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Spring Cleaning: Now Is the Time to Clean Web PPE

Apr 22, 2014 7:56:46 AM

The pace of new construction and maintenance projects is heating up with the arrival of warmer weather, but before any serious work begins, it is time for some spring cleaning. Although organizing tool trailers and doing preventative tool maintenance may be top of mind, don’t forget to check your personal protective equipment.  PPE manufactured from webbing (e.g., body harnesses and lanyards) should be cleaned periodically to help extend service life and performance.

Before we explore cleaning and laundering PPE in more depth, some disclaimers are in order.  Please remember that specialized web materials (e.g., Kevlar, elastic types, and reflective elements) and hardware materials/coating should be analyzed prior to cleaning to determine effectiveness and potential damage from washing. Testing indicates that laundering itself does not contribute to decreased strength, although commercial washing can cause abrasion between metal hardware elements and webbing straps, as well as cause degradation of product markings. Take special care to inspect laundered products for damage and wear prior to use. The specific length of time between laundering is application specific. Some applications may require weekly cleaning; other applications may require the product to be cleaned on an annual basis.  High-pressure power type washers and steam cleaners should be avoided because these cleaning methods can do potential harm to the web fibers.  Laundering is effective on the dirt, grease and grime found in many industrial settings, but many stains from paints,tar, and industrial chemicals cannot be completely removed. Finally, remember to wash and inspected a small sample before a large amount of PPE is laundered. Sample destructive testing may be appropriate if questions exist regarding the product’s suitability for use after laundering.

Laundering Procedure
Various procedures can be effective in cleaning web products. There are two acceptable ways to clean webbed PPE products:  hand scrubbing and machine washing.    Hand scrubbing is an inexpensive and effective technique if you don’t have much equipment to clean.   Begin by soaking the dirty equipment in water/cleaner solution before hand scrubbing. The scrubbing action will help break down the dirt, grease, or other material on the webbing. Once clean, rinse in clean water and hang the PPE to air dry in a well-ventilated area  out of direct sunlight. Do not exceed 200° F. when drying.

If hand scrubbing is not practical, the use of a top or side loading agitating style washing machine (commercial or consumer type) is acceptable. Start by placing your PPE is a mesh bag to prevent tangling, add a mild, bleach free detergent (bleach-free, commercial/industrial strength detergents are also acceptable), and complete a full wash and rinse cycle. Air dry the laundered equipment in a well-ventilated area, out of direct sunlight. Again, to avoid damaging the product fibers, never exceed 200° F. when drying.

Notes on Cleaning Agents
We are often asked to make specific recommendations on cleaning agents.  Keep in mind that each PPE manufacturer will have a list of recommended cleaning agents and detergents, so we recommend contacting your manufacturer directly.  Here is a list of approved cleaning products for PPE manufactured by Capital Safety:

Inland Chemical Co., Inc. – Phone: (800) 552-3100

By Pas 1500 Series 
By Pas International Corp. – Phone: (616) 875-7234

WSI – Phone: (513) 821-8333

U.N.X. Incorporated – Phone: (252) 756-8616

Innovator Plus 
EcoLab – Phone: (800) 553-8683

Cleaning Agent Specifications
The pH. level (acidity or alkalinity) of the cleaning solution should be no higher than 11 or 12.
A pH. level higher than 12 may harm the webbing and effect the performance of the products.
The water temperature, when laundering, should not exceed 160° F. Generally a wash temperature between 140° F. and 160° F. is recommended for safe, effective cleaning.

Now that spring is here, it is time to clean up your webbed PPE and get to work.  Remember, regular cleaning will enhance the service life of your fall protection equipment that keeps you safe while working at heights.  If you have questions or are in need of additional assistance, contact Diversified Fall Protection for more information.