An expert shares her best advice for cleaning an accessory that can't be put through a washing cycle.

By Caroline Biggs
November 17, 2020
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straw hats on hooks
Credit: Getty / Eric Audras

As stylish as straw hats can be, cleaning and caring for them can be tricky. "If a straw hat gets soaked in water, it will likely lose its shape," says Christina Dove, the E-Commerce General Manager at Hats in the Belfry. "Additionally, oils on even the cleanest of hands can stain the brim or the crown of a straw hat over time, so you should avoid handling the hat as much as possible, and when you do, handle the smallest area possible."

Fortunately, with the right cleaning methods, Dove says you can keep a straw hat in tiptop shape. "When it comes right down to it, a straw hat is remarkably durable and resistant," she explains. "As long as you know the limits of the hat, take proper care of it and also how to best clean it, you'll be pleased with how long your straw hat will stay with you." Curious how you can clean, dry, and reshape your favorite straw hat like a real milliner? We asked Dove to share her advice and this is what she had say. 

Cleaning Straw

Since straw naturally absorbs water, and is prone to breaking or tearing, Dove says it's crucial to clean a straw hat with a gentle, straw-safe cleaner, like NuStraw ($9.95, amazon.com). "Always test an inconspicuous part of the hat to ensure it's not going to have an adverse effect on the straw," she says. "Using a small amount of NuStraw cleaner on a soft, clean cloth, spot clean any heavier or more noticeable stains working in small circular motions." Then, she says to clean the entire body of the hat, still working in small circular motions, starting from the crown and working outwards. "Once you've finished cleaning, gently wipe the hat down with a dry, clean cloth."

Cleaning Cloth

Dove says you may find that the cloth pieces of your straw hat, such as the hat band, may need a gentle cleaning as well. "For these pieces you can use diluted laundry detergent," she says. "Add a very small amount of detergent to warm water and slightly dampen a clean cloth with your solution. Gently scrub in a circular motion. Follow this up with a second cloth dampened with just water to wipe the cloth areas again."

Drying Tips

The best way to preserve the integrity of your straw hat over time is to avoid getting it wet. "However, if you get caught in a down pour and need to re-shape your hat, make sure to do so right away (when it's easier to 'mold')," she says. For this, she recommends using clean cloth or cotton shirts to gently stuff the hat to hold its shape while it dries. "You can even use a hair dryer on low to help speed it along," she says. When drying cloth sections of a straw hat, she suggests allowing them to air dry, or using a hair dryer on a low, cool setting to gently dry the fabric areas.

Reshaping Your Hat

To re-shape a dry hat that may have accidentally made its way to a corner of your closet, Dove says to first try popping it back into shape by hand. "Put some tissue paper or a clean cotton shirt into the crown to hold the shape for a few hours," she says. If this doesn't do the trick, she says you can try steaming the hat, as long as it doesn't have any inner wiring. "Using a clothing steamer, slightly dampen the straw of the hat, then smooth and reshape with your hands," she advises.

Flattening a Brim

Flattening out a straw brim that has curled requires setting the hat down on a flat surface and laying something heavy, like a coffee table book, along it while it dries, explains Dove. "You may want to place a clean cloth or cotton tee shirt between your hat and your heavy item to keep your hat clean," she adds.

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