How Long Do Bulletproof Vests Last? This Long!

What many don’t realize about bulletproof vests is that they don’t last forever. And every bulletproof vest wearer must know this. Once a vest has reached its expiration date, it will not protect you as well as it once did. Bulletproof vests last about five years with proper cleaning and storage. Vests that have not been adequately cared for will have a much shorter lifespan. If you want to know more about how long a bulletproof vest lasts and how you can extend the life of your vest, then this is the article for you.

This is How Long a Bulletproof Vest Lasts

The NIJ, short for the National Institute of Justice, certifies a vast majority of the body armor sold in the U.S. Most NIJ certified vests can hold onto their protective abilities for five years under normal use. So, we can conclude that a bulletproof vest lasts about five years. It should be understood that the lifespan mentioned above is an estimate. The actual amount of time that your bulletproof vest will last depends on several factors, which will be discussed in the following sections. 

How Often Your Bulletproof Vest is Cleaned?

A vest that is kept clean will generally last longer than one that is not. You may be able to get your bulletproof vest to last longer than five years if you launder it regularly. The only way to know for sure how often to clean your vest is to follow the care instructions that came with the vest, often on the inner tag. While many ignore these instructions, it is wise to follow them to the letter. This way, your vest will last as long as possible. 

In general, it is imperative not to throw your bulletproof vest in the washing machine with all of your regular clothing. Instead, you should follow these steps: 

  • Take all of the ballistic panels out of the vest. 
  • Remove the straps and trauma plates. You should wash your trauma plates and straps, but they should be cleaned separately
  • Wash the carrier vest by hand. Some wash their vests in the washing machine on the gentlest setting and don’t seem to have problems. But it is best to wash the vest by hand. 
  • Hang the vest to dry. 

Once your carrier vest, straps, and trauma plates are clean and totally dry, you can put the armor back together. 

Spot Clean Your Vest 

Though you shouldn’t wash your vest every day, it is totally fine to spot clean it. Just make sure that you use a gentle soap or a baby wipe. A bulletproof vest that is kept clean will last longer. 

Wetness Should Be Avoided 

You should avoid waterlogging your vest. This can cause the fabric fibers to loosen and reduce the vest’s lifespan. It could also invite mold and mildew, which may deem the vest unusable.

Cleaning Your Body Armor

How Your Vest is Stored?

The manner in which you store your vest has a large effect on how long it will last. If you store your vest in the sunlight on a daily basis, the sun’s rays can degrade the vest’s materials. In addition, if you put your vest in the trunk and then throw a bunch of things on top of it, your vest may become misshapen and damaged. 

Your armor should not be stored on a hanger in the closet. This will create unnecessary strain on the straps of the armor, stretching it out over time. This will eventually cause the vest to fit you improperly, prompting an early replacement. 

You should also avoid storing your armor in an environment that is damp or doesn’t have much air flow. Storing your vest improperly will reduce the amount of time it will last. 

Proper Vest Storage

To store your vest properly, place it in a garment bag. Make sure that the vest is flat and stays flat, during storage. 

How Often You Wear Your Bulletproof Vest?

Another factor that determines how long your bulletproof vest will last is how often you wear it. For instance, if you are in law enforcement and you wear your bulletproof vest every day, your armor will not last as long as a more gently used vest. If you only wear your vest on occasion, it could last longer than expected. Whether you wear your vest often or you only wear it on occasion, it’s vital to check your vest for signs of wear before you put it on. This is essential for maximum protection. 

Whether Your Vest Has Been Damaged

If your vest has been damaged, this will drastically reduce its lifespan. Damage to your vest will only get more prominent over time. So, if your vest has been damaged, keep in mind that it will not be able to protect you as well as an undamaged vest. If your vest has visible damage or shows signs of excessive wear, it is time to consider replacement of the armor. 

Whether Your Body Has Changed

If you have gained or lost weight, this will affect the armor in several ways. The following sections will explain how. 

If you gain weight: 

  • The straps will stretch. If you put on a lot of weight, your straps will get worn out, causing the vest to fit improperly. 
  • The vest may crease. If the vest begins to crease due to its tightness, the ballistic panels can get worn out. 

If you lose a lot of weight: 

  • The ballistic panels will suffer damage. If your weight loss is substantial, the vest will no longer fit appropriately. Your body will move around more freely inside the armor, and this could put stress on the ballistic panels. 

It is not easy to keep your weight steady over several years, but if you do, it will help your vest last longer. Alternatively, putting on a large amount of weight or losing a lot of weight damages your vest, decreasing its lifespan.

Bulletproof vests are crucial for personal protection
Bulletproof vests are crucial for personal protection (Source).

When Should a Bulletproof Vest Be Replaced?

Replacing your bulletproof vest at the right time is a matter of life and death. So, it is critical to make sure that you replace it when it shows signs of damage. The following are signs that your bulletproof vest is at the end of its lifespan. 

  • Creases – Creases are an indication that the vest has lost its ability to hold its shape, and it is time to replace it immediately. 
  • Smells – If your bulletproof vest smells of mildew, and the smell won’t go away, chances are that it’s time to consider a replacement. While you can still use a bad-smelling vest, it should be thrown out because it will offend you and people around you. 
  • Tears – If your vest has torn, it is no longer structurally sound. Being that this vest will be the only thing between you and a weapon, you should replace it immediately. 
  • Burns – A vest with burns on it will not protect you as well as one that is undamaged. For maximum protection, it is recommended to replace your armor. 

Note: If your vest has ever been completely submerged in water, you should replace it immediately. Once the moisture penetrates the vest, the plate material loses its integrity, and the vest can no longer be expected to protect you. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how long bulletproof vests last, and you are aware of all of the factors that affect their lifespan, you are well prepared to make your vest last. We hope that this article serves as a guide to assist you with your bulletproof vest needs.


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Kevin was born and raised in Texas and loves all things tactical. His hobbies include shooting, hunting, rock climbing, and hiking with his dog Jax.

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