NFPA 1851 can be overwhelming with knowledge about a pretty boring topic…laundry, but how you wash your bunker gear matters! Cleaning you bunker gear is very different than doing your home laundry. The reason being is that bunker gear is made up of many different man-made fabrics that are responsible for protecting you in a fire.
There are no NFPA approved detergents and if a sales person tries to sell you one, you should think about not doing business with them. NFPA 1851 does have requirements for detergent that defines what you should be looking for. NPFA 1851 suggests that you should use a detergent with an undiluted pH balance between 6.0 and 10.5.
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The chart above helps outline what pH is for different every day items. While NFPA has a range of pH for detergent, really you want to get a detergent that is as close to pH neutral as possible. While neutral is just basic water, you want to find a gentle detergent when using with bunker gear.
So how do you figure out this information when looking to purchase a detergent for your fire department? You need to look for the SDS or Safety Data Sheet. Any chemical should have a SDS associated with it and when you are looking to purchase a chemical or detergent this should be easily found on the website or the sales person can get this to you.
Above is a SDS for a detergent made for bunker gear. Every SDS sheet will be similar and have the same sections, so look for section 9 for your pH balance.
Now when you purchase a household detergent, you may not be able to get a SDS at the time of purchase. So doing your homework ahead of time is important. While a typical household detergent is cheap, there is a reason why when coming to washing your bunker gear. Over time, household detergents will degrade your bunker gear eventually shortening the life of the bunker gear.
While NFPA 1851 can be a boring topic, it is a vital thing to learn as a quartermaster or any officer at a fire department. Using NFPA 1851 guidelines will help your department make you bunker gear last as long as it.
About the Author: Nick Magoteaux is the Co-Executive Director and President of Brothers Helping Brothers. Nick has over 15 years of experience in public safety and is a student of the fire service. Nick has studied leadership extensively over the last few years and is always trying to find something new to introduce to his local fire service brothers.