Cleaning a life jacket or Personal Floating Device (PFD) takes more than just rinsing it with water and placing it back in storage. Many boaters perceive the cleaning process as a way that will damage the fibers and affect the integrity of the jackets.
Contrary to that point of view, proper cleaning is good for the life jacket and will extend the life of the jacket and remove unwanted odors.
With the advent of the Covid19 epidemic, it became evident that sanitization of life jackets and PFDs are essential in preventing the transmission of the disease.
Ideally, all life jackets should be cleaned monthly or at a minimum at the end of the boating season to rid them of oils, skin, and suncare products on the fabric.
How to Clean a Life Jacket Properly
Taking the necessary care of life jackets before storage will go a long way to prevent the build-up of mold and mildew on the fabric during the time that the life jacket is unused.
Lack of cleaning produces mold and mildew resulting in weakened fibers which eventually results in the fabric tearing. This affects the integrity of the life jacket and cannot be fixed easily if at all.
At the start of the boating season, it is also advisable to clean the life jacket and inspect it for mold or mildew in places that weren’t dried properly or any damage that could have been caused during the storage period.
In hot and humid climates the life jacket can easily grow mold and mildew and should be cleaned and dried properly monthly.
What you’ll need
Apparatuses required for cleaning a life jacket are:
- A bucket that is large enough to immerse a life jacket into
- Standard sponge
- Gentle dish detergent
- Hose plus spray attachment
- Soft-bristled brush such as a toothbrush
By following the step-by-step guide you will be able to clean and dry your life jacket properly to prevent damage to the integrity of the jacket.
- Rinse loose debris off the jacket using a hose, preferably with a spray attachment
- Place a few drops of the light dish detergent in the bucket and fill the bucket with cold water
- Foul-smelling jackets can be treated by adding an anti-odor additive to the water
- Immerse the life jacket into the bucket of soapy water and let it soak for a couple of minutes to loosen any remaining debris
- Clean the larger surface areas using the sponge and soapy water.
- Any bothersome stains can be cleaned using the soft brush
- Nylon straps, buckles, zippers, and seams can be brushed firmly, but gently
- Once you are satisfied that the jacket is clean and there is no more dirt or grime, rinse the jacket using the hose.
- The drying process is ideally done by hanging the life jacket on a plastic hanger to keep its shape. It is also recommended that you place the jacket in from of a fan to get rid of any moisture hiding in crevices. The drying process is extremely important and you should leave it in a well-ventilated area outside away from direct sunlight.
- To extend the life of your life jacket you could spray a protectant such as 303 Aerospace UV Protectant to protect it against UV rays.
Things to Avoid When Cleaning Life Jackets
Life jackets should never be washed using a washing machine, dry cleaned, or with strong detergents. The agitation and heat in the washing machine will break down the foam and render the jacket useless.
Never fry the life jacket by putting it into a clothes dryer or near a heater.
Avoid using chlorine bleach directly on a life jacket as this will affect the jacket severely breaking down fabrics and interior foam.
Industrial cleaning agents, gasoline, paint thinners, etc could dissolve the foam and render the life jacket unusable.
Don’t bend life jackets or place them under heavy objects as this can crunch the foam leaving you with a jacket with sub-standard performance.
Maintenance of life jackets and PFDs are essential to ensure the safety of the person that uses the device.
Cleaning life jackets regularly following a tried and tested process will ensure that you maintain the integrity of the device as well as keeping them looking good.
Remember to only use gentle detergents and stay away from industrial chemicals.
Using natural processes to wash and dry the life jacket will ensure that it is not overheating which can damage the foam in the jacket.
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