How to Wash a Hat

Published October 1, 2019
Hanging Clothes

Over time, your favorite hat is starting to look a little dingy. Not only that, but it has a smell that even you can't ignore anymore. Find out how to hand and machine wash, and even use your dishwasher to make your hats look new again. This isn't just for your everyday baseball caps either; your knit and wool hats are just as important.

Handwashing a Baseball Cap

Baseball caps can be the bane of your existence. They are great but washing them can be a chore. Not only do you not want to lose that perfect curve or flat bill, you don't want to wreck old faithful either. Not to worry, the safest way to wash your hat is to do it by hand. Remember this method is for hats that are newer and have plastic mold in the bill. Older caps with a cardboard mold will need to follow a different method.


Washing old faithful will take a few tools that you can typically find in your bathroom or laundry room.

  • Laundry detergent
  • Towels
  • Container
  • Soft-bristle toothbrush
  • Fan or hairdryer optional

Step 1: Spot Clean

There are areas of your hat that are going to get dirtier than others. For particularly problematic areas like yellow sweat stains, take a small amount (a drop or two) of detergent or stain cleaner (avoid any cleaners containing bleach) in about a cup of cool water.

  1. Wet the areas with cool water and detergent.
  2. Using a soft bristle toothbrush, gently rub the areas with the most stain or wear. (Gentle is key, especially around stitching or graphics. Being to vigorous could mar the look.)
  3. Repeat for all the stained or heavily soiled areas.

Step 2: Soak the Entire Hat

Now that you've got the heaviest areas worked out, you can soak your entire hat.

  1. Fill your bathroom or kitchen sink with cool water. Cool water can make sure that inks or dyes are not going to bleed or run.
  2. Add a tablespoon of detergent.
  3. Submerge the entire hat.
  4. Let it soak for 1-2 hours.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

You've let the detergent do its magic now, it is time for drying. And that doesn't mean throwing in the dryer. Air drying is best for hats.

  1. Pull the hat from the water and use a towel to blot off the excess moisture. Remember to be gentle. You aren't trying to wring the hat out - just get the dripping water.
  2. After patting off the moisture, you'll need something to put the hat on to maintain the shape. This can be a coffee jar, large candle, rolled-up towel, etc.
  3. Allow the hat to completely air dry.
  4. If you want to speed up the process, you can set it in front of a fan or use a hair dryer on low or cool.

Now, your freshly laundered hat is ready for wearing.

Dishwashing a Baseball Cap

Washing machines scare hat wearers because of the possibility of losing that perfect shape. When you don't want to hand wash, the dishwasher can be a perfect alternative. But before you just throw it in all willy nilly, you should double check that it is machine washable and that it does not have cardboard in it.

Proceed With Caution

You should be aware that some dish detergents contain bleaches which can be harmful to hats. You should also note that dishwashers use heat to clean dishes, which could lead to shrinkage. This can also affect the dyes in the hat.

What You Need

Knowing the risks, if you still want to give this method a try, you'll need:

  • A hat frame
  • Dishwashing detergent
Baseball Cap Frame
Baseball Cap Frame

Step 1: Place the Hat in the Frame

Baseball cap frames help you to clean your hats without compromising their shape.

  1. Place your hat in the frame.
  2. Fit the frame into the top of your dishwasher.
  3. Note: For hats that are heavily soiled consider pre-soaking in water and detergent for a few hours first.

Step 2: Run the Cycle

While you might think that you can just throw your cap in with your dishes, this isn't advised. You don't want that grease and nasty on your precious.

  1. Pour in your normal dishwashing detergent (remember watch for bleach).
  2. Use the gentle cycle.
  3. Allow the dishwasher to run a full cycle.

Step 3: Drying Time

Once the cycle is complete, you can pull your hat out and allow it to air dry in the cap frame. You might want to put a towel under it to catch any drips. And a fan or hair dryer on low can always be used to speed the process up.

Machine Washing a Baseball Cap

Armed with your cap frame and laundry detergent, you can also use the washer to gently, agitate the dirt, grim and sweat from old faithful. However, much like using the dishwasher, you'll need to proceed with caution and only use this on machine washable hats with no cardboard.

Step 1: Use the Frame or a Mesh Bag

Before you just throw your favorite hat in the washer, you'll want to place it in the cap frame. This will ensure that your shape stays perfect, especially for those flat billed or fitted hats. Those with extreme curves might be harder to keep. You might need to think of trying a mesh bag for hats. Remember for heavily soiled hats, a pre-soak can be your best friend.

Mesh Bag
Mesh Bag

Step 2: Washing and Drying

When washing your hat, you'll either want to wash it alone or with very minimal laundry. You'll also want to use the gentle cycle and a small load.

  1. Put the cap frame or mesh bag in the washer.
  2. Add nothing or a light load of similarly colored clothes.
  3. Add detergent for a small load.
  4. Use the gentlest cycle that your washer has available.
  5. Allow the washer to run one cycle.
  6. Let the hat air dry as above, and you are ready to go.

Tips for Cleaning Old or Commemorative Caps

While newer hats have a plastic bill, back in the day, the bill might have been made of cardboard. Soaking these bad boys in water is a quick trip to ruinedville. Rather than ruin a family heirloom, you'll need to be extra gentle. To safely clean your hat, try these tips:

  • Do a colorfastness test first. With a white damp cloth, rub a discrete area like under the bill or the inside of the rim. If you get color on the cloth, cleaning it might require a professional touch.
  • If your cloth was clean, mix about a teaspoon of detergent with a cup or so of cool water.
  • Soak a corner of a clean cloth in the solution and gently wipe the hat.
  • Rinse by using another cloth with clean water. Never submerge the hat in the water.
  • Be extra gentle or avoid, if possible, any signatures or logos.
  • Allow to air dry.

Getting Wool Caps Clean

When you have a wool cap, these hats will require extra love and attention. You don't want to use a machine, dishwasher or otherwise, to clean your wool hats. A handwashing bath in a sink, tub or even bucket are the best. Rather than using regular laundry detergent, you'll want to use detergent that is made specifically for wool like wool shampoo. You'll also want to pay special attention to amounts you should be using. Follow any and all directions. When it comes to drying, consider drying this bad boy on your head. Sure, it will be uncomfortable, but you'll have the perfect fit.

Handmade or Knit Hats Cleaning

Handmade or knit hats will also require extra care to not fray or come apart. Therefore, handwashing and drying like for baseball caps is best. However, if you must use the washer, then you can use a mesh laundry bag for delicates. In a small load, use regular laundry detergent, cold water and the gentlest cycle that your washer has. This will make sure that your delicate hats only get mild agitation and the spin can help them to dry. Let your knit cap dry on a towel in a well-ventilated area.

Getting Your Hats Clean

Not only do hats have a long history, but for many they are a necessary part of their wardrobe. Over time, your favorite cap can get dingy. Make it look new again by exploring the best way to wash it. And if in doubt, especially for those commemorative hats, seek professional help.

How to Wash a Hat