How To Wash Hi-Vis Clothing 

As hi-vis clothing is an important piece of PPE, special considerations must be taken during laundry to maintain its protective qualities.  Here we discuss how to wash hi vis clothing properly.


Rail workers, firefighters and motorway maintenance workers have one crucial thing in common; that  their safety at work ultimately depends on them having the correct PPE clothing issued. If the wearers clothing becomes dirty or contaminated, the worker risks losing their high visibility during their activities potentially placing them at risk of harm.

It is therefore essential that high visibility clothing is cleaned and maintained to a high professional standard in order to maintain its protective function. Using processes that carefully protect the fluorescent fabric and retro reflective tape but remove contaminants from the garment in a gentle way to help maintain its protective function. Using the correct wash programme, amount of mechanical action, chemistry, water level and temperature combined with the specific drying processes are very important for the correct cleaning any specialist safety wear. This will have significant benefits towards helping to prolong the life of the garment achieving over 25+ wash cycles in order to comply with EN ISO 20471 and reduce the need to replace clothing as often and stop the garment from wearing prematurely. Laundering at home domestically in a normal wash load can cause damage especially to the retro reflective tape and other protective qualities of garments. This can make employees at a higher risk of accident or injury but also means that you are failing to meet industry regulations.

Supplying appropriate garments to employees is the responsibility of the employer. It is just as important to ensure that they are cared for and maintained properly too.

High visibility clothing can deteriorate in many ways if it is laundered domestically at home. Certain types of domestic detergents may contain optical brightening agents (OBA’s) that may have an adverse effect on the retroreflective tape and fabrics. They can also have a negative effect on the luminosity of the fabric and tape.

Soiling on hi-vis garments varies but typically tends to be heavy and is commonly oil or carbon- based by nature of their wear. Particularly carbon-based soiling requires effective carrying capacity from detergents in order to ensure limited redeposition especially on polyester fibres and maintain good results over numerous wash cycles. Oil-based stains require a surfactant effective at reasonable wash temperature (to avoid thermal damage to retro reflective tape) and there must be effective levels of alkalinity in the wash process to assist in the removal of stains.

Potential issues when washing hi-vis:

As high visibility clothing is prone to persistent stains such as oils, greases, bitumen and tar the cleaning process needs to be highly effective. However retro reflective tape and fluorescent coloured material are very sensitive to multiple factors including temperature, pH and alkalinity levels. Standard washes with high temperatures and large volumes of detergents are not the most effective in removing industrial soiling and protecting the properties of the garment.

  • Temperature – Excessive temperatures during the washing or drying process can cause degradation to the integrity of the retro reflective tape. Thus causing the adhesive that holds the glass beads on the tape to be destroyed leading to a loss of reflectance over the lifetime of the garment. There is a careful balance between keeping the temperature high enough for effective stain removal, but not too high as to cause damage. Knowledge and use of industrial wash processes will guarantee the right results.
  • pH – As with temperature, although alkalinity is required for effective cleaning, excessive or prolonged alkalinity can cause damage to reflective tape. Normal maximum pH levels of 11 should not be exceeded.
  • Mechanical action can also be a cause of significant damage to the tape over time. This is caused by repeated washing or from abrasion caused by the of work the wearer. This particularly affects garments on the knees, elbows and midriff.

When processing hi-vis due to the above potential issues, hi-vis programs tend to be lengthy with several washes. This allows any alkaline wash products to be added gradually in a controlled manner rather than together in a ‘one-shot’ wash – which would be more likely to cause damage to the garments. This method of processing also allows more opportunities for soil removal, often a necessity on heavily soiled garments.

The reflective and fluorescent elements of the PPE have specific life cycle performances laid down by the manufacturers. These specific performances are affected by number of factors. The retro reflective tape may lose the glass beads in the wash or drying cycle and will greatly degrade the performance cycle after cycle. The longer the glass beads remain in the same spot on the carrier the longer the reflective tape will maintain performance.

The wash chemistry, the wash and the drying temperature and the type of drying have the strongest influence over the bond of the glass beads in the carrier. The effect of reducing temperature has a great effect on the life cycle of the performance of the tape. The advantages of the professional laundry mean the wash process is kept close to neutral ph, protecting the fluorescent fabric and the glass technology is kept intact for longer.

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How can a commercial laundry help you to make the right selection in product when comparing how well a product can be laundered?

The commercial laundry staff would refer to the recommended technical specifications of the tape to follow manufacturers washing and drying guidelines. Accelerated wash trials are carried out and are a very useful measure of how a retro reflective tape will perform in practice.

There are two aspect to the cleaning process, the washing and the drying stages.

The first stage is the actual washing of the products. Many items may have restriction on the number of recommended washes. This may be because Hi-Vis launderability is limited by the fabric, reflective tape and accessories.  Reflective tapes may only be suitable up to a limited number of wash cycles but this may be satisfactory for the end user.

Secondly in relation to the drying of the garments, the Hi-Vis garment may only be suitable for air drying, or cool tumble and manufacturers guidelines must be followed.

Repeated washing and drying of Hi-vis should use industry tested fabrics and reflective tapes to allow garments to be processed repeatedly by industrial tunnel driers. Leading suppliers of tape offer a range of tapes however only few are suitable for repeated industrial wash processing.

However, if there is an expectation to perform well over then accelerated wash trials are a good effective way to initially compare in controlled conditions likely outcomes of the best tape to use This would help to mitigate any costly poor garment choices at the start of the process.

A professional Workwear laundry company would help and advise an end user which tape would be best suited for their needs and would happily share their test trial results and previous experiences to help the end user with this decision.

How often should hi vis clothing be washed?

Hi Visibility clothing in order to maintain conformity to EN 20471 needs to be maintained in good condition and washed when necessary to allow the Hi-visibility fabric and retro reflective tape to function. The garment hi-visibility conformity depends on amount of fabric and tape visible. The wearer carrying out a role which leads to the fabric and tape being effected during his working day or week from staining and poor weather conditions is under a higher risk if this is not considered in relation to their wash regime on their uniform and the amount of changes that are made available to the end user.

This can be further compounded if the wearer does not appreciate the need to regularly wash the product to avoid the build-up of residual staining and allow the garment to have an extended life. Similarly garments that are not renovated and maintained in good repair, replacing reflective tapes, zips, button, replacing worn or ripped fabric will need replacing sooner. A reputable commercial laundry will as part of their overall service offer the washing and as importantly the repair service.

Can hi vis clothing be washed at home?

All garments provided should be marked with a CE label and these garments will be supplied with a garment care label, to give instructions on washing and drying. High Visibility clothing with the fabric and reflective material, should be washed using detergents that do not contain certain types of Optical Brightening agents (OBA’s), to avoid damage to fabric and tape luminosity.  Domestic well-known brands of wash detergents will normally indicate on the detergent packaging whether OBA’s are present or not within their wash chemistry as standard. New home wash detergents are increasingly being launched on to the market to meet this challenge. If in doubt the safest answer is to seek help from staff in a professional laundry company, they will be able to offer good informed advice.

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