How to Clean and Care for a Straw Hat

A straw hat hanging on a trellis

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

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.

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. Here's how to clean and care for a straw hat.

How Often to Clean a Straw Hat

While they don't require frequent deep cleanings, a thorough washing once or twice a year will keep your straw 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 won't cause harm.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

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

Materials

  • Mild dishwashing liquid
  • Water

Instructions

Items to clean a straw hat
​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
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 hand-wash only
Iron Settings Steam any fabric pieces
  1. Remove Ribbons and Trim When 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.

    A ribbon next to a straw hat
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
  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. Don't 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.

    Someone brushing a straw hat
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
  3. Use a Vacuum Attachment

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

    Someone using a vacuum attachment on a straw hat
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
  4. Wipe with a 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 water, and then use a clean dry cloth to soak up the excess water.

    A straw hat with a white cloth and bowls of liquid
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Ironing

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

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 in the following three steps. Your patching effort may be noticeable, but it will stabilize the straw.

  1. Cut out three pieces of 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.

Treating Stains on Straw Hats

Perspiration is the usual culprit when it comes to stains on straw hats. To remove perspiration stains from a 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 hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 teaspoon warm water on light-colored straw. For dark straw, use 1/2 teaspoon 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 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.

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.
  • For a quick cleaning, wrap mailing tape around your hand with the sticky side out. Gently pat the hat all around so that the tape will pick up bits of dust and dander.
  • For a quick way to dislodge dust from your straw hat, brush all over using a soft clean paintbrush.
  • Always handle a hat with clean hands and by the brim, not the crown. Constant pinching can break the fibers.
  • Remove scuffs on the hat by rubbing the area with an artist gum eraser. Use gentle pressure, and allow the eraser to do the work.