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How to Wash a Baseball Cap — Plus the Balloon Trick That Makes It as Good as New

Is your favorite cap looking worse for wear? Our expert tips rid them of stains and smells fast!

There’s nothing more perfect than putting on a baseball cap when you’re having a bad hair day. But if you’re like us and you’ve had your fair share of bad hair days, thanks to a buildup of sweat, hair product residue or just plain dirt, that cap cannot only start to look like it needs a good cleaning, it can smell like it too. Fortunately, there’s no need to toss it, assures celebrity stylist Samantha Brown, who has worked with Candice Bergen and Jennifer Nettles, since returning your cap to its former spotless, odor-free and perfectly shaped glory is easy. Read on to learn how to wash a baseball cap.

Why you don’t want to toss your cap in the washing machine

While some baseball caps may be able to handle the agitation of a washing machine, it is best to avoid throwing them in the wash unless all below methods of spot-treating and handwashing can’t get them clean, says Brown. That’s because baseball caps can become misshapen from the harsh spin cycles of a washing machine and can even shrink if accidentally washed in water that’s too hot.

What’s more? Vintage or even cheaply made hats can have cardboard instead of plastic inside their bills that can become soggy and warped once submerged in water inside a washing machine. Brown’s tip to check if your ball cap is made with cardboard: use your finger to tap or flick the bill. If it makes a hollow sound, there is cardboard inside.

Read on for how to learn how to wash a baseball cap depending on what the issue is.

To remove dirt accumulated on the cap: Grab a toothbrush

If you notice dirt or loose particles (like pollen, lint, sand, etc.) accumulated on your hat, reach for a clean, dry toothbrush and softly swipe it over the hat to gently whisk away the debris. Its soft bristles act like a broom to sweep away the particles, yet are gentle enough that they won’t damage your hat’s delicate fabric.

To wash a stinky baseball cap: Opt for baking soda

baking soda on a spoon and in a glass jar to clean baseball cap

To remove perspiration and odor-causing bacteria from hats (and even other wardrobe staples like T-shirts, socks and bras) pour ½ cup of baking soda inside the hat, let sit for 1 hour, then shake out baking soda into the trash. The powder neutralizes any odors in the hat while also absorbing oils from sweat and hair products that contribute to the stink.

To spot-treat sweat stains: Use hot water

Perspiration stains form a ring on the inside of your cap? Don’t sweat it! Simply dampen a white washcloth with hot water (make sure it’s white to avoid any color transfer), then dab (don’t rub) the stain. The heat will help evaporate the sweat marks, lifting the stains right off. “If the sweat stains are very set in, dab at them with white vinegar, which will help lift stains and brighten the fabric beneath it,” says Olivia Joyce, cleaning expert at Move Out Mates. Blot stains again with a clean, damp cloth and let hat fully dry.

Note: Spot-test vinegar on the fabric to ensure it won’t fade dyes on your cap.

To wash a baseball cap with set-in stains: Try *this* method

For other types of set-in stains, from food to grease to grass, Brown suggests spraying the area with Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover Laundry Spray (Buy on Amazon, $17.48) and using a clean toothbrush to work it into the fabric. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse the hat thoroughly with warm water and let dry.

How to wash a severely soiled baseball cap

Green plastic dish pan for washing a baseball cap
Anton Starikov/Shutterstock

As mentioned above, because hats can be more delicate and susceptible to damage than other fabric accessories and garments, it’s beneficial to their longevity to handwash them whenever possible.

To do? Simply fill a plastic dishpan with about a gallon of cool or lukewarm water and stir in 1 Tbs. of liquid laundry detergent.

Next, submerge the cap in the liquid and use a clean toothbrush to work the soapy water into stained areas and the sweatband inside the cap to lift any debris or discoloration.

Finish by letting it soak for 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with cool water. Pat hat with a clean towel to wick away excess moisture and allow to dry fully.

If stains still persist after handwashing, Brown suggests soaking the hat in an OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder solution (Buy on Amazon, $7.99) overnight since its sodium percarbonate will work to break down even the toughest of stains. To do: Fill included OxiClean scoop to line 4 and stir powder into a basin filled with 1 gallon of water. Submerge hat and soak overnight, then wash on the delicate cycle in the washing machine; let air-dry fully.

Hat look flat after washing? Grab a balloon

Carrie Higgins, author of Organization Hacks and, says to reshape a soggy cap fast, simply set your hair dryer to low heat and use it to partially dry the hat. To finish, wear the hat for an hour or two. As it dries, the hat will form correctly to the shape of your head, smoothing out any wrinkles in the process.

Alternatively, you can invert a bowl that’s the same circumference as the hat and place the hat over the bowl to dry fully, or blow up a balloon and place the hat on top. The round shape of the bowl or balloon will help the hat mold and dry into place. Also smart: Place a rubber band around the bill of the cap as it dries to help it keep its rounded shape.

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