How to Clean a Leather Fire Helmet

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For years it was believed the more beat up or “salty” your leather fire helmet was, the more you were a real firefighter. Some firefighters still feel this way, but years of research have proven this belief dangerous. We now know that much of the debris and products of fires can be carcinogenic. Keeping your gear “salty” greatly increases your chance of getting cancer and can hide damage and defects that hinder the helmets ability to protect you the way it should. So, how do you clean a leather fire helmet?

Leather fire helmets should be wiped down frequently, after use with water. At least once per year they should be cleaned thoroughly by removing parts and scrubbing with a soft-bristled brush using detergent, to remove carcinogens and built-up dirt.

With proper maintenance and attention, your leather helmet can last for many years and will keep you safe. There are many tricks and tips that can keep your helmet clean and safe. Following this list of maintenance tips will help keep both you and your helmet safe.

Note: Each manufacturer may have its own specific guidelines on cleaning a leather fire helmet.

If you are looking to purchase a leather helmet, I recommend either the Cairns N6A Houston Style Helmet or the Cairns N5A New Yorker Style Helmet. These aren’t cheap, but they are the best in the industry and built to last. Make sure to get the right size: Medium (6 3/8″ to 7 1/2″) or Large (7 5/8″ to 8 1/2″)

Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.

Also read: How to Bend A Leather Fire Helmet: Step by Step

Light Cleaning

At the end of every shift or after every call, you should give your leather fire helmet a light cleaning.

This will remove any loose materials and debris that could be carcinogenic and will help you spot any possible damage to the structure of the helmet.

When giving your leather helmet a light wash:

Once you have gathered and prepared your cleaning materials:

  1. Take a cloth or brush, damp from water/detergent mixture, and wipe down all exposed surfaces of the helmet.
  2. While cleaning, look for cracks, bubbling, or deep scratches.
  3. Take a soft dry towel and wipe the helmet dry.
  4. Hang to dry further in a shaded area.

Make sure that your helmet is completely dry before putting it back in your station locker or gear bag.

Deep Cleaning

At least once a year or any time after being exposed to cancer-causing materials, you should do a deep cleaning of your leather helmet.

Keeping up with this maintenance will not only make sure that your helmet is clean, but will help protect you from carcinogens created by the fires. When giving your leather helmet a deep clean:

Once you have gathered and prepared your cleaning materials:

  1. If possible, remove the face shield, earlaps, suspension, chinstrap, ID shield, liner, and any other accessories or pads attached to the helmet.
  2. Set up a bucket or wash bin with water and detergent mixture.
  3. Using the brush, damp from water/detergent mixture, thoroughly wash the inside and outside of the helmet shell.
  4. If there are tar drippings, it is okay to use a cleaner specifically for tar removal. Only use the cleaner on the spot of tar, not on the whole helmet.
  5. While cleaning, look for cracks, bubbling, or deep scratches.
  6. Wipe and dry the shell with a clean towel and hang out to dry in a shaded area.
  7. Wash earlaps, comfort pad, ratchet cover, and foam crown pad with the brush or put them in a mesh bag, and machine wash with mild detergent and water no hotter than 230 degrees Fahrenheit. DO NOT put any components in a dryer.
  8. Submerge chinstrap in water mixture and scrub clean.
  9. Scrub face shield with the brush. Remove any foreign materials and inspect for any damage and replace it if you are unable to see through properly.
  10. Repeat with any other accessories.
  11. Wipe down all components with a dry towel and hang out to dry in a shaded place.
  12. When everything is completely dry, reassemble helmet and return to storage.

While deep cleaning, it is good practice to check all labels from the manufacturer to confirm the date the helmet was made. Helmets should be replaced every ten years.

Fixing Cracks

While cleaning, you may notice a crack on your helmet. Just because there is a small crack in the leather does not mean it is time to throw the helmet out. Small cracks are easily fixed, and the best time to do it is after a good cleaning.

To fix a small crack in your leather helmet, you will need:

After you have cleaned the leather helmet and let it dry overnight:

  1. Use the PC7 crack sealer to fill in any small cracks in the helmet. PC7 is an epoxy that you can sand and paint.
  2. Inspect seams of the helmet for dried or missing cement.
  3. Reseal with furnace cement.
  4. Use sandpaper to sand smooth the repair sealer and furnace cement.

Be warned that any repairs that you do to cracks or seams in your leather helmet yourself may void any warranty with the helmet.

Fresh Coat of Paint

If you are looking to make your leather fire helmet look its absolute best, giving it a new coat of paint is a great idea. Right after a deep cleaning or after fixing cracks and seams is the best time to refresh your helmet’s paint job.

Here is what you will need:

  • Primer: the recommended primers are Sherman Williams Gray E61 A 45; White E61 W 12; or Red E61 R 26, depending on the finished color of your helmet.
  • Paint: the recommended paints are Sherman Williams Gloss Black F65 B 1; Bright Blue F65 L 10; Gloss White F65 W 1; Lemon Yellow F65 Y 44; or Vermilion (Red) F65 R 1.
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Painter’s Tape

After you have cleaned your leather helmet and repaired any cracks or seams:

  1. Roughen the surface of the helmet with sandpaper. Avoid the stitching as much as possible.
  2. Tape off any exposed brass metal or decals you wish to preserve or cannot replace.
  3. Apply one coat of the proper primer and allow it to dry completely.
  4. When all the surfaces are dry and clean, apply one coat of recommended paint and allow it to dry completely.
  5. When all the surfaces are dry and clean, apply a second coat of recommended paint and allow it to dry completely.
  6. Sand lightly if you wish to dull shine.
  7. When all the surface is dry and clean, remove the tape and reattach all accessories.

Remember, it is important to your health and safety that you clean your leather helmet on a regular basis. A deep clean is only needed once a year or when exposed to dangerous materials, but a light clean every shift is easy to complete and will keep your leather helmet in top shape for years.

Here is a video that shows the process for painting your helmet:

Also, during your deep clean is a great opportunity to repair cracks and throw on a new coat of paint. Safety is of the utmost importance, and repairs are a huge part of maintaining that safety. 

Repairing cracks is easy enough, but working on your own helmet may void your warranty, so if you are uncomfortable doing it, sending it back to the manufacturer for repairs and paint is always an option. 

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