When your clothes get dirty or sweaty, you wash them before wearing them again, but when your favorite hat gets dirty or sweaty, you probably just stick it on a shelf or hook until you want to wear it again. It's hardly surprising that a hat would develop a funky smell considering how much sweat, bacteria, hair product, and general grime builds up on headwear over time. In the future, you can spritz a hat odor remover spray product in the cap between washes to keep it smelling fresh, but first, your trusty hat needs a deep clean.
Cleaning a Stinky Baseball Cap
There's no kind of hat more prone to sweat stains and bad smells than the baseball cap. Your standard laundry detergent may not be up to the task of cleaning a smelly cap. Use a stain remover with oxygen bleach instead, such as OxiClean powder. Commonly, OxiClean is used for dissolving stains in a variety of fabrics, and it can be a pretty effective hat odor eliminator too.
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Rinse the cap under cool running water to get out as much grime as possible. Wearing gloves, follow the package directions to mix OxiClean powder and water in a large bowl or plastic container. Submerge the cap and let it soak for one to six hours; OxiClean recommends waiting the full six hours if possible. Then, refill the bowl with cool water and a squirt of liquid laundry detergent and hand wash the hat. Set it on a towel to air-dry with some crumpled paper or a balled-up hand towel under it to help the cap keep its shape.
If you're washing a white cap with visible sweat stains, try baking soda as a DIY hat odor remover before deep cleaning with OxiClean and detergent. Make a thin paste of baking soda and water and rub the paste into visible stains with a clean brush. Let the hat sit for about 10 minutes. Rinse off the baking soda and then proceed with cleaning.
There's an ongoing debate among hat lovers: Should you wash a baseball cap in the dishwasher or not? It's certainly an easy way to wash this kind of hat. Just stick it on the top shelf of the empty dishwasher, add detergent, and use your machine's gentlest, lowest-heat setting. A hat won't be battered around in a dishwasher like it would in a washing machine, but it might feel a little icky to wash your sweaty hat in the same place you wash your dishes. If you're going to try this method, secure the hat in a baseball cap holder first to help it maintain its shape.
Cleaning a Stinky Wool Hat
In addition its natural odor, wool can take on a funky or musty smell over time. Both cozy woolen caps and structured woolen hats can generally be washed the same way: by hand with cool water and detergent made for wool and other delicate fabrics.
If you haven't washed the hat before, rub a little detergent into a patch of wool on the inside of the hat brim. Wait a few minutes and then rinse the spot to check whether any dye bleeds out. If not, fill a large bowl or bucket with cool water and add detergent according to the package directions. Submerge the hat and swirl it around gently for a few minutes. Let it soak for about 30 minutes and rinse it under cool water.
Pat the hat with a towel to remove excess water. Always air-dry wool since the heat and agitation of the dryer could ruin it.
Cleaning a Stinky Straw Hat
Cleaning a straw sun hat or cowboy hat usually requires nothing more than a slightly damp, slightly soapy cloth. It should be enough to wipe away surface dirt or other noticeable debris. When the hat starts to smell, hydrogen peroxide can help. Mix equal parts peroxide and water in a bowl and use a clean white cloth to rub it across the inside of the hat, especially around the brim. Since sweat accumulates along the forehead, the brim is often the stinkiest part of the hat.
If the straw hat is labeled as waterproof, it may be safe to soak the entire hat in a bowl of water with a squirt of dish soap. Rinse it and let the hat air-dry.