The secret is cleaning a baseball cap is actually in how you dry it.
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Baseball caps, whether worn for sport, for work, or for fashion, can get very dirty, very fast. It's easy to overlook the need to wash them—after all, we typically don't remove our caps and toss them in the hamper the way we would a pair of socks. But over time, dirt, sweat, hair products, makeup, and more will build up on a baseball cap, making it look (and smell, let's be honest!) less than stellar.

When it's time to give a baseball cap a bath, there are three methods to choose from: In the machine, by hand, or by spot-treating only the stained areas that have gotten soiled. (Skip so-called hacks that suggest washing a baseball cap in the dishwasher, because steam can cause the fabric to pucker.) Whichever option you choose, the method for drying a baseball cap is the same, and that drying step is the key to making sure it doesn't lose its shape when it's washed.

blue baseball cap on blue background
Credit: susandaniels / Getty Images

How to Wash a Baseball Cap in a Washing Machine

Most baseball caps can be cleaned in the washing machine and air-dried. Machine washing will be the best choice for caps that are worn for exercise, yardwork, sun protection, and other potentially sweaty activities.

What You'll Need

  • A stain treatment product
  • Laundry detergent
  • A hand towel

Step 1: Apply Stain Treatment Products

Baseball caps, because they are typically not washed regularly, tend to fall into the category of heavily soiled items and may need to be pre-treated with a stain-removing product prior to laundering.

Hats that are stained with dirt, mud, grass, or sweat, all of which are protein stains, should be pretreated with an enzymatic formula like Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover or Zout. OxiClean MaxForce Laundry Stain Remover is excellent at eliminating makeup stains, as is rubbing alcohol. To address food stains on hats (they happen!), Shout Laundry Stain Remover is a good choice. Oil and grease stains can be treated with Pine Sol or Lestoil.

Step 2: Wash with Like Items

When machine washing a baseball cap, skip those cage-like protectors that promise to keep a hat's shape and instead wash the hat alongside like items, or on its own. Like items can include other ballcaps (do a whole load!) or small garments such as socks, underwear, lightweight pajamas, and the like. Avoid washing ballcaps alongside heavy and/or bulky items like jeans, sweatshirts, and towels, the weight of which can crush a cap, ruining its shape.

Step 3: Run Delicate Cycle

In order to make machine laundering as gentle on your hat as possible, wash in cold water and select the machine's delicate or slow setting.

Step 4: Air-Dry and Reshape

Here comes the real secret to ensuring your baseball cap doesn't lose its shape when washed: It's in how you dry it. Skip machine drying and opt instead to air dry the hat by placing a balled-up hand towel in the crown of the hat to reshape it.

How to Hand-Wash a Baseball Cap

Hand-washing is easier and more straightforward than you might think, and it's a great option for cleaning items you don't want to entrust to the washing machine. It's the best choice for cleaning more structured hats, embellished hats, and for deep-cleaning badly stained caps.

What You'll Need

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • A hand towel
  • A wash basin (optional)

Step 1: Choose a Place to Hand-Wash and Fill with Water

Hand-laundering can be done in any container large enough to hold water, detergent, and the item in need of washing, while allowing enough room for your hands to move through the water. Typically, hand laundering is done in the kitchen or bathroom sink, a utility sink, the bathtub, a bucket, or a wash basin.

Fill the basin about halfway up—no more than ⅔ full—with water, leaving enough room for the hat as well as for your hands to move without sloshing sudsy water everywhere.

Step 2: Add Detergent

While you do not need a specialty detergent to hand-wash a ballcap, using liquid laundry detergent is recommended because it dissolves better in cool or lukewarm water than powdered formulas. (Never use detergent packs or pods for hand laundering, as puncturing the packs can be hazardous.)

Avoid the temptation to pour an entire capful of detergent into the wash water; using too much detergent will require excessive rinsing to remove the suds, and residue from the soap can cause skin irritation like rashes or breakouts, as well as lend a dingy appearance to the cap.

Step 3: Submerge Hat

Place the hat in the soapy water, using your hands to fully submerge it. Then, use your hands to agitate the hat so that the water and detergent can penetrate its fibers and to dislodge dirt and grime.

Step 4: Allow Hat to Soak

If the hat is only moderately dirty, leave it to soak in the wash water for 10 to 15 minutes after agitating it. If the hat is heavily soiled, allow it to soak for an hour or longer, up to overnight.

Step 5: Rinse Hat and Air-Dry

Once the hat has soaked, drain the dirty wash water and rinse the hat well with clean water. After thoroughly rinsing the hat, gently squeeze the panels to extrude water, then air dry the hat using the balled-up hand towel method.

How to Spot Clean a Baseball Cap

Spot treating refers to the use of detergent or a stain treatment product to clean a small area of an accessory or garment. This is the best choice for cleaning heavily embellished hats, hats with metal detailing that should not be overly exposed to water, and for treating stains between washings.

What You'll Need

  • A stain treatment product
  • A light-colored cloth or sponge
  • A hand towel

Step 1: Identify Stain and Choose Stain Treatment Product

If there is a stain from food, oil or grease, or makeup, it will be best to clean the hat using an appropriate stain treatment product. To remove general stains from dirt or body soils, a small amount of liquid laundry detergent or dish or hand soap may be used for spot treating.

Step 2: Apply Stain Treatment

Use a slightly damp light-colored cloth or sponge to apply the stain treatment or detergent to the stain, applying the soap to the cloth rather than directly onto the hat. Using a gentle, circular motion, work the detergent into the stained or soiled area.

Step 3: Rinse

Once the stain or soiling has been eliminated, rinse the cloth with clean water and go back over the area of the hat that you've cleaned to remove soap residue (this may require several passes). Then, allow the hat to air dry, reshaping using the balled-up towel method if needed.

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