When it comes to caring for and cleaning your protective equipment, one thing to keep in mind is that your gear may one day be the only thing standing between you and a small metal projectile moving at 2,500 feet per second. In other words, your life may depend on that equipment. When you clean your vest or plates and when you handle them, take the job seriously.
The first and most important thing to remember is to read and follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. The instructions on the label may very well differ from the general guidelines you will find here. If you read something here, and the instructions on the label say to do something different, always follow the manufacturer’s label over what you read here.
Cleaning Your Plate Carrier
A good rule of thumb is that you never want to submerge any part of your armor in water. Another general rule is to never use a chemical stronger than dish soap. Bleach and starch are definitely a bad idea, and most household cleaners are too strong and may compromise the armor’s ability to protect you. It may take longer to clean off your gear, but mild dish soap and cold water are the only sure way to avoid damaging it. Some plates and vests have removable covers or parts that can be machine washed. This is when it is very important to pay close attention to the instructions on the label. If the label has been removed or is unreadable, wash the part by hand with cold water. Do not take the chance of damaging your gear by trying to do things the easy way; it is not worth risking your safety.
For attachments such as ammo pouches you can be less particular about how you clean them, since they are not part of the protective system. However, you do run the risk of damaging the appearance, and causing wear and tear that could mean replacing the part sooner than should be expected. Your best bet is to make sure that you have plenty of time set aside for cleaning your gear, and do not rush things.
Never dry any of your gear in the sun, or outdoors at all. The sun’s rays can quickly damage your gear. Not only will it ruin it aesthetically, but it could also lower its effectiveness in protecting you. Never even dry your gear in the shade outdoors, as ultraviolet light will still reach it and have adverse effects on the ballistic fibers in your gear. The best option is to hang your gear indoors and give it plenty of time to dry.
Storage And Transport
Always keep in mind, particularly when dealing with ceramic or SAPI plates, that you can damage your plates as easily as a bullet can. These plates are designed to withstand high-velocity impact, not low-velocity crushing blows. They are also not designed to bear heavy burdens for an extended period. That means you should never throw, drop, or swing your plates for any reason. You should also never store them under other gear, or use them to support any weight. Store them in a cool, dry place. Store them on top of everything else. Keep in mind that no matter what else you have stored alongside your plates, the plates are the thing that your life depends on.
When transporting your vests and plates over short distances, place them inside the actual vehicle with you, not in the trunk. You cannot see what is happening inside your trunk. You do not know how much your gear is sliding or bouncing. You cannot see if there is a leak or spill until it is likely too late. Keep your plates nearby so that you can be certain that they have not taken on any damage while being transported. Ceramic plates can sustain hairline fractures that are invisible to the naked eye but can lower or ruin the plate’s ability to stop a bullet. Also, remember that your carrier is the first line of defense. All of these rules apply to the vest as much as the plates.
For long-distance transport, pack the plates and carrier in snug and waterproof bags. Snug means that they are secure on all sides, it does not mean tightly packed. Packing the plates too tightly could cause them to crack while being moved; packing them too loosely can do the same. Packing the carrier too tight can cause it to crease and fray in spots, adversely affecting the fibers. Make sure there is soft and dry material against all sides; material that cannot easily shift but that is not pressing excessively hard against any part of the plate or vest. Be sure that the container that is holding the gear does not have anything heavy placed on top of it, and that it is firmly secured during transport.
Whether you have finished cleaning your equipment, pulled it out of storage, or transported it any distance, always inspect your equipment before use. Never assume that your gear is in good working order – be safe and always verify it with a thorough inspection.