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How To Clean Virtually Any Hat, According To Experts

As the days get longer, we’re cautioned to wear hats to protect from the sun’s rays; then as soon as things cool down in the fall and winter, we’re grabbing them again just to keep our noggins warm. Luckily hats also project a certain level of cool that can’t quite be (you should pardon the expression) topped. Think you’re not a “hat guy?” We’re willing to bet you just haven’t met the right hat. But beyond choosing the right style, these crowning accessories also demand a little care to look great and last long. We checked in with Christina Dove, of headwear retailer Hats in the Belfry, as well as Nate Taylor of baseball cap superstore Lids, to get some specific advice. 

Once you’ve settled on your signature hat style, like a good car, with a little maintenance it can last a long time. Here are Dove’s basic tips. 

General tips

  • Store felt and straw hats by placing them on their top (not the brim), or hang from a peg to help retain shape.
  • Store hats in a hat box and/or cover with a vinyl hat cover to keep away dust and odors.
  • Treat hats before wearing with waterproof spray to avoid moisture damage and stains.
  • Avoid extreme heat when drying to prevent shrinking, and don’t leave wet hats in the rear window of your car on a summer day.

Cleaning Felt Hats

  1. Brush a felt hat from top-to-bottom and counter-clockwise with a soft bristle brush, gently removing dust and dirt.
  2. If a felt hat gets wet, shake off as much water as possible, let it dry, then brush clean.
  3. Use steam to reshape and clean hats. Boil water in a kettle or use a clothing steamer, and lightly steam-heat the fabric. Use your (clean) fingers to gently mold the hat back into shape. Allow to dry and brush as before.

Cleaning Straw Hats

Straw hats can be a little trickier to clean since they are usually made in lighter colors and, of course, we sweat in them. There are special straw hat cleaners, but that bottle of Windex you already have should work just fine. 

  1. Brush the hat to lightly clean the surface, or carefully sponge it with a damp cloth.
  2. Use cleaner and a soft cloth to remove heavier stains.
  3. Avoid getting straw hats soaked; e.g., in summer downpours. That can be pretty deadly to the shape. For the occasional light wetting, wipe the hat down and leave it brim up on a clean surface to dry.
  4. As above, use light steam to recapture the hat’s shape, but don’t let it get soaking wet.

Suede Hats

Suede hats may seem a bit more daunting, but the principles are the same.

  1. Regularly give the hat a quick brushing with a stiff bristle brush to remove dust and dirt, and to restore the suede’s “nap,” that soft finish.
  2. If suede gets matted or there’s caked-on dirt, buff it (lightly!) with fine-grit sandpaper or an emery cloth.
  3. Use a suede bar or suede eraser for stains on lighter hues.
  4. Remove sweat stains with a 1:15 mix of  baby shampoo and warm water, gently dabbing the stain with the mixture using a soft cloth. These stains are pretty resilient, so just think of them as adding character; like the wear and tear on your favorite pair of jeans.

Leather Hats

  1. Brush leather hats clean, as above.
  2. Clean with Lexol or Bickmore’s Bick-4 leather cleaner. Do not use saddle soap: it can dry the thinner, lighter weight leather used in hats.
  3. Treat periodically with mink or neatsfoot oil to soften and preserve the leather.

Cloth and Canvas Hats

Easiest of all, most cloth hats (including beanies) can be easily cleaned with a brush and water. A powdered cleaner can help with tougher stains. 

Baseball Caps

Nate Taylor, Buying Director at Lids, says “Surprisingly, one of the best ways I have found to wash hats is in the dishwasher using our Ball Cap Buddy. Only use this technique if you can run the dishwasher on a cold cycle, as hot water will shrink your hat. Make sure to put the hat on the top rack on cold wash by itself and do not have anything else in the dishwasher.” So much for multi-tasking. Otherwise Taylor recommends:

  1. Soak the cap in cold soapy water for a couple of hours
  2. Rinse gently
  3. Allow to air dry.

You can also use a washing machine. “Washing machines work better for non-structured front hats due to the tumbling aspect of the machines,” says Taylor. “Hats with structured fronts tend to crease and fold. If the buckram (the mesh forming the front of the hat) creases, it can be hard to get those creases to disappear.

  1. Wash the hat separately from any other items.
  2. Use soap with color preserving qualities.  Do not use bleach, or soap with bleach additives.
  3. Allow to air dry. Don’t use a dryer or the hat may shrink. Taylor recommends wearing your hat post wash, allowing it to dry on your head.

“At select Lids locations across the country, we carry hat care kits and cleaners that work great for spot stains. These can be utilized when the hat doesn’t need to be completely washed,” says Taylor. The Lids Care Kit includes cleaner, deodorizer, and a brush for $17; Lids Water and Stain Repellent is $7, and the Lids Ball Cap Buddy is $8. To find a Lids store near you, check out Lids.com. 

The Best Hat Cleaners to Buy

Bickmore Ultra-X Powdered Dark Hat Cleaner Kit

Your dark felt hat care needs are all in one place with this kit. Includes 5.5 oz aerosol cans of both Ultra X Dark Hat Cleaner (a powder-based formula) and Gardmore Water & Stain Repellent, as well as a cleaning brush and a hat care brochure. All packaged in a convenient vinyl carrying case.

Paul Lashton Complete Premium Hat Care Kit

Perfect for caring for your straw hat collection, this kit includes hat cleaning solution in an easy-to-use foam; a water repellent spray, specifically designed for organic fibers; a straw stiffener spray to help retain the hats shape; and a horsehair cleaning brush. 

Pedag Suede Cleaner Bar Eraser Block

This German-made dry cleaning block is great for suede leather hats, as well as bags and shoes. It gently removes stains, marks, and shiny spots. 

Ball Cap Buddy

What more can we say? Set it and forget it. Keep your baseball cap collection looking smart all year long.

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