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Dog Tag Care 101: Expert Tips for Cleaning, Protecting, and Maintaining Your Pup's Tags

January 20, 2024 8 min read

clean a dog tag

Basic Cleaning of Dog Tags

Keeping dog tags clean should be part of a regular maintenance routine. Grime, dirt, and bodily oils can build up on the surface of dog tags, so it's important to clean them periodically. The best way to clean dog tags is using gentle soap and water. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that could damage the tag.

Fill a bowl with warm water and add a small amount of mild dish soap. Submerge the dog tag and allow it to soak for 5-10 minutes. This will help loosen any stuck-on dirt or debris. Gently scrub the front and back of the tag using a soft toothbrush. The bristles will remove grime from engraved areas. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and pat dry with a soft cloth. Repeat the process if needed for stubborn dirt.

Proper basic cleaning removes contamination and restores the tag's shine without causing scratches or wearing down the surface. Be sure to thoroughly dry metal dog tags to prevent water spots. With regular gentle cleaning, dog tags will maintain their legibility and appearance.

Preventing Wear and Tear on Dog Tags

Dog tags are designed to be durable, but daily wear and tear can still cause degradation over time. Here are some tips to help prevent unnecessary damage to your dog's tags:

Proper Storage

When not being worn, store your dog's tags in a protective case or pouch. Metal tags can easily get scratched if they rub against each other or other objects. A dedicated tag case keeps them safely separated and cushioned.

Avoid Collisions

Collisions between your dog's tags and hard surfaces will eventually cause dents, chips, and scratches. Try to minimize situations where the tags could forcibly hit something solid. For example, remove them before crating to prevent banging against the sides.

Check for Damage

Regularly inspect your dog's tags for any signs of damage like rough edges, large scratches or dents, and weakened or damaged attachments. If the integrity is compromised, replace the tags before catastrophic failure. It's much easier to be proactive than wait until they snap or fall off.

Consider Protective Coatings

Clear nail polish or enamel coatings can be applied to minimize future scratching on metal dog tags. Carefully apply a thin even layer, let fully dry, then add one or two more coats for added durability. Be careful to avoid coating over engraved areas.

Dog Tag Storage Solutions

Dog tags are more than just identification tools - for many, they hold sentimental value or represent important memories. Proper storage is key to preserving your dog tags in top condition while also protecting their sentimental value. There are several effective storage solutions to choose from:

Display Cases: Display cases are an attractive option for safely storing dog tags when they aren't being worn. The cases fully enclose the tags and protect them from scratches, dust, and other environmental damage. They allow the tags to be prominently displayed while keeping them secure. Glass display cases also prevent the tags from tarnishing over time.

Jewelry Boxes: Storing dog tags in a dedicated jewelry box is another great option. The cushioned compartments keep them protected, organized, and untangled. Jewelry boxes come in a range of sizes, designs, and materials to suit any preference. For extra protection, choose a box lined with anti-tarnish cloth.

Tag Silencers: Silencers are small rubber o-rings that fit between the dog tag and the beaded chain. They stop the tags from clanking together and making noise. This protects the engraving from being scratched off over time. Silencers also minimize damage if the tags bang against each other while being worn or stored. They are inexpensive and reusable.

Repairing Damaged Dog Tags

Dog tags can become damaged over time from normal wear and tear. Scratches, dents, discoloration, and lost engraving can occur from daily use. Before replacing damaged dog tags, try repairing them first.

Buffing Out Scratches

For light scratches, use a jeweler's polishing cloth or very fine grit sandpaper to gently buff the tags. Rub the scratch in a circular motion to blend the edges. Take care not to over-buff or you may remove too much of the tag's protective coating. Test on a small area first.

Re-Shaping Tags

If your dog tag gets bent or warped, reshape it by securing the tag in a vise or pliers padded with cloth. Apply gentle, even pressure to slowly re-form the shape. Avoid kinks or creases. An alternative is hammering the tag on an anvil into proper shape.

Replacement Tags

For tags damaged beyond repair through normal wear, contact the original engraver for a free replacement if still under warranty. Most engravers offer lifetime replacement guarantees. If the original source is unavailable, you can purchase blank tags online or from a new engraver to redo the engraving. Transfer any unchanged info from old to new tag.

With some TLC and repair techniques, damaged dog tags can often be restored instead of replaced. But once a tag's integrity is too compromised, replacement is the best option to avoid loss of vital identification information.

Weatherproofing Dog Tags

Dog tags are exposed to the elements on a regular basis, whether it's rain, snow, sun, or other weather conditions. Taking steps to weatherproof your dog tags will help protect them and extend their lifespan. Here are some tips for weatherproofing dog tags:

Protective Coatings

Applying a protective coating is one of the best ways to weatherproof metal dog tags. Clear anti-rust sprays and lacquers create a protective barrier and repel moisture. When choosing a coating, look for one formulated for metals that offers UV protection. Apply several thin coats to ensure complete and even coverage, allowing each coat to fully dry before applying the next. Reapply protective coatings every few months or as directed.

Silicone Cases

Silicone rubber cases slip over dog tags to seal out moisture and provide impact protection. Opt for a sturdy case in a thickness suited for your tags. Cases can trap moisture against the metal, so be sure to remove them periodically to clean and dry the tags thoroughly before replacing the case. Replace cases at the first sign of damage or wear.

Cleaning After Exposure

Inevitably dog tags will get wet or dirty. Promptly wipe them dry with a soft cloth after exposure to moisture. Use a mild soap and water solution or a specialized metal cleaner to remove grime. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Check for signs of corrosion or damage. Reapply a fresh coat of protective spray once fully dry. Schedule maintenance engraving or repairs if needed. With proper weatherproofing and post-exposure care, dog tags can better withstand the elements.

Regular Maintenance Checks

It's important to regularly inspect your dog tags and perform maintenance checks to ensure they remain in good condition. Set aside some time every few months to thoroughly examine each tag.

Carefully check for any signs of damage, cracks, dents, or corrosion. Gently test that the attachment clasp opens and closes properly without sticking. Confirm that all the engraved information is still clearly legible. Look for any areas where the text may need re-engraving if it appears faded or worn.

Check the edge of the tag to make sure it's smooth and there are no burrs or sharp points that could scratch skin. Ensure any protectants or coatings haven't chipped or peeled away.

For smart tags with batteries or digital displays, test that all functions are operating normally. Replace batteries as needed.

By periodically maintaining your dog tags, you can catch any issues early before they become bigger problems. Proper upkeep will help ensure your tags last for many years while still being readable, functional and safe to wear. Setting a regular schedule makes it easy to stay on top of inspecting and caring for your dog tags.

Engraving Touch-Ups

Over time, the engraved text on dog tags can start to fade or become difficult to read clearly. Re-engraving the text is an easy way to refresh the tag and ensure the important identification information is clearly legible.

DIY engraving can be done at home with the right tools. A hand-held rotary engraving tool is ideal for dog tags. Look for one with interchangeable engraving points for lettering versus symbols or graphics. Make sure to securely clamp the dog tag in a vice or clamping tool while engraving to keep it steady. Work slowly and carefully following the existing engraved lines. Take care not to apply too much pressure and cut through the tag.

For best results, practice first on a blank tag or other metal surface. Ensure the text you engrave matches the style and depth of the original factory engraving. Deepen any especially faded letters so they stand out. Avoid going too deep, which can distort the tag shape. Work in good lighting so you can clearly see the existing engraving.

With care and a steady hand, DIY re-engraving can refresh dog tags and maintain their legibility for years. Professional engraving services are also an option when the DIY process seems too challenging.

Protective Coatings for Dog Tags

Protective coatings can help safeguard dog tags against scratching, chipping, fading, and other wear and tear. Some options to consider:

Clear Nail Polish

Applying a thin coat of clear nail polish creates a transparent barrier on the dog tag's surface. This helps prevent scratches and scuff marks. Reapply the polish every few months or as needed when it starts wearing off. Use quick-dry polish and allow it to fully cure before letting your dog wear the tag.

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin provides a glossy, durable coating for dog tags. Mix the two-part epoxy according to package directions and use a small paintbrush to apply a thin layer across the tag's front and back. Allow the resin to cure fully (12-24 hours) before letting your dog wear the tag. Epoxy resin will help protect against fading, scratches, and general wear.

Plasti Dip

Plasti Dip is a rubberized aerosol coating that can be sprayed onto dog tags. It dries into a flexible, protective layer. Apply 2-4 thin coats, allowing 10 minutes of drying time between coats. Plasti Dip adheres well to metal and creates a non-slip, cushioned coating. It helps prevent corrosion, scratching, and damage from impacts. Reapply annually or as needed. Plasti Dip peels off easily when ready to remove or re-do the coating.

Updating Information on Dog Tags

Keeping your dog tag information up-to-date is crucial for identification purposes. As your contacts, medical status, or service details change over time, make sure to update the engraving on your dog tags.

New Contact Information

If you move or change phone numbers, email addresses, or emergency contacts, be sure to add the new details to your dog tags. Make sure any medical personnel or officials scanning your tag would have the most current contact information to reach your family in case of emergency.

Medical Changes

Any changes to your blood type, allergies, medications, or medical conditions should be promptly engraved on new dog tags. This ensures doctors can provide proper treatment based on up-to-date health information in a critical scenario.

Service Details

As your military branch, division, rank, or active status changes over your career, updating dog tags is essential. Make sure your current unit and rank are engraved so your command can be notified and identified if needed. If you are discharged, place an "inactive reserve" engraving on your tag.

Staying on top of engraving changes ensures your dog tag accurately reflects your most current personal, medical, and service details when you need it most. Make updating your information a priority whenever you have a major life change.

Eco-Friendly Maintenance

Going green with your dog tag care is better for the environment and your pup. There are several ways to make maintenance more sustainable:

  • Use non-toxic cleaners like baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, or plant-based detergents to clean tags. Avoid chemical cleaners with harsh fumes.

  • Store tags in reusable bags or boxes rather than disposable plastic. Choose sustainable materials like cotton, hemp, or recycled materials.

  • Look for dog tags made from recycled stainless steel or recycled plastic. This reduces waste and energy use.

  • Donate old tags when updating info or swapping out for new ones. Shelters can reuse good condition tags.

  • Opt for engraving over printing for ID tags. Engraved tags are more durable and don't fade over time.

  • Consider wooden or laser engraved tags that don't require metal resources.

  • Use solar powered tag engraving machines when possible. This reduces environmental impact.

  • Properly dispose of batteries from smart tags to prevent contamination.

With some simple swaps, you can make your dog tag care routine much greener. Focus on reusing, reducing waste, and choosing earth-friendly products. Your pup and the planet will thank you!

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