On August 24, 2007 the Air Force reported that the use of optical brighteners in laundry detergent used to launder ABU’s would increase the ability to detect them using Night Vision equipment, a condition that was not conducive to safety.
Air Force leaders have since determined that Airmen do not need to worry about the presence of optical brighteners in their laundry detergent. In a memorandum released on March 25, 2008 the Air Force notes changes in the uniform do to these brighteners are minimal. However, the Air Force still reminds people NOT to use fabric softeners and bleach and to tumble dry on low heat settings.
I have copied both articles below for your reading, with the links back to the military stories so you can verify this information yourself.
I wanted to note also that Ranger Joe’s has a very extensive list up regarding these detergents and you might find that interesting to read also. The link to the article at Ranger Joe’s may be found here. http://www.rangerjoes.com/acu_care.php where they cover the care instructions for the ACU, which I would imagine is much the same as for the ABU. I say this because the article below refers back to a review of the Army test results.
Airmen can use regular detergent on ABUs
5/21/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Airmen are now authorized to wash their Airmen Battle Uniforms in regular detergent, regardless if the detergent uses optical brighteners announced Air Force leaders here recently.
On March 25, the Army released a memorandum concluding that ABUs laundered with detergents containing optical brighteners do not pose a detection threat to the wearer in an operational environment. "After reviewing Army test results and conducting follow-on evaluations we have determined that changes from laundering ABUs in detergents containing optical brighteners are negligible," said Lt. Col. Chuck Arnold, chief, recognition and uniforms branch, directorate of force development at the Pentagon.
While any detergent can be used to launder the uniform, fabric softeners or bleach should be avoided. The uniform should be tumble dried at the low heat setting, too.
The ABU, which replaces the temperate and hot-weather Battle Dress Uniform and the Desert Camouflage Uniform, made its first appearance in late summer 2007 when it was issued to Airmen deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan and Southwest Asia. It was also issued in October to basic military trainees in the initial-issue clothing bag. It was authorized for wear by all Air Force personnel, including Reserve and National Guard, in November.
The ABU, which was fit-and-wear tested in 2004 and altered based on feedback, is designed to be a wash-and-wear uniform. Starching and hot pressing is still prohibited; these procedures deteriorate the fiber in the uniform.
Optical brightners make ABUs dangerously easy to see
8/24/2007 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Laundry instructions for the Airman Battle Uniform specify not using any laundry detergents that contain "optical brighteners." Optical Brighteners make the ABU more detectable by night vision equipment and make the ABU more visible in a low-light environment of any kind, by reflecting more of any available light, according to a talking paper posted on the Air Force Uniform and Recognition Programs page on the Air Force Portal.
Optical brighteners are chemicals that absorb the ultraviolet and violet region of colors in a fabric. They "trick" the eye into seeing a brighter shade and reflect more light. The Near Infrared, or nIR, capability of the ABU is degraded when washed with optical brighteners.
Most commercial detergents contain optical brighteners. There is no way to tell whether a product has optical brighteners alone by the labeling. Impact of optical brighteners is permanent; it cannot be "washed out."
The Air Force Uniform and Recognition Programs page states the following detergents are optical brightener free and safe for use with the ABU:
- Cheer (liquid and powder)
- Cheer Free
- Exchange Select Cold Water Wash
- All Detergent Free Clear
- Country Save Liquid Detergent
- Allens Laundry detergent (power and liquid)
- Bi-O-Kleen Laundry Detergent (powder and liquid)
- Charlie's Soap (powder and liquid)
- ECOS Free and Clear Laundry Detergent
- Mountain Green Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Nature Clean (liquid and powder)
- Oxy-Prime Powder
- Planet Ultra (liquid and powder)
- Seventh Generation Laundry detergents
- Sun and Earth Liquid
- Surf Powder (not Surf Liquid)
- Woolite, original and dark
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