We actually get asked this question quite a bit. There are proper ways to care for your patches, and if you take care of them properly, they will last for years.
Can I wash my patches?
Well, I guess you can if you feel the need too. Its pretty rough on the patches in the washing machine, but you could probably wash them by hand and let them air dry. I have never done this and really don't have any need to. I would never recommend the dryer. Everything will melt.
Can I iron my patches?
Again, I don't really see the need to iron your patches. If you have velcro patches, there is absolutely no need to iron them - they will be stiff and clear and there is no way for the material to wrinkle. On the other hand, if you have a sew on patch that got a bit messed up, you can very carefully iron the patch.
How do I iron a sew on patch?
Very, very carefully. Treat it like your uniform. No direct heat and don't leave the iron on it too long. That may sound silly, but the thread is made from polyester material and it will melt. If you absolutely have to iron a patch, you can lightly spray the patch with water, then put a tea towel over the patch and gently apply the heat. Let the patch cool in between ironings, and check to make sure nothing is damaged.
How do I store my patches?
The best way to store your patches is a custom patch panel. The custom patch panel is made up of the fuzzy side of the velcro (known at OML as the anti-velcro), so it will bond with your patches properly and keep them in place until you are ready to use them. The Patch Panel also rolls up so it takes up very little space with your gear. Store your extra patches, or keep all of your patches in one place.
If you don't have a patch panel, you can go to any fabric store or any craft store and find the fuzzy side of the velcro or even a piece of felt. If you find the fuzzy velcro, you can simply cut pieces to put on the back of the patches to keep them from ruining other patches. You can do this with the felt as well - although the patches will not stick to the felt with great force, they will at least stay in place and you can make a stack of them, or put them in a book to keep them safe.
If you don't have either of those, then you can simply take two patches of the same size and push the velcro together. Again, the adherence is not the greatest, but it will stay, and it will be enough to keep the velcro from damaging other patches.
How does the velcro damage patches?
Take a good look at the velcro on the back of your patches. It is the hook side of the velcro and it is made up of little plastic hooks. Velcro is made to HOOK on to the other side by grabbing the fuzz on the other side of the velcro. The same holds true with most other fuzzy fabrics - including the merrowed edge of other patches and the embroidery on other patches. If you let the velcro touch another patch, it will pull up on the embroidery threads and shred them - leaving you with a fuzzy patch. If you store velcro touching patches for any length of time, you will ruin the patch.
Any other storage ideas?
A friend of mine had a great idea. He used his truck to store his favorite patches. Of course being a friend of mine, he had tons and tons of patches. He stored them behind the driver's seat and on the inside cieling of the truck. The material is such that the patches stuck very well to that material. He carefully lined up his patches (I think he even had them color coded to camo and background materis....) and when he needed a patch, he was easily able to find one. And, it looked really cool. People used to love reading all of his patches. I have seen this on a few police shows - you can see their large full back patch on the roof of the car right above them - it makes it convenient to grab a patch and go. And as i said, it looks cool.
In review, don't apply direct heat to your patches and NEVER let the hook velcro touch other patches.
If you take care of your patches, they will remain in great condition for years to come.