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Different hats have different purposes. Regardless of that purpose, if you fall in love with it, you might wear that 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 hats, 5-panel hats, baseball caps, and trucker 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.
Read on for our guide on removing sweat stains from hats.
Before moving ahead with any cleaning methods, you should verify the following:
- Check the labels: Before you even think of mixing up some suds, check under the hat for a care label to see if handwashing is even possible. There should be some kind of manufacturer’s washing 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. You can do little to correct colors from bleeding once they get started.
- Check for cardboard: You must 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.
There is a lot of controversy around using the top rack of your dishwasher to clean your ball caps. For the record, we do not endorse this method, and we definitely do not suggest using the washing machine to clean any hat other than a bucket hat. But if you use the dishwasher method, don’t put the dirty dishes in the same cycle!
Now you know the basics, let’s move to the actual cleaning processes for the most common types of hats.
Standard hats, like baseball caps, trackers, and golf hats, are a great way to keep your head cool and protect your eyes from the sun. The most popular hats are made from durable materials like cotton and other breathable materials mixed with polyester to keep you looking and feeling your best.
Having sweat stains on your hat is an unavoidable part of wearing it. Sweat stains are caused by a combination of sweat, dirt, and oils from your skin and hair rubbing off onto the hat.
Even if you take proper care of your hat, sweat stains are bound to accumulate over time. That’s why it’s important to remove the sweat spots and wash your ball caps regularly to prolong the life of your hat.
ProTip: Wear a sweatband or scarf to help absorb the sweat before it reaches your hat.
Follow these simple steps to get sweat stains out of standard hats:
Pretreat the stain with a little bit of OxiClean or a baking soda and water paste. You can rub this in using a soft-bristled brush like an old soft toothbrush and then let it sit for a few minutes. Use a counterclockwise circular motion when cleaning.
2. Hand Wash
Hand washing is the most effective and safest method for removing sweat stains from hats. Hand washing is particularly useful for cotton, jersey, and polyester hats, as these are typically the most forgiving fabrics.
Drop the hat in a large bucket or bowl of warm water that has about a tablespoon of your regular bleach-free laundry detergent mixed in. White vinegar also works great to remove sweat stains. Mix distilled white vinegar with warm water (1:1 ratio) and let your hat soak overnight. Next, swirl your hat around in the solution. Let the hat soak for about four hours.
Use cold water to rinse the hat until clean water runs, and you don’t see any more suds. Then, squeegee off the excess water gently to avoid destroying the hat’s shape.
If you have a hat form or a spare mannequin head lying around, let your hat air dry in a warm place out of direct sunlight. You can shape a clean towel to rest your wet hat on it. Don’t air dry your hat in direct sunlight. Sunlight can cause the fabric to fade and make it less flexible and prone to cracking.
When the weather is hot in the summertime, you’ll probably stretch right up and grab your straw hat off its hook.
Straw hats come in many different shapes, sizes, and styles. 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 that 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.
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 to remove the loose dirt in a circular, counterclockwise motion.
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.
2. Light Stains
Mix a little bit of dish soap in warm water for light stains, 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.
For light-colored straw hats, use a cleaning solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and lukewarm 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.
For oil marks on your straw hat, sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder on the area and wait at least an hour. Then, brush the excess off using a soft-bristled brush or cover a vacuum nozzle with a pantyhose. Repeat a few times if the oil marks are stubborn.
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 Hats
Felt and wool can be fussy and prone to shrinking and stretching, so use a gentle hand when cleaning them.
Using a soft-bristled brush, work around the hat in a counterclockwise rotation. Afterward, use a lint roller to pick up any stray fibers.
Use a damp–not wet–sponge, such as a makeup sponge, to dab at or rub the stain counterclockwise. Be gentle as you rub, and use a white sponge similar to your hat’s color.
For exceptionally persistent and yellow sweat stains (use this method at your own discretion), add a teaspoon of mild detergent you use to wash your clothes to a bucket of cool water. Dab some of the solutions 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 any detergent.
Follow the same procedure as the straw hat.
Dry your felt or wool hat on a hat form out of direct sunlight.
Apply a light layer of felt protection spray to the outside of your felt hat for added protection. This will help it resist sweat and water damage in the future.
Leather and Suede Hats
Prevention is the key to keeping leather and suede hats clean. These hats shouldn’t be completely soaked.
1. Remove Sweat
Use a commercial leather cleaner and brush to remove stains from the leather hat. Use a leather conditioner afterward to keep the leather soft and prevent cracking.
2. 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 brush the powder away gently. You can try this a few times for the best results.
Hats are always part of a fashion statement. There’s a good hat for every season. Regardless of the weather, it protects your head, and you have to clean and protect it as well. If you take the time to clean your hats regularly, you can ensure that your hats stay looking fresh and new for many years. With the help of just a few supplies, you can get the stubborn sweat stains out of a hat and give it a fresh look.
It’s important to remember that the care instructions may vary depending on the type of fabric. Be sure to read the care tag and refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure you are taking the proper steps to remove the stains.
Follow the steps outlined in this guide, and you will have the perfect hat for summer, winter, spring, or autumn. And, if you’re bored of your existing hats, you can upcycle and repurpose your hats on the cheap to enjoy wearing them even longer.
Proper ways of cleaning your favorite hats can also be found in this infographic.