How to Clean a Hat Without Ruining it

We love our hats, and most people have more than one kicking around. Some hats are fashionable, some are functional, and some are both. We have hats that keep us warm, hats that keep us cool, hats to keep the sun out of our eyes and off our faces. Hats that are goofy, hats we don for celebrations, and hats that make a statement, think fedora or beret. Hats for newborn babies, and hats for the grandparents- so many hats! 

And, the more you wear your hat, the dirtier it gets. Even if you only wear your hat occasionally, it may still require cleaning. Hats come in so many sizes, shapes, and materials; how do you know how to clean it without ruining it? Let’s have a look at some helpful advice to help you take the best care of your hat.

How do you Clean Your Hat Without Ruining it? 

So, how do we clean our beloved hats? Hats are made from many different materials; cleaning a hat comes down to knowing your hat’s material and following cleaning instructions for the material. 

Here are a few tips to get you going in the right direction with hat cleaning:

  • Read your hat label. The label will give you information on the material or fabric and how to clean it. Follow the instructions; if the label recommends dry-cleaning, be sure to drop your hat off for cleaning. 
  • If you don’t have a label, you’ll need to determine its material and research how to clean it. 

Common Hat Materials 

Here are some of the more common hat materials:

  • Cotton- A common hat material used to make sun hats, bucket hats, and baseball caps; it’s a natural, breathable fabric that is easy to clean. Cotton hats made of cotton may withstand machine washing. Many hats are not 100% cotton but rather a less expensive blend with a synthetic textile; cotton blended with another fabric like polyester makes it more durable. 
  • Suede– Leather made from the underside of animal skin that is softer and more pliable than leather and requires careful cleaning. Vegan suede or faux leather has become a trendy material and is easier and more forgiving than regular suede to clean. 
  • Straw– There are straw hats made from natural and synthetic materials. You will need to be more careful cleaning a straw made from raw materials. Do a spot test with the cleaning products you plan to use in an inconspicuous place to ensure you don’t damage your straw hat. 
  • Wool– A natural fiber that can shrink if exposed to high temperatures, like a hairdryer or a clothes dryer. They make many winter hats like beanies from knit wool and pressed wool hats like fedoras and shaped dress hats.
  • Leather– A strong, flexible, durable material made from animal hide. You should keep hats made from leather or suede away from high heat and moisture, especially when cleaning. Careful research on best practices for cleaning leather is advisable before taking action. 
  • Nylon & Polyester– synthetic fabrics are very forgiving fabrics; they don’t shrink and are stain-resistant. Hats made from synthetic material are durable, lightweight, and cleaning requires less fuss than other hats. 

Once you have a good idea of your hat’s material, you can decide and plan on the best way to clean it. 

Hat Cleaning Techniques and Tips

So, now that you are ready to clean your hat, let’s look at how you can clean your hat, things to consider, and some things that you should not do to keep your hat in tip-top shape. 

Spot Treatments 

If your hat isn’t dirty but has a few places that need cleaning or you are unsure exactly what material your hat is, spot treating is an excellent way to clean your hat. 

  • Use a soft brush on leather, suede, felt, straw, and cotton first to see if a quick and gentle brush removes the dirt or mark. Many times, a light brush is all it takes to make your hat look clean. 
  • Start by spot testing a hidden area on your hat with the cleaning product you plan on using.
  • Always use a gentle cleanser with gentle motions, and only graduate to more powerful detergents if the stain isn’t coming out. Never use harsh chemicals or bleach in spot cleaning. If a stain isn’t coming out, find out if it’s possibly an oil-based stain and use directions for treating oily stains.
  • Always use clean brushes and a non-dyed cleaning cloth for the most effective cleaning; you won’t be transferring dirt from the brush or dye from a dyed cloth. 
  • For perspiration stains, use an enzyme-based stain remover. 
  • Vinegar and baking soda are natural products that can work wonders in spot cleaning. Make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to stains, let dry, and brush off. You can gently rub or brush vinegar into the stain, let sit for 15 minutes, air dry, and rinse. 
  • There are specialty cleaning products designed for suede and leather; using products recommended to clean leather and suedes eliminates any guesswork and ensures you clean your hat correctly. 

If your hat needs more attention than just spot cleaning, the next thing to consider is hand-washing your hat. 

Hand Washing

Hand washing your hat is an excellent way to clean a hat that needs a deep yet gentle cleansing, and machine washing might ruin your hat or isn’t an option. 

  • Cotton, synthetic material such as nylon, polyester, and wool can be spot-cleaned and then submerged into a bucket or stoppered sink of cool water with gentle soap added to it. Light agitation and letting your hat set for a few hours should provide your hat with adequate cleaning. 
  • For tough stains, you can repeat spot cleaning and soak until your hat is clean. Rinse your hat free of soap, blot dry with paper towels or clean non-dyed towels, and let air dry. 
  • Using a hair-dryer or clothes dryer can shrink some kinds of cotton and most wools and cause some synthetic materials to wrinkle- air-drying ensures your hat keeps its original shape. 
  • Leather, suede, and straw hats can tolerate light washing by hand. Completely submerging in water isn’t recommended and can damage them. A gentle brush with a soft-bristled brush, followed by spot-treating and then wetting the hat in sections with cool water, a mild soap, rinsing, and a gentle blotting, is the best way to clean hats made of these materials. 

Washing your hat by hand is an excellent way to clean your hat more thoroughly. Be careful about submerging your hat in water, especially if it’s straw, leather, or suede. Consider specialty cleansers for leather and suede; these may be more effective and safe cleaners. 

Machine Washing 

There are some hats that you can toss right in your washer; cotton, cotton blends, and synthetic are excellent candidates. 

Here are some basic instructions:

  • Use the gentle or delicate wash cycle. Use mild soap and do not add bleach. 
  • Spot treat before washing. 
  • Consider using a mesh bag for delicates or a hat shaper for the best results; using these items will help protect the shape of your hat. 
  • Always air dry your hat; machine drying can damage your hat. 

If you have concerns about using a washing machine to clean your hat, use the above method and hand wash your hat. The biggest problem with using a washing machine is that the constant agitation and spinning can ruin the shape of your hat. 


Cleaning a hat without causing damage to it requires knowing what material your hat is made of and following the instructions best suited for it. If a gentle brush or quick spot cleaning isn’t enough to get it clean, consider handwashing. The last resort you should consider for cleaning is a washing machine; they can damage your hat. Following these cleaning guidelines will help you enjoy your hat for a long time. 


Leave a Comment