How to Wash Military Combat Uniforms

Keep Our Military Safe

Wash military uniforms
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The uniforms our military men and women wear are a symbol of their hard work and dedication to protecting our country. Unlike dress uniforms, many service members' daily service uniform is subjected to oil, grease, dirt, and normal wear and tear. If you are in charge of military laundry duty at your house, it is critical to handle these garments properly.

How to Wash Working or Combat Uniforms (ACU) (NWU) (ABU) (MCCUU) (ODU)

Caring for military gear follows much of the same basic advice offered for doing any type of laundry.

However, there are a few very important considerations about the detergents you choose and how to protect the finishes added to the fabric like insect repellent and fire resistance that protect service members.

Use the Right Type of Detergent

Even if the service member is not deployed but is serving on a base on American soil, his or her uniform is designed to provide comfort, durability, and protection by reducing visibility in the ultraviolet and infrared spectrum. All of these components are taken into consideration during the manufacturing of the fabric used for the uniforms. The United States Armed Forces has restricted the use of chemicals like optical brighteners in the manufacturing of uniforms since 1984.

Maintaining the important qualities of the fabric must be done during the cleaning of the uniforms. Using the wrong detergent can put service members in danger. Many detergents contain optical brighteners that can cause working or combat uniforms to be more visible at night.

That's the last thing you want in a battle zone, in simulations, or war games training. Night vision gear can pick up the optical brighteners very easily. While most civilians want their colored clothes to look bright and their white clothes dazzlingly white, service members should never stand out to the enemy.


Hunters have long known to avoid detergents that contain optical brighteners allow fabrics to gather ultraviolet energy. The UV light is released from the fabric in a bright band of blue that game animals can see. The same principal applies military uniforms and night vision gear. It's also a good idea to avoid highly perfumed detergents that can be easily detected.

Select a laundry detergent that contains no brighteners/whiteners. Skip the products that advertise a bleach alternative or color-safe bleach is included because these ingredients whiten and brighten.

Skip the Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

Fabric softeners coat clothes with chemicals to make the fabric feel softer to the touch. But those chemicals can interfere with some of the properties that make combat uniforms unique. These garments are treated with permethrin, an insect repellent. Coating the fabric fibers with fabric softener makes the permethrin useless leaving the wearer more vulnerable to bites from insects. 

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets also reduce the flame retardant qualities of the uniform fabric. 

An alternative to help remove detergent residue that leaves fabrics feeling scratchy is to add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse water.

Use Cold Water, Sort Laundry, and Hold the Starch

High temperatures can be harsh on fabrics. Wash uniforms in cool or cold water and tumble dry on warm. If you choose to hang uniforms on a clothes line to dry, do not hang in direct sun which can fade the camouflage pattern.

It is best to wash uniforms separately from other laundry to prevent dye transfer. Blue jeans and color clothes can bleed and the staining is difficult to remove.

For tough stains, use a commercial enzyme-based stain remover like Shout or Resolve. Work the stain remover into the fabric and allow to work for at least 15 minutes before washing. No not use harsher chemicals like acetone or turpentine to attempt to remove stains. These chemicals will reduce the flame resistant qualities of the fabric.

The fabric used for combat uniforms is wrinkle resistant.

Using starch and ironing the fabric can damage the fabric and the Velcro used to secure some pockets, badges, etc.

Do Your Own Laundry and Skip the Dry Cleaner

Dry cleaning chemicals-even those that promise to be green-can destroy the permethrin coating and fire resistant finish. If you choose to use a professional cleaner, clearly state that the uniforms should be washed and not dry cleaned.

It is safe to use a professional dry cleaner for dress uniforms. Always clean promptly after wearing to prevent set-in stains. Store dress uniforms in cotton storage bags, not the plastic dry cleaning bags to prevent damage. 

Once your service to the country is completed, carefully store your uniforms, medals, and accessories for generations to come.