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How to Clean a Hat Without Ruining It

The best way to wash a baseball hat depends on what the care label recommends. It might be hand washing, or maybe just spot treating, or even using a hat cage in the washing machine or dishwasher.

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By Mary Gagliardi

Hats pick up sweat and dirt and body soil just like other clothes, but since they are not as easy to wash (if the care label actually allows washing) they end up back on the hat rack or up in the closet and the dirt and stains build up.

Part of the problem is design and construction: older baseball caps have cardboard inserts on the inside of the bill or visor that makes it easy to bend and shape exactly the way you like, but impossible to wash. Instead, these hats can only be spot treated because submerging in water will ruin the cardboard inside the hat.

Newer hats have plastic inserts that are safe for washing—if the bill on a newer hat bends easily and holds a new shape it probably has a cardboard insert so double check the care label before trying anything that gets the hat completely wet.

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Check for colorfastness

Before washing, check to make sure a hat will not bleed when wet by applying a little liquid Clorox 2® for Colors to a hidden part of the hat. Wait a few minutes, then rinse. If any color comes off, then the hat is not colorfast. You can still hand wash the hat as long as you accept that some color will come off; otherwise you are limited to rinsing the hat with just water or spot cleaning.

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When to spot clean a baseball hat

Baseball caps with a leather closure or trim should not be hand or machine washed in order preserve the leather. Instead, the fabric portion of the hat can be spot cleaned by wiping the hat fabric with Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes. Or, take them to a dry cleaner that specializes in leather care. Wool baseball caps can also be spot cleaned if hand washing is not allowed.

Metal buckles on the closure combined with a metal snap back can also be difficult to wash if the metal will rust easily and discolor the rest of the fabric on the hat when wet. These hats may also be labeled “Do not wash” and only allow spot cleaning. Hats that are not colorfast should also be spot cleaned unless you accept some fading. When you aren’t sure how a hat will respond to spot treating, test a hidden area first.

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When to use a hat cage in the washing machine or dishwasher

When a hat manufacturer specifically recommends washing their hats in a hat cage, then you know it’s okay to do so. In general, hat cages should only be used with the gentle cycle in a deep-fill top loading clothes washer, or on the top rack of a dishwasher. The cage containing the hat should be the only item being washed when you run the cycle. Again, follow the care instructions for your specific hat and only do this when recommended by the hat manufacturer; hand washing will generally be the safest way to wash a baseball hat.

What you need

Steps to hand wash a baseball hat

  1. 1

    Apply liquid Clorox 2® to the sweatband

    Use the cap to apply enough product directly to the sweatband full-strength to saturate sweat stains and gently rub it in.

    clorox 2 liquid pouring from bottle
  2. 2

    Wait 5–10 minutes

    Set a timer so you don’t lose track of the time; don’t let the product dry out on the fabric.


    Mix up the handwashing solution during the pretreatment time.

  3. 3

    Hand wash the hat

    Add 1 quart of warm water to the dishpan, then add 1 capful of liquid Clorox 2® for Colors. Stir with the plastic spoon, then add the hat and use the spoon to push it all the way into the solution. Stir with the spoon for a few minutes, then allow to soak for up to 1 hour.


    To wash several hats at once, use 1 scoop powdered Clorox 2® for Colors added to 2 gallons of hot water.


    White hats can soak for up to 8 hours when using powdered Clorox 2® for Colors.

  4. 4

    Rinse and pat dry

    Use lukewarm water to rinse the hat thoroughly, then squeeze the hat in the towel to remove excess moisture. Reshape the hat and set the crown over the bowl before allowing it to air dry completely. 

    faucet with water

Frequently asked questions

How do you clean a bucket hat or a trucker hat?

You can easily hand wash trucker hats and bucket hats. For a trucker hat, first check the care instructions from the hat manufacturer. Sometimes they recommend washing your trucker hat in a hat cage to preserve the front of the crown.