How to Clean and Care for a Straw Hat

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Warm-weather straw hats are both fashionable and practical for men and women. Varieties range from a cowboy-style to a Panama fedora to a wide-brimmed hat that blocks the summer sun. While they don't require frequent deep cleanings, a thorough washing once or twice a year will keep your hat in great shape. You can clean most straw hats with water and a mild cleaning solution, but some will become misshapen when wet. In these instances, skip the steps that require water and use a vacuum and soft brush instead. If you're unsure which approach to take, you can test clean a small area underneath the brim to be sure your treatment will not cause harm.

How to Wash a Straw Hat
Detergent Mild dishwashing detergent
Water Temperature Cool
Cycle Type Do not machine wash
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine dry
Special Treatments Spot Clean or Handwash only
Iron Settings Steam any fabric pieces

Project Metrics

Every type of straw has a different level of durability, so read the hat care label to find out any specific cleaning requirements. If your hat doesn't have care instructions, pay attention to the tightness of the weave. A straw hat with a loose weave is probably not as strong as one that is finely woven.

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment
  • White cloth
  • Pantyhose or netting
  • Soft-bristled brush

Instructions

  1. Remove Ribbons and Trim, If Possible

    If your hat has any ribbons or trim, remove them before you begin the cleaning process. Clean them separately by dusting or hand-washing. They can often be refreshed with a bit of steam or ironing.

  2. Wipe Down the Hat

    Whether you have a natural straw hat or one made of a synthetic material, begin by using a clean, damp white cloth to remove any loose dirt or dust. Do not use a colored cloth, as the dye may transfer to the straw. If you need to get into the crevices, use a soft-bristled brush, brushing from the top of the crown to the brim.

  3. Use a Vacuum Attachment

    If you have a hat that is really dusty, place a piece of netting or pantyhose over the end of your vacuum brush and use it to pull the dust from the hat.

  4. Wipe Down with Cleaning Solution

Make a solution of a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid and water. Wet a soft cloth and test a small area of the hat to make sure the water doesn't cause any adverse effects. Once you know it's safe, wipe the hat in a circular pattern to avoid damaging the straw. Finish by wiping with a clean cloth dipped in plain water and then a clean, dry cloth to get soak up the excess water.

Storing a Straw Hat

Always store straw hats in a cool, dry place. If the brim is curved, store the hat upside down in a hatbox to prevent misshaping the brim and to keep off dust. Or, use a mannequin head form and cover the hat and head loosely with a white, cotton pillowcase to repel dust. Never store a straw hat in a plastic bag, which can cause discoloration and promote mildew.

Repairs

If you have a small tear in your hat, use a matching color of mesh netting to repair it.

  1. Cut out three pieces of the netting that are a bit larger than the size of the hole.
  2. Place the netting, each piece stacked on top of each other, on the back of the hole inside the hat.
  3. Use a needle and matching thread to hand-sew the netting to the hat by pushing the needle through the netting and the gaps in the straw's weave.

NOTE: Your patching effort may be noticeable but it will stabilize the straw.

Removing Stains From Straw Hats

  • To remove perspiration stains from the hat, wipe the area with a clean damp white cloth as soon as possible after wearing to prevent body salts and oils from staining the straw.
  • For stains around the sweatband, use 1/2 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 teaspoon of warm water on light-colored straw. For dark straw, use 1/2 teaspoon of ammonia and 1/4 cup warm water. Use a soft-bristled brush like an old toothbrush dipped in the cleaning solution and work on a small area, just one to two inches, at a time. Clean and then blot with a white towel dampened with plain water. Allow the area to dry completely before wearing again.
  • For oily stains, sprinkle the stain with cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb the oil. Allow it to stand for a few hours and then brush or vacuum away.
  • For scuffs on the hat, try rubbing the area with an artist gum eraser. Use gentle pressure and allow the eraser to do the work.
  • To remove sweatband stains, you might need something stronger than just a soapy wet cloth. Instead, use a soft-bristled brush and a mixture of 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1/4 cup of warm water. Dip the brush in the cleaning solution and work on a small area at a time.

Tips for Washing Straw Hats

  • Wipe down the hat after each wearing with a clean damp cloth. This will remove dust accumulated during the day and prevent it from becoming deeply embedded. Always use a plain white cloth so there will be no accidental dye transfer.
  • Always handle a hat with clean hands and by the brim, not the crown. Constant pinching can break the fibers.

Ironing Decorative Attachments

If you have a hat with a veil that can not be removed, use steam from an iron, clothes steamer or hold over a pot of boiling water to carefully reshape a crushed veil. Do not over-steam or the entire hat can lose its shape. 

If you want the veil to be stiff and stand away from your face, iron the veil between two layers of waxed paper. Use a medium setting on your iron with no steam. A trace amount of wax will transfer to the veil and make it look crisp.