Washing ACU, Army Combat Uniform

Washing ACU, Army Combat Uniform

The new ACU and the BDU they replace are both highly engineered protection systems. They feature the latest technology to maintain comfort and minimize visibility in the Ultraviolet, Visible, and Infrared spectrum. They are both manufactured under Military Specifications to be free of Optical Brighteners. The most important care instruction is to wash in a detergent that contains no UV Brighteners.

The published lists in the “Army Times” and on “The Patriette” website of Safe and Unsafe Detergents for the Laundering of ACU is incorrect. They are not safe for ACU’s or BDU’s, they are full of Optical Brighteners.

The lists are apparently based on reading of label ingredients. The originators of the lists have apparently been mislead by the inconsistent naming or total lack of identification of Optical Brightener Dyes or Fluorescent Whiting Agents on the product packages.

Detergent manufacturers are not proud of the fact that it is cheaper and easier to add brighteners and fragrances than to remove dirt and odor. So they add them, to make your laundry look “Whiter and Brighter” and “Smell like a Spring Day”, but not cleaner. The detergent manufacturers renamed Optical Brightener Dyes used in detergents to Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWA’s), Chromic Enhancer's, or worse yet, just leave them off the label all together. This was done as a marketing tool to take out the word “Dye” so they could call them “Dye FREE” and make the detergents appear more user and earth friendly.

For many years our company, Atsko Inc., has been making products for the outdoorsmen that include Optical Brightener Free Detergents and Ultraviolet Killer products. UV Brighteners are of grave concern to Hunters because they gather UV energy and release it in a bright band of blue at the peak of sensitivity of game animals. The Military has restricted the use of Optical Brighteners in the manufacturing of uniforms since 1984 because of how brightly they show up.

People come to us for answers because we are the leading maker of UV control items for the Hunting industry for the last 20 years. People have been asking about safe detergents for the new ACU uniforms. So we went to “The “Army Times” and on “The Patriette” website and found the following detergents listed as safe: Bold Powder, Cheer Liquid, Cheer Powder, All Powder, Surf Powder, and Woolite. THEY ARE NOT SAFE FOR ACU’s or BDU’s, they are full of Optical Brighteners. (Please see the attached un retouched photos of different brands of Laundry Detergents. The left side of each pair is under standard incandescent light while the photo on the right is under 350BLB fluorescent light. You will notice that every detergent glows under UV light except for SPORT-WASH. SPORT-WASH has no brightening agent of any kind, Never had it, Never will.)

The easiest way to be sure these brighteners are not present is to check your detergent with a Black Light, a light source that produces Ultraviolet energy which causes the Optical Brighteners, if present, to glow. We tested the listed detergents. With the exception of only one type of Woolite (Hand & Machine) that has a small amount of brightener present, they are all full of Optical Brighteners or FWA’s. You can easily see this for yourself by checking them with a 350 nm. Black Light, They all glow! This brightness will be permanently transferred to the uniform. The only way to undo the damage is to cover up the Optical Brighteners by applying a UV absorbing Dye. This may sound complicated but it is really easy. Hunters have been doing it for years by spraying their camouflage with U-V-Killer. U-V-Killer is also permanent. As long as you wash the uniform only in a detergent without brighteners (SPORT-WASH) your problem is solved. If you wash your camouflage in a detergent containing Optical Brighteners you must rewash it in Sport-Wash and retreat with U-V-Killer.


This unretouched UV Photo was taken with some visible light added so you can see the fabric washed in Sport-Wash. With only UV light the shirt would not even be visible.


For washing ACU’s and BDU’s we recommend the following

  1. Before washing, remove all patches from the coat, and all items from the pockets. Close all hook-and-loop fasteners to prevent snagging.
  2. Turn the jacket and trousers inside out before you wash them. (This will help avoid damage to the Velcro and reduce color fading.)
  3. Machine wash in cold water with SPORT-WASH, using permanent press cycle, or hand wash using SPORT-WASH. (SPORT-WASH does NOT contain optical brighteners.)
  4. Rinse completely (SPORT-WASH is the only detergent University tested and proven to rinse completely).
  5. DO NOT WRING OR TWIST. Hang dry or machine dry on low to medium setting, between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit (for cap do not exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit).


SPORT-WASH Residue-Free Laundry Detergent rinses completely. It leaves nothing behind to reduce fabric performance and also removes the residue from other laundry products. Lost features like water repellency (DWR), wicking of perspiration (Under Armor), low friction, insulation, breathability (Gore-Tex), rapid drying and elasticity are restored and odor-holding residue is eliminated. SPORT-WASH works so well you do not need to use Fabric Softener.

SPORT-WASH is cheaper to use, out-cleans other detergents and does not contain Optical Brighteners, Dyes, FWA’s or brighteners by any other name. Yes, it is “Safe” for BDU’s and ACU’s and made in the USA. SPORT-WASH is available all over the country and around the world. It is readily biodegradable, made from renewable vegetable based surfactants and conserves resources by cleaning an entire wash load of clothes with a single ounce of product.

From ordinary cotton to the latest polyester and microfibers, all fabrics deliver more comfort, performance, and durability when cleaned with SPORT-WASH. SPORT-WASH performs well in cold water, is safe for all washables and can replace most dry cleaning. When performance counts, count on Atsko/Sno-Seal. We’ve been caring for clothing, footwear, and outdoor equipment since 1933.

The Army has an outstanding uniform, let’s try to keep it that way by keeping the Optical Brighteners and FWA’s out and the troops safer.

For more information about UV Brighteners and UV Vision you can read our book "How Game Animals See” and download copies of laboratory tests on rinseability, flammability, or repellency on our web site www.atsko.com