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7 Keys To Proper Care And Cleaning Of Your Ballistic Vest

by John Hensley
7 Keys To Proper Care And Cleaning Of Your Ballistic Vest

Taking care of your body armor doesn’t have to be difficult, but it is vital that you do so properly. You should ensure that your armor fits properly as well. 

Following are seven tips for how to properly clean and maintain your ballistic vest in order to ensure your vest lasts as long as possible.

1. Do Read The Care Instructions

Truth be told, most of us do not bother to read the instructions that come with new items. As a precaution against accidentally damaging your vest and voiding your warranty, it’s crucial that you read and follow all instructions, whether you receive them with your vest or you have to download them. Check your manufacturers’ instructions for details on cleaning and storing your vest.

“We ship care instructions with every vest, so our customers know not to make mistakes that could damage the Kevlar fibers,” said Ace Laserna, national armor sales manager for Propper, which sells a variety of ballistic vests.

“If officers want to get the maximum benefit and maximum protection from their vests in the future, they need to read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter,” he explained, “since we cannot guarantee the vests will perform well if they fail to follow the instructions.” 

2. Don’t Get Your Armor Soaking Wet

The soft ballistic armor can stop a bullet; however, it cannot be machine washed. Panels made of Kevlar or Aramid are generally encased in a waterproof sleeve and then fitted into an external or internal carrier. Provided the watertight seal hasn’t been damaged, it’s fine for the ballistic insert to get wet without harming the fibers.

Laserna, however, says it’s best not to submerge the insert in case of a breach of the seal. If you submerge Kevlar in water, the material will become loose, damaged, and break down.

He recommends keeping the entire insert dry to prevent water leakage if the seal breaks. Laserna said that you lose protection if fibers separate and become loose. It is when the weave begins to relax that bullets pass through. Too much loosening of the fibers means the material can’t perform its job.

Therefore, putting it in the washer will turn your soft armor into a heavy cloth without ballistic benefits, so be sure not to wash it. Laserna adds that you shouldn’t dry clean it either.

Carrier vests can be washed on gentle/delicate settings, but don’t use fabric softener or hang them out to dry. Ensure all ballistic panels, trauma plates, and straps are separated and cleaned separately. Only reassemble your armor after your carrier has been fully dried

3. Do Spot-Clean Your Armor

“Don’t wash your armor” does not mean it cannot be cleaned. You need to clean your armor every so often since it gets sweaty and dirty, just like any other piece of clothing you wear. To do this, simply clean the area using little soap, water, and a soft cloth, dab away any excess moisture, and let it air dry.

Choosing how often you want to clean your armor is entirely up to you. When it’s cold out, and you don’t sweat, you can probably go longer between cleanings than in summer when you sweat a lot.

Choose a mild soap such as Dawn or baby wipes when cleaning with soap. It is best to avoid using alcohol or bleach wipes since these chemicals can damage the ballistic material.

While wiping down your armor, you should look for holes or tears. The inner core of the vest can be damaged by a compromised outer waterproof membrane, resulting in it losing its ballistic protection capability.

It may be tempting to spray Febreze or Lysol on a vest that has gotten particularly stinky, but you shouldn’t – the liquids could damage the ballistic fabric as well

4. Do Hang Your Armor To Dry 

Laserna advises not washing it in the washing machine, not dry cleaning it, and not using an electric dryer. You should let your vest air dry instead.

While NIJ certification tests include exposure to extreme temperatures, keeping your armor vest flat and in a cool, dry environment is recommended in order to extend its life. 

5. Do Roll Your New Armor To Increase Comfort

While it may seem contrary to the recommendation to store your vest flat, Dianne Zanzottera, a former police officer and Propper’s armor customer service representative, suggests rolling up a new soft armor vest as soon as you receive it in order to increase its comfort.

She said that sometimes she’d bring a vest here and work it in for the officer; otherwise, wearing the vest would be the only way for them to get it to feel comfortable.

Proper recommends that as soon as you receive your new vest, you take off the ballistic panels from the carrier after use and roll it up and tie it with a rubber band. 

The process should be repeated two or three times in each direction, switching between horizontal and vertical rolling to ensure a comfortable vest. When rolling and unrolling the vest, make sure not to crease it, Laserna suggests.

6. Do Wear A Shirt Under Your Vest

The purpose of a ballistic vest is to protect you from bullets, but they are not always comfortable. A vest worn over your uniform keeps ballistic material away from your skin; however, a concealed vest will require an undershirt, such as a T-shirt made of moisture-wicking material, in order to prevent chafing and ensure there is no unpleasant odor.

7. Do Keep Your Warranty On File

If your vest needs to be serviced, make sure you have the paperwork, including its serial number, purchase invoice, and purchase date.

In addition, these documents will include vital information such as the certified service life, which will help you determine whether you need to replace your armor. In general, soft armor should be replaced after five years, and hard plates should be replaced after ten years. Be sure to check your paperwork as different manufacturers may provide different warranties.

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