How to Clean a Life Jacket – Top 4 Effective Methods

Your good PFD life vest got dirty and smelly, and wonder if you can do something to remove those stains and odors without destroying it? Well, good news, there are efficient and easy techniques that will help you do just that! Sounds good? If so, check out the best tips on how to clean a life jacket and keep it in shape!


Prevent The Growth of Mold and Mildew -Mold and mildew may wreak havoc on the materials used to construct your life jacket. Apart from the obvious odor, mold and mildew can weaken the fabric, which may not be noticeable until a tear forms. It may also extend to the innermost foam, impairing the life jacket’s buoyancy. Maintaining a clean life and properly storing it when it’s dry will help prevent the growth of mold and mildew and save you from having to wear an odorous life jacket.

Avoid Stains – As with clothing, you should clean any materials that stain your life vest immediately to avoid stains. Moreover, oils from your skin can accumulate on your life jacket and discolor it if left for an extended period. Stains on your life jacket can be difficult to remove and may damage its fabric, decreasing the life jacket’s effectiveness in emergencies. A stain on your Life jacket may also promote the growth of bacteria and mildew.

Prevent Odor – Apart from mildew, other frequent odors that can emanate from your garment include fish, beer, and smoke. Cleaning it will get rid of this odor.

Prevent Sweat– Body secretions can also accumulate on your life jacket. Therefore, it’s best to wash it rather than continue wearing it since it may cause you embarrassment while seated with friends on the boat.


Before you begin cleaning a life jacket, carefully consider the following issues, as failing to follow the correct technique might destroy and shorten the jacket’s life.

• Don’t use any harsh chemicals on the jacket since it is not designed to withstand them.

• Always try cleaning your jacket with soap or a mild detergent before trying other methods.

• Always try cleaning your jacket with soap or a mild detergent before trying other methods.

• Use a soft brush or a standard sponge to scrub the stains to avoid damaging your jacket.

• Never attempt to wash your life jacket in a washing machine, as the whirling motion of the washing machine might cause the foam in your life vest to degrade.

• Verify and adhere to the cleaning instructions included with your jacket.


• Running water (shower or hose)

• Bucket

• Soft bristles brush

• Salt

• Sponge

• Hydrogen Peroxide

How to Clean a Life Vest


• Step 1: Rinse the Life Jacket

Before beginning the cleaning process, it may be beneficial to hose down your life jacket with clean water to remove any loose dirt.

• Step 2: Fill Your Bucket

Fill your bucket halfway with clean water and a few drops of mild soap. Dishwashing soap is an excellent choice for this. Your water can be lukewarm or cold, but it’s probably better to avoid hot water altogether to avoid damaging the fabrics.

• Step 3: Immerse Your Life Jacket in the water

Submerge your life jacket in soapy water.

• Step 4: Scrub It

Scrub the life jacket gently with your soft brush to eliminate any stubborn dirt or stains. Alternatively, you can use a sponge on the fabric sections and your soft brush on the strap and buckles.

• Step 5: Rinse It All Away

After cleaning the Life Jacket thoroughly, rinse it using clean water from your hose or shower.

• Step 6: Allow It to Dry

Once your Life Jacket is completely cleaned and soap-free, hang it to dry. Alternatively, you can dry it by hanging it over the bathtub or shower. You may find that doing this outside is preferable, as long as you do it in a shady location, not directly in the sun.


• Step 1: Remove the CO2 Cartridge

Before you begin cleaning an inflatable life jacket, ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for removing the CO2 cartridge. Also, remember to remove the water sensor bobbins from inflatable life jackets.

• Step 2: Deflate your Life Jacket

Ensure that your inflatable life jacket is completely deflated before beginning the cleaning process. However, you may need to unpack it to clean the air compartments.

• Step 3: Clean Using Soap and Water

Clean your life jacket with mild soap and water in the same manner as described above. Other contaminants and chemicals may wreak havoc on the materials, impairing the inflatable life jacket’s function. Use a gentle brush or sponge to clean your life jacket.

• Step 4: Thoroughly Rinse It

After scrubbing the inflatable life jacket with soapy water, rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

• Step 5: Allow to dry.

Allow your PFD to dry naturally by hanging it in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.

• Step 6: Re-Arm your Life Jacket

Repack the air chambers and reinstall the CO2 cylinder and bobbin to re-arm your jacket.


Step 1: Remove mildew, mold, and stains with a sponge or a soft brush. While some of it would come off immediately, some deeply embedded stains will require extra steps to remove.

Step 2. Combine 1/3 hydrogen peroxide and 2/3 water in a solution and pour it over any mildew, mold, or stains. Place the stained life jacket in the sun for half an hour and let the solution soak into it.

• Step 3. Scrub the areas where you applied the solution with your sponge, soft brush, or cloth once more.

Step 4. Rinse your stained life jacket well with clean water.

Step 5. Repeat the process of cleaning moldy and soiled areas with a mix of water and soap.

Step 6. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Step 7. Find an outdoor location that will expose your life jacket to the most sun and hang it there. If you intend to store it again, do so only after it has dried properly.


Step 1. Prepare a salt-water solution. Use adequate water to submerge the life jacket completely. Add approximately 1/2 cup of salt per liter of water.

Step 2. Soak the jacket for an entire day in the solution.

Step 3. Drain the solution from the life jacket and scrub it thoroughly, paying special attention to any areas impacted by mold or mildew.

Step 4. Repeat steps five, six, and seven from Method #3.

If neither of these procedures eliminates the mold, mildew, or odor from your life jacket, it may be time to purchase a new life jacket.

Final Words

That’s it; with all these methods listed above, you should be able to clean your life jacket thoroughly without damaging the inner foam and outer shell. However, sometimes, the stains are so encrusted in the material, you can do nothing about it. In this case, it’s better to throw it and buy a new one.

Want More Tips?

Subscribe to Cruising Sea newsletter to receive every two-week the latest post straight to your inbox!

More articles

Life vests for boating

Life jackets for dogs

How to choose a life jacket

Why wear a life jacket

Do you know other techniques to clean a life jacket?. If so, you are welcome to share them in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “How to Clean a Life Jacket – Top 4 Effective Methods”

  1. Hi, Daniella!
    Your website is an added value to everyone who likes to take care of their life jackets! You are very thorough when it comes to details and you keep it very clear. I’d like to know which one of these four methods do you prefer or recommend using. Maintenance is crucial when it comes to items related to security.
    Thanks for sharing and keep safe!

    • Hi Antonio,

      I don’t have any preferred methods. All of them are great as long as they are efficient. That’s what matters to me:)

      Let me know if you need more info. I am always happy to help.

      Thank you for the comment, and I wish you a lovely day.

  2. This has has been a very interesting article to read. I have never had a life jacket before and i dont think i probably ever will. So i didnt ever give much thought to cleaning them. You always sort of expect the sea  to do that job for you as yopu get splashed loads. Thanks for sharing this article.

    • Hi Kwidin,

      You never know. You might need one someday:) 

      I am glad you found the article interesting. Thank you for the comment, and I wish you a great day.


Leave a Comment