Washing PFD's

Our PFD’s are getting pretty grungy, the dirt and stains are starting to take over. What is an effective way to wash these? Do I run them through the washer, or just scrub them in a sink? Anyone have any ideas?

I put some laundry detergent in a
bucket with warm water, soaked it awhile , then scrubbed the dirty spots and rinsed.I thought the washer might wreck it.

hand wash
hand wash, use woollite or equal, rinse well, hang dry.

ditto what jjoven said
I think machine washing and/or drying would impact the bouyancy and lifespan of the pfd.

Most of the time I just rinse my pfds in cold fresh water and hang them in a shady, breezy place. If they get too dirty or smelly (fishing can definitely do this) I use woolite to get what I can out and make them smell nice, but I would rather have a stained PFD I can rely on for years than a clean one with foam breakdown and nylon wear from cleaning it too harshly.

The Mix
After every program I have a bunch of pfds to wash. Fresh water in one tub with a small splash of citrus based cleaner (like Orange Power) or a dollop of antibacterial hand soap and a capful of Mirazyme. Slosh vigourously and give a thorough rinse. Hang in the shade to dry. Well ok, with today’s weather hang next to the furnace in the basement.

See you on the water,



Be careful with
Citrus based cleaners. Many of them will dissolve adhesives and will also cause many types of foam to deteriorate. If it says you can’t use it on carpets or porus surfaces, don’t use it on a pfd.

An expert opinion

– Last Updated: Jun-07-06 4:42 PM EST –

From a manufacturer. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.



BTW: Simple dishwashing soap works very well if handwashing. A little goes a long way, it rinses out well, and Consumers Reports suggests it as a viable alternative to specialty detergents like Woolite.

Ok now tell me
Is there any way to remove the black mildrew spots from pfds?

The bad news:
Pretty much anything you use that will get the mildew spots out will also damage and weaken the fabric.

The worse news:

The mildew itself is damaging and weakening the fabric.

The silver lining:

Expose the mildewed PFD to intense, direct sunlight for a few hours. That should kill the mildew and arrest the damage. The black spots will remain, though.

I take most of my gear in the shower with me and wash it just like I was washing me. Been working for a long time. Make sure all your gear is throughly dry before you put it up to PREVENT mildew. I would use a shot of something like Lysol Disinfectant or other mildew killer on the mildew spots. I think the spray will cause a lot less damage than the mildew is causing to the fabric. The spray will work very quickly then you can rinse it right out. Rinse it well.

I thought I was the only one …
… who showered with his gear!

When I come back from paddling, the first thing I want to do is shower, but I take all my sopping wet stuff in with me and rinse it off first, then let it drip-dry while I wash my own stinky bits.

Kinda like the cowboys of yore who always fed and watered and brushed their horses afore whippin’ up a can o’ beans for them ownselves …

Might be removed, or at least reduced with a dilute vinegar solution.


thanks for asking this!
i’ve been wondering, too. now i know my options, and what not to do :-).

When I was in school, I rented a moldy old house which in southern La which reeked havic on my gear.

I attack it with a half of lemon and a little salt. Then some rays. Then some water. Then some Lysol.


Me, too
I started doing it religiously after noticing that my PFD was starting to smell like B.O.

Nothing like wearing something over and over again without washing it to make it stink!

Showering after every day paddle keeps the stink away. On camping trips, I may let it go for a couple of days, depending on availability of clean fresh water.

Dilute bleach, carefully applied will
reduce the mildew spots.I haven’t had the problem since I got a dark blue and black PFD.

also be careful with Woolite
Someone mentioned Woolite above. Please be careful of the advertising hype on Woolite. It is fine for delicate natural fibers (e.g. wool, cotton), but it is not OK for all clothing.

Be extremely careful with using Woolite on synthetics, particularly if your pfd contains any Spandex or similar materials.

I have personally stopped using Woolite because it has damaged several peices of cycling and xc ski I own.

If you doubt me please read all the instructions on the Woolite label.

It’s what I should have originally done : - (

I throw everything in the washing machin
with a glob of body wash. Fill with warm water, ring everytthing up and down about a dozen times then set the washer for spin and rinse in cold water. Hang to dry over a homemade boot/wetsuit dryer.

Live and learn
Used the washing macine once. Haven’t been that stupid since. Keeps the PFD mfg’s in business. Now use a little bit of Dawn. Hand wash and rinse. Hang dry. No problems.

I just use the tub and the water supply
and the drain. The actual washing is done by hand, the rinse is done by maching and the draining is done by the machine.