How to Clean a Baseball Cap

Some folks have owned their caps for years, and the attachment is more than utilitarian - it's emotional. There's a real chance a grungy, well-worn baseball cap may be damaged by improper cleaning. Maybe the cap will lose its shape. The brim might be damaged or deformed. Or the cap could shrink. Better to wear a dirty hat than roll the dice.

Cleaning a favorite cap may be a little nerve-wracking, but the following tips can provide a little peace of mind.

Preventive Medicine for Baseball Hats

It's best to keep dirt and stains off a new cap if possible, but hard-worn caps will pick up dirt, especially if used in sports.

Spraying with Scotch Guard before wearing, or with a product called Hat Saver, will help to protect the cap from dust and dirt, at least for the short-term, and give it a longer life.

Before Washing the Baseball Cap

First, check the cap's tag. It should list the material the cap is made from, and may also provide the manufacturer's suggested cleaning instructions.

Baseball Hat Materials

  • Most baseball caps are made from cotton or polyester; both of these materials withstand washing well.
  • Cotton Twill is a good, durable fabric, as are the Cotton/Polyester Blends. This material is tough and bright, more than likely color fast.
  • Jersey Mesh is a stretch fabric, also durable.
  • The other main material is wool. Wool is warm, even when wet, but can shrink in hot water or air.

Testing Ballcaps for Color Fastness

Once the baseball cap's material is determined, it's time to check for color fastness. Add a splash of mild detergent (Zero or Woolite) to a wet cloth. Choose a spot on the cap's inner rim, one not readily visible. Rub gently with the cloth. Rinse the spot with a clean cloth and cool water. If the color's don't run or fade, proceed with confidence.

Alcohol and hairspray have been used in the past as home-remedy stain removers, but according to the National Cleaners Association, hairspray or alcohol should never be used on caps having heavy grease or ink stains. Alcohol and hairspray can cause color damage and may contain resins or lanolin that could actually create more stains.

Baseball Cap Pre-wash

Use a soft, plastic-bristle brush to remove loose dirt and dust. Brush gently so as not to force dirt particles into the fabric. Then pre-treat the liner and headband with an enzyme-based laundry spray such as Spray 'n Wash.

Cleaning Baseball Caps in the Washing Machine

Baseball caps manufactured in the last ten years more than likely have shaped plastic bills instead of cardboard, and should hold up to machine washing - with the proper care. Just toss the cap in with similar color clothes, set the washer to gentle or delicate cycle, and use cold or warm water. Don't use bleach.

Plastic Baseball Cap Cage

One good way to ensure the baseball cap keeps its shape is to use a plastic cage (obtained from WalMart for around $5.00). These cages are made specifically to hold the cap secure and protect it from the washer's agitating force. These are not foolproof, however - they've been known to break.

Baseball Hats in the Dishwasher

Using a dishwasher is not recommended, as the water gets too hot and there's no fine-tuning of the temperature. But caps can be washed in the dishwasher, and there is one advantage. If washed in the top rack, the cap will not move, and is more likely to keep its shape.

Plastic cages can also be used in dishwashers, but there's a chance they may melt.

Whether using a washing machine or a dishwasher, make sure you air-dry the cap. The hot air of a clothes dryer (or a dishwasher in drying mode) may cause shrinkage.

Washing Older Ballcaps

Caps over ten years old or made from wool require a gentler touch. The bill may be made from cardboard, the fabric thinner from exposure to sun and weather. Washing machines and dishwashers are too rough for older caps.

Fill a sink or container with lukewarm or cool water. Test for color fastness and use stain removal spray as above. Then add a little Woolite to the water and let the cap soak. Scrub gently with a soft-bristle brush. Rinse with cool, clean water.

Repeat process as needed. Use enzymatic laundry detergent along with an "unbleach" (active oxygen bleach or Oxy-Clean powder) if there is grease or heavy, imbedded stains present.

Make sure to air-dry the cap. Fit the ballcap around a plastic bowl or use a store-bought cap mold to help the cap keep its shape while drying. Or hang it outside on a clothesline in the sun and fresh air.

Be extra-gentle with wool caps. Too much rubbing can cause pilling.

No do-it-yourself process is foolproof, however, and there's always the chance that cleaning the cap may cause damage. If there's still a concern about hurting a favorite cap, and the loss of the cap would be unacceptable, the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute International recommends sending it to a professional dry cleaner, whose expertise and special cleaning technology can give your favorite baseball cap a whole new lease on life.