Hats aren’t just clothing. They are expressions of self, celebrations of fandom, and one of your first impressions when greeting a friend. Your favorite headwear deserves a little TLC, and it’s about time you learned how to properly clean a hat. Routine upkeep involves more than washing a heavily soiled cap. It also means everyday cleaning and paying attention to detail, but a little effort goes a long way in protecting your investment. Whether you’re researching hand-washing techniques for that cable-knit beanie or restoring your football team’s Draft Edition cap, preserve your hat collection with a few professional techniques.
Get to know your fabrics
Before you get down to cleaning your caps, check the inside label for fabric and washing instructions. Cloths like wool will shrink if immersed in warm water, and straw hats warp when they are wet. Quality caps may be dry-cleaned only, while others are better-off hand-washed at home. Consider these details the next time you’re looking for new headwear. Ask sales attendants for professional cleaning tips, and browse cleaning kits when shopping online retailers. You may prefer to invest in cotton hats for workdays and outdoor activities.
The best offense is a clean defense
Routinely cleaning your favorite caps and seasonal headwear is the most effective way to protect your hat collection. It also eliminates the need for constant washing, which could further age your most-worn pieces. Invest in a soft-bristled brush or large paintbrush to dust your hats daily. Spot treat stains as soon as possible and consider carrying a stain remover pen for cloth hats, especially on vacations, when you might not have access to a washing machine. Using fabric softener also protects your knit caps and beanies from pilling and fading, extending the life of your favorite winter headgear.
Build your arsenal of cleaning supplies
Most of what you need to properly clean your hats is likely already in your home. DIY’ers can count on laundry detergent, distilled vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, sandpaper, and soft brushes to get the job done. There are also specialized cleaning products on the market, including plastic forms for cleaning baseball caps in the dishwasher, and crown stretchers for maintaining a hat’s shape during restoration and cleaning. An expensive Panama hat could benefit from conditioning hat wipes, while saddle soap is a better choice for waterproof leather caps. Be sure to spot test any cleaning solutions before application to avoid ruining your favorite pieces.
Keep baseball caps and cloth hats looking fresh
Baseball caps and other cloth hats are easily cleaned with common household items. Use a brush to sweep loose dirt away from the crown. Then, fill a sink or basin with a small amount of detergent and warm water. Gently agitate the hat in the water with your hands, using a small brush to focus on the sweatband and stubborn spots. Avoid submerging caps with cardboard bills, removing sweat stains instead with baking soda, and a clean, wet cloth. Finally, rinse the hat in clean water and leave it to air-dry away from direct heat or sunlight. Use a stretcher or hat pump to preserve the shape and to keep it from shrinking.
Get knit-picky with knitted caps
Knit caps and beanies aren’t your regular laundry. Tossing a cable-knit beanie into the wash with other clothes could result in damage from zippers and buttons. It may be a better idea to use a lingerie bag or to hand-wash the cap in a sink. Remember to use cold, soapy water, and gently wash away makeup and dirt with your hand before soaking another ten minutes. Rinse the cap and roll it in a dry towel to absorb excess water, then lay it flat to air-dry at room temperature.
Pay special attention to wool caps
Wool caps keep you warm in fall and winter and, with the right care, can remain in great condition for seasons to come. Clean soft hats like berets in the washing machine on the delicate or wool cycle. Use a gentle detergent in cold water and remove the hat as soon as the cycle finishes, air-drying at room temperature. Avoid getting shaped wool hats like fedoras wet, and spot clean stains with a mild solution of detergent and water. Use a damp cloth to absorb any remaining cleanser, then blot with a paper towel. Repeat the same process for cleaning the sweatband, making sure not to wet the fabric.
Don’t sweat cleaning fur felt hats
Cowboy hats and similar wide-brimmed headwear usually come in fur felt. The high-quality material maintains its shape very well and stays cleaner than wool, making them more expensive. Keep hats clean and remove dents and packing marks with a soft-bristled brush or cleaning sponge. Sweep in a counter-clockwise direction to remove dirt and bring up a new layer of felt. Spots can be rubbed with coarse sandpaper, or cleaned with a specialized cleaning solution and a soft brush. Clean the entire hat, especially the sweatband, to maintain an even appearance, and brush daily to prevent brown spots in the rain.
Straw hats are a breeze to clean for summertime
Straw hats come in handy when the weather turns warm, and whether you’ve been gardening or sunning on the beach, chances are your hat needs a cleaning. First, remove any loose dirt and fibers with a piece of tape. A soft-bristled brush also works well as long as you sweep in a counter-clockwise direction to mimic the grain. Spot-clean with a 1:1 solution of water and hydrogen peroxide, spraying the affected area and wiping it with a clean cloth. Clean the sweatband by inserting a paper napkin in between it and the straw material, and dab first with a soapy cloth, then with a clean, damp towel to remove excess detergent. Blot the wet band with a paper towel, folding it up to finish air-drying.
Treat leather well to weather the seasons
Leather and suede hats are both stylish and durable, and the right care will ensure your favorite pieces maintain their quality appearance for years. Never use water to wash leather hats, especially suede. Instead, use a soft-bristled brush to remove dust from the surface and sweatband, and rub stains with similarly-colored chalk or a Magic Eraser. For stubborn spots, dampen a cloth with distilled white vinegar and gently wipe the dirt away. Brush the suede with coarse sandpaper after the hat has dried. Oily leather hats are much easier to clean. Buff out grease stains with your fingers, and condition the leather with saddle soap.
Restore vintage hats to their glory
Maybe you’ve inherited a grandparent’s old fedora, or you scored a limited edition baseball cap at the thrift store. Whatever your situation, restoring vintage headwear yields incredible results and eliminates waste. Deep clean used hats with mild detergent and a brush, making sure to lift the sweatband out of the crown to remove trapped dirt and debris. Flat caps are easily dried by rolling them in a dry towel to absorb excess moisture. To reshape the top of a baseball cap, spray the inside front panel with hairspray or starch, and place on top of a hat form or an inverted 3-quart saucepan until completely dry. If a hat is still stinky after washing, pop it in the freezer overnight to kill the remaining bacteria.