How to Clean A Baseball Cap!

Baseball Caps. Most guys wear them. Most guys sweat in them.  Most guys never clean them. Ok, girls wear them too and probably don’t clean them as much as they should. Regardless of your sex, you sweat and leave smells, oils and colors in your hat. Keep your hat clean so that it lasts you a long time and doesn’t shock or disgust someone should they happen to encounter it off your head (we’ve heard of relationships ending over this).

Can I just wash it in the Washing Machine or Dishwasher?

Well, yes. And no. You need to remember there are three key issues with baseball cap washing that you need to consider before making any big cleaning decisions – this applies to both dishwashers AND washing machines:

  1. Washing can alter the shape of a baseball cap
  2. Washing can ruin the brim on a baseball cap
  3. Washing may shrink a baseball cap.

As much as I love using the dishwasher to clean a host of household items, I don’t recommend it for hat cleaning because of the hot water issue (think: shrinkage). So, if safe, wash using the washing machine and leave the dishwasher alone.

What about my Classic Yankees Cap from 1979?

How very old school of you. Now let’s say you have an old hat, like pre-1983, or your hat is very delicate and you don’t want to take any chances.  In that case, you need to take some extra steps and use different products, methods and techniques to clean the caps. That will be handled in just a bit, but here’s how to care for a newer hat.

What’s it Made Of

Your fabric care label should state this. If it doesn’t, try using these descriptors to determine the cap’s material:

  • Cotton twill is like a thick pant material; it looks like cotton and has no shine to it.  Like a fine wine, it tends to age nicely.  A good pair of jeans needs to be broken in, so does a cotton twill hat.
  • Cotton polyester blends are durable, have a slight sheen to them which make colors appear much brighter, and are typically colorfast (which is great news for washing).  If your hat claims to wick moisture, it is more than likely a blend or even pure polyester (or a similar synthetic) fabric.
  • Jersey mesh is also a synthetic material which is designed to be rugged and colorfast.  These hats are easier to wash, but are typically not fashionable (they are usually used with running or golfing gear).  The perforations are designed to assist with airflow and moisture-wicking.
  • Wool is a thick, warm and somewhat scratchy material that is very difficult to keep clean.  It can shrink very easily if washed incorrectly.

Cleaning Newer Baseball Caps

If you have a newer cap which is either a cotton twill, blend or jersey mesh, placing your hat in the washing machine would not be a problem. Ensure you are not crushing the hat in among a giant load of laundry so to avoid deforming the brim.  The reason it would be safe is that it is assumed the brim is made out of a plastic form, as opposed to a cardboard one (hence the 1983 comment above).  A cardboard brim would deform and become moldy if not dried properly should it get washed in a machine.

If you know the brim isn’t plastic, don’t wash it in the washing machine!

The recommended steps would be:

  1. Spray soiled and dirty areas with a stain pre-treatment so that you can really get rid of those sweat and dirt stains.
  2. Let this sit for 10 minutes or so to loosen the dirt
  3. Launder in cold water with regular detergent.  Do not use bleach or bleach alternatives.  You may launder in a load with like-colors if you wish, or launder on its own.  You may launder it with a hat form like this which will keep the shape very well.
  4. Let it air dry.  Perhaps hang it with a clothespin or leave it on a laundry rack, never ever place your hat in the dryer!

Cleaning Older Baseball Caps

These old cardboard fellas are hydrophobic. You can’t immerse them in water.  You can completely deform the shape of the hat and can assume that the hat may not be colorfast (things were a lot different in the 80s you know).

For starters, check for colorfastness. This is quite simple and very important to do.  If your hat is not colorfast, the dye will run off the hat and stain other clothing in the wash and will also fade faster.  All you need to do is take a clean rag or cloth (ideally white), and dip it in some mild laundry detergent such as Woolite.  Add a little water and gently rub the inside of the cap in an inconspicuous area (just in case the cap isn’t colorfast).  Let it air dry.  If you don’t see any change to the color once dried (and no color came off onto the cloth), you’re in good shape.  If it is not colorfast, don’t bother cleaning it.

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If it’s safe to clean, here are the steps to take:

  1. Mix a batch of gentle laundry detergent together using cool water in a clean sink or bucket. (follow the directions on the bottle i.e. Woolite)
  2. Lay a dark colored towel on the counter (to catch any spills)
  3. Dip a clean rag in the laundry wash mixture and gently rub the mixture onto the headband, the panels and around the small eyelets (if any).
  4. Take a cleaning toothbrush (i.e. a designated toothbrush just for cleaning) and gently brush in the mixture until it creates a slight foam.  You want to get the dirt and soil lifted up!  Make sure you don’t get any water close to the brim!
  5. Rinse your cloth and use clean water to wipe away the soapy detergent.  Keep doing this until all the foamy bubbles are gone (you don’t want any soap dried in your hat).   You may not be able to remove all sweat stains!
  6. If you wish to deodorize your hat, you can spray the inner panels (not the brim) with a 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol and water. That should kill odor-causing bacteria.
  7. Let it hang to air-dry (see step 4  above).

Cleaning Wool / Felt Baseball Caps

As with any wool item, these are also hydrophobic. Wool does not handle water well, have you ever accidentally washed a wool sweater?  Oops, sweater is Barbie size at best.

As with any wool garment, you cannot twist, scrub or heavily rub wool or else you’ll pull the fibres apart or cause matting.  Further, you need to ensure proper drying so that there are no major shrinkage issues.  Here’s what you need to do.

The right way to clean wool or felt cap:

  1. Mix a batch of gentle laundry detergent together with cool water in a clean sink or bucket. (follow the directions on the bottle i.e. Woolite)
  2. Immerse the hat in the Hand wash in the sink with cool water and a mild laundry detergent meant for wool, like Woolite or Zero.
  3. Let it soak for a few moments, and then rinse in cool water.
  4. Using a clean, dark towel, gently roll the hat in the towel to wick away most of the water.
  5. Finally, reshape the cap by placing it on a form that is similarly sized to your head.  You can use a head form (if you have access to one), a balloon blown up the size of your head, or a coffee can.  If you don’t care about your hair that day, let the hat dry on your head (talk about a perfect fit).  You do not want to let the hat air dry without a form, or else it will certainly shrink.

Any time we wash something I always recommend checking the care label, found on the inside of the cap. If you know the manufacturer and don’t have a tag, you can also contact them to find out what to do.

Here is a list of a few popular brands that you can check out:

I’m surprised, these companies don’t list any care instructions on their websites.  How dare they!

Keep those hats clean, my friends!

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.