How to Clean a Hat

Hat Cleaning 101

It's an inevitable fact of life: your favorite hat gets dragged through the metaphorical mud of life, collecting dirt, debris, stains, and watermarks. These are no ordinary hat stains; they could ruin that well-loved beret you wear daily around town. If you don't clean it properly, these unsightly stains will remain on the felt and depending on the source and location, mark your brow with streaks of color like some permanent marker.

So if you want a new look for your beloved hat, you need to learn how to clean a hat, just as you would maintain your car or home.

There are different types of hats, each with its characteristics and needs. For example, a baseball cap requires more attention than a fedora because of the material used. And while you may be able to wash a wool winter cap, synthetic materials such as polyester require specialized care. This guide will help you make sense of cleaning each type of hat and keep yours looking good for longer.

Cleaning Fur Felt Hats & Wool Hats

Fur-felt and wool hats should always be cleaned regularly, especially if you live in a humid climate where sweat creates extra moisture. The best way to clean these hats is using soft bristled clothes brush and, in extreme cases, a steam cleaner and powdered cleaners.

How to Clean:

  • To clean a fur-felt or wool hat, brush the top and bottom counter-clockwise with a soft bristle brush. Make sure always that you're brushing with the grain of the felt-trust us, you'll be able to tell.

  • Set your hat on its top or hang it from a straight peg (no hooks! They'll warp your crown and that's no good!) to help it retain its shape.

  • If your hat gets wet, shake off all excess water, let it dry, then lightly brush clean.

  • Use steam to shape and clean the hat. For heavy stains, powdered cleaners may be used.

» More: How to Reshape a Felt Hat

Cleaning Straw Hat

Straw hats are less prone to become stained than other types of hats. However, straw hats tend to collect grit and dust from the wind, which can turn into dark spots. Therefore, it's important to take the time to clean them regularly.

How to Clean:

  • Brush the top and bottom counterclockwise with a small whisk broom to sweep off the debris and remove loose bits.

  • For any stains delivered by sweat or oil, always try a dry cleaning method first by setting some cornstarch over the area and letting it sit for a couple of hours before gently brushing away. The cornstarch (or talcum powder if you have that instead) should try to absorb the oils.

  • If that doesn't work, try to dampen a soft cloth or sponge with water and use it to wipe off light surface stains.

  • For deep stains that aren't coaxed out by the dry cleaning attempt, use dish soap with warm water to remove tough stains, then rinse thoroughly.

  • Store the hat on its top or hang it from a peg to help it retain its shape.

  • Steam your hat to reshape, if necessary (do not use artificial heat).

Cleaning Baseball Hats

Baseball caps should be cleaned at least once weekly to prevent lint buildup and matted hair. It is also recommended that cleaning should be done before washing to avoid damage to the cap itself.

How to Clean:

  • Brush the back and front of the cap. Brush down the sides and up towards the crown. Use a soft toothbrush to pick up any lint.

  • Wash the baseball cap with cool or lukewarm water and mild laundry detergent. Rinse until completely clear.

  • Gently squeeze excess liquid from the fabric.

  • Hang the baseball hat from a peg or hat rack to allow the hat to air dry. Do not tumble dry.

  • Store on top or hang from a hat rack to protect your favorite baseball cap against sun fading.

Cleaning Leather Hats

Leather can be one of the more stubborn materials to clean, but when you invest in some specialty products and keep your leather hats away from high heat and moisture, they'll stay fresh and new for the long haul.

How to Clean:

  • Leather hats should be periodically treated with leather dressing like mink oil, neatsfoot oil, Lexol, or similar products. Avoid saddle soap, as that may dry your leather hat. (Oiled leather hats tend to require less attention.)

  • Use a soft brush to remove dirt and dust from the surface. Wipe with a damp cloth. When thoroughly dried, apply a thin coat of leather conditioner and let it sit for 10 minutes before brushing again. Repeat if necessary.

  • Once conditioned, your hat is ready to wear in any season.

  • Avoid getting your hat wet, then placing it near heat.

  • Also, avoid placing your hat in direct sunlight for extended periods, as exposure may shrink the hat to a smaller size.

Cleaning Suede Leather Hats

Learning how to clean suede leather hats properly can help ensure that your more expensive suede hats go from shiny and new to vintage and valuable. You'll need a slightly stiff bristle brush, emery cloth or fine-grit sandpaper, a suede bar, and common household cleaning products.

How to Clean:

  • Brush your hat with a nylon or slightly stiff bristle brush to remove loose dirt and dust. Brushing periodically keeps the suede looking fresh.

  • Buff any matted suede or caked-on dirt with emery cloth or fine-grit sandpaper.

Note: It is important to choose a grit that matches the finish of your hat; 120-grit works well with most suede hats.

  • For light-colored leathers, a suede bar (sometimes called a suede eraser) works best on most stains. Move the suede bar in a circular pattern to "erase" the stain. Deep stains may require aggressive work.

  • If you have oil stains, use a mixture of one part baby shampoo and 15 parts warm water. Rub gently with a suede brush. Add more baby shampoo as needed.

  • Store your hat on a hat stand. Avoid hanging your hat upside down because this can cause wear and tear to the lining.

  • Steam clean to get rid of water spots or reshape your hat.

Cleaning Linen/Cotton Hats

Cotton and linen hats have a tendency to pick up lint and thread from clothing and fabric. They also absorb perspiration. Because both hats absorb so much moisture, it is important to check your hat daily and wipe it off if necessary. 

How to Clean:

  • Remove dust, fuzz, or lint by brushing it first.

  • Use a damp cloth to remove sweat stains.

  • Wash with lukewarm water and mild dishwashing liquid (not soap).

Note: In some detergents, dyes or chemicals may stain your hat. Always test a small area first.

  • After washing, roll the hat between your hands to release excess moisture.

  • Rinse and allow to air dry without any exposure to heat.

Tips for Cleaning & Maintaining Hats

Hats are a very personal item. The more care you put into them, the better they will last. A little TLC will make all the difference if your hat needs extra care.

  • Avoid placing your hat in direct sunshine for extended periods, as sun exposure may shrink the hat.

  • Ensure the hat is stored in a cool place, away from heat and humidity.

  • Check your hat regularly and remove accumulated debris before it really settles in.

  • Use only appropriate materials and tools to clean your hat.

  • Treat your hat with a waterproof spray to avoid moisture damage.

  • Be careful when traveling. Use a dedicated travel hat box to avoid dust buildup, staining, and odor accumulation.

  • Use a hat rest to keep your brim in shape and your hat off the surface.

  • Avoid shrinkage by using a hat stretcher after every wash.

» More: Hat Etiquette For Men & Women

Keeping your hat in good condition is one of the keys to its longevity and value. Embrace your hat's unique stretches and permanent marks as signs of authenticity and character — it's what makes it your own!