How To Clean And Maintain Your Life Jacket

In the past, we looked at the characteristics of a Type 3 life jacket. We also looked at the best type 2 life jackets.

However, we did not look at how to maintain a life jacket properly. But relax, as that is why you are reading this.

Properly caring for your life jacket (also known as a Personal Flotation Device or PFD) is essential to ensuring its functionality, longevity, and safety during water activities.

But even before we look at how to maintain your life jacket, you first need to understand that they come in different types, as explained below:

Types of life jackets

how to clean and maintain your life jacket

There are different types of life jackets for paddle boarding, boating, and other water activities. They are as follows:

Type I: These are offshore life jackets designed for rough waters. These life jackets provide the highest buoyancy, and they are suitable for open ocean use.

Type II: They are intended for near-shore activities. The type 2 life jackets are less bulky and suitable for calmer waters.

Type III: Commonly used for recreational boating, these vests are comfortable, and they allow freedom of movement.

Type IV: These are designed like throwable devices such as ring buoys or cushions.

Type V: Special-purpose life jackets, such as inflatable vests or hybrid designs.

Choose the best type of life jacket based on your water activity and conditions, as they help in different ways. For instance, the type 2 life jackets can turn you over, so that your face stays out of the water.

Now, on to maintaining the life jacket. Here are some of the simple things that you need to do:

Inspect your life Jacket/PFD

During the start of each boating season:

Inspect your life jackets thoroughly. Check all straps, buckles, and fabric to ensure they are in good working order.

Look for signs of mildew, staining, tears, leaks, or hardening of buoyancy materials.

Dispose of any damaged life jackets (those with leaks, tears, deterioration, or mildew) and replace them with appropriate PFDs.

Avoid harsh cleaners

Do not use harsh cleaners or detergents to clean your PFD because these chemicals can degrade the fabric and affect buoyancy.

Do a proper saltwater rinse. If you’ve been in saltwater, rinse all life jackets with clean, fresh water. Also, clean off any sand that the jacket might have collected.

Steps for cleaning your life jacket/PFD

Follow these simple steps to make your cleaning process easy:

Step 1: Hand wash or use a sponge

Wear gloves to protect your hands when washing your life jacket.

Wash it as hot as possible (below 60°C or 140°F) to disrupt any viruses or bacteria.

For inflatable devices, avoid submerging the inflator or disarming it according to the manufacturer’s instructions before cleaning.

Step 2: Rinse and hang to dry

Rinse your PFD with clean water and hang it to dry on a plastic coat hanger. Also, ensure that it dries completely before storing.

Step 3: Storing your life jacket/PFD

Keep it dry

Make sure your life jacket is completely dry before storing it, and remove any moisture to prevent mildew or unpleasant smells.

Avoid direct sunlight and heat

Store your life jacket in a dry place away from direct sunlight because exposure to UV rays can weaken the fabric over time

Also, please avoid storing it near heat sources such as fire.

Onboard storage

If you’re keeping life jackets onboard your vessel, choose a well-ventilated area

Avoid damp or humid spaces because they can cause mildew, and mold growth. Also, hang them or store them flat to maintain their shape

Step 4: Double-check your life jackets

Regularly inspect your life jackets throughout the boating or paddleboarding season.

When doing this, you will be looking for any wear and tear, loose stitching, or signs of damage.

If you find any anomalies, address them promptly to prevent the escalation of the problem.


While life jackets save lives, they work best only if they are well-maintained and used correctly.

Before you embark on your favorite water activity, inspect the life jacket to ensure that it is working correctly.

Also, when the boating season is over, clean, dry, mend, and store the life jacket properly.

You may also check out my past post on why surfers don’t wear life jackets.