Cleaning a Straw Hat and Sweatband

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Warm weather straw hats are both fashionable and practical for both men and women. Styles can range from a cowboy style to a Panama hat to a wide-brimmed hat that blocks the summer sun. Prices range from very inexpensive to hundreds of dollars for a finely woven handmade hat.

Straw hats can be made from natural plant material (palm, straw, hemp, or reeds). Most natural straw hats are woven and then steam is applied to create the shape of the hat on preformed blocks.

"Straw hats" can also be made from man-made synthetic fibers as well as by-products of the paper industry.

But how do you keep them clean?

How to Clean a Straw Hat

  • 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. If there is glue residue on the hat after removing the trimmings, remember it will be covered when you replace the trim.
  • 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.
  • 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 because dye may transfer to the straw.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • To remove perspiration stains, 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 scuffs on the hat, try rubbing the area with an artist gum eraser. Use a gentle pressure and allow the eraser to do the work.

How to Keep a Straw Hat Looking Sharp

  • Try your best to keep your straw hat dry. If your hat does get wet, shake off the water and turn down the fabric or leather sweatband to use as a "hat stand". Allow your hat to dry away from direct sunlight or high heat while sitting upright on the sweatband. If the hat has a curved brim, like a cowboy hat, do not dry on a flat surface because the brim will become misshapen.
  • 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.
  • Never leave your hat in your car or a very hot place as this can dry out the straw (or melt a synthetic straw) and cause it to become brittle and misshapen.
  • Always handle a hat with clean hands and by the brim, not the crown. Constant pinching can break the fibers.
  • To prevent perspiration, make-up, lotions, and hair products from seeping into the straw, turn the sweatband down so it can dry between wearings. If you have staining on the leather sweatband, sprinkle it with cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb the moisture. Allow to sit for several hours and then brush away. Do not spray with liquid cleaners.
  • Always store straw hats in a cool, dry place. If the brim is curved, store the hat upside down in a hat box 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.