Getting the most out of Nomex® uniforms

The appearance of your station uniform helps communicate a high level of authority and professionalism to the general public. Budget concerns and uniform allowances balanced against safety and departmental regulations sometimes make this level of appearance costly to maintain. Getting the most out of uniform dollars becomes a critical a component in the selection and upkeep of a station uniform. Because of these concerns, Nomex® is the uniform choice of many fire departments. Inherent flame resistance, durability/longer wear life, ease of maintenance, and an estimated wear of life three to four years, makes a better long-term value in the fire service than the other NFPA 1975 compliant uniforms, including garments made of 100% cotton.

The average cost per year for a Nomex around $88. Only poly/cotton blend uniforms are a better value (with an average cost per year of $36), but the blends are not NFPA 1975 compliant as they are not flame resistant and will melt under high heat. Extending value goes beyond the initial purchase decision. The right care and maintenance of your existing uniforms will save money in the long run. The following cleaning tips will help get the most value out of your uniform by maximizing wear life:

  • Avoid using chlorine bleach– using chlorine bleach will lessen both wear life and color steadfastness. Only oxygen-based bleaches should be used. Testing has shown oxygen-based bleaches do not damage Nomex® and keep the color intact.
  • Use low-alkalinity detergents– detergents with high alkalinity have a direct impact on the color steadfastness of the garment. Soaps are also not recommended because some produce insoluble soap scum that may be flammable and adversely affect the thermal protective performance. Any non-soap liquid detergent with pH levels ranging from 9-11 will adequately clean your uniforms while keeping the color intact. Check the use instructions on the detergent’s label before using.
  • Do not use water temperatures that exceed 120°F during wash cycles– While Nomex® is fairly resistant to shrinking, its color steadfastness is susceptible to excessive water temperatures when combined with detergents.
  • Dry Cleaning– Manufacturers of Nomex® recommend drying cleaning when uniforms become heavily soiled (beyond the range of standard wash procedures) or when color loss becomes a concern. Dry cleaning is preferable to repeated high-temperature washing.

Nomex® is an extremely durable material with a sharp, clean appearance. Even though there are some minor cleaning considerations, properly maintained uniforms will help stretch your uniform dollars a little further.