Tips for Keeping Your Police Uniform Clean

November 10, 2017

While there isn’t much knowledge regarding organized police departments in the United States prior to the 1830s, we do know that the police uniform was introduced in the United Kingdom as early as 1828. Embracing the idea of a standard uniform took a little bit longer for the United States, with the New York City Police Department becoming the first municipal group to provide uniforms to their officers in 1854.

In another piece of interesting history, the navy blue uniforms provided were actually extra uniforms that the US Army had left over from the Civil War. However, not all states adopted the formal uniform attire, with many sheriff’s deputies only using their badge to identify them while wearing civilian attire.

The traditional uniform that we know today, consisting of button-up shirts, neckties and pants, became mainstream in the early 1900s. While fashion has certainly changed over the years, one thing has remained constant – the police uniform commands respect. The importance of keeping your uniform sharp, clean and neat not only matters in taking pride in your personal appearance, but also ensuring that a level of respect, power, and authority is maintained for this very important position.

We’ve compiled a few tips and tricks to help you maintain a professional appearance and ensure that your uniform is always in top condition.

  1. Spend the time and money on proper care.

Taking pride in your in outward appearance is not only a reflection on your personal values, but also on your department and the profession as a whole. Taking the time to properly care for your uniform, whether that is dry cleaning, shoe polishing, or shining brass, will result in a professional presentation that will have a positive effect on your job performance.

  1. Ensure a proper fit.

There isn’t anything that shouts unprofessional, whether you’re a police officer or a businessman, like ill-fitting clothes. Too tight or too loose, an improper fit leaves you looking frumpy, uncomfortable, and just plain sloppy. If your police force has an equipment manager, take advantage of their time and get measured to ensure a proper fit.

If you notice changes in the way your uniform feels, make an appointment to switch out the apparel for something that is better suited for you. A proper fit truly keeps the uniform looking neat and polished, and you’ll feel better about your overall appearance.

In addition, it’s important to make sure your shirts are always tucked in tightly. Some police forces require shirt stays, which keep you looking sharp, and keeps your shirt neatly in place all day. At CHIEF Supply, we offer several different options of stays to keep you looking your best, from garter style that connect to your shirt tails on one end and your socks on the other, to foot loop where one end attaches to your shirt and the other loops around your heel.

  1. Follow the care instructions.

It’s probably an accurate assumption that you’re reading the care labels on your uniform with the idea that it’s merely a suggestion for what you should do to properly wash your uniform. If it’s dry clean only, adhere to that. The extra cost may seem like a lot, but it will certainly extend the life of your uniform which will be cheaper in the long run if you’re expected to cover those costs.

Also, dry cleaning ensures that all wrinkles have been pressed which eliminates a step on your end, and let’s be honest, who really likes to iron?

If you’re able to wash your uniform at home, be sure to still follow the care rules listed on the tag. Hot water may shrink, fade, or damage some fabrics, so it’s important to read your labels before you begin to wash. Also, keep in mind that you’re trying to get the dirt, grime and smells out, so choose an odor blocking detergent that has a strong, clean scent to combat those issues. Furthermore, once the dryer has buzzed, remove your uniform immediately and hang it up. The less wrinkles you have to deal with later, the better.

  1. Remove the wrinkles.

There is nothing that says “I don’t care” like a wrinkly shirt or pants. If you’re frequently in your car, chances are sitting for long periods of time will create wrinkles. However, if you start the day in a freshly pressed shirt and pants, the amount of wrinkles should be a lot less.

Ironing a shirt can be done fairly quickly if you know what you’re doing. YouTube offers video tutorials if you’re a visual learner, but the basics are this:

  • Use starch! You can find a spray starch at your local box store and it’s simple to use. Shake the can, hold it about 6-10 inches away from the shirt, and lightly spray on areas like the inside and outside of the collar, cuffs and the area just below the collar, the yoke. In fact, you can lightly spray starch on all areas of the shirt for a crisp, clean appearance.
  • Start at the top with the collar and work your way down. Sleeves are a little bit trickier, but you can easily get that nice, crisp seam from the shoulder to the cuff. Simply fold the sleeve, hold your patch, flatten the shirt, and press down. Repeat with the other side.
  • Move to the top back of the shirt, working with the point of the iron facing the top of the shirt and press the epaulettes. Next is the bottom back. Press the entire shirt as each panel is laid out and keep going until you’ve been all the way around.
  • When you get to the front, start from the bottom, working up to the corner of the pocket and around any pleats. Move toward the top, and then onto the other side. Voila! A nicely pressed shirt.
  1. Clean your shoes/boots.

Your shoes are just as important as the rest of your uniform. Here you are, standing smartly in your uniform fresh from the dry cleaners, but your boots are scuffed and dirty from weeks of work. In one instant you’ve gone from looking professional and put together, to sloppy and careless.

Try taking five minutes each night to wipe down your shoes and remove any dirt from the day. This is especially important for those of you working in cold weather climates, where for four months straight you’re walking in salt, snow and grime. The daily care of your boots will certainly present a better image, and should get you a little more mileage out of them too.

After you’ve cleaned your shoes, you’ll want to shine them. Invest in a good shoe shining kit. Choose one that requires you to apply the polish with a rag – it will result in a much better application.

  1. Polish the shiny stuff.

In general, metals become dull after exposure to the elements. This is also true for the brass and other metals displayed on your uniform. There are special cleaning kits available and you should definitely use them. Focus on cleaning the obvious items like your badge, as well as the not so obvious, like lapel pins, name tags and belt brass. If it once was shiny, chances are you can restore it to its original beauty.

  1. Pay attention to the small details.

It is important to remember that even the smallest of details can have a huge impact. In terms of proper uniform care, take notice of loose strings – use nail clippers or scissors to cut them as close as possible. Also, lint rollers are your friend. They are especially important if you have pets at home. Keeping your uniform lint free and clean of pet hair and other small fibers will help you stay looking polished.

The bottom line is that professionalism and respect go hand in hand, and your uniform should reflect this. Invest the time and energy in maintaining your uniform so that you can look your best and do your best.


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