Life Jacket Cleaning & Care

April 2022 Feature Joan Wenner, J.D.

As the Scandanavians (and many veteran boaters) say, "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing." Top quality and certified life jackets and PFDs are also must-haves preferably for wearing at all times in case of a sinking, fire or other emergency situation which can arise sometimes in seconds and whatever your water playground.

Knowledgeable mariners agree that the marine environment is selfish and demands one's full attention and can be unforgiving which I know firsthand. Unexpected things happen and when they do, flotation makes a huge life-saving difference—a big incentive to wear one of a variety of Coast Guard approved lifejackets/inflatable PFDs. It's simple, you (and others aboard) want to stay alive.

A careful skipper will be aware of likely dangers and reduce them as much as possible and make every effort that no one aboard comes to harm. So first a quick but important test.

How to test:

Precision-Performance Boats of Idaho Falls suggests putting on (with supervision), wading out to chest deep water and try floating on your back to make sure your chin is kept above water and you can breathe easily. Also practice swimming. Check with your local U.S. Power (&Sail)Squadron also for information and assistance if unsure.

Never assume say boating experts like longtime Executive Editor Brady Kay that you will be able to manage a situation until you have proved to yourself in a supervised situation that you can, which I might add applies to many boating scenarios.

And as to lifejackets and PFDs, regular and careful inspection is needed to make sure there are no flaws and 'fit for their intended purpose.' (It is a legal concept applying to sellers for their products, though a good phrase for boaters to keep in mind as a reminder to inspect their lifejackets and PFDs often, even if having little use.)

A pre-season look is always advisable for examining outer fabrics and stitching areas for damage or tearing along seams. Thoroughly check particular inflatables too with their tubes for loss of air, and other components, etc.

(If you are buying online, boating organizations recommend finding a way to try on the style of your choice first. Perhaps through a local boater or yacht club member.)

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It should go without saying but my sources do not machine wash or place in a clothes dryer.

Covid considerations: The well-known Life Jacket Association advises consulting CDC guidelines, as it does, and further notes that no disinfectants are listed by the EPA for laundering that are clearly appropriate for cleaning lifejackets/PFDs. Manufacturers recommend with this disclaimer (which is another legal term or statement that basically denies something, especially responsibility), that it is not possible to carry out or guarantee complete disinfection -- the goal is to minimize risk. Be mindfull of instructions and cautions.

Some resources:


Hand wash or sponge with gloved hands as hot as possible. (For inflatables take care not to submerge the inflator or disarm the device. Read product  instructions before cleaning and do not machine launder.) Rinse a lifejacket with clean water and hang to dry on a plastic coat hanger preferably for 72 hours as complete drying is critical. Avoid spraying or immersing life jackets with specific disinfectants that can be detrimental to the fabric, and do not dry clean, use chlorine bleach or apply direct heat.

-- - (Sea Tow Foundation)

Wearing gloves, spray with 60-90% alcohol spray, including buckles, straps and zippers. Wash with hot water and mild soap and rinse with clean water. Hang or lay flat to dry for 72 hours. (Same for older life jackets but inspect first.)

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From Isso Products of Elk Grove, IL and made in USA, is their Mold & Mildew Stain Remover that "works wonders on life jackets," says Marianne Iosso, "and their Water Repellent helps to protect from future mildew and stains as well."

See: or call 847-437-8400.  (My own testing revealed it is indeed as she also told me a 'magic powder'!)

They also ship to Canada with product labels containing language in French. Isso also has other products of interest including Water Repellent, Seam Sealer, Vinyl Cleaner/Conditioner. Odor Buster, Fiberglass Reconditioner and Metal Polish.

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For neoprene first rinse with hose or water. Fill a container with 5 gallons of cold water adding one ounce of Revivex Pro Cleaner (or Wetsuit or Drysuit shampoo) for these neoprene jackets.Apply cleaner directly to heavily soiled area(s) and gently acrub with soft bristled brush.


(from Mercury

Use cool clean water and two tablespoons of liquid landry detergent, not bleach.Place lifejackets and all straps and hardware, on a tarp.Let sit on tarp out of direct sunlight before  check the owner's manual or the manufacturer website.When completely dry, store on boat in a small space or in a plastic bin when not wearing.Also advised is rinsing after each use with freshwater if used in saltwater.


Information and resources plus includes lifejacket rules for each state.


Store fully dried in a warm, dry well ventilated place out of direct sunlight.

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Note: is a website with information on its longtime Life Jacket Loaner Program for Kids usually for the day or weekend. Approaching 600 nationwide loaner locations -- 27 in Michigan alone at last count!

Lastly when purchasing always check for US Coast Guard Approval and PFD compliance verification and certification that product meets minimum safety standards and tested by an independent laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories ( recognized by the CG in accordance with 46 Code of Federal Regulations Section 159.010.

Safe boating!

Joan Wenner is a boating writer with a law degree, lifelong boater and a contributor to boating publications in the U.S., Canada and the UK. A native New Yorker she presently resides in eastern North Carolina. Comments are welcomed at

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