how to clean a tactical vest

How to Clean a Tactical Vest


Mathew R Reed
November 27, 2022

Sweat, dust, and several other factors can make your ballistic vest very dirty, especially if you wear it on duty for the entire day. If you avoid cleaning a tactical vest and maintaining it properly, it can start to smell really bad, and even become less effective in certain situations.

However, the question that most people ask is how exactly should you be cleaning a tactical vest. You certainly can’t wash it in a washing machine like normal clothes, so what should you do? Well, we have got you covered, as today we are going to answer all of your burning questions about cleaning a tactical vest.

How to Keep a Police Vest from Smelling?

Funky-smelling body armor can be a real problem. After wearing your vests all day, in the scorching heat, it is bound to get a little smelly. So, how can you counter that?

Well, firstly, you should try and clean your police vest regularly. Of course, you can’t wash the ballistic panels inside the vest, but the vest itself can be washed. Ideally, you should wash the carrier vest once a week, but we understand that with full-time police duty, that can sometimes be difficult.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that the smell in body armor really starts to develop when it is allowed to dry properly. If you come back to your precinct after a long patrol and hand your vest in your locker where it stays damp till the next day, it is way more likely to smell. Ideally, you should allow your vest to dry properly in an open area so that the stench of sweat doesn’t build up. Some police officers also use moisture-absorbing products like DampRid, which can take moisture from the air and prevent the buildup of mold and mildew.

To counter the stench during the week, many police officers also stock up their lockers with Febreze and other odor-neutralizing products, this can help keep the smell at bay. Febreze Extra Strength and Sport are the best options according to many police officers.

If you can’t find time to clean up your armor panels, here is another cool tip. You can pack a pair of dryer sheets in the carrier vest with the armor panels, and replace them every couple of days. Moreover, if you don’t have time to clean your armor panels thoroughly, a simple cleaning with disinfectant wipes can also make a huge difference.

Most police officers wear concealed armor under their uniform, this type of armor is more likely to get smelly as it can absorb a lot of sweat. To avoid this, you should wear a moisture-wicking shirt underneath the police vest. The shirt can absorb the monster and keep it away from your vest, making it easier to clean and less likely to develop a bad stench. Moreover, if your squad allows it, you should prefer wearing overt body armor over your uniform. This adds some much-needed extra layers between you and the vest, keeping it away from sweat.

How to Clean a Kevlar Vest?

Cleaning a Kevlar vest isn’t as difficult as many make it to be. In a few simple steps, you can easily clean up your bulletproof vest, and have it smell incredible.

The first step is to take the armor panels out of your bulletproof vest. Most bulletproof vests don’t have the armor panels permanently secured in them and the Kevlar panels inside can be taken out easily.

Once the Kevlar panels are removed, you should also remove any patches, badges, or molle accessories you have mounted on your vest. At this point, your vest is ready to be washed, either by hand or in the washing machine.

Ideally, you should wash the vest on a gentle machine cycle and preferably use cold water with mild detergent. Once washed, it is better to air dry the vest, by laying it flat. You can also put it in the dryer, but make sure it doesn’t get too crumpled up, and use the lowest heat settings.

You see, tactical vests, which hold ballistic panels are usually made from materials like Nylon and sometimes may also have interwoven Kevlar fibers. These materials can get damaged by high heat, and have a lower lifespan.

Moving on, let’s talk about cleaning the ballistic panels you removed from the Kevlar vests. Moisture can be very destructive to Kevlar, it can loosen its fibers, and cause them to break down more easily, decreasing the overall effectiveness of your body armor.

Luckily, most kevlar armor panels have a waterproof cover on them, which keeps sweat and other moisture out. Still, that doesn’t mean that you can soak your ballistic panels in water, or wash them with a washing machine.

Even if there is a small hole in the waterproof cover, water can seep in and start to damage your armor, especially when it is completely submerged in water. Instead, to clean your armor panels, you can wipe them down with soapy water, and use a towel to dry them off. After that, let your armor panels dry in the air by laying them down on a flat surface.

Can you Wash a Plate Carrier in the Washing Machine?

Plate carriers are made to carry hard ballistic armor plates, which are rated to protect against rifle calibers. Typically, these plate carriers are made from Nylon, which is safe to wash inside a washing machine, however, like a tactical carrier vest, you should avoid using hot water, strong detergents, bleach, and other cleaning products. A light spin on the washing machines lowers settings with cold water and a mild detergent or soap should do the trick.

Now, when you are cleaning hard armor plates, remove them from the plate carrier, and simply wipe them down with disinfectant wipes, or cold soapy water. Make sure to let your armor plates dry properly as well, since steel armor plates can start to rust if exposed to moisture too long, and ceramic plates can also lose their integrity if they are exposed to moisture for a very long time.

Make sure to stop your ceramic plates in a dry and cool place, and don’t stack them on top of each other, as that can damage the ceramic strike face of the plates.

Can you Wash a Molle Vest?

Molle or the Modular Lightweight Load-bearing Equipment is a popular form of a load-bearing loop, which you can find on tactical vests, plate carriers, and all kinds of other tactical equipment. These loops allow you to customize your tactical gear, and mount various pouches, holsters, magazine holders, and other equipment to your vest.

Like all other ballistic vests, you can easily remove the armor panels from any molle-compatible vests as well and easily wash them in the machine. However, you have to make sure to abide by the same precautions that you follow for simple Nylon Vest carriers. Moreover, when you are washing a molle vest in the machine, don’t add any other clothes with it, so that it isn’t stuff, and there isn’t any chance of the molle loops getting caught on the buttons of other clothes.

Can you Dry-Clean a Bulletproof Vest?

No, ideally you should not dry clean a bulletproof vest, or the armor panels inside it. Commercial dry cleaners use steam to clean fabrics, and where that may be alright for normal clothes, it isn’t suitable for Nylon Vests. Excessive heat can damage these nylon fibers and decrease their lifespan.

If you want to clean your bulletproof vest, you should remove the armor panels from the carrier vest. Wash the vest in a washing machine with cold water and mild detergent, and let it air dry completely. For the panels, you should whip them down with a cloth and soapy water, and allow them to dry before using them again.

Final Thoughts

So, proper maintenance, and cleaning are essential when it comes to body armor and tactical vests. These ballistic vests are usually worn for extended periods, and especially in warmer areas like Texas, Florida, California, and other warm states, it is impossible to avoid the stench. After doing a lot of research on various police forums, we have put together a quick guide to answer all of your questions about cleaning body armor. We have also mentioned some of the best body armor cleaning tips we could find, and we hope this post helps you properly clean and maintain your bulletproof vests, and keep smelling fresh every day at work.

Mathew R Reed

Mathew R Reed is a professional gun seller who runs a dedicated gun store in the suburbs of Oakland, CA. A hardcore hunting enthusiast since childhood, Reed has ample experience with guns and accessories. He is the founder of and creates some of the most helpful gun-buying guides and explainers. If not in the gun shop, you can find him on the nearest hiking trail or nearby hunting spot.