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Body Armor Care, Cleaning, and Maintenance

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Proper care and maintenance of body armor will safeguard both your investment and your life while on the job. The life of a body armor system that’s been well maintained will be much longer than a protection system that’s been neglected.

Although many people fail to do so, proper care starts with reading the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, maintaining and storing your equipment to avoid its being damaged and voiding the warranty. The protective panels and carriers of all body armor that meet National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards will also have a label with cleaning instructions.

Cleaning Carrier Vests

Carrier vests should be cleaned at least once per week. Some plate carriers can be machine washed, although it’s recommended that you check the cleaning instructions on the manufacturer’s label before running it through a machine. Here are a few tips for properly cleaning your carrier vest:

  • Remove all plates and inserts, along with MOLLE pouches and hardware. Also remove all detachable straps and fasteners. Clean the pouches separately following these same instructions.
  • Brush off all loose dirt, plant material and other debris. Remove any dried or caked mud using a dull-edged tool that won’t damage the fabric. Use a soft cloth to clear any remaining dirt or dust.
  • Wash the carrier by soaking it in a bathtub or large basin using warm (not hot) soapy water with a mild liquid dish soap or laundry detergent. Avoid detergents with color brighteners, since these can damage the fabric. Never add bleaches, solvents or fabric softeners.
  • Loosen dirt trapped in the fabric by working the vest back and forth for a few minutes while submerged. Use a toothbrush to remove any remaining stains.
  • Thoroughly rinse the carrier in clean water to remove all soap residue.
  • Never use a tumble dryer or put the carrier on a hanger to dry. Reshape the vest and place it on a flat surface to air dry. Keep the vest out of direct sunlight. Never dry the carrier outside, even in the shade. UV rays from the sun and the heat from dryers can cause the carrier’s fabric to break down and shorten its useful life.

Cleaning and Storing Plates and Inserts

Composite Body Armor

Also called “soft body armor,” most manufacturers agree that composite body armor panels or inserts should never be submerged in water in case the protective waterproof coating sealing the panels have been broken. Wipe the inserts down by hand using a damp cloth with a mild detergent. Never use cleaning solvents, bleach, starch or fabric softeners on protective panels, since they can lessen the level of ballistic protection.

Never dry clean, machine wash or dry body armor panels. Laundry equipment can damage the fabric and affect its ability to stop projectiles or sharp or pointed weapons. When cleaning composite body armor inserts, such as Spartan Armor Systems™ Flex Fused Core™ IIIA Soft Body Armor, hand wash the panels in cold water using a sponge or soft cloth with a mild laundry detergent. Store your vest flat in a clean, dry place to prolong its useful life after you clean and dry it. Never store soft body armor rolled up or folded, in damp areas or in extreme heat or cold.

How often you clean the panels is up to you. In cooler months, when you perspire less, the inserts may not need washing as often as during hot and humid summers.

Hard Body Armor Plates

The two types of hard body armor protection are ceramic plates and steel core plates.

  • Ceramic plates, although they can stop a bullet, are fragile. To clean ceramic plates, carefully remove them from the carrier and wipe them down using a soft cloth with a mild detergent. After drying the plates with a towel, store them in a cool, dry place, and never place other items on top of them, since ceramic plates aren’t designed to bear heavy loads. Ceramic body armor can also be stored in their carriers on specially designed hangers like Spartan’s Plate Carrier Hanger, which can safely support up to 150 pounds of plates and tactical gear.
  • Use extreme care when handling ceramic body armor plates or ceramic small arms protective inserts (SAPI). Although they can withstand the impact from a high velocity round, ceramic protection plates are breakable, and can be easily damaged or even shatter if dropped. Just a small chip or hairline crack invisible to the naked eye can affect the plate’s integrity and its ability to stop incoming rounds. It’s a good idea to have ceramic plates x-rayed at least once a year to check for unseen cracks.
  • Steel Core Body Armor, as with ceramic plate body armor, comes with a manufacturer’s stated shelf life of five years. In reality, if steel core body armor is properly stored and maintained, it will outlast ceramic protection, which begins to deteriorate over time. Either type of plate, however, should be replaced immediately if it’s taken a hit or otherwise been damaged.
  • Although made from metal, steel core plates can be safely cleaned with a soft, damp cloth without fear of rusting, since the plates are given a waterproof coating at the factory. Steel core body armor can be stored either flat or suspended on a plate carrier hanger.

Questions about body armor? Contact us online or call us at 520-398-3335. We’re here to help with all your tactical gear needs.

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