How To Clean Life Jackets-Prevent Mold, Mildew & Stains

how to clean life jackets

Last updated on September 2, 2022

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

It’s that time of year again when we all start to think about getting our life jackets ready for the summer. Whether you’re a boat owner or just like to have a life jacket on hand in case of an emergency, it’s important to know how to clean life jackets properly. In this blog post, we will outline the steps you need to take to get your life jackets looking and smelling like new again!

Why Should You Keep Your Life Jacket And PFD Clean?

Many people do not think about the fact that their life jackets must be cleaned. You can use your life jacket when you are on the water, but what happens after it gets wet? While most of us know to never dry our PFDs in a clothes dryer, we often do not consider how we should properly clean them. Not only can a dirty life jacket be uncomfortable, but it can also put your health at risk.

Prevent Mold And Mildew

When you store your life jacket, make sure that the environment around it is clean. If mold or mildew begins growing on the material of this crucial piece of equipment then not only will its appearance become damaged but also its effectiveness at saving weight could be reduced by as much as 1% per day! This small amount can mean everything if there’s an emergency situation where time matters most – think about how long ago someone last used their boat?

Prevent Stains

Wearing leaves oils from your skin, sunscreens can also build up on the outside and begin to leave visible stains if left for long periods. If you don’t clean it immediately after a spill or an incident with water penetration into its fabric channels – soda bottles being spilled onto life jackets in swimming pools are common examples- then these tough smells will only become more overwhelming over time as they’re absorbed through every layer within contact; not just outerwear but inner suit fabrics too! A stain caused by something like chocolate milk at breakfast might seem cute until

US Coast Guard Approval

To ensure that your life jacket is in good condition, the Coast Guard requires it to be approved by them. If you find any of these signs: dirty PFDs with mold or spores visible on them; a bad odor coming from one side when worn for an extended period of time (this could mean there’s been some sort of damage); or if general wear-and-tear makes its safety capabilities questionable then chances are high this will not meet federal regulations which could result into fines–not worth taking risk!

>Best women’s PFD for kayaking.

What’s Needed To Clean A Life Jacket?

  • Mild Dish Soap
  • Plastic Comb or Tweezers
  • Mild Cleaner (Optional)
  • Air Dry Location

What Not To Use To Clean A Life Jacket?

  • Hairdryer Or Heater
  • Clothes Dryer

How To Clean Life Jackets

It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’re wearing your life jacket when you need it. But how do you keep it in good condition? Here are some tips and techniques on how to clean life jackets.

1) Get the Right Stuff

The first step in caring for your life jacket is to purchase mild soap that won’t harm the various materials used in modern life jackets. There are many options available – read reviews and get recommendations from other boaters. We like mild liquid dish soap, but there are dozens of others out there to choose from.

2) Safety Precautions

Be sure you always wear a PFD when you clean your life jacket! If you can’t, don’t do it. Also, test the soap on a small area first to make sure it doesn’t discolor or damage any fabric or plastic parts. Wash off any residue thoroughly with fresh water before wearing it again.

3) The “Gross” Work

Always check your life jacket for damage or weaknesses, especially in high-wear areas like the neck and shoulders. Check all buckles and zippers.

Once that’s done, it’s time to get “gunk” out of your life jacket:

Remove any old, grubby dirt and stains (on the outside only). Use a mild cleaner like dish soap on tough stains.

Remove any excess lint, fur, or foam that has accumulated inside the life jacket over time using tweezers or a plastic comb. Be gentle so you don’t damage the internal parts of the life jacket.

Here’s one more warning: If your life jacket smells bad – check it carefully before cleaning! The smell may be mold or mildew, which is every bit as dangerous as it sounds. If you find any moldy material inside your PFD, discard the entire life jacket and get a new one.

4) Rinse Out The Soap!

After washing your life jacket with dish soap, rinse it thoroughly until there are no bubbles and the water runs clear.

5) Air Dry, Indoors & Out

Hang your life jacket somewhere where it can air dry completely before wearing it again. Don’t try to dry it in a clothes dryer, or with a hairdryer or heater – you’ll damage the materials and shorten the life of the product.

6) Other Tips

If your life jacket is old, or you don’t wear it much, machine washing might leave behind a sweat smell. To clean the smell out of your PFD, try these tips:

Place an odor-absorbing sachet in with the life jacket when you wash it. You can also take a couple of tablespoons of coffee grounds and mix them in the detergent you use.

Try hanging your life jacket somewhere where it can get some sunlight and fresh air, like on a porch or out in the open. UV rays can also help kill mold and other germs that cause unpleasant odors.

If these tips don’t work, it might be time for a new PFD. You can find good-quality PFDs for under $50.


We hope you found this article helpful and easy to follow! One of the most frustrating things about getting your life jackets out for the season is finding that they are dirty. But before storing them away, give it a good scrub with mild soap and water so when you go to use it again next year, there will be less frustration involved. Remember- store life jackets in an area free from moisture or humidity after they have completely dried out. Do any of these tips pertain to you? Let us know how we can help make sure your PFD stays clean all season long!

Kayaks Report is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of, Inc. or its affiliates.

Copyright 2024 Kayaks Report -All Rights Reserved.