As a golfer, pickleball enthusiast, and runner, I wear a lot of hats that get sweat stains on them. Years ago, I would simply get rid of my hats instead of even trying to deal with the stains. But when I found a hat I really liked, I couldn’t bear to part with it, and that drove me to learn how to clean it. Now I know how to clean hats from sweat, and it has made all the difference. I’ll show you the method that works best for me and how you can easily add it to your laundry routine.
Before You Begin: Important Tips
If you are smart about the preliminary steps of cleaning a hat, you won’t do any damage to the hat. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Careful with mesh and wool hats; they can’t get submerged in water and lose their shape and size
- Hats made before 1983 feature a cardboard bill; soaking these hats could completely deteriorate the bill in the front; you will need to hand wash this type carefully with minimal water
- Don’t let your hat air dry in direct sunlight as it can fade, warm the brim or even cause water to evaporate too quickly and damage the fibers of the hat
- Don’t hand wash caps made of leather and suede; hand washing can cause discoloration, loss of shape, and damage beyond repair
- Avoid chlorine bleach to ensure that the color of your hat remains intact and the fibers do not become compromised and break down at a faster pace
Supplies and Tools
The best method for getting sweat stains out of hats requires some very basic household items that you likely have on hand. Here are the things you will need:
- Dawn dish soap
- Clean cloth
- Warm water
- Old toothbrush
- Distilled white vinegar
- Dry towel
- Hat form, or alternative method for reshaping
How Do You Get Sweat Stains Out of Hats: Step by Step
Here are the steps to take to get your sweat stains out of your hat. If you need a deep clean or a heavy-duty stain remover, skip to this section. This method can be used for cotton, polyester, and even mesh baseball caps and hats; if you are dealing with wool hats or even leather, we have you covered with some alternative methods below.
- Check the care label on the hat to make sure there are no specific instructions in regard to water temperature, hand washing, machine washing, cleaning agents, etc.
- Clean your sink or a large bowl and then fill it with lukewarm water, you can use cold water, but I find that the lukewarm water does a better job of breaking down the oils that are stuck inside the hat
- Add Dawn dish soap to the water and mix completely; the surfactants in the dish soap do a tremendous job of lifting the stains off the hat
- Start by moistening a clean white cloth with the soapy water solution and blotting the hat. Don’t let the hat soak in the water solution; instead, spot treat first with the cloth
- Then use the soft toothbrush and brush the sweat stained hat in the areas where the stains are most visible; the toothbrush helps to lift the stains, especially those in and around the hat’s sweatband
- Take a clean cloth and wipe all areas where you used the cleaning solution; use clean water when doing so
- Take a tablespoon of water and combine it with a tablespoon of vinegar in a small container; the acidity in the vinegar works as a natural deodorizer and stain remover
- Use the toothbrush to apply the vinegar solution to any areas of the hat that are still sweat stained
- Rinse again with a clean cloth that has been soaked in cool or warm water
- Take a dry towel and blot the hat until most of the excess water has been removed
- Place the hat on the dry towel, reshape it to its form, and use a hat form like the YEENOR Baseball Cap Washers, which can be used in the washing machine but also makes a great form for drying your newly cleaned hat
- Once your hat is dry, it’s best to store it in a hat box or on a hat hook if possible
Alternative Methods for Removing Sweat Stains From Hats
The handwash method I discussed above, using vinegar and dish soap, has always been the most effective for me. However, if you are still struggling and feel like you need something stronger, like laundry detergent or even an enzyme treatment, here are some other methods to consider.
- Check the label of your hat and make sure it is cotton or polyester and that it is safe to put in the washing machine
- Brush off any external debris on the hat before placing it in the washing machine
- Put the hat inside a mesh laundry bag a hat form like the YEENOR Baseball Cap Washers so that it does not get damaged during the wash. Do not put any other clothes inside the washing machine
- Use only cold water and a short, gentle cycle
- Arm and Hammer Free and Clear works well to get sweat stains out; use a smaller amount of laundry detergent than you normally would if you are just cleaning a few hats
- Let the entire wash cycle run
- Remove the hat and set it on top of the washing machine on a towel to air dry. Do not put the hat in direct sunlight when drying
- Check the care label on your hat and make sure it states that it is washable. Also look for plastic and synthetic materials, nothing delicate
- Use a hat form that is dishwasher safe and place your hat in it before it goes in the dishwasher, always put the hats on the top rack
- Don’t put dirty dishes in the with this dishwasher method; you will stain your hat with dirty food and water particles
- If you don’t have the hat form, you can use an upside-down bowl to keep the form of the hat
- Set the dishwasher for a gentle cycle on low heat, and do not allow it to go to the drying cycle
- No detergent is necessary
- After the wash, take the hat out; it should be in the proper shape from being in the hat form; allow it to air dry completely before wearing
- Check the care label on your hats, but spot cleaning is a great way to treat even the most delicate material
- Take baking soda, Dawn dish soap, and water and mix it in a small container
- Use a clean cloth or sponge to blot the area with the sweat stains
- Do not rub the hat as this could spread the stains, damage the materials of the hat and even discolor the hat in some situations
- If the stains are bad, try using OxiClean Max Force or CLR Sports Stain Remover
- When the sweat stains are out, you can blot the hat dry with a clean rag or towel
For hats made of wool, silk, or felt, the dry cleaner may be the best solution. Dry cleaners are typically used for dress hats and even fitted hats. If you look at the care label on the hat, it should state the hat material and whether or not it is dry clean only.
If your baseball hats or golf hats say they are dry clean only, make sure you follow those washing instructions. Chances are it’s not the material of the hat that the manufacturer is
concerned about but also the brim shape and brim material.
I always alert the dry cleaner if there is a sweat stain on the hat; they have methods they can use to help to remove sweat stains or spot treat stains, and not damage your favorite hats.
Deep Cleaning Method for Old or Tough Stains on Hats
For deep cleaning of a hat, you will have a bit more of an extensive process to remove sweat stains. If mild detergent is not cutting it, you can try this method to see if your hat is recoverable.
- Check the care label on the hat and make sure that it can be soaked; also, if your hat is really stained, this soaking method may be your last chance to save it
- Fill your sink with cold water and add some OxiClean Odor Blasters laundry detergent; this is an oxygenated cleaner known for breaking down body oils and removing odor and stains
- Let the hat soak, fully submerged in the cleaning solution, for approximately 30 minutes
- Remove the hat and gently scrub sweat stains with an old soft-bristled toothbrush
- Empty the sink and rinse the hat thoroughly with cold water
- Most hats will have their sweat stains removed by now; if you are still struggling, you can fill the sink again and add a few drops of distilled white vinegar with the OxiClean Odor Blasters
- Repeat the same method and then take the hat out to air dry
- Since the soak method is a bit more involved and the hat gets very wet, you will have to wait for quite some time for the hat to dry; using a towel to dry and soak up some of the water is a good idea
Does Sweat Come Out of Hats?
Sweat is released during physical activity, and as it sits on your skin, it is absorbed by the hat. Depending on your hat material and its ability to absorb, sweat stains may or may not come out.
Sweat is a combination of water, sodium, potassium, and even urea. If your hat is incredibly absorbent, it will soak in the sweat and make it very difficult to ever remove the stains. Follow tips to prevent sweat stains, and always use proper storage and cleaning methods to keep your hat in great shape.
Tips for Other Types of Hat Materials
Here are a few of my best tips if you are dealing with some unique or even commonplace materials. I know you will come across cotton and polyester hats the most, but you may be surprised how many hats you own and how badly they need cleaning!
- Leather Hats: use a specific leather cleaner like Leather Honey Leather Cleaner, wipe the surface of the hat, and never expose it to an overabundance of water
- Felt Hats: use a soft brush to keep the felt free of excess debris before storing, only blot sweat stains with a damp cloth, and never scrub to avoid damaging the felt materials
- Straw Hats: never soak a straw hat as moisture will break the straw down, and your hat shape may never be the same; use a small fan or light brush to get any dirt off of the straw
- Wool Hats: spot treat wool hats with a bit of water and mild detergent. Don’t use an enzyme cleaner to avoid breaking down the natural oils and fibers in the wool
- Cotton Hats: most cotton hats can be placed in the washing machine or dishwasher without much concern; these are some of the hardiest hats
- Silk Hats: use a dry cloth to wipe away dust, don’t use water if you can help it; contact a professional or a dry cleaner if you notice significant sweat stains that are hard to remove
- Polyester or Nylon Hats: another machine washable hat, following the hand wash, machine wash, or dishwasher method will give you the cleanest result, these hats also dry rather quickly
- Fur Hats: don’t get your fur hat wet; it can mat down the fur and completely change the look of the hat; let the fur dry naturally, and don’t place it in the direct heat
Preventing Sweat Stains on Hats
If your head is spinning from all this information about how to simply get your hat or baseball cap back to normal, I totally understand. Here’s another great avenue to take, avoiding sweat stains altogether!!
Now as an athlete, I would not be able to wear a hat and completely avoid stains, but here are a few tips you can follow that may help.
- Save your favorite hat for the days when it is not so hot and humid
- If you have a vigorous run and your hat is already soaked with sweat, go ahead and rinse it with cool water before you wear it again; it may help to clean the hat before a stained area develops
- Rotate hats and save your easy to wash ones for the days when you know you will sweat the most
- Choosing moisture-wicking washable materials can help as they won’t absorb as much of the sweat
- You can try sprinkling a little baking soda on the interior bands of the hat after wearing it, let the baking soda sit for about 15-20 minutes, and then shake it all out before wearing it again; the baking soda can absorb sweat and deodorize
Importance of Removing Sweat Stains From Hats
Removing sweat stains from your hat will help keep the material looking good for years to come. Let’s face it, a white hat with a yellow line all around it doesn’t have the same appeal when you are headed out for a day on the golf course or at the ball game. Regular cleaning of your hat will also keep bacteria and odor to a minimum. Some people have had skin issues like dermatitis or acne because of wearing a dirty hat.