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How to Clean Regular & Inflatable Life Jackets

How To Clean Life Jackets
Written by Willie F Brodson
Last Update: August 23, 2022

Your life jacket can save you in an emergency but you should also take good care of your vest so it does its job best.

If you’re wondering how to clean your life jacket, we’re here to guide you!

Why Should You Keep Your Life Jacket Clean?

Why Should You Keep Your Life Jacket Clean

To keep it clean and stain-free

  • Cleaning your life jacket regularly will reduce the risk of getting infected by potentially harmful microbes that get attached to your jacket.
  • Clean, odor-free, and stain-free jackets will help you relax on the water a bit. Ultimately, we go boating for relaxation, right?
  • Sunscreen, lotion, skin oil, and perspiration often contain chemicals that can eventually break the elements of your PFDs in case you don’t clean them regularly.

Prevent mold and mildew from growing

Prevent mold and mildew from growing

Molds can grow in an unused, unattended life jacket. Molds have the power to damage the material and create a foul smell. They can also carry diseases. That’s why it’s important to keep your life jacket clean.

Life Jacket Cleaning Methods

Things you need to clean life jackets

  • Clean Water
  • Liquid Soap
  • Mold and mildew remover (if needed)
  • Hydrogen peroxide (if needed)
  • Salt (if needed)
  • Bucket
  • A clean and smooth place to put the vest for cleaning
  • Sponge
  • Hose with spray nozzle
  • Bristle brush
  • Plastic hanger
  • Rotating fan (if you want to dry it faster)

1. Inflatable life jackets

Inflatable life jackets cleaning

Method 01: Thorough cleaning

Follow these steps if your jacket is heavily mudded and you can’t submerge your life jacket directly.

Step 1: Open the vest. Now locate and remove the co2 cartridge.

Inflatable life jackets cleaning

Step 2: Remove the bottom cap and make sure the bobbin comes out with the cap. Store the bobbin in a dry and cool place.

Thorough cleaning

Step 3: Fill a large bucket with clean water. Make sure that the bucket is large enough to place the jacket within the water and won’t get folded.

Step 4: Now add liquid cleaner or dish detergent to the bucket. Once all the cleaner gets incorporated in the water completely, submerge the jacket in the water.

Step 5: Use a sponge or brush to clean your life jacket thoroughly. Scrub all the surfaces and corners well and leave it in water for 15 minutes.

Thorough cleaning

Step 7: Now, use a hose with a spray nozzle to clean the jacket. Don’t use a high-pressure sprayer.

Step 8: Place the jacket on a plastic hanger and hang them to air dry. Try to avoid metal hangers. Complete drying may take up to 72 hours, depending on the weather outside.

Step 9: Put the CO2 cartridge and the bobbin back where they belong.

Note 01: Don’t forget to go through the instructions given on the user manual of your PDF (Personal Floatation Device). It’s a good practice to check out the soap as well.

Note 02: If you find mold and mildew with black spots, use a dry and soft bristle brush to brush them off while the jacket is dry.

If the mold and mildew still remain, mix ? water with ? hydrogen peroxide and pour the mixture into the affected area. Once done, leave the jacket in open sunlight for 30-40 mins.

Once dried, the mold and mildew will become loose. Take the brush and wipe them off your life jacket.

There is also a home remedy. You can soak the mold-affected life jacket in saltwater for 24 hrs and then scrub the mold and mildew off. You’ll need ½ cup of salt per liter for this remedy. Don’t forget to take out the CO2 tank and the bottom cap beforehand.

If nothing works against the mold and mildew, there are dedicated, chemical mold and mildew removers that you can use. They range around $5-40 in price.

Note 03: For stubborn stains, apply liquid washer or detergent directly without diluting into water. Give a gentle scrub, and wash the jacket afterwards.

Method 02: Regular cleaning

This doesn’t require you to remove the co2 cartridge and the bobbin because you won’t have to submerge the jacket completely. Try this if there is no mold and mildew.

Step 1: Put your vest on a clean surface and scrub the outer part with a soapy sponge.

Step 2: Take a clean wet sponge and rinse with water.

Step 3: Open and unfold the entire vest.

Step 4: Take the soapy sponge and scrub your life jacket thoroughly. Do not touch the part where the CO2 cartridge and bobbin are located.

Step 5: Once the scrubbing is finished, rinse the jacket with a clean wet sponge until the vest is soap-free.

Step 6: Hang the life jacket with a plastic hanger and leave it to dry.

2. Buoyant washing system

Buoyant washing system

Go through notes 1 & 2 before starting the process. Apply them if needed.

Step 1: Rinse your life jacket. Choose a clean surface to place the vest and unbuckle it. Now, rinse it well with a hose. Do not use high pressure since that can damage the life jacket.

Step 2: Fill a bucket with clean water. Don’t use hot water.

Step 3: Mix your water with liquid detergent or dishwashing detergent/soap.

Step 4: Submerge your vest completely into that soapy liquid solution.

Step 5: Scrub the jacket thoroughly. If you find some stubborn stains, follow note 03 to remove them.

Step 6: Clean the life jacket using a hosepipe. Don’t use high-pressure streams.

Step 7: Hang the jacket with a plastic hanger to dry in the air.

Life jacket vs PFD



PFD stands for “Personal Floatation Device.” Anything that will keep you afloat over water can be identified as PFDs.

PFDs do not feature large collars and may fail to turn your face up in the water in case you are unconscious. They provide basic level protection.

Life jackets

Life jackets

The most distinguishable feature of life jackets is, they feature large collars to keep your face up in the water.

PFD will keep your body floating, but a life jacket will safely make you afloat by making sure that your breathing doesn’t get interrupted. They are designed in such a way that your face will always be out of water.

Type 1 and 2 shown in the image below will fall under the category of life jackets. The rest are considered as PFDs.

Precautions and preparations before reusing PDFs on Covid

  • Wash your PFDs under 15° F (60° C). Although hot water will be good for eliminating viruses, it may also destroy the material quality of your PFDs.
  • Generally the virus lives up to 3 days, try to avoid using your PFDs within this time period if you can’t manage to sterilize them.
  • 60% to 90% solution of alcohol spray kills most viruses.
  • Ignore disinfectants because they will destroy the fabric.
  • Use hot air for drying, but make sure the temperature is below 15° F.
  • Do not share your PFDs with anyone. That way, germs can transfer into your body from them.
  • Use gloves when washing/sterilizing your life jacket or PFDs

When to Replace a Life Jacket?

We recommend replacing your life jacket every one or two years. Repaired or altered life jackets can’t do their job properly. It would be better to just throw the old one away and buy a new one.

When to replace buoyants for your life jacket?

It’s time to replace the buoyant of your life jacket once you notice one or multiple symptoms below:

  • Mold and mildew remains even after washing
  • The outer layer is faded or has started to fade
  • You notice tearing of any kind, especially at the joints and stitches
  • The buckles are not working
  • The buoyant foam is broken or can’t keep floating like before
  • If the zippers aren’t working (if you have any)
  • If you bend the foams, they do not get back to their original shape

When to replace inflatable

It’s time to replace your inflatables if you’ve noticed —

  • Any kind of splitting or fading
  • If anything was missing on the yellow part of the jacket
  • Air bubbles were coming out when you submerged the opening of the tube after inflating
  • If your inflated jacket was deflated over time without any external influence

Things you should do to make your life jackets last longer

  • Check and test their workability before each use
  • Check CO2 cartridge (inflatable lifejackets) regularly
  • Store them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space
  • Hang them with plastic hangers in a windy and shady area
  • If you want them to dry quickly, use a fan
  • Always dry your jackets completely before storing
  • Keep them in storing container after drying

Things you shouldn’t do to your life jackets

  • Never store your life jackets without cleaning
  • Avoid direct sunlight to dry since UV light may degrade the fabric quality
  • Don’t use your dryer or washing machine. They will ruin the buoyant foam and your jacket will lose its capabilities
  • Do not put heavy objects over them while storing. It will ruin the buoyant foam
  • Avoid gasoline, paint thinner, acetone, or other alcohol-based solvents because they are harsh on the fabric and can damage the jacket over time
  • Don’t keep them near a radiator or an electric heater
  • Don’t fold since this may break the foam and reduce efficiency

About the author

Willie F Brodson

Certified by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals and a master of Science in Occupational Safety Management from Indiana State University, Willie F Brodson is an occupational safety expert who believes in the age-old saying – “It is better to be safe than sorry.”

Willie’s areas of expertise include legal guidelines for health and safety, coding and construction safety, fire prevention and theft, and environmental technology. Over a span of four decades, he has provided safety training and consultation and developed safety manuals for a number of state-owned and private organizations.

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