It’s an age-old question. Well, at least since 1970 when the first bicycle helmets were produced. When should you replace your helmet? There are many factors that may impact the effectiveness of your helmet. Sweat. Sun. Age. These are the major culprits of helmet deterioration.
If you leave your helmet in your car all summer, you will need to replace your helmet more frequently than someone who takes their helmet indoors when not in use. If you never wash your helmet after rides ( you know who you are ), you will need to replace your helmet more frequently. And if you are the type that “buys for life” and doesn’t replace things unless they are falling apart, you might want to rethink that for helmets. You don’t want your helmet to fall apart when you need it most. Even if your helmet looks fine, why take a chance?
What effect does sweat and the sun have on a helmet? Sweat and the salts it releases are acidic and corrosive, even eating away at plastic. And the sun is simply brutal on plastics.
So what to do? You can take a few steps to prolong the life of a helmet. Every other week or so, dunk it in a bucket of cool water and swish it around some. That will help clean out dried sweat. And of course, try to store it out of the sun, someplace dry and cool.
Bell helmets has a general recommendation of replacing your helmet every 3 years. If you are unsure of the condition of your helmet, or whether it should be replaced, Bell will give you a free inspection.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to help determine whether or not you need to replace your helmet:
- Did you crash it? Replace it.
- Did you drop it hard enough to crack the foam? Replace it.
- Is it from the 1970’s? Replace it.
- Is the outside just foam or cloth instead of plastic? Replace it.
- Does it lack a CPSC, ASTM or Snell sticker inside? Replace it.
- Can you not adjust it to fit correctly? Replace it.
Xsportsprotective.com says the useful life of a bike helmet with an EPS liner varies based on use. Not just how often you use it, but how you use it (and how and where you keep it when you’re not using it). Some big factors that can affect a helmet’s protective capacity:
- Exposure to chemicals found in skin lotions, sunscreen, or insect repellent
- Temperature cycles from leaving it in a cold garage all winter or a hot car trunk for extended periods during the summer
- How much ozone exposure it has had from the sun or from being stored near an electric motor
- How many dings and dents it has received
Extreme UV exposure can break down plastics over the years and degrade performance as do everyday chemicals we may use such as DEET and other bug repellents, lotions and hair growth formulas. Even an individuals skin chemistry makes a difference.
It’s not only helmet manufacturers and bike shop sales people who suggest replacing your helmet every few years. The Snell Memorial Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to research, education, testing and development of helmet safety standards, suggests 5 years as the max time to wear your helmet before replacing.
Why should you replace your helmet every five years? The five-year replacement recommendation is based on a consensus by both helmet manufacturers and the Snell Foundation. Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal “wear and tear” all contribute to helmet degradation. Petroleum based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may also degrade materials used in many helmets possibly degrading performance. Additionally, experience indicates there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods and the standards. Thus, the recommendation for five-year helmet replacement is a judgment call stemming from a prudent safety philosophy.