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New vs Used Bulletproof Vests - Atomic Defense

New vs Used Bulletproof Vests

New vs Used Bulletproof Vests - Should You Buy Used?

Normally, you’d buy new bulletproof vests from online shops, or physical stores. You could buy them from individuals as well, and some of them might have already been used. To set the basis for our next discussions, take a look at the following two stories.

According to the New York Police Department, in August 2017, 30-year old officer Hart Nguyen rushed to respond to a distress call. It was about a 29-year-old man named Andy Sookdeo, who had mental challenges. Andy had barricaded himself behind a bedroom door. As officer Hart tried to approach, he shot him three times. One of the bullets hit him in the arm, the other two hit his bulletproof vest.  The bullets did not penetrate the vest. Though he was injured, he survived.

In another instance, CBS reported that in Tampa, Florida a 23-year-old Joaquin Mendez was shot and killed by his friend. It was in 2016 when Mendez’s friend 24-year old Alexandro Garibaldi picked up a pistol, and was curious whether a bulletproof vest could really stop a bullet. He shot at Mendez, who had worn a bulletproof vest and sat in a chair, ready to participate in the test. The bullet went through the vest and killed Mendez on the spot.

From the two instances above, it is quite clear that while bulletproof vests can save lives, they are not 100% protective. The question is, what affects the protectiveness of a bulletproof vest. One of the most essential aspects that people tend to overlook, is the age and condition of the vest. Just like any other thing, bulletproof vests undergo wear and tear.

The vests also require proper maintenance. Without it, they degrade and become less protective. For instance, it is not advisable to soak your armor wet, or wash it. When you purchase a bulletproof vest, it comes with very precise instructions on how to take care of it. We will look at the general guidelines of taking care of bulletproof vests later on.

Should You Purchase a Used Bulletproof Vest?

We mentioned that bulletproof vests do undergo wear and tear. Does that mean that you should never purchase used bulletproof vests? It doesn’t. While it is always advisable to purchase new bulletproof vests so that you can get the warranty, you can still get a perfectly maintained vest from a friend. In order to fully answer this question, let’s explore the bulletproof vests with respect to the materials used to make them.

New and Used Polyethylene Armor Plates

Before we get to where you should or shouldn’t buy used Polyethylene armor plates, let’s first explore how they are made.  These plates are made with the UHMWPE material, which has similar characteristics to para-aramids. This ballistic material was developed as a middle ground between the soft Kevlar and the hard steel or ceramic, but was then found to be the lightest and best at stopping bullets from all the others.

Note that Kevlar is soft and lightweight material, but not as protective as ceramic and steel. On the other hand, steel and ceramic are very bulky. Polyethylene armor plates are the best of both worlds. They are both lighweight and very strong. 


UHMWPE is a polymer that consists of very long polyethylene chains. The material is made through a process known as gel-spinning. Dissolved ethylene is pushed through tiny holes to create a gel-like material. The strings of gels are then sealed using a polyethylene film to make a composite which is compressed in order to harden. The composite is then shaped into armor plates. The polyethylene material is similar to what tires are made of. For body armor, it is polished, made smoother and a bit more flexible.

Many people prefer polyethylene (PE) armor plates since they are more proective than steel plates, but weigh a fraction of what steel weighs. Polyethylene armor plates stop a bullet in a very unique way. We’ve mentioned above that Kevlar stops a bullet by being stretchy. Steel and ceramic will stop a bullet simply by crude hardness. Polyethylene melts when the bullet hits it, and cools down immediately to trap it.



A high speed bullet usually has a spin to it. This spin generates friction when it hits the polyethylene armor plate, and the surface of the plate melts a bit. As the bullet tries to forge ahead, the melted part cools down and subdues the force and velocity of the bullet, preventing it from going in. What this means is that polyethylene armor plates are more protective against blunt trauma than Kevlar, ceramic, and steel.

Polyethylene armor plates are often costlier and more premium than all the other types of armor plates and bulletproof vests. From the discussion above, it is easy to see why. The process of making the UHMWPE material is quite expensive as well. The higher price explains why most people would consider buying used ones instead of new ones.

While polyethylene armor plates are not easily degraded as Kevlar vests, they still undergo wear and tear after the 5 year mark. First, due to the fact that the polyethylene material can melt, this kind of armor plates should always be stored in moderate conditions, if you are looking for long-term SHTF storage. For instance, storing PE armor plates in a 150+ degree trunk for several years can seriously erode their integrity. The plates might seem in good condition when you get them out, but they will have already been compromised after the first 3-4 years of being stored above 150 degrees. Secondly, PE is still gets degraded by washing.

Our bottom line is, while you can purchase perfectly good PE armor plates from a friend you should not take the chance. There are just too many things that could go wrong. You do not want to take chances especially if you are under serious threat. We strongly advise that you always go for new body armor if you can afford it or apply for financing as needed.  For example, our financing with PayPal where you can pay later with 0% for a limited time!

Kevlar Bulletproof Vests - a 4-5 year lifespan

Kevlar Bulletproof vests are also categorized as soft body armor. These are the most susceptible to wear and tear, and are degraded by bad maintenance practices. As such, it is not suggested to purchase used Kevlar Bulletproof vests. You won’t be able to tell whether a vest is protective enough by just looking at it.

Note that even though a bulletproof vest might have a rating level that makes it protective against certain ballistic threats, it will not offer enough protection if it has degraded. Degradation happens over time, this is why soft armor vests like Kevlar have a typical 5 year warranty.  Kevlar is a soft and stretchy material. This stretchiness is what stops the bullet from piercing through.

When a high-speed bullet hit the Kevlar material, it stretches back instead of tearing about under the bullet pressure. That action subdues and distributes the force the bullet so it is unable to keep moving through your body. This stretchiness can reduce over time or because of bad maintenance. When the Kevlar material can no longer stretch as required it becomes less protective.  

The only time you should consider buying a used bulletproof vest, is when buying it as a carrier vest and putting new armor in. It is a bad idea to purchase used level IIA, level II, or level IIIA Kevlar vests.

Level III and level IV bulletproof vests provide the ultimate protection. That’s because they have armor plates in them. Level III armor plates are made of steel, ceramic, or UHMWPE (Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight-Polyethylene, commonly called PE). Level IV armor plates are mostly made of steel or the lighter option, PE. Steel and ceramic do not have a lot of issues, since they are quite easy to maintain. You can purchase used ones from someone, so long as they have not been hit by a bullet before.

Below are general guidelines on how to take care of your armor carrier and PE armor plates.

Taking Care of Your Bulletproof Vest

Very few people take the time to read instructions on how to take care of the items they purchase. It would be unwise to do that with your new bulletproof vest. From the discussion above, the ideal bulletproof vest or plate carrier would consist of a carrier vest, and PE armor plates in the front and back. It would be both lightweight and comfortable.

To wear your bulletproof vest, you start by first inserting the armor plates into the carrier vest. Do not start by wearing the carrier and then insert the plates. You will be unable to properly insert the plates, especially the back one. Ensure the plates are properly fixed, and then lift the vest over your head, and let it down over your shoulders. Take the time to fasten all the straps properly.

Maintaining your body armor is about two major things. It is about how you clean it, and how you handle it. For the carrier vest, you should never soak it in water, use detergent on it, or hang it to dry. That does not mean that your amour should stay dirty. Take out the bulletproof plates or inserts and spot clean it to do the trick. Take fresh water, a soft soap, and a clean cloth. Then clean all the dirty spots. It might seem like a tedious job, but it is quite necessary that you do it that way. Wear a t-shirt under the armor to keep the armor from getting sweaty. This will eliminate the need to scrub and scratch any part of the armor while cleaning it.

Proper Care of PE Armor Plates

Taking care of your PE armor plates does not have much to it. These plates are unlikely to get dirty unless you don’t store them properly. If at any point they have to be cleaned, a wet cloth will be enough to wipe them clean. 

Avoid twisting, folding, or compressing your armor in any manner. Both the carrier vest and the armor plate should be stored straightened out. Do not place anything on top of them.

The bottom line is that body armor can get worn out and degraded over time, but it all depends on how you take care of it. As for buying used bulletproof vests, it’s a game of chance. You can never really tell whether whoever is selling it to you has been taking proper care of it. That does not mean you cannot find one that is perfect condition, but when your life is on the line, I wouldn’t risk it.

Head over to and buy new body armor with a warranty. There is a large variety of body armor there to choose from. If you have any questions or concerns, get in touch via   

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