You work hard, you play hard, and your favorite hat is proof of that. Whether you wear a cap on a daily basis or just for fun on the weekends, at some point it's going to get dirty from perspiration. So what's the best way to remove sweat stains from a hat?
It depends on a few factors, including what the hat is made of, how serious the stains are, and whether or not the hat is machine washable. To help you on the path to cleanliness, we've listed easy steps to follow that take into account each of these elements.
But first, it's just as important to know what not to do, so read on.
Just Say No to Dishwashers
You might be tempted to simply throw your hat in the dishwasher and call it a day. But before you do that, consider that this method poses the greatest risk for ruining your hat.
Even if it's a durable baseball cap that's labeled safe for the washing machine, the dishwasher's high heat, agitation, and other heating elements can fray just about any material including straw, cotton, linen, and wool, not to mention decorative elements and stitching.
Also, dishwasher detergents often contain bleaching agents that can easily fade hat colors. Bottom line: Dishwashers are for dishes, not hats.
Say Bye-Bye to Bleach
Even you're washing a white hat, bleach can ruin it and cause yellowish stains. (Kind of ironic, right? But it's true.)
Try a brightening bleach alternative like OxiClean or baking soda if you're cleaning hats that are white or bright. For more foolproof tips, check out these steps on how to clean a white hat.
Know Your Fabric
Before beginning any sort of hat cleaning, read the care label. If it says dry clean only, do that. If there is no label, use your best judgment and check out our list of different hat materials if you're not sure about your hat's fabric.
Cotton and Synthetic Hats
Chances are that hats constructed of cotton, a cotton blend, or synthetic materials such as polyester or jersey mesh are safe for machine washing.
Vintage baseball hats that were made in the early 1980s or earlier are not safe for machine washing — those might be made with cardboard bills, which will get ruined if exposed to excess water.
Baseball hats, fedoras, and other hats made from wool or wool felt should only be hand-washed or dry cleaned. For more details, take a look at our primer on how to clean a wool hat.
Even if your straw hat is crushable, strong, and water-repellent, don't ever put it in a washing machine or fully dunk it in water when washing by hand. Spot-cleaning is the best option for this material.
This type of hat requires a gentle approach whether it's cleaned in the washing machine or by hand. Knit caps come in different natural fibers such as wool, cashmere, silk, rayon, or synthetic materials like acrylic or nylon.
To Dye For
Make sure the fabric is colorfast. This means the color won't run or fade when submerged in water. Try this simple test: Dip a white cloth in warm water and rub it on a small area of the hat. If any dye rubs off on the white cloth, then you know the hat shouldn't be washed in water and it's time to take it to the dry cleaners.
How to Remove Sweat Stains
- Whether you're hand-washing a hat or putting it in the washing machine, pre-treat any stained areas that have sweat stains or salt stains. (Sweat contains minerals and salts, hence salt stains.)
- Spray a non-bleach stain remover on the dirty areas and let it break down the build-up for at least 30 minutes.
- Use a clean toothbrush to scrub away stubborn smudges.
- You might need to let the hat soak for more than an hour, so feel free to go about your day while the hat is undergoing its stain treatment.
- Once the pretreatment is complete, you can either prepare it for the washing machine or get ready to wash it by hand.
- Place the hat in a garment bag to protect it during the wash cycle. This goes for delicate knit hats and wool hats as well as baseball caps.
- Use a non-bleach mild detergent and set the temperature to cold water or cool water for best results.
- Wash the hat with like-colored clothes on the gentle cycle to reduce any chance of damage.
- Once the wash is complete, remove the hat before putting the rest of the laundry in the dryer.
- Allow the hat to air dry to keep its shape and to avoid shrinkage. If you want to shrink a hat, view our guide for shrinking wool hats.
- Set the hat on a clean surface, preferably next to an open window but away from direct sunlight as this could fade the fabric.
- Fill a bucket or kitchen sink with warm water and about 1 tablespoon of mild, non-bleach laundry detergent. Swish it around until you have sudsy water.
- Let the hat soak in the soapy water for at least 30 minutes, checking on it from time to time.
- Thoroughly rinse the hat with cold running water until there are no more soap bubbles.
- Lightly squeeze out any excess water in the sink.
- Dab the hat with a clean towel so that it's not dripping.
- Air dry the hat away from direct sunlight. To help keep the hat's shape, try rolling up a small towel and putting it inside the hat.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Thomas Edison famously said "Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration." So if you have a particularly sweat-stained hat, take it as a compliment. And now that you know how to properly remove sweat stains from a hat, it’s time to make it happen, genius.
Psst. If your hate is soiled by more than sweat, try these other methods to clean your hat.