Your brain is one of your most important organs. And, when you are riding your bicycle, your helmet is often the only thing between your head and a serious traumatic brain injury.

Do I need to replace a bike helmet?

Like most pieces of safety equipment, a bike helmet needs to be replaced on occasion. When you purchase a new helmet, you might notice a sticker on the inside from the manufacturer with an expiration date ranging from 3-5 years out. While some argue the expiration dates are more conservative, they are the manufacturer’s way to guarantee the helmet will work at top efficiency.

If you crash or make contact between your bike helmet and a hard object, replace your helmet immediately. The interior of the helmet compresses during contact. While you may not see visible damage, internally the helmet is compromised and damaged. After a crash, a bike helmet is no longer effective at protecting your head.

In fact, as a helmet ages, it may continue to look fine even when there is damage occurring. If you see dents, cracks, or deterioration in the inner shell of your helmet, then your helmet has not been safe to wear for quite a while. Visible damage is a clear indicator that you need to pick up a new helmet ASAP!

Keep your bike helmet (and your head) safe with basic precautions and care measures.

  1. Store your helmet properly. Helmets do not like extreme heat. It’s best to store your helmet in a cool, dry place, and not in the trunk of your car. Especially in the summer when the interior of your car can be quite literally baking your helmet.
  2. Do not expose your helmet to chemicals. The foam and plastic shell can react badly to harsh chemicals such as bleach and event paint. These weaken the helmets ability to protect your head.
  3. If you are into extreme sports, it can be tempting to add a camera or other accessory to your bike helmet. A camera, especially if not correctly installed, can become a projectile or change how force is applied to your head during a crash. The overall safety of helmet accessories is highly debated, and it’s important to research and think twice before modifying any type of safety equipment.
  4. To clean your helmet, use mild soaps like baby shampoo or a gentle laundry detergent. Do not soak your helmet in a sink or bucket of water. Instead use a warm wet towel to clean off any stuck on bugs or grime. You can rest the wet towel on the helmet to loosen up the dirt. After you’ve clean your helmet, let it air dry.

If you or a family members need of a bike helmet, the Injury Prevention Program and Safe Kids Vermont offers helmets at special pricing. Just contact VTSafeKids@UVMhealth.orgor call (802)847-2291 for more information.

Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and Children’s Hospital. 

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