Why Wear A Swim Cap?

Swimming caps are one of the most misunderstood pieces of gear swimmers wear at the pool.

One common myth is that a swim cap will keep your hair completely dry. New swimmers also often think caps will prevent water from getting into your ears. (If you want to protect your ears in the pool, put on swimmer’s ear plugs. They are the only way to keep water out of your ears.) For some swimmers, it’s a big surprise. They wanted to be able to swim in the water and enjoy the experience without getting their hair wet or damaged.

Eventually, everyone who hits the water swimming, will ask their coach, why do I need to wear a swim cap?

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So, Why would you need to wear a swimming cap in the pool?

Lets dive into a few of the reasons:

  1. It keeps your loose hair out of the pool, reducing clogged filters and nasty floating hair clumps.
  2. Swim caps can protect your ears (a little) and keep your head warm in cold water.
  3. It allows you to focus on your workout, especially if you have longer hair.
  4. Limits the damage to your hair from chlorine exposure by keeping some of your hair dry. Just make sure you have wet hair before hopping into the pool.
  5. It helps you swim slightly faster by reducing drag and making you more hydrodynamic.
  6. You don’t have to wear one of those standard swim caps, you can pick some that have fun designs on them, making you or your team more easily identifiable when surrounded by other competitive swimmers.
  7. It can help hold your swim goggles in place.

Keeps your stray hair out of the pool water

Nothing ruins your natural form quite like catching a ball of some random person’s hair between your fingers – it’s gross and honestly happens way to often – It doesn’t matter how well you take care of your hair, or if you use a hair tie, some of it falls out, especially during competitive swimming.

This leads to stray hairs floating about in the pool water, getting caught on swimmers, clogging pool filters and drains, even bouncing about at the bottom of the pool like tumbleweeds.

This is especially true for people with really long hair, but there are many swim caps designed to keep longer hair bundled up.

The swimming pool is a shared space and wearing a swim cap keeps most stray hairs from shedding and ruining everyone’s swim.

Back when I coached swimming lessons, one of the  first thing I’d show my swimmers was the amounts of hair clogged in the pool drain at the public pool. After that I never had to remind them to wear their silicon caps.

pool filter

Swim caps are a good way to protect your ears, but only a little.

At first glance, swim caps seem like a great choice for swimmers who need to keep water from their ears. You can simply pull the cap tight over your ears and you are good to go. Right? Well, not really. They don’t block water from entering the ear, but I have found swim caps do a decent job at keeping swimming ear plugs in place. Although, I prefer a good set of swimmer ear bands.

Swim caps help you focus on your workout (by keeping hair out of your face)

You want to focus on your workout and not be distracted with constantly wiping hair from your face in between strokes.

A swim cap will keep your hair in place and out of your eyes, allowing you to see better where swimmers and obstacles are. This is especially important as you are near the pool walls and need to accurately hit your turns. This means more of your time and energy is spent actually swimming and not frantically clearing hair from your goggles.

For younger swimmers, a toddler swim cap is not only useful for lap swimming, but it can also help your child navigate the water better.

Protect your hair from chlorine by wearing a swim cap

Even though a swim cap may not be able to keep your natural hair completely dry, it can help protect your hair against the harsh chemicals in pools.

One trick I tell all my swimmers is to soak your hair before you hop in the pool. You see, your hair can only absorb so much water, so a quick shower before your swim will ensure your hair absorbs clean chemical free water and not the chlorinated water with its harsh chemicals.

Pre-soaking your hair will also wash away most of the sweat, hair products and oils ensuring the water is cleaner for everyone. I also strongly suggest anyone having a bad experience with their hair try just a bit of conditioner, even the leave in kind.

Keeps you (and your head) warm

This can be good or bad depending on how warm your normal body temperature is and the pool conditions. Swimming in hot pools can make it uncomfortable to wear a swim cap. The heat trapped within the swim cap makes you feel even more warm. If you’ve ever seen a swimmer remove their cap during practice it’s probably because it became too hot.

However, swimmers who do not run as hot or swim in pools with colder temperatures (or open water), will be able to keep their skin a bit warmer by wearing a swimming cap.
This is how you choose the right swimming cap for your needs based on the temperature of your head and the water.

A silicone cap is a good choice for pool swimmers who are often cold. They are thicker and can retain heat better than other materials.

For more heat protection, open water swimmers should opt for a neoprene cap (same material as wet-suits) to protect themselves.

A latex cap is ideal for swimmers who get a little too hot in the water. It is lighter and more breathable than a regular cap.

Swim caps make you stand out (in open water)

Visibility is essential when swimming in open waters, such as lakes or oceans. As you cruise along the surface minding your business, a bright swim cap can help you stand out to boaters who may not otherwise see you bobbing along.

An open-water swim buoy is something that you should also consider. These buoys are brightly colored, add very little resistance behind your body, and are great for keeping valuables such as keys and car keys safe while swimming.

Swim caps can make you swim faster

Swimming caps can make your entire head feel like it’s on the tip of a fast bullet cutting through the water. Longer haired swimmers will almost certainly notice an improvement in their speed if they wrap their hair in a swim cap. This prevents the hair from soaking up pool chemicals and creating additional drag.

A study found that a silicone swim cap had a higher compression rate and less drag than a lycra cap. A second study showed that even simple wrinkles can cause significant passive drag. Researchers found that a silicone swim cap pulled taut over the head produced 4.4% less speed-specific drag when it was free from wrinkles.

Wearing a proper swim cap is a good idea! They won’t make you the next Michael Phelps, but you will swim faster, safer and more comfortably if you have a properly fitting swim cap.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do Olympic champions wear two caps?
Aside from keeping longer hair from the Olympic swimmer's face, wearing one swim cap on top of another has another advantage. Two caps help keep swimmers' goggles in place, and the additional benefit of covering the exposed straps on their goggles, they reduce drag in the water.
Do caps go over your ears?
This is optional, and depends on the types of caps, but some athletes find it helps hold their ear plugs in place.
Why do bald swimmers wear caps?
Bald swimmers participating in aquatic sports can still suffer from itchy scalp caused by chlorinated water. It also seals in a bit of extra body heat.
What is a soul cap?
The soul cap was designed exclusively for the unique attributes of Afro hair.  FINA, despite saying they stand for diversity in swimming, banned the soul cap from international competitions but stated back in June 2021 that they would review the decision. The soul cap is presently still banned at all levels of competition.
Is it bad to swim without a cap?
Technically no, but for sanitary reasons, most pools require them.