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Different hats have different purposes. Regardless of that purpose, if you fall in love with it, you might wear a hat into the ground—even if it was originally intended for light duty only. Do you find yourself donning a favorite fedora, boater, bowler, Panama, or Hamburg hat every time you head out the door for a hot date or fun with friends? Cowboy, baseball, bucket, and duncher caps can get pretty grimy fairly quickly due to the hard work, play, fishing, and, uh, sheep-herding that they are often used for. And, of course, your fine felt hats, with enough wear, can start looking grungy, too.
Because a good hat can take a beating from the sweat and oils that build up on it with frequent use, we have put together a list of tips for getting sweat stains out of a variety of headwear.
Before we start, however, there are a couple of steps you should take before you attempt any cleaning at home. These are standard for all hat-cleaning endeavors, so we will refer to these steps as “The List.”
- Check the labels: Before you even think of mixing up some suds, check under the hat for a label to see if handwashing is even possible. There should be some kind of manufacturer’s instructions under the sweatband or inner ribbon, and if it gives guidance specific to the fabric, you should heed it.
- Check for bleeding: Hopefully this only applies to the fabric and not yourself during the cleaning process! Test a small area on the inside of the fabric by wiping or blotting a damp, white cloth on the hat, then, check the cloth to be sure that none of the hat’s color transferred. If some color did bleed, do everything in your power to keep from getting the hat completely soaked. There is little you can do to correct colors from bleeding once they get started.
- Check for cardboard: You will need to be extra careful if your hat has any cardboard elements in the bill. Do not, under any circumstances, soak or completely immerse your hat in water if there is a cardboard element because your hat will never bounce back.
- Use correct technique: If you’re cleaning, use a counterclockwise motion, and if you’re vacuuming dust or dirt from your hat, cover the nozzle with pantyhose to prevent damage to the hat.
In the summertime when the weather is hot, you’ll probably stretch right up and grab your straw hat off its hook. Straw hats come in a lot of different shapes, sizes, and styles, but they are typically worn when the weather is warm and sunny because they provide much-needed ventilation while being lightweight on your head. Most styles come with some sort of brim which can keep the sun off your ears and neck better than a baseball cap would, but the additional texture from the straw can prove difficult to clean.
- The List
- Brush: Before you use any cleaning products, you might be able to get away with just brushing or wiping down your hat. Use a soft cloth or soft-bristled brush in a circular, counterclockwise motion to get rid of the loose dirt. If there’s a lot of dirt deep in the texture, wrap a piece of nylon around the vacuum cleaner hose and suck up the dirt that way.
- Light stains: For light stains, just mix a little bit of dish soap in water, and clean using a dampened (not wet!) white cloth. Rub in a counterclockwise rotation, but don’t be too rough, or you could weaken the straw.
- Sweat: For light-colored straw hats, use a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water (following the standard counterclockwise rotation). For dark-colored hats, use equal parts ammonia and water. Make sure to clean the hats in a well-ventilated area.
- Oil: For oil marks on your straw hat, sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder on the area and wait at least an hour. Brush the excess off using a soft-bristled brush or cover a vacuum nozzle with pantyhose. Repeat a few times if the oil marks are stubborn.
- Dry: Straw hats, in particular, are prone to cracking and shrinking when wet and then exposed to heat. Dry your hat in an airy place away from direct sunlight. Use a hat stand if possible.
Felt and Wool
Felt and wool can be fussy and prone to shrinking and stretching, so use a gentle hand when cleaning them.
- The List
- Brush: Using a soft-bristled brush, work around the hat in a counterclockwise rotation. Afterward, use a lint roller to pick up any stray fibers.
- Sweat: Use a damp – not wet – sponge such as a makeup sponge to dab at or rub the stain using a counter clockwise motion. Be gentle as you rub and use a white sponge that is similar to the color of your hat.
For exceptionally persistent sweat stains (use this method at your own discretion), add a teaspoon of mild, bleach-free fabric detergent to a bucket of water. Dab some of the solution on the soiled areas, and rub gently in a counterclockwise motion. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes and then use a damp, clean cloth to lift up any detergent.
- Oil: Follow the same procedure as the straw hat.
- Dry: If at all possible, dry your felt or wool hat on a hat form out of direct sunlight.
- Finish: For added protection, apply a light layer of felt protection spray to the outside of your felt hat. This will help it resist sweat and water damage in the future.
Cotton, Jersey, Polyester
These fabrics are typically the most forgiving, but there is still an element of technique that you should follow.
- The List
- Remove sweat: To start with, there is a lot of controversy around using the top rack of your dishwasher to clean your ball caps, etc. For the record, we do not endorse this method, and we definitely do not suggest using the washing machine for any hat other than a bucket hat.
a. Pretreat the stain with a little bit of OxiClean or a baking soda paste. You can even rub this in using a soft-bristled brush like an old toothbrush and then let it sit for a few minutes.
b. Drop the hat in a large bucket or bowl of warmish water that has about a tablespoon of bleach-free clothes detergent mixed in. Next, swirl your hat around in the solution. Let the hat soak for about four hours.
c. Use cool water to rinse the hat until the water runs clear and you don’t see any more suds.
d. Squeegee off as much water as possible without completely destroying the hat’s shape.
e. If you have a hat form or a spare mannequin head laying around, let your hat air dry in a warm place out of direct sunlight.
Leather and Suede
- The List
- Remove sweat: Use a commercial leather cleaner and brush to remove stains from leather. Make sure to use a leather conditioner afterward to keep the leather soft and prevent cracking.
- Remove oil: Dust cornstarch or talcum powder on the soiled area and let it soak for at least an hour. Then use a suede brush to gently brush the powder away. You can try this a few times for getting after oil stains.
If you’ve tried the appropriate method outlined above, and you still have a doggedly tenacious stain on your favorite hat, you might consider taking it to a dry cleaner and asking for advice. Otherwise, you may need to use a little bit of that birthday money from Grandma and get yourself a new cap.
Hats are always part of a fashion statement. You can be expressive as you want to be in any season. There’s a hat good for summer, winter, spring or autumn. Regardless of the weather, it protects your head and you have to clean and protect it as well. Proper ways of cleaning it can be found in this infographic.