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APPAREL

How To Wash Your Favorite Hat Without Ruining It

Imri Merritt

October 24, 2022

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Everyone has a favorite hat. The problem with favorites is the more you wear something, the more it gets dirty. And those dark stains are not a good look. Washing can be easy–but do it the wrong way, and your hat will never be the same.

Never fear! We researched in-depth how to wash a hat without ruining it, testing four different cleaning techniques to ensure your favorite custom hat stays clean and looks good for years.

We’ve provided a summary, along with all the dirty details. Spoiler alert: You can make your favorite hat look new again.

Table of Contents

The best way to wash a hat: test results

Hat Washing Test Results

 

Based on our extensive experimentation, hand-washing personalized baseball hats is the safest and most effective technique by far. Pretreat the toughest areas with spray stain remover, soak in warm water and detergent or shampoo for about 30 minutes, then lightly work out the dirt with a soft brush, rinse, and let air dry.

Warning: Avoid soaking vintage baseball caps because water will damage cardboard bills. Instead, brush with cold water and detergent mix, blot with a damp cloth, and let air dry.

Our hat cleaning test methods

We carefully tested four popular cleaning methods to give you the best possible advice on how to wash a hat. For our test, we selected one of our best-selling caps; the Yupoong 6-panel fitted baseball cap. We soiled four hats equally with a combination of cooking oil, mud, and dirt to create a fair comparison between the different cleaning methods.

To clean the hats, we used commonly available household supplies, including:

  • Bucket, small tub, or sink
  • Laundry detergent or dish detergent
  • Stain remover spray
  • A toothbrush or small, soft brush
  • Washcloth or small towel
  • Small bowl or object to place the hat on-dried

Test 1: Hand wash the hat with detergent

Method: We sprayed the cap with OxiClean stain remover on the dirtiest areas, and then dunked in a tub of warm water and laundry detergent to soak for 30 minutes. Then we scrubbed it with a soft brush, rinsed, and air-dried on an upside-down bowl.

Results: The hat came out almost perfectly clean, with little to no trace of the dirt. The shape not only stayed intact but was improved because of the drying process.

Takeaway: Clearly the best method of the four we tested. The stain remover spray combined with soaking in the detergent seemed to do most of the work of removing the dirt. Brushing the rest out was quick and the soap rinsed out easily. This is the method we recommend.

Test 2: Hand washing the hat with shampoo

Method: The same steps as the hand-washing method above, except using shampoo rather than laundry detergent: stain remover spray first, then dunking in a tub of warm water with shampoo and letting sit for 30 minutes, then scrubbing with a soft brush, rinse with water, and air drying.

Results: Shampoo worked surprisingly well, although we think the stain remover spray did a lot of the work. The shampoo created a lot of suds when scrubbing and took about 10 minutes to rinse out thoroughly. Some faint stains were leftover after it dried.

Takeaway: Shampoo seems to work almost as well as detergent, but not quite. When people advocate for this method online, the logic is that shampoo removes oil from hair, therefore it should work great for body oil deposits on fabric (sweat stains), but that is also what detergent is designed for. We’d recommend this method if you’re worried about detergent being too harsh, or if you don’t have any on hand.

Test 3: Washing the hat with detergent in a clothes washer

Method: We pre-treated the tough areas with OxyClean spray and threw it in the washing machine with some other laundry. The detergent I used was a Tide Pod, and the setting was a lukewarm temperature wash (colors). After washing, I tossed the cap into the dryer and the other laundry and ran it for a full cycle with the regular setting (around 60 minutes).

Results: The hat came out fairly clean, but there were still faint stains left on the fabric. The main problem was between the agitator of the washer and the heat of the dryer, it changed the shape of the hat and shrunk it slightly.

Takeaway: The washing machine method is only something we would recommend if used with a cap cage like the Ballcap Buddy, and air-dried rather than using the dryer.

Test 4: Washing the hat with detergent in a dishwasher

Method: We placed the cap on the top rack of a dishwasher and ran on normal cleaning and drying cycles. The detergent used was a Cascade Pod.

Results: This method barely removed the dirt, leaving stains behind. This was the worst result of the four tests. 

Takeaway: we do not recommend The dishwasher method for any hats in any scenario. We’re not sure how this became popular advice.

How to wash a hat by hand

Based on our testing, hand-washing produces the best results when cleaning a ball cap. Thankfully, this process is easy and can be completed in less than an hour (not including drying time). Follow these basic steps to get the best results when washing a hat by hand:

1.

Rinse the hat under warm water, fully saturating the fabric and rubbing away any loose dust and dirt. This will help the material absorb the stain-cleaning pre-treatment.

2.

Spray the entire hat with stain remover (we recommend OxyClean), concentrating on the bill, the headband, the edges along the backside, and any particularly stained areas.

3.

Place the cap on an upside-down bowl and let sit for 10 minutes or more. If you don’t have a bowl, you can use a balled-up T-shirt, a balloon, or a mannequin head.

4.

Fill a small tub or bucket with warm water and add about half a cup of laundry detergent, dish soap, or shampoo. Agitate. Dunk the hat into the mixture, agitating more and working it into the fabric, especially the seams. 

5.

Let the baseball cap soak in the detergent and water mixture for 30 minutes or more. Make sure it’s completely submerged.

6.

Scrub the hat lightly with a soft brush, working in the direction of the grain. Focus on the stained areas. Use a soft cloth around embroidery so you don’t damage it.

7.

Rinse thoroughly under warm water until no more suds are visible. Wring out gently, avoiding the bill and any structured part, then blot with a dry towel, pressing into the fabric slightly.

8.

Place the hat on an upside-down bowl to dry. You can also use a balled-up T-shirt or a balloon. You can speed up the drying process with a fan or a space heater placed at a distance.

Hand-washing hats work best

There are many ways to clean a hat, but hand-washing is head and shoulders the best. A washing machine can be effective while a dishwasher is not, but both methods risk damage. If you want your cap to look its best, hand washing is the way to go.

For more info about cleaning, read our article Easy Stain Removal Hacks That Actually Work.

Hat cleaning FAQs

Can a hat be washed in the dishwasher?

You can wash a baseball in the dishwasher, but our testing found this is the least effective cleaning method. In addition, it’s likely to damage your ball cap.

If there’s no other option, we recommend using a hat cage like Ballcap Buddy to protect the form of your cap. Place the cap  on the top rack during the washing process and then remove it before the drying cycle to air dry.

Can I wash a hat in the washing machine?

Washing hats in a machine can be done, but it won’t provide the best result and may ruin the shape. Even Whirlpool recommends another method.

If this is the best method available, we suggest using a cold water setting, delicates cycle, with like colors and avoid overloading the washer. A hat cage and air drying will help preserve the shape.

Can I dry a hat in the dryer?

You should never put hats in the dryer. The heat combined with the tumble action can warp and shrink it into a misshapen mess.

Can I use shampoo to wash a hat?

You can use shampoo as an effective cleaner. This product is made for washing oil out of hair, it can also remove body oil and other stains from a ball cap. It performed well in our tests but is not as effective as detergents and stain removers.

 

Imri Merritt

About the Author

A graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Imri Merritt is an industry veteran with over 20 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.