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Sun’s Out, Hats Out. How to Clean a Hat and Keep it Clean

Hats are a versatile garment, they keep our heads warm in the winter, and protect our heads from the damaging rays of the sun in the summer. From Frank Sinatra’s fedora to Ken Griffey Jr’s backward style during batting practice, they add an element of coolness to a man’s look. Think you’re not a “hat guy?” We’re willing to bet you just haven’t met the best hat. Every man should find the right headwear to accentuate their style.

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

10 minutes

What You Need

  • Bickmore Ultra-X Powdered Dark Hat Cleaner Kit

  • Paul Lashton Complete Premium Hat Care Kit

  • Pedag Suede Cleaner Bar Eraser Block

  • Ball Cap Buddy

But beyond choosing the right hat, these crowning accessories also demand a little TLC to last long and look great all year long — like maintaining a car. And nothing ruins the coolness of a cap than the dreaded white sweat stains. 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. Here are some tips from Dove to keep your hats looking great and you looking cool.

Peaky Blinders wearing the newsboy hat
Netflix

General tips

  1. Store felt and straw hats by placing them on their top (not the brim) or hanging from a peg to help retain shape.
  2. Store hats in a hatbox and/or cover with a vinyl hat cover to keep away dust and odors.
  3. Treat hats before wearing with waterproof spray to avoid moisture damage and stains.
  4. 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.
Goorin Brothers Men's Hats
Goorin Bros.

Cleaning Felt Hats

Step 1: Brush a felt hat from top-to-bottom and counter-clockwise with a soft bristle brush, gently removing dust and dirt.

Step 2: If a felt hat gets wet, shake off as much water as possible, let it dry, then brush clean.

Step 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.

man lounging in a beach chair
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.

Step 1: Brush the hat to lightly clean the surface, or carefully sponge it with a damp cloth.

Step 2: Use a cleaner and a soft cloth to remove heavier stains.

Step 3: Avoid getting straw hats soaked. 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.

Step 4: As above, use light steam to recapture the hat’s shape, but don’t let it get soaking wet.

A person wearing a brown suede hat.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Suede Hats

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

Step 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.

Step 2: If suede gets matted or there’s caked-on dirt, buff it (lightly!) with fine-grit sandpaper or emery cloth.

Step 3: Use a suede bar or suede eraser for stains on lighter hues.

Step 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.

A man wearing a hat is seen posing in front of a shelf full of hats.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Leather Hats

Step 1: Brush leather hats clean, as above.

Step 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.

Step 3: Treat periodically with mink or neatsfoot oil to soften and preserve the leather.

A passersby wearing a yellow beanie, a pullover, a brown suede bomber jacket, and pants.
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 09: A passerby wears a yellow beanie, a black wool ribbed pullover, a brown suede bomber jacket, beige Carhartt pants, on March 09, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images) Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cloth and Canvas Hats

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

A man putting on his baseball cap while looking in the mirror.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Baseball Caps by Hand

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 a cold wash by itself and do not have anything else in the dishwasher.” So much for multi-tasking.

“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.

Otherwise, Taylor recommends this method when washing by hand.

Step 1: Soak the cap in cold soapy water for a couple of hours.

Step 2: Rinse gently.

Step 3: Allow to air dry.

baseball player with backward hat
Cloak & Dapper Henley and Ball Cap Image used with permission by copyright holder

Baseball Caps in the Washing Machine

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.

Step 1: Wash the hat separately from any other items.

Step 2: Use soap with color preserving qualities, such as Woolite’s laundry detergents. Do not use bleach, or soap with bleach additives.

Step 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.

You can bet Frank Sinatra and Ken Griffey Jr. knew how to take care of their hats. If you want to be a hat guy and add a layer of coolness to your look, you need to know how to keep your hats looking great at all times.

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