the pool where your head is below the water line, a water-tight seal would be required to keep your hair completely dry.

There is no swimming cap specifically made for this purpose, but there are a few things you can try on your own. First, some swimmers find that wearing two caps simultaneously helps to reduce the amount of water that can seep in. Another common method involves cutting the crown portion off of a swim cap so that it resembles a thick headband. When worn underneath a full swim cap, this strip creates a seal that reduces the amount of water that can penetrate the cap and gives the cap a better surface to grip on to. There are also some bubble caps that have parallel raised ridges along the bottom edge that help reduce the amount of water that can get in, although that’s not what they’re meant for. Remember: while these methods can help, none of them are guaranteed to keep all the water out.

 What If I Want A Cap That Covers My Ears?

This is a tricky one since swim caps aren’t meant to keep your ears dry or covered in any way. Luckily, there are several methods that can help solve this problem. First, if you want a cap that will partially cover your ears, some bubble caps with a chin strap might help. This allows the swimmer to pull the cap down over the ears, but is not guaranteed to keep all the water out. Or, a cap like the Aqua Glide offers designated ear pockets for a better streamline and minimal ear protection.

If it’s very important to keep the water out (such as for people who have had ear tube surgery), relying on a swim cap alone is not a good idea. Instead, you should try wearing a neoprene ear band underneath your cap. Earbands are designed and recommended by ear, nose, and throat doctors specifically for those with ear tubes. Recommended by professionals nationwide, the All Star brand makes these bands in various colors and sizes to accommodate infant, youth, and adult users. You might also try using ear plugs that are designed specifically for water stoppage. These can be combined with an ear-band for added security. A reliable brand worth mentioning is Doc’s Proplugs. Both ear plugs and ear-bands can be worn in tandem with swim caps.

Caring for your Swim Cap

Always be sure to rinse off your swim caps in fresh water after you are done swimming. This will help to ensure that any harmful pool chemicals (such as chlorine which can wear down your swim cap over time) are removed. Next, be sure to dry off your cap after use and store it in a cool and dry location. Leaving a silicone or latex cap in the sun or in a hot car will destroy it. Be sure to keep your cap away from sharp objects and use care when putting it back in your swimming bag. When you are done for the day, you should dust your cap on the inside and outside with talcum powder, corn starch, or baby powder.


Swim Cap Designs

TYR Hibiscus Cap
Swim caps with designs have become wildly popular in the last few years. There are a wide variety of cap colors and designs available. For example, Speedo Critter Creeps (left) boast a variety of fun monster faces perfect for kids. Water Gear also has an assortment of decorative caps that feature various animals on them such as fish, sharks, and cats.
TYR and Speedo also offer a nice selection of adult swim caps in fun and exotic prints, like the Hibiscus Cap, shown right. Also for teens and adults, 1 Line Sports offers a variety of different designs that range from Breast Cancer Awareness to country flags. Unfortunately, you won’t find a huge selection of novelty swim caps (if any)  at your local sporting good store. Your best bet is to shop for swimming caps online at a reputable swim shop.

Protecting Hair From Chlorine

There are a variety of shampoos and conditioners that you can buy to help protect and repair your hair if you swim often. When used with a swim cap, it will give you the best protection by keeping your hair clean and healthy. One of the best brands on the market is Barracuda Aquia Shampoo and Conditioner. It’s tried-and-true formula is lightly scented, works well, and softens hair. More recently, Reflect H2O introduced a Pre-Swim Gel which has received great feedback from users on its ability to protect hair from chlorine damage before it happens. Reflect H2O Pre-swim is ideal for colored hair and ever-crunchy “chlorine-hair”.

Caps for swimmers with long hair

If you have long hair, you just might need a long hair swim cap! Speedo makes a silicone long-hair cap that comes in blue, black, white, and silver. Designed specifically for swimmers with longer hair, these caps feature a bit of extra room in the back. Because they are made of silicone, these caps are very durable. If you are unable to find a cap made specifically for long hair, you can also go up a size in a cap so you will have extra room for your hair (if the cap you want comes in more than one size). Please see my section on cap sizing for more information. Alternatively, Aqua Sphere also offers a new long hair cap: the Volume Cap.

Where to Shop for Swim Caps?

Many large sporting goods stores have a basic selection of swim caps. However, if you want more designs, color, and selection, you’re going to want to get your caps from a real swim shop. If you don’t have a swim shop in your town, an online swim shop like AquaGear is an excellent option.

A Bit of History

In the early 20th century, swim caps were made of a rubber fabric. Later on, other fabrics began to be discovered and used to manufacture different styles of swim caps. The earliest caps were called “aviator’s style” due to the fact that they resembles the leather pilot helmets. In the 1940s, rubber was needed for war materials, so it was very hard to find a swim cap. The colored flower caps that we are all so familiar with came about in the 1960s. Later, many swimming pools required you to wear a cap if you had long hair. These days, swim caps are far more simple and mostly used by competitive swimmers.

More Information

I hope you found this information useful. If you have any questions or think I left something out, please leave me a comment below!

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