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How to Clean a Life Jacket

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Cleaning your SUP gear is essential after an adventure on the water. While it is common sense to clean your, paddle, and any other gear you may have used, life vests and jackets are often neglected. 

It’s important to clean your personal flotation device or PFD after every use, just the way you would the rest of your gear. Cleaning the exterior fabric of your paddle board life jacket will help to remove loose dirt, keep tough stains from ruining the exterior, and will prevent mold and mildew growth. 

There are a couple of ways to properly clean your life jacket. Today, I’ll share with you my favorite cleaning processes when it comes to how to clean a life jacket. These simple and easy enough tactics will help protect and elongate the lifespan of your PFDs. 

Step 1: Pick Out a Gentle Cleansers

The best cleaning process is the one that uses gentle cleansers. You don’t need industrial cleaning agents of harsh chemicals when removing grime, dirt, and other stains from your PFDs. Here are some gentle cleansers that you probably already have at home. 

Mild Soap and Water 

A gentle soap and water solution is one of the best ways to clean a life jacket. A soapy water solution is gentle enough to use after each time you take out your life jacket or PFD. 

Use a soft brush or a sponge and scrub the life jacket down with the soapy solution. Use warm water to help you lift away tougher stains. After you’re done, you simply need to rinse with clean water. 

Create an Alcohol Spray Solution 

For more stubborn stains or to disinfect, you can create an alcohol spray solution. The solution should be made out of three parts rubbing alcohol and one part water. Spray this solution over your life jacket, let it sit for a minute or two, and then wipe it away. 

You can use this solution on all parts of the life jacket including the straps, the zipper, and the life jacket itself. After you have cleaned the life jacket with the alcohol spray solution,  use clean water or a damp rag to wipe it down. 

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A Gentle Multipurpose Cleanser 

Using a gentle multipurpose cleaner like Simple Green can be a great way to get your life jacket or PFD back in tip-top shape. When you’re using a multi purpose cleaner, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. 

For example, Simple Green May often require you to dilute the solution with water in order for it to be most effective. While most multipurpose cleaners work the way a mild soap and water solution, you should still always follow the cleaners instructions carefully. 

Step 2: Clean the Life Jacket

Once you have a cleaning solution that you like, it’s time to get cleaning. You don’t have to do any special prep before you start cleaning. Though it can help to remove any visible gunk or dirt that’s stuck onto your life jacket. 

Whether you’re cleaning an inflatable life jacket or a foam life jacket, you’ll want to use a soft rag. If you’re tackling tough stains, you can use a soft bristle brush. Never use a harsh scrubber, pad, or brush, as this can damage the outer shell of the live vest. 

Wipe the life vest with some water, and then apply your cleaning solution of choice. Be sure to wipe down all parts of the vest, but pay particular attention to tough stains. Even if the inside of your life vest has not gotten wet, you’ll still need to wipe it down. On hot days, every wearing leaves oils from your body and you want to be sure to remove these body oils. 

As you clean your life vest, you want to be sure that you’re not drenching the life vest with water. This can cause mold to grow if excess water gets trapped in the vest. Instead, dampen your towel or bruss with your cleaning solution and then wipe the vest down that way. 

If you’re cleaning multiple life jackets at once and using a multipurpose cleaner, it’s best to clean in a well ventilated area. This can be especially helpful if using an alcohol cleaning solution. 

Step 3: Dry Your Life Jackets Properly 

Drying your life jackets property is just as important as cleaning them properly. If you do not dry your life jacket proply, the trapped water can create the perfect environment for mold to grow. 

One of the easiest ways to dry life jackets is by letting them air dry. If you’re able to, allow your life vests to dry out in an outdoor area that is not underneath direct sunlight. Areas like a garage, underneath a shaded tree, and on clothes lines are all great options. 

After your life jackets have dripped dry, be sure to check them to make sure that no shrinkage has taken place. Also look out for any areas where water has collected. Inspecting your jacket for excess moisture can keep you from having to deal with mold and mildew growth. 

Keep Out of Direct Sunlight 

It’s important that when you dry your inflatable life jackets and PFDs, you keep them out of direct sunlight. The UV rays of the sun can damage and weaken the outer shell of your jacket. Even if your jackets are made out of a UV resistant material, unnecessary direct sunlight can compromise the integrity of your vest. 

ALSO READ: How do you Know if a Life Jacket is Still Good?

Additional Tips for Cleaning Life Jackets

Beyond the cleaning process, there are other things you can do to help protect your life jackets. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind during the cleaning process. 

Avoid Crushing Life Jackets When Cleaning Them

When you’re cleaning your foam based life jackets, avoid applying too much pressure. If you apply too much pressure, you risk destroying or breaking down the foam inside of it. 

Foam life jackets are made out of a really buoyant but somewhat delicate flotation material. If this foam material undergoes too much stress, it can compromise the integrity of the life jacket. Once the foam is destroyed, it will render the jacket useless. 


Apply a UV Protectant 

You can help keep the outer shell of your jacket going strong by applying a UV protectant. A spray on protectant like the Gear Aid UV protectant will help keep the exterior material from getting damaged by the sun when you take it out. This spray can also create a barrier on your vest which will help keep tough stains away. 

Deodorize to Remove Stubborn Smells 

If you’re noticing a slight odor on your life jackets, it’s likely because of body oils and sweat. 

You can use a deodorizer like baking soda to help lift those smells away. 

There are several ways to use the baking soda, but one of the most effective methods is by creating a paste by mixing together one part soda and one part warm water. You can then  apply the paste to the parts of the life jacket that have an odor to them. 

This solution is also great for helping lift away stains or visible spores that cause a mildew odor. 

Never Put Your Life Jacket in a Washing Machine 

You should never use a washing machine or a dryer to clean a life jacket. Your washing material will damage the integrity of the foam shell and the inflation mechanisms if you have an inflatable life vest. The direct heat and force of a dryer will also damage the life vest and the foam inside. 

Store Your Life Jacket Property 

It’s important to pay attention to how you store your life vest or PFD. When storing your life jacket, set it in an area where it will be free from objects that can damage it. 

If you’re storing an inflatable life jacket, keep it away from objects that can poke or tear the fabric. Store it in a cool all dry place so that the gas tank is not exposed to an environment that can corrode, rust, or cause debris to clog up the tank’s nozzle.

You should follow the same tactics when storing a foam life jacket. It doesn’t take much force to crush the foam inside of a foam life jacket. It’s best to store foam life jackets hanging up in an area away from direct sunlight and away from sharp objects. Never place heavy objects over foam jackets. 

Do Not Use Harsh Cleaning Agents to Clean Life Jackets

When cleaning life jackets, never use harsh cleaning agents. Harsh chemicals and cleaners can destroy the protective layers on them. Plus, some chemicals can destroy or weaken the exterior material as well. As a general rule, avoid using the following with your gear: 

  • Acetone
  • Ammonium Based Cleaners
  • Industrial Cleaners 

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Properly cleaning your life vests after every use will help to keep them looking like new. If there are times where you cannot commit to a full cleaning session, using a simple clean water rinse can be just as effective. 

Not only will properly cleaning your life vest keep them looking great, but it can also help to extend the life of your PFD. 

1 thought on “How to Clean a Life Jacket”

  1. Yeah, they get pretty gross, especially if you’re taking them into lakes! I’ve hand washed mine with laundry soap and water, which worked great.


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