Like Your Life Depends On It: PFD Maintenance
September 22, 2017
Like anything people wear, life jackets can get dirty and even wear out. While personal flotation devices (PFDs) are easy to clean and maintain, there might be a few details you haven't thought about before. Read on for how to clean, dry, and store this important boat equipment, and what to do when mildew strikes. After you're done using your life vests for the day, brush off any dirt or sand, and scrub off mud or food spills with a damp cloth. If your life jackets have been wet with seawater, rinse them with fresh water from a garden hose or washdown sprayer. Hang PFDs to dry, not touching, in a dry, shady place outdoors. Using a clothes dryer or other heat source can damage life vests, but blowing unheated air on the vests with an electric fan is OK, especially if you have to hang them in the garage, boathouse, or basement. When the jackets are dry to the touch, check seams and creases, and if you feel moisture there, let the jackets hang a bit longer. Once the life vests are dry, store them carefully in a dark, dry place. Don't put them where they can be crushed or pierced by other equipment or tools, and don't pack them away until they're dry. Clean your life jackets at least once per season, and more frequently if they're used often. Since putting a PFD in a washing machine can destroy it, cleaning by hand is the way to go. Choose a dry, sunny day to clean your life jackets outdoors. Lay out a tarp or drop cloth if you like. Fill a bucket or basin with warm water and add some laundry detergent or dish soap. Lay the first life vest on your work surface, dip your brush in the soapy water, and scrub the jacket, front, back, and inside. Treat stains with a bit of straight detergent or non-chlorine stain treatment solution and scrub well. Let each jacket sit for at least 15 minutes to give the detergent a chance to work. Rinse thoroughly with clear water and hang the life vest where air can circulate freely around it. Let dry thoroughly before storing. If you smell mildew or see it on the life vest's surface, don't use any harsh chemicals or chlorine bleach on your life vest, as they can ruin it. If there's mildew on the life vest's surface, take the vest outside and use a dry scrub brush or toothbrush and brush or scrape off the mildew, being careful not to damage the fabric. A paste of lemon juice and salt makes a nontoxic, mildew-killing spot treatment. Clean the life vest as above, but add a non-chlorine bleach with the detergent. For an anti-mildew treatment, soak the affected life jacket in a bucket or basin of cold water to which you've added 1/4 cup salt to every quart of water. Some boaters like to soak stinky life jackets in water mixed with white vinegar. Follow either soak with a soapy scrubbing and a thorough rinse. Hang the life vest to dry in full sunlight; the sun's ultraviolet rays will kill mold and mildew. [caption id="attachment_516" align="aligncenter" width="287"] Mildew on canvas.[/caption] If mildew pops up again, the spores have probably invaded the PFD's stuffing, and it's time to get a new life jacket. Breathing mildew and mold spores can make you sick, and mildew and mold eventually rot fabric. Don't trust a compromised life jacket with your life. Other things to remember: don't use life jackets, throw rings, or other flotation devices as boat bumpers or padding. Misusing PFDs in this way can crush the foam and tear the fabric, causing the life vest to lose buoyancy. Repair or replace - never remove - loose straps and buckles. Watch for tears and split seams, and replace the life jacket if the filling has been damaged. Make sure the Coast Guard label is intact and legible. If it's not, replace the life jacket. Most importantly, your life jacket can't keep you afloat if you don't wear it. Protect yourself by wearing yours. Save now on life jackets for every member of the family (including pets!) at Great Lakes Skipper.