Your body armor is one of the most important pieces of equipment you use, but are you taking proper care of it?
Over 3,000 LEOs have been saved by their body armor over the last three decades, and the risk of dying from a gunshot to the torso is 3.4 times higher for officers who aren’t wearing a vest. Your body armor is one of the most important pieces of equipment you use, but are you taking proper care of it?
A 2012 study by the Police Executive Research Forum found that a significant number of police officers do not understand some important aspects of body armor maintenance and care. Neglecting or using incorrect care methods could significantly impact your armor’s effectiveness and how long it lasts. Here’s how to properly care for and maintain your police vest so it’s as fighting fit as you are.
INSPECTING POLICE BODY ARMOR
Regular inspection of your body armor is vital for your safety. Look for obvious damage like cuts, tears, separation of fabric or stitching or surface cracks on plates. Check the panel seams for any separation. Look for any creases or folds in the armor; this is a sign of an improper fit and could weaken your armor over time.
CLEANING POLICE BODY ARMOR
Cleaning your armor can help extend its life and, as a bonus, keep that dreaded funk away. But there’s a specific method to cleaning you should employ and a number of things you need to watch out for.
First and foremost, it’s important to avoid prolonged exposure to water when cleaning your plates and carrier. With that golden rule out of the way, let’s get into specifics for both components of your police vest.
It’s best to wash your plate carrier once a week; this will help prevent odor and keep it in great shape. Consider purchasing an extra carrier so you have one on hand while you hand wash and air dry the other.
Remove any detachable straps, as well as fasteners like Velcro before you wash the carrier and secure any that you can’t detach.
Hand wash with cold water; do not machine wash the carrier unless the manufacturer states it’s OK to do so.
Avoid any chemicals aside from a mild detergent and air-dry the carrier indoors unless the manufacturer recommends using a dryer.
For panel cleaning, use a damp sponge or cloth to wipe the panels down and then let them air dry while sitting flat. Don’t submerge the plates in water or run them in a dishwasher; remember, prolonged exposure to moisture could degrade the plates. Like the carrier, avoid drying them outside – particularly in direct sunlight. Do not use chemical cleaners or any cleaning agents unless specified by the manufacturer. This includes using chemicals you may think are harmless, like Febreze, to freshen up your vest – do not use anything unless you’re absolutely sure it won’t affect the integrity of the plates. Remember to correctly orient the plates when you put them back in the carrier.
STORING POLICE BODY ARMOR
How you store your armor is just as important as how you clean it. One common (but wrong) storage method is putting armor on a clothes hanger; this can stretch out the carrier straps over time and cause armor to sit incorrectly on the body. Instead of hanging, most manufacturers recommend laying the armor flat.
Do not store your armor in a low airflow environment or in extreme temperatures (like a car trunk) for prolonged periods of time, as this could threaten the integrity of the armor. Avoid direct sunlight. Don’t fold or crease the vest and don’t store it in a damp place or put heavy objects on top of it. All of these things could potentially degrade the armor.
WHEN TO REPLACE POLICE BODY ARMOR
When should you replace your body armor? There isn’t a hard rule on the lifespan of your vest, but there are certain things that make replacement a no-brainer.
If there is any damage to the carrier or plates, call for an immediate replacement.
If you gain or lose weight, it’s also time to replace your vest as an improper fit could lead to catastrophe.
Heavy use can also decrease the life span (and you should be wearing your armor daily).
Check the manufacturer’s recommended replacement schedule for your model and check the product’s warranty expiration date.
Specifications vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so there may be additional care requirements for your particular vest in addition to this general guidance. Always follow your manufacturer’s recommendations, which are included with all NIJ Standard-0101.06-compliant body armor.