Body Armor Care and Replacement


information alert icon Take Care of Your Armor So It Will Take Care of You!

Replacement Protocols

One of the most frequently asked questions about body armor is: "How long does body armor last?"

This question has no easy answer. All body armor models listed on the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Compliant Products List are warrantied for their ballistic performance by the manufacturer. The warranties identify the specific period of ballistic performance but they are not evaluated by the Compliance Testing Program (CTP). However, the actual performance of each individual protective vest may vary based on how it has been stored and maintained, environmental exposure and differences in use.

Protective vests may need to be replaced before the end of the manufacturers' warranty period due to a various factors including a change in officer weight and body shape, use of a different service weapon or ammunition threat, or simply from heavy use that caused wear and tear over time. A vest that has been struck by a bullet or edged weapon can have visible damage to not only the carrier and cover, but also to the interior layers of ballistic-resistant fabric and should be replaced immediately. Maintaining and storing body armor in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions is key to prolonging the use of each vest.

Taped Body  Armor Vest

The protective qualities of the vest depicted in this photo are compromised because it fits poorly, leaving areas of the torso and vital organs unprotected, and has visible damage. A vest in this condition should be replaced immediately.

Do's and Don'ts in Body Armor Care

Did you know that moisture can negatively impact body armor performance? It could. Consult with manufacturer’s instructions for proper care and handling instructions. Here are some quick tips to get you started.


DO: Follow the manufacturer-recommended care instructions. (Every model of body armor that complies with NIJ Standard-0101.06 is required to have manufacturer-recommended care instructions on the label.)

DO: Make certain that anyone else, such as a family member, who cares for the armor is also aware of these instructions.

DO: Visually inspect ballistic panel covers frequently. Check for cuts, tears, stitching separation, sealing problems and worn or frayed fabric due to excessive wear.

DON'T: Open the covers of armor panels for any reason. If the integrity of the panel cover is compromised in any way, contact your agency representative immediately.

DO: Visually inspect hard armor plates before each use to ensure that no surface cracks or other signs of damage are present; damage to a plate is a clear indicator that the armor panel or plate should be replaced.

DON'T: Assume that an appearance of good condition implies good performance.

DO: Frequently inspect the condition of the label on the armor panel. On receipt of a new protective vest, copy the information included on the product label and retain it in a safe place. It is strongly recommended that each law enforcement agency maintain an inventory of vest information for all officers, most importantly the information included on the manufacturers' labels.

DON'T: Continue to wear a vest with an illegible label. Contact the manufacturer about replacing the label. Retain an illegible or worn label. Identifying the model is important in the event of a safety recall.

DO: Be aware of the manufacturer's product warranty expiration date and work with your agency representative to ensure that the vest is replaced in a timely manner. If the armor is beyond its declared warranty period, report it to your agency representative.

DON'T: Remove serviceable armor from service until replacement armor is available for immediate wear. An officer with no armor is at greater risk than an officer wearing older or worn/damaged armor.

DO: Notify your agency representative about any armor panel or label showing damage or excessive wear.

DON'T: Attempt to repair armor panels under any circumstances. Report damage to your agency representative.

DO: Involve supervisors in the inspection of body armor.

DO: Ensure that armor panels fit properly into carriers with the strike face and wear face correctly oriented. Refer to the ballistic panel label, which indicates whether the labeled side is the strike face or wear face.

DON'T: Needlessly flex, bend, compress or crease soft armor panels when handling them. This may contribute to degradation of ballistic materials over time.

DO: Handle hard armor plates, particularly those incorporating ceramic materials, carefully because they may be fragile.

DON'T: Drop plates made of ceramic materials on hard surfaces, as this can cause breaks or cracks that can have an adverse effect on performance.

DO: Follow the general industry procedure for cleaning armor panels:

  • Remove panels from carrier.
  • Wipe outer panel cover using a damp sponge or soft cloth and cold water.
  • Air-dry panels flat, avoiding folding or creasing while drying.
  • Insert dry panels back into the carrier with each panel strike or wear face correctly oriented.

DON'T: Perform any of the following during cleaning:

  • Dry clean, machine-wash or machine dry armor panels, either in the home or commercially. Detergents, dry-cleaning solvents and laundry equipment can damage or degrade panels.
  • Use chemicals, other than those specified by the manufacturer. Bleach or starch, even when highly diluted, may reduce the protection level.
  • Rinse, soak, submerge or spray panels. Superficial smudges, marks or soiling remaining on the outer covering should not harm panel integrity.
  • Dry soft armor panels outside, even in the shade, as exposure to ultraviolet light is known to cause degradation of certain types of ballistic materials.

DO: Follow general industry procedure for cleaning ballistic-panel carriers:

  • Remove detachable straps and fasteners. If straps and fasteners are not detachable, place them in their secured position.
  • Hand wash the carrier in cold water with a mild detergent for delicate fabrics (unless the manufacturer specifically recommends machine washing).
  • Rinse the carrier thoroughly and hang up indoors to air dry (unless the supplier advocates machine drying).

DO: Store body armor as recommended by the supplier. General guidelines include:

  • Store armor flat at room temperature in a dry, shaded place that minimizes exposure to direct light. Armor may be hung from a specially designed robust hanger made for body armor. Wire and wooden hangers may break or buckle under its weight. Turn the body armor inside out or open and lay flat to allow moisture to evaporate.
  • Air dry damp armor prior to storage.

DON'T: Use any of the following methods of storage:

  • Storing armor in a low airflow environment, such as the bottom of a locker.
  • Storing armor where it has the potential of being exposed to extreme temperatures (hot or cold), such as the trunk of a vehicle or where it will be exposed to direct sunlight (rear window deck of a vehicle) for prolonged periods.
  • Hanging armor by the carrier straps, which may cause the straps to stretch and lose their original shape and fit, resulting in the armor's not being held in the right position to provide maximum coverage and protection.
  • Adapted from Selection and Application Guide to Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor for Law Enforcement, Corrections and Public Safety. NIJ Selection and Application Guide-0101.06, 2014.

Body Armor Disposal

Officers who have just received their brand-new, NIJ Standard 0101.06 compliant vests usually look at their old armor and wonder "now what do I do with that?"

First, check with your supervisor to see if your department has a policy regarding disposal of used armor. If your agency has a policy, follow it!

If your agency doesn't have a policy in place, or if you're an administrator looking to develop a policy, there are several options:

  • Agencies and officers considering directly donating their armor to another officer or agency should be aware of potential liability issues. Several organizations accept donations of used vests for distribution to under-financed agencies in Third World countries and in the United States. These organizations assume the liability for providing "out of warranty" armor to these agencies, on the theory that "an old vest is better than no vest." You can check with your local Fraternal Order of Police chapter or do an Internet search.
  • Some body armor manufacturers may collect vests on a limited basis, destroying them or turning them into scraps that can be used for other purposes. This disposal can be costly, however; you need to check with your manufacturer to learn about its policy on "taking back" used armor, as policy and cost may vary.
  • A number of commercial vendors will destroy used armor for a fee. You can locate such companies via an Internet search.
  • "Expired" vests can be used as props in training exercises.

  • Armor can be retained for temporary emergency issue, but agencies and officers need to be aware that in addition to reduced protection caused by normal wear and aging, there may be coverage issues (wearing a vest not custom- fitted to the officer) that will also decrease protection.

 

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Contact:

JTIC

Alex Sundstrom, Testing Coordinator

(800) 248-2742

rsundstrom@justnet.org