Cleaning a Leather or Suede Hat

Light and dark brown suede leather hats mounted on white wall next to book shelf

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Leather hats come in every shape and style and are very warm against winter winds, and they make quite a fashion statement. With proper care, both tanned leather and suede leather hats can last for many years.

How to Clean Tanned Leather Hats

Tanned leather is sold in two grades:

  • Aniline: Aniline leather is a full-grain leather that has been treated with the chemical aniline. This is the most common type of leather used for jackets and hats.
  • Nappa: The highest grade leather, Nappa leather is very soft, supple, and uses a full-grain sheep or lamb hide.

The key to keeping a tanned leather hat looking its best and protecting you from the weather is how you treat it before you ever wear it outside. Ask the seller about the finish of the leather and be sure that the leather is properly treated with a leather protector. If the hat is less expensive or purchased at a second-hand shop, you can purchase leather protector products in both liquid or spray-on formulas. The protector helps repel water and prevents stains on the leather surface. The protector products should be reapplied at least yearly or more often if your hat is frequently exposed to harsh weather.

There are a few other tips that you should follow to prevent damage to your leather hat:

  • Do not apply hair spray, perfume, or cologne while wearing your leather hat. The alcohol will dry out and stain the leather. Use the products and allow them to dry completely before putting on the hat.
  • Never attach badges, pins, tape, or stick-on labels to leather. It will mar the finish.
  • Have a professional attach any emblems or embroidery to the leather surface. Holes caused by incorrect stitching are nearly impossible to remove.

When a tanned leather hat loses its good looks, treat it with a commercial leather conditioner or dressing. Avoid saddle soap or harsh cleaners. If the hat is really dirty and must be "washed" always condition it as soon as it is dry.

If you do get caught in a rainstorm, wipe the hat with a soft, white cloth, turn down the inner sweatband, and allow it to air dry naturally away from direct sunlight and high heat. Dry on a hat form, if possible, to prevent shrinking and misshaping the brim. When completely dry, apply a leather conditioner to keep the leather soft and supple.

How to Clean Suede Leather Hats

While you'll find lots of faux suede hats on the market, there are two types of natural suede used for hats:

  • Suede: Natural suede leather is created from the soft underside of a split-grain animal hide. It has a nappy finish that is easily stained. There are specific care and cleaning steps for suede jackets, accessories, and furniture.
  • Nubuck: Similar to suede in appearance, nubuck uses the top of the animal hide which is finely sanded and buffed to produce the softest, velvety leather finish. The daily care techniques for Nubuck are similar to suede, but stain removal most often requires treatment by a professional.

If you plan to wear your suede hat daily, you might consider treating the hat with a spray-on suede and nubuck protector. This product will help repel rain and protect it from excessive staining.

To keep the hat looking its best, use a soft bristle brush found in suede cleaning kits at least weekly to remove loose dirt and dust. For areas of the hat that appear matted, buff with an emery cloth to raise the nap. Oily stains can be dusted with cornstarch or talcum powder. Allow the powder to sit on the stain for several hours to absorb the oil and then brush away. Repeat until the oil is gone.

For very tough stains, spot treat with a mixture of mild detergent and water. Rinse by wiping with a clean white cloth dipped in water. Allow to air dry and then brush to restore the nap.

Avoid getting your suede hat excessively wet. If it happens, shake off excess water and allow it to air dry. Dry on a hat form if possible to prevent shrinking and misshaping. When dry, brush well to restore nap. Be sure the hat is completely dry before wearing it again or storing it.

Light brown suede leather hat cleaned with a soft-bristled brush

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

White cloth with mild detergent wiping stain on light brown suede leather hat

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Clean Leather Hat Sweatbands

Sweatbands in leather hats are there to prevent perspiration and body oils from staining the outside of the hat. Whether the band is made of fabric or leather, it will probably need to be cleaned frequently and correctly.

Light brown suede leather hat sweatband wiped with white cloth

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Store Leather Hats

Storing your hat properly will prevent many problems. Stored in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. Avoid any location that has excessive moisture; even a closet near a bathroom. If you are concerned about dust, use a hat box or cover the hat with a cloth garment bag or cotton sheet. Never store in a plastic bag that could trap moisture and promote mildew or cause the yellowing of white leather goods.

Light brown leather hat stored in a white cloth garment bag

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald