Hats are items that get dirty easily from sweat, grease, dust, and general wear and tear. Cleaning your hats regularly is important to extend their lifespan and keep them looking their best. However, cleaning hats improperly can end up doing more harm than good. Using the wrong methods can lead to shrinking, misshaping, discoloration, stains, and damage.
This comprehensive guide will provide tips and techniques for properly cleaning various hat materials without causing any damage. By following material-specific instructions and best practices for washing, hand-cleaning, spot cleaning, and storage, you can keep your precious headwear clean while maintaining its shape and integrity. Read on to learn the secrets for safely and effectively cleaning your caps and hats without ruining them.
Knowing Your Hat Material
The first key when learning how to clean hats without ruining them is identifying what material or blend of materials it is made of. Certain materials have very specific care instructions. Some are machine washable while others require delicate hand washing only. Here are some of the most common hat materials and key notes about washing them:
Cotton – Cotton hats, like baseball caps, are typically machine washable. Wash in cool water on the delicate or gentle cycle. Avoid high heat drying.
Wool – Wool felt hats require hand washing only. Use cool water with gentle detergent. Reshape and lay flat to dry.
Leather – Spot clean leather hats with a leather cleaner or mild soap and sponge. Wipe dry. Avoid waterlogging.
Straw – Hand wash straw hats in cool water. Spot treat stains. Air dry thoroughly.
Polyester – Check label, but most polyester can be machine washed on delicate and cool setting. Air dry.
Acrylic – Acrylic yarn knit hats are normally machine washable in cool water. Lay flat to dry.
Linen – Linen can usually be machine washed but air dried. Avoid high heat.
Silk – Silk requires very gentle hand washing in cool water. Allow to fully air dry.
It is critical to always check the manufacturer’s label on any hat for the definitive care instructions. This will tell you safe washing methods, water temperature, if bleach is allowed, drying directions, and warnings.
Prepping Hats for Cleaning
Before wet cleaning your hat, you’ll want to properly prep it to avoid potential damage:
- Examine buttons, embroidered patches, appliques, pins or other embellishments that may be prone to loosening or damage in the wash. Remove anything that seems like it could easily come off.
- Protect decorated areas with waterproof coverings if needed. There are products made for this purpose such as hat savers.
- Check adjustable hatbands, chin straps, or other adjustable parts to ensure they are fastened securely so they do not get caught in washing machinery.
- Brush or shake out any loose dirt particles or debris from the hat. Getting rid of this grit first cuts down on the amount of scrubbing needed.
- Consider inserting a plastic hat cleaner device inside the hat to help retain the shape and prevent crushing or fraying along the brim during the wash cycle.
Washing Machine Method
For cotton, polyester, acrylic and some linen or blended fabric hats, the washing machine is a convenient cleaning method if done carefully and mindfully. Here are some best practices:
- Wash hats in cold or lukewarm water only, never hot. Warm water can cause shrinkage or bleeding of colors.
- Use the delicate or gentle cycle. The agitation in this cycle is not as rough to better protect the hats.
- Wash similar colors together and darker colors separately to avoid any bleed or transfer of dye.
- Only use a mild detergent, preferably one specifically formulated for delicates or woolens. Avoid bleach or fabric softeners.
- Use a mesh garment bag for extra protection, especially if putting multiple hats in the machine. The bag buffers jostling and movement in the wash.
- Let hats air dry fully after washing. Avoid putting cotton hats in the dryer as heat can damage shape. For other materials, use no heat or extremely low heat.
- While damp, gently work the hat back into its original shape before drying. Use a shaper insert if needed.
Hand Washing Method
More delicate materials like wool, linen, felt, silk, straw, and leather require hand washing to prevent felting, warping, cracking or other irreversible damage from machine washing. Here is the safest hand washing process:
- Fill a clean sink, or preferably a designated wash basin, with cool or lukewarm water, never hot.
- Add a small amount of gentle soap or detergent formulated for delicates. Avoid regular laundry detergent as it can be too harsh.
- Fully submerge the hat and gently swish it around to loosen dirt. Use light scrubbing only on more stubborn spots with a soft brush or cloth.
- Drain the dirty wash water and carefully press or blot out excess moisture from the hat. Avoid wringing or twisting.
- Refill the sink with clean, cool water to rinse the hat thoroughly. Rinse repeatedly if needed to fully remove soap.
- Blot out moisture then reshape or block the hat while still damp. Allow to fully air dry, outside or on a towel.
Spot cleaning is useful for handling light stains or dingy areas on a hat that can be treated more locally, without fully submerging the entire piece. Some tips:
- Try spot cleaning solutions first before resorting to full washing. This is gentler on the hat.
- Test any cleaner on an inconspicuous area first to check for discoloration or damage to that material.
- For grease stains, blot with a small amount of diluted dish soap. Or use a grease-cutting cleaner.
- Gently rub stained or dirty spots with a soft cloth soaked in the cleaning solution, repeating as needed.
- When using liquids, blot the excess and let the solution sit for a bit before blotting more. Avoid completely soaking the material.
- Always finish by blotting the area with clean water to remove all residue before air drying the hat.
For extra stain-fighting and sweat protection during wear, treat cotton and polyester hats with a stain-resistant spray after cleaning.
Caring for Hats Long-Term
In addition to cleaning, proper ongoing care and storage of hats helps minimize how often deep cleaning is needed:
- Store felt hats on wide brims or upside down on a taller crown to help maintain shape. Cowboy hats can be stored crown down.
- Use unbleached paper towel inserts to absorb moisture and maintain form. Change paper frequently.
- Allow hats to rest 24-48 hours between wearings to dissipate sweat and oils. Rotate regularly worn hats.
- For display, lightly stuff or use hat sizers inside crowns or under brims to preserve shape.
Plastic hat cleaner devices also work great on shelves or racks to keep hat brims and crowns looking crisp when stored.
- Keep hats out of direct sunlight, away from heat sources like radiators or vents, and avoid humidity. These elements can damage materials over time.
Following the manufacturer’s directions, using proper techniques for each material, carefully hand cleaning more delicate hats, and storing them appropriately will allow you to keep your favorite hats clean, safe, and looking their best. Avoiding heat and harsh detergents is key. With some practice, you’ll get used to the specifics for each hat and can keep your whole collection looking like new for years.
Cleaning hats without causing damage just takes a gentle approach, the right methods for different materials, and care in handling. Always check labels and reinforce embellishments, fasteners, linings or trims before washing. Use cool water and limit agitation to prevent distortion of shape and fibers. Reshape and lay flat while drying. Store properly away from direct light, heat, and humidity. With the proper practices, you can safely clean cotton, wool, leather, straw, and other delicate hats by hand or machine. Follow these tips and you’ll keep your caps and lids looking fresh while preserving their structure.