Whether you’re a civilian who wants to protect yourself and your loved ones from firearm threats, or a law enforcement/security/military professional, you’ll want to make sure that your Kevlar keeps you safe.
Granted, you probably don’t receive rounds to your chest area daily, but you still may want to know whether a ballistic vest will last for a certain period.
In this entry, you’ll learn more about the life of your preferred body armor. But let’s answer the burning question first.
Does it Expire?
You may find this strange, but each body armor product comes with an expiration date. And this expiration date is typically around five years after the vest’s manufacturing date.
So, no, bulletproof vests don’t last forever – they have an expiration date, past which there is no guarantee of their safety.
An expired piece of body armor will still offer a considerable degree of protection. However, the material may weaken after a while. We’re talking about Kevlar – a material that’s five times stronger than steel when it’s produced.
How Does it Expire?
The panels inside the vest are likely to be Kevlar, which is chemically produced. Over time, the compounds that make up Kevlar will degrade. Even if your body armor isn’t made out of Kevlar, it will still have an expiration date. This goes for composite materials and those that use combinations of various industrial fibers.
This answers the question of what causes Kevlar to degrade. But what about the conditions? What causes these compounds to start degrading? Knowing this can help prolong the top-notch resilience of your ballistic vest.
Three natural culprits lead to body armor degradation.
The first is humidity. If you often wear your bulletproof vest in a damp, moist environment, your vest, like the majority of your equipment, will wear. In fact, most instruction manuals will tell you that the estimated five-year expiration date is shortened with increased exposure to humid environments. So, for one, keep your vest in a dry location.
Exposure to UV radiation significantly shortens the shelf life of body armor. If you find yourself operating in sunny environments, you should consider what this does to your equipment – bulletproof vests are a prime example. Besides storing your vest in a dry climate, make sure that your storage is also UV light-free.
The more you use an item, the more worn-out it becomes. If you keep your body armor in a dry and dark storage space and hardly ever use it, you can expect it to retain its strength past the expiration date. However, if you use it frequently, it will wear more quickly. Add the two previous factors to the equation, and the actual expiration date becomes much closer.
Change in Weight
Yes, we are talking about your weight fluctuations. Even a simple thing like a change in your body’s size can lower your gear’s protective quality. For example, a too snug fit against your body will put stress on the ballistic panels.
Hard and Soft Armor
Not all body armor has the same level of resilience and strength. As a rule of thumb, the softer the armor, the quicker it will expire. Soft armor vests are also more vulnerable to humidity, UV light, and temperature changes.
These are the main factors that cause wear and tear on your body armor. You need to keep in mind that wear and tear don’t have to show on the surface. From the outside, your armor might appear completely fine while it’s actually cracked, warped, and/or bent on the inside. Remember, it’s the inside of a bulletproof vest that counts.
The Risks of Expired Vests
Expired and worn-out body armor will simply provide less resistance than a brand-new product. Put simply, using an old vest may not stop that bullet; it can be the difference between life and death. This is why it’s so essential that you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and avoid using an expired vest while you’re in the field. If your vest is under frequent UV and moisture exposure, switch vests even before the manufacturer’s expiration date.
Extending the Life of Your Armor
Even though it’s ill-advised to use body armor after expiration, you should do your best to extend its lifespan – think of it as maintaining its protection abilities. Here are a few things that you should do to maintain your armor.
Clean the Ballistic Panels
No matter which material they are made out of, ballistic panels require cleaning. Fortunately, there is nothing fancy about this. All you need is a regular moist sponge with a drop of detergent. Don’t immerse the panels in water – just wash them gently using the sponge and detergent combination. Under no circumstances should you iron your panels. An iron can burn a tiny hole in the textile covering the actual panel, which allows moisture in.
Wash the Vest
The majority of vest carriers can be washed inside a regular washing machine. Of course, the ballistic panels need to be removed – do not put the panels inside the washing machine. If you own a vest that doesn’t allow you to remove the ballistic panels, do not wash the vest. You can rinse it off with a moist cloth and detergent. Do not use a wet cloth – make sure it’s no more than damp.
Replace the Damaged Carrier Vest
A carrier vest that has suffered damage and wear and tear is not appropriate for storing the ballistic panels. If the ballistic panels themselves aren’t too old, go ahead and replace the damaged vest with a new one – these are much cheaper than the ballistic panels.
Body Armor Life
Taking proper care and ensuring that you properly store your body armor will provide more protection and extend its life. Still, do not use the armor past its expiration date. Play it safe and replace your entire body armor (the carrier vest and the ballistic panels) before reaching the expiration date. The consequences of using expired body armor can genuinely be the difference between life and death.
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