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How to Wash High Visibility/Safety Vests - The Complete Care Guide

How to wash high visibility vests

Safety vests are an essential component of construction clothing. Knowing how to wash reflective jackets can keep you or your employees safe at work. 

Safety vests are often designed to minimize the risk of accidents by increasing your visibility while working in a high-traffic environment. However, most work environments are often laden with dirt, soil, and sometimes harmful chemicals. 

Therefore, knowing how to maintain a safety vest can prove beneficial, especially if you must work every day in the same environment. In this article, we will walk you through not only how to wash construction clothes, but also how to clean reflective garments and material, to prolong your vest’s usefulness.

Why is it important to properly maintain your reflective vest?

Like any piece of clothing, safety gear require regular maintenance in the form of cleaning and washing. Cleaning not only maintains your reflective vests' effectiveness, but it also prolongs their lifespan.

Apart from the fact that having clean reflective clothing and gear can save your life, it is also a legal requirement by OSHA when working in a complex visual environment or close to traffic.

Over time, the reflective material and the fluorescent dyes of your safety vest may fade, become dull, or be covered in dirt and grime. This reduces your visibility and increases your risk of injury while working on a hazardous site. 

At maximum, a safety vest should be visible in all weather and lighting conditions. It should be visible to all motorists driving over 25 mph and should be seen at a distance of at least 1000 feet. 

Because safety vests perform such a special role, cleaning them can be tricky, as the process of removing stains is a little different from the conventional way of washing clothes. But don’t worry, we’ve broken down how you can clean your reflective vest in 5 easy steps below:

How to wash a safety vest: step by step.

  1. Read the vest’s care label


The first step is to check the care label on the vest for any special cleaning instructions. Different manufacturers have different wash and care instructions for washing, rinsing, and ironing high visibility vests and clothing. Follow the manufacturer’s own care instructions to the letter to avoid compromising your vest’s safety features.

  1. Get rid of loose dirt and stains

Scrub off any dirt or loose grime on your high visibility clothing with a soft dry cotton cloth before dipping the vest in water. Next, pre-treat any tough stains with a mild stain remover. Most times, a solution of water and mild detergent is enough to get rid of any stains on the reflective tape or the vest itself. 

  1. Wash in cold water

Wash your safety vest in cold water to avoid shrinkage. Do not use bleach when washing a reflective vest as it can damage the reflective material as well as the fabric of the vest, reducing its visibility.

Instead, start the washing process by soaking the vest in a solution of water and mild detergent washing it for about 20 minutes then wash over running water. Rub the vest gently between your hands to get rid of any stains. Remember, applying some stain remover can help remove stains and dislodge the dirt from the fabric if you come across any tough stains.

  1. Rinse

Once you’re satisfied with how clean your vest is, rinse it under running water to get rid of all the dirt and soapy water. Do not hand wring your safety vest as this can cause mechanical damage to the reflective material. 

  1. Dry

After rinsing, hang the safety vest on a hanger or clothesline, and line dry naturally. Do not dry the safety gear in direct sunlight as the UV rays can damage the reflective strap. Also, do not use a dryer as the heat can damage the reflective tape and reduce its effectiveness.

Frequently asked questions on how to clean a safety vest.

Can you wash a high visibility safety vest?

Yes, you can. In fact, a clean reflective vest increases your visibility in a hazardous environment. Wearing a dirty hi vis jacket or vest can put your life at risk of accidents on site.

Can I wash a safety vest in the washing machine?

high visibility jacket worn in an excavation site

Yes, you can wash your safety vest in a washing machine. However, make sure to follow the care label’s instructions, including the detergent type, water temperature, and cycle. Do not combine your reflective vest with rough fabrics as they may cause wear on the reflective tapes on the vest.

Can you wash a safety vest with other clothes?

While you can combine hi vis safety vests with other clothes, it is not advisable to do so. Exposing the reflective properties of your reflective vest to too much texture from other rough fabrics can damage the reflective surface.

Do not overload the washing machine as this can also wear out the fabric of your vest. Only combine the different safety vests together with like-colored clothes.

How do you wash a polyester safety vest?

You can machine wash a polyester vest with cold water on a ‘delicate’ cycle. You can use a mild detergent, but check the label to see the manufacturer’s requirements before you begin. Don’t dry with heat as it can reduce the vest’s reflectivity. Machine drying can also cause wear and tear on the reflective vest. You should line dry your safety gear instead.

How to clean reflective material

Only use cold water when washing hi vis material, as heat tends to damage the surface of the fabric and reflective parts. Use gentle rubs to wipe away dirt from the material. Next, soak in a soapy water solution for about 20 minutes before washing under running water. Line dry the washed clothes away from direct sunlight. 

Additional tips when washing reflective safety vests and reflective tape.

high vis clothing at construction

Don’t use any fabric softener or harsh detergent on your hi vis vest. Most laundry detergents are alkaline and hence can break down the fluorescent brighteners in your vest. Instead, use neutral detergents to keep your vest functional for longer.

Store your safety vest clean and properly. Once your safety vest is dry, store it in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight. Don't fold the vest, as this can damage the reflective materials. Hang it up or lay it on a flat surface to keep it in good condition.

If your safety vest has removable reflective strips, take them off before washing and wash them separately.

If your safety vest has metal parts, such as zippers or snaps, make sure to check them for rust or damage before washing. If necessary, replace the parts to ensure the safety of the vest.

Need a new hi vis vest?

While regularly cleaning your safety vest prolongs its lifespan, the vest's colors will eventually fade with time and you will need to replace it. The microscopic glass beads that make the material reflective will rub off over time. If you only use it a few times a month, a high visibility clothing can last you anywhere from one year to three years.

However, if you’re in an environment that requires daily usage of a safety vest, it will normally need to be replaced after 6 months. This is because the fluorescent dyes will become dull due to wear and tear and reduce your visibility on site.

Do you or your crewmen need new hi vis jackets and vests? We’ve got you covered. At Fonirra, we deal with all hi vis reflective gear and can deliver high-quality, high visibility safety vests, sweatshirts, and other hi-vis clothing to your doorstep. Order yours today and get free shipping for orders above $39 on our website. Contact us to learn more about our products.

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