Whether you’re dealing with a worn-out baseball cap or wide-brimmed boater, the washing dilemma is the same: How do you ensure that your headwear looks fresh while retaining its shape when the job is done? For this reason, we went (hat in hand, if you will) to Patric Richardson, laundry guru and author of the audiobook Laundry Love, to find out how to wash a hat the right way, and here’s what he had to say.

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What to know before washing your hat

Per Richardson, the single most important thing to do before you roll up your sleeves and start hat-washing is simply to identify what type of headwear it is you’re working with—namely, whether it’s a soft or blocked hat.

  • Blocked hats: Milliners traditionally used a wooden block to mold and finish hats by hand. Although most hats aren’t hand-blocked today, the term is still used to describe any hat—fedora, cloche, bowler, cowboy—that has a more structured shape. ‘Blocked’ hats are typically made from either wool or fur felt, or some combination of the two, and they’re pretty hard to mistake. (Hint: They just look fancier.)
  • Soft hats: Beanies, berets and other unstructured hats fall under the category of ‘soft’ hats. They aren’t made of the same stiff material as blocked hats and you needn’t worry about crushing them.

Now that you’re familiar with these two terms, take a look at Richardson’s recommended washing methods and pick the one that’s best suited for your soiled cap.

How to hand wash a hat

The hand washing method described below is intended for soft hats like beanies, berets, snap brim golf hats and fabric (not straw) sunhats. Do not take this approach with blocked hats: This higher maintenance style of headwear can be damaged irreparably when soaked with water. When in doubt, go straight to the source (i.e., check the cleaning instructions on the tag or reach out to the manufacturer) to find out whether or not your seemingly soft hat can survive a bucket of water and some gentle handwashing.

Step 1: Fill the wash basin

Warm, not hot, water is recommended when washing soft hats—so grab a basin or bucket and fill ‘er up.

Step 2: Add detergent

Next, add a small amount of very mild detergent (Woolite is a safe choice) and use your hand to mix and distribute it in the water.

Step 3: Dunk and scrub

Submerge your hat in the soapy water and use a soft brush to gently scrub any stains from the surface of the hat. (Note: For soft hats with stubborn stains, spot treating is also an option prior to hand washing.)

Step 4: Rinse

Remove the hat from the soapy water and rinse it thoroughly by holding it under running water or dunking it in a detergent-free bucket.

Step 5: Dry

Pat the hat dry with a towel and place it over a bowl in a well-ventilated area to air-dry.

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How to wash a hat in the dishwasher

It might sound strange, but Richardson says this is the easiest way to get a baseball cap squeaky clean—just don’t test this hack on any other type of hat.

Step 1: Place baseball cap in dishwasher

Good news: In a single cycle, you can wash as many sweaty baseball caps as you can fit on the top shelf of a dishwasher. (Don’t get greedy and try putting hats on the bottom rack, though, or you’ll just have bad news.)

Step 2: Run the dishwasher

Richardson recommends you run the dishwasher alone, so soap is optional here. If you do decide to add a little detergent to the mix—those baseball caps have really seen better days—be sure to use only a small amount of something mild and bleach-free. Above all, skip the ‘heated dry’ option when selecting the cycle, as this might cause your hats to shrink.

Step 3: Dry

As previously mentioned, you do not want the dishwasher to do the drying for you. Instead, skip the drying stage of the cycle and allow your damp hats to air-dry on top of cups or bowls, which will help them keep their shape.

How to clean a blocked hat

The million dollar question: How do you wash a blocked hat? Well, friends, the answer is…you don’t. According to Richardson, these structured beauties fare better if they never see a heavy rain, let alone the inside of a dishwasher or wash basin. That said, blocked hats aren’t immune to stains, so here’s what you can do.

Step 1: Spot clean

Nothing smarts quite like the realization that your oh-so smart-looking hat has an unsightly stain. Fear not: The laundry pro says it’s OK to spot clean stains on blocked hats just as you would any other piece of fabric. In other words, lightly mist the stain with your spot treatment of choice, gently rub it into the hat and proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Rinse

Stop! Do not actually rinse your hat under water: Remember, water is not your fedora’s friend. Simply dampen a rag or microfiber towel and rub over the spot-cleaned area for a targeted rinse.

Step 3: Dry

Allow the hat to air-dry somewhere away from direct heat (i.e., not on top of your radiator).

Step 3: Brush

Once the stain has been removed, you can spruce up your chapeau with a hat brush, or other soft-bristled brush—a quick once-over in the natural direction of the felt will remove surface lint and dirt in the blink of an eye.

How to deodorize a hat

Whether it’s a vintage store, a basement storage box or your own sweaty head that’s to blame, no one likes a smelly hat. Fortunately, there’s a quick fix for funky or musty smelling headwear, and you can find it at the mini bar. Richardson recommends vodka (yep, that’s right) as a natural deodorizer for hats that are in need of freshening: Pour some in a spray bottle, give a light spritz, and let your hat sleep it off—by morning, it will smell brand new.

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