Body armor, just like any other garment you wear on your body, is bound to get dirty. Proper cleaning and maintenance are essential if you want your body armor to last long. Let's face it — you don't want to be shopping for body armor every few months.
Each body armor piece has a special washing and drying method, but bulletproof vests are particularly delicate when it comes to cleaning. You can easily compromise the effectiveness of your vest with improper care. Below, we'll explore various tips for cleaning, maintaining and storing body armor. Cleaning may not be your favorite thing in the world, but you'll thank us later.
Materials Used to Make Body Armor
Most bulletproof vests are made of PE (Polyethylene) or Kevlar fabrics. In some instances, carrier vests can be reinforced with ceramic or steel armor plates. The materials used to make a particular body armor piece determine how it is cleaned or washed.
While other pieces like helmets need to be cleaned at some point as well, the body armor cleaning conversation mainly revolves around bulletproof vests since they're the most used type of body armor. The ballistic materials used to make different body armor pieces are the same in most instances. Therefore, there isn’t much difference in how they should be cleaned.
Before we get into it, it's important to mention that body armor made of steel or ceramic needs to be cleaned as well. It's quite easy to clean steel or ceramic surfaces, though. You just need to wipe dust and debris from the surface with a wet cloth, then wipe it with a dry cloth. Keep liquids or any sort of reactive substances away from the surface of steel body armor during storage.
How to Clean Body Armor
Kevlar bulletproof vests and plate carriers tend to attract dust or odors after being worn for a while. Cleaning them does not have to be such a headache, though. Before you start cleaning a carrier vest, ensure all armor plates and inserts are taken out of the carrier before you start cleaning it. You should also remove all the waist and shoulder straps on the vest.
Hand Washing Body Armor
These are the items you’ll need to clean your armor properly:
- Warm or cold water
- Mild detergent or antibacterial soap
- Soft rag/sponge
- Hook tabs
To prepare the solution for hand washing or wiping, mix a teaspoon of mild detergent or antibacterial soap with cold or warm water and stir until sudsy. Dip your cloth or rag into the solution and then press it so that it releases excess liquid and remains lightly damp. The rag should not saturate the ballistic material surface with soapy water.
Keep in mind that you should never use or do the following while washing body armor:
- Never use hot water on body armor.
- Never squeeze body armor into a small bucket or basin of water. Ensure the armor remains straightened at all times.
- Do not use any bleaching agent or strong detergent.
- Never dry clean body armor.
You may also need to use some hook tabs to hang the armor somewhere and conveniently remove any debris that might have accumulated on the Velcro attachment system. Just remember to avoid bleach or fabric softener when cleaning the straps of the vests.
Machine Washing Body Armor
While most of the parts of a bulletproof vest need to be hand-washed, some can be put in a washing machine. If you're using a washing machine, ensure you use the gentle cycle only. The vest should also be washed with mild detergent and cold water.
Be sure to keep these parts out of the washing machine:
- Straps: Never machine wash straps or submerge them in water. Instead, gently wipe them using a damp sponge or cloth. You can use a little bit of mild detergent on them as well.
- Armor plates and inserts: Plates and inserts also shouldn't be dipped in water or put in washing machines. The plates are usually rigid and a washing machine will easily damage them, or they could damage the machine. They should be cleaned in the same manner as the straps. Just wipe over them with a damp cloth. You can use a mild detergent, as needed.
Bottom line — any part of body armor made of soft materials such as cotton can be hand or machine washed, but the process should always be gentle. The parts made of ballistic materials such as Kevlar and PE are better off hand sponged with warm water and mild detergent. Parts made of Cordura and nylon should be treated in the same way.
Spraying Body Armor
It might also be tempting to spray a particularly funky vest with deodorant spray or Febreze, but don't. These products can damage the ballistic material.
There are special body armor deodorizers that you can use instead. Their alcohol content helps to kill odor-causing bacteria that might be on the armor.
Drying Body Armor
Lay the vest flat to dry when you're done washing it. Avoid drying your body armor in direct sunlight, since UV rays can compromise the integrity of some ballistic materials such as Kevlar and PE. You can also tumble dry it at a very low temperature.
Body Armor Maintenance
Excess water exposure, harsh cleaning solvents, heat and direct sunlight are some of the biggest culprits that can damage body armor. Below are some easy habits to practice that can help maintain the integrity of your body armor.
Follow Care Instructions
Let's be real — most of us don't bother reading the long-winded instructions that come with any new purchase. However, reading the manufacturer's care instructions that come with your vest can help prevent those bad habits that unknowingly cause wear and tear over time.
Carefully read the instructions for tips on cleaning and storing your armor. While this may not be your favorite tip, it's one of the simplest yet most critical maintenance practices you can follow. It can help you achieve maximum vest benefits and protection for years to come.
Spot-Clean Your Body Armor
While you don't need to wash your body armor every day, regular minor spot-cleaning can help maintain its condition. Just like any other article of clothing you wear, body armor naturally gets dirty and sweaty — it could use a bit of freshening up now and then. Gently wipe spots and stains with a clean cloth and a little soap and water, then lay it to dry as usual.
How often you clean your body armor is ultimately up to you. During a colder season when you're not sweating profusely, for instance, you can probably get away with more time between cleanings than you would be able to in those summer months.
Proper Body Armor Storage
Now that we've covered cleaning and maintenance tips, it's time for some best body armor storage practices. Frequent inspection and correct storage of your bulletproof vest can maintain its life and integrity.
You should refer to the manufacturer's guidelines to extend the life of your armor as much as possible, but below are some general tips to keep in mind when deciding how to store body armor.
1. Choose a Dry, Shaded Storage Area
Store your armor at room temperature in a cool, dry and shady area. The space should have minimal exposure to direct sunlight, since those pesky UV rays can deteriorate the quality of your vest over time. You also don't want to store your armor in a low airflow environment, like a vehicle trunk or at the bottom of a locker.
2. Lay the Armor Flat
To let any lingering moisture evaporate after cleaning, turn your body armor carrier inside out and lay it flat. Don't bunch or roll up your armor or place anything on top of it — doing this can cause the ballistic soft armor panels to warp.
You can also hang your body armor if that's your preferred method, but you'll want to be careful with hangers as well. Choose a robust hanger specially designed for body armor — regular wooden or wire hangers can buckle or break under the weight of the body armor.
Never hang your armor by the carrier straps. That can cause the straps to stretch out, losing their original fit and shape over time. This makes for some pretty sad-looking — and poorly performing — armor.
3. Inspect Your Body Armor Periodically
While your armor is in storage, check it routinely to ensure top-notch condition. Look for general cleanliness, broken or loosened fasteners, holes, frayed or separated stitching and other oddities.
In most cases, you can contact the manufacturer if you're unsure of what to do in these situations, but extreme wear and tear likely indicates it's time to replace that trusty old bulletproof vest. It needs to be in sufficient shape to withstand caliber rounds, after all.
Practice These Maintenance Tips With Atomic Defense Body Armor
At Atomic Defense, our products are quite durable and will serve you for years if you take good care of them. Check out our selection of bulletproof vests, armor plates and other equipment, then follow our body armor maintenance tips to keep them looking sharp. Get in touch with us if you have any questions about cleaning, maintaining or storing your armor.