How to Clean Life Jackets

Life jackets are vital for your safety. This is why wearing a life jacket is a requirement by law for all people engaged in water-based activities such as sailing, board-fishing, wakeboarding, among others.

These life jackets are only effective when kept in good working condition. Therefore, you need to clean and maintain your life jackets regularly as it helps prolong their performance and service life. 

Besides, who would love to step out on water wearing a dirty and stinky life jacket?

In this article, I have outlined the basic procedures and steps about how to clean a life jacket. I have also provided some maintenance and cleaning tips to help you be sure that you are wearing a clean and fresh life jacket every time.

Sounds interesting? Keep reading for more information.

how to clean a life jacket
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What are the cleaning materials required?

Whether it’s to clean your regular life jacket or your life jacket for fishing, you need the following materials;

  • Bucket
  • Sponge or soft-bristled brush
  • Cleaning solution or mild detergent solution
  • Cold water hose
  • Rack or clothesline
  • UV protectant

A step-by-step guide to cleaning life jackets

It is vital to pick a sunny day to wash your life jackets as it makes it easier to dry them after washing.

Here’s how to clean the best life jackets:

Step 1:

Fill half your bucket with cold water.

Step 2:

Add cleaning solution or mild detergent and stir. If you are using powdered detergent, you should stir the mixture well until the powdered detergent is completely dissolved.

Step 3:

Unfasten all the buckles, straps, and hardware in your life jacket.

Step 4:

Inspect your life jacket for mildew and mold. If there are any, you should take it outside and brush away all the visible mold, spores, or mildew from it. 

Once all mold and mildew signs are removed, rinse your life jacket with clean, cool water from the hose.

Step 5:

Soak your life jacket in your bucket.

Step 6:

Take it out and wipe it clean with a sponge. If it has tough visible stains, apply a dab of detergent onto the tough stains directly and gently scrub or brush the affected area using a soft-bristled brush. 

You should avoid applying a lot of pressure so as not to damage your life jacket’s fabric. You also need to brush the nylon straps and buckles.

Step 7:

Hose down or rinse your life jacket using clean water. Ensure that as you smooth out the fabric, get into visible spores (inside the fasteners and buckles) and thoroughly rinse them.

Step 8:

Hang your life jacket on a rack or clothesline to air dry. You should avoid hanging your life jacket under direct sunlight as it will cause the colors of your life jacket to fade. 

As such, you should always choose a shady and well-ventilated place.

You also need to avoid speeding up the drying process by using a hairdryer or clothes dryer. This will weaken the fabric of your life jacket.

Step 9:

When your life jacket is completely dried, apply a UV protectant. This will give it added protection from direct sunlight.

Step 10:

Once clean and completely dried, store life jackets properly.

Are there cleaning tips for life jackets?

Here are some of the tips that you should consider while cleaning your life jacket;

  1. You should avoid using any harsh chemicals. For instance, you should never use industrial cleaning agents or chlorine bleach on your life jacket. They damage the interior foam and weaken the exterior fabric.
  1. Avoid washing your life jacket in a standard cleaning machine, as the swirling motions can break the foam inside. If your life jackets can be washed in larger washers, ensure that you read the manufacturer’s guide and follow them properly.
  1. Always air dry your life jacket after use by leaving it in a well-ventilated place, out of direct sunlight. If you must hang it inside your house to completely dry, use a rotating fan to speed the drying process and avoid mildew development.
  1. If you cleaned your life jacket using saltwater, ensure you rinse it with clean cold water.
  1. Rinse off any red mud, visible stains, sand, or other contaminants as soon as possible. For instance, life jackets should be cleaned immediately after stains are visible.
  1. Life jackets should be cleaned monthly or at the end of every boating season because wearing leaves oils from the skin on the fabric.

What are the life jacket maintenance tips?

Unlike any other piece of clothing, a life jacket is something that you will be trusting your life with. And if your life depends on any particular product, you will want to make sure that product is functioning perfectly.

Regular maintenance and inspection can offer you with a piece of mind knowing that your life jacket is up to the challenge whenever you need it.

Here are some of the maintenance tips;

  1. Avoid placing heavy items on top of your life jacket. This will put too much pressure on the foam inside and damage performance. Besides, you should avoid using the life jacket as seat padding when onboard your boat.
  1. Always check your life jacket for tears, holes, or rips before and after using it. If possible, repair the damages. Else, you should consider replacing your life jacket with a new one.
  1. Store your life jackets in a dry and cool place.
  1. Have your life jackets removed from the boat when they are not used for long periods.
  1. When storing your life jacket in a small space of a plastic bin, do not fold it or put it under heavy items, as it will damage the performance of your floatation material.

How to clean inflatable life jackets

Inflatable life jackets are made with more technology compared to inherent life jackets that are only made with buoyancy material. For instance, they have gas cylinders that automatically inflate once you get into the water.

Therefore, cleaning them calls for a different approach.

Here is a step-by-step guide that you can use to clean your inflatable life jacket:

Step 1:

Remove the gas cylinder and the sensor bobbin. This is essential since when the sensor bobbin gets wet, it will dissolve, and your life jacket will automatically inflate.

Step 2:

Completely deflate your life jacket.

Step 3:

Clean your deflated life jacket using the standard cleaning process mentioned above.

Step 4:

Once thoroughly dry, re-arm it with the gas cylinder and the sensor bobbin.

It is vital to note that some inflatable life jacket manufacturers might have different recommendations on how to clean life jackets. Therefore, you should check the pamphlets and labels that come with your inflatable jacket for the cleaning guide.


No matter what type of life jacket you may have, it does not have to look bad or have a mildew odor after a long period of use. For instance, this flotation material gets damaged due to negligence and improper maintenance and cleaning practices.

Learning how to clean life jackets may sound like tedious work, but it is essential to ensure that they are kept in good working condition every time you need to use them. For instance, experts say, “Treat your life jacket as though your whole life depends on it” – of course, it does.

Do you have any suggestions or comments? Let us hear from you in the comments section below.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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