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Is it safe to wash caps in the washing machine or dishwasher?

Is it safe to wash caps in the washing machine or dishwasher?

At some point, as a cap wearer, you will have faced the dilemma of ‘is it safe to wash my cap in a washing machine or dishwasher?’.

A quick internet search on cap cleaning, brings up numerous blogs and YouTube videos each showing a million and one ways to do so.

With so much information it can be hard to know what is the best way is to clean your cap without ruining it. From my experience as a professional cap restorer, I will walk you through the pros and cons of doing so.

What do the manufacturers recommend?

What happens when you spill something on your cap or drop it in a muddy puddle?  Will putting it on a short cycle really do much harm?If you look at the label inside your cap, it most likely advises against using a washing machine. It may even say it’s unsafe to wash at all.It’s unlikely that your cap is going to instantly self-destruct but the way fitted and most snap back caps are made means this method of washing will ruin the shape, colour and size.

Baseball cap do not wash label

What are the risks of putting my cap in the washing machine or dishwasher?

From the jump, I’m going to eliminate using the dishwasher as an option. I wouldn’t wish this on any cap, not even a Manchester United one. Dishwashers are not designed to clean any type of fabric or clothing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to cleaning caps they are often treated as an ordinary item of clothing (put in the washing machine) or as sneakers (scrubbed within an inch of their life with a toothbrush). It’s not until after the deed that you will be faced with a wrinkled, faded and warped cap.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying caps are so fragile that they shouldn’t see the light of day. However, if you want to keep them looking their best for as long as possible (plus saving you a fortune on replacing them) it is important to understand how caps should be cleaned.

Too harsh: shrinkage, colour fade and a soggy brim.

Laundering any item of clothing will eventually affect the look and feel of the fabric. There are chemical and physical changes which take place during a washing cycle. Have you noticed how the colour of your t-shirts start to fade and they feel ‘flatter’ in just a few washes?

Washing machine ruins baseball cap

The temperature of the water, water hardness, detergent quality and the mechanical agitation of a washing cycle all play a part in speeding up signs of wear in the fabric. Not only does a cap have to contend with those effects of laundering in a washing machine, but the same process also damages the shape, size and structure. This occurs even using a cap washing cage.

The front panels of the crown are reinforced with a rigid material. This is called buckram, which helps provide structure and supports the shape of the cap. During its manufacturing process it’s treated with starch or glue. Because of this, you need to avoid wetting your cap’s front panels.

Completely soaking the cap in water increases the chances of it drastically shrinking. This is especially true for wool caps. This is why I recommend removing individual stains using the spot cleaning method (I will give you some tips on this later).

If you are reading this after a run in with a washing machine, all is not lost.
Check out the videos below from Dre 616 on how to remove creases and reshape your cap.

With that being said…

However, there are a few occasions when you may be able to get away with cleaning your cap in the washing machine - for instance, if it’s an old cap that you wear for gardening, painting etc. and you just want it clean and are not worried about wrinkles, creases or a wobbly brim. Please note that cardboard brims come out soggy from using a washing machine and rarely retain any stiffness once dry.

How to clean your cap the right way:

My mantra is use water only when necessary. Going in guns blazing puts the fabric and structure of the cap under unnecessary stress, which causes the cap to look worn out much quicker. Learn these safe methods to maintain and clean your caps to keep them looking their best for longer:

Spot and deep cleaning: 

There are several ways to clean a cap. The size of the stain or how dirty the cap is will dictate the best cleaning method for your cap. Spot cleaning is a great way to clean stains off small areas of your cap without having to expose your cap to a full-on clean.

Deep cleaning is required for the occasions when your cap is completely totaled by a muddy puddle.  For more tips and step by step methods on how to clean stains from your cap check out our ultimate guide to cleaning cap stains here:

2023 Update: How to Clean a Baseball Cap (The Right Way)

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Would you like to easily clean stains from your baseball caps,
without damaging the colour or shape? In this guide, you would find out the how to clean a cap with our baseball cap cleaner. Clean baseball cap the right way.

Have you ruined or thrown away caps from DIY methods gone wrong? Even if you've tried and been unsuccessful in the past we got this!

I understand your pain. Back in the day, I destroyed countless caps experimenting with stain removal methods. It's why I’m sharing with you all of my previously secret cap cleaning tips. As a professional fabric cleaner and baseball cap cleaner enthusiast, I'm here to help you keep your caps looking their best.

Inside this guide, you’ll find highly practical dos and don’ts for how to clean stain and dirt from your baseball caps without ruining them.
Cleaning your caps like sneakers will ruin them.

Our main objective is to dissolve the stain or dirt on the fabric. This is the simple part. The tricky bit is removing the stain and cleaning chemical without damaging the colour of the fabric, texture or shape.

It may be tempting to approach cleaning a stain on our caps like any other item of clothing. Caps are different. Do not put your caps in the washing machine (or the dishwasher!) The shape, colour, glues, brim, and embroidery are easily damaged, even when using a cap washing frame.

Stain removal requires a careful approach, since treating the stain too aggressively (e.g. harsh chemicals or rubbing too roughly) can damage your cap.

I prefer to treat stains on caps using a hand cleaning method called spot cleaning. It's best for individual stains, not deep cleaning. Spot cleaning is fantastic because it lets you clean the cap without fully wetting it, something to avoid wherever possible (this increases the risk of shrinkage and damaging cardboard brims).

The Captician method of spot cleaning is effective yet gentle on caps. The old school way of scrubbing a stain with a brush is super damaging to the colour and texture. Our baseball cap cleaner uses chemistry to do the heavy lifting. No elbow grease is needed, just simply blot or wipe the stain away.
Know your fabric! Here's why:
The fabric of your cap dictates your choice of stain remover and method.

Let's take a closer look at the cleaning characteristics of the most common fabrics used to make caps and what to expect during and after the stain cleaning process.

Selection of cotton, polyester, nylon & wool "
Natural Fibre
Absorbs water based stains,
but resists oil based stains.

Synthetic Fibre

Absorbs oil based stains,
but resists water based stains.

Identify the stain
To clean a stain successfully it helps to know where your stain came from. This will help you choose the right product. Unfortunately, It's not possible for one stain remover to clean all stains without damaging the fabric in some way.

What if you aren't sure what caused the stain? In that case, start with the mildest treatment (water - the results may pleasantly surprise) before char­ging in with the big guns.

What's so fascinating about stains is a single one nearly always includes several components from a mixture of stain categories.

For example, a stain from ice cream includes protein, pigments and oil components. Therefore, an ice cream stain requires a stain remover with the ability to tackle multi-component stains.

Some stains are too stubborn for one all-purpose remover. If you're having no joy removing a coffee stain (with milk and sugar) your best solution is to target each component of the stain. In this case, you can use tannin remo­ver for the coffee and a protein stain remover for the milk.

If you follow the instructions on the bottle and apply it to one stain at a time (rinsing thorou­ghly each time as not to neutralize each other) you may see improved results.

The chemistry of cap cleaning
We're about to geek out - ready? Stains can be categorised based on their characteristics: if it can be dissolved by water, solvents or is insoluble.

Main category of stains
Water based stains - drinks, mud.

Oil based stains - food grease, hair oil.

Non-dissolvable - graphite, ash, toner.

Chemical change - rust, dyes.

Sub category of stains
• Combination Stain - Lip stick, shoe polish, ballpoint ink.

These stains often contain both water and oil based elements. To remove successfully, treat it as an oil based stain first, then as a water based stain. Be sure to fully wash out the stain and allow your cap to air dry between treatments. In other words, don't do one treatment directly after the other.

• Protein stains - Milk, blood, cream.

• Tannin stains - Beer, coffee, tomato juice, soft drinks.

• Dye Stains - Mustard, colour bleeding during cleaning.

Bonus Tip!
Ever stained your cap but then noticed the stain magically 'disappear?' Don't be fooled. Some stains containing sugar can appear invisible when dry. However, these stains can reappear or turn yellow if left in the fabric for a long time or exposed to heat.

Why do some stains never come out? How to tell if your stain is one of them.
In all honesty, not every stain can be removed. Some stains never come out; a great deal depends on what caused the stain to begin with.

Most people don't know that factors which appear irrelevant can actually make the removal process more difficult.

When attempting to remove a stain from your cap, use the points below to choose a stain remover and estimate your chances of successful removal:

The Captician old New Era cap stain
Extremely old and saturated sweat stain.

Type of stain: Oil or water based.

Temperature and potency of the stain when it hit the fabric:
Did you know cleaning a stain caused by a cold cup of tea maybe easier to clean than piping hot tea?

The material of your cap. Natural fibres absorb water based stains and synthetic fibres absorb oil based stains.

Length of time the stain has been sitting on your cap. The longer the stain remains on a cap the greater the chance of it 'fixing' to the fabric.

Number of attempts made and the type of baseball cap cleaner previously used to treat the stain: Some baseball cap cleaners that are not suitable for the particular fabric, especially if not properly rinsed can actually 'seal' the stain.

How is a stain set?
A stain is set when the colour component permanently bonds with the fibres, making it impossible to remove without damaging the fabric (sure bleach will get the stain out but do you fancy a lighter patch on your black cap?!). This can be caused by using the wrong cleaning product or hot water (NEVER USE HOT WATER) .

In every case, your best bet of getting rid of the stain is to act fast. Fresh stains are much easier to remove than old ones.

Master these simple
techniques for spotless caps.
Rinsing, water mark prevention and blotting.
Most instructions for stain removers ask you to thoroughly rinse the fabric after you get the stain out. Rinsing removes the cleaning chemical, stain and dirt. Removing the chemical is particularly important as left over residue attracts new dirt.

How to rinse:
Place the area directly under cold water or use a spouted water bottle to concentrate the water onto the space where the stain used to be. Position the cap so the stream of water passes right through the area and not onto other parts of the cap.

There are two areas of your cap which are particularly important to keep from getting excessively wet. Can you guess? It's the brim and front panels of the crown The front panels of your cap are Buckram reinforced.

Instead of directly flushing with water, blot the area repeatedly with a damp cloth. Remember to use different sides of the cloth, so you don't reintroduce the residue to a clean area.

Preventing Water Marks
Water marks and water rings develop when water is left sit­ting on the fabric for too long. You can reduce the chances of this by taking the following easy steps:

Don't over wet the stained area with water or stain removing solution.
Blot carefully from the outside inwards, all the way to the stain's centre Blotting inside out spreads the stain more.
Before drying, place two cloths or tissues on both sides of the area to absorb any excess moisture.
Use a fan or a hair dryer on cool setting to speed up the drying process.
Another way to pre­vent water marks is to apply a light mist of water onto the cap whilst working on the stain .

This is effective because water 'carries' a stain in an outwards direction from the source. In other words, the stain can travel with the water, and it stops when it reaches dry fabric. This means that if the fabric around the stain remains dry, the dry fabric acts as a barrier which contains the migrating stain . Frustratingly, this creates another stain for you to clean.

Luckily, there's an easy way to prevent this. Lightly wetting the cap (preferably with distilled water) will give any small remnant of the stain more area to disperse into. This makes it easier to fully clean the stain using further treatments.

When the stain is on the crown: apply a light mist of water over the entire crown.

When the stain is on the brim: apply a light mist of water to the brim (both sides).

The Captician misting spray bottle
The Captician - Fine misting bottle,
reduces the chance of tide marks.

Blotting and wiping
If learning how to blot and wipe are the only things you remember from this guide then half the battle is won. Trust me, your cap will love you! So, repeat after me blot and wipe, don't scrub. Scrubbing stains only makes it worse.

The most accurate way to describe blotting is a gentle patting motion. It's important not to press too hard, or risk forcing the stain further into the fibres.

Aside from a gentle press, the key to blotting is constantly looking at your cloth. When you see the stain beginning to transfer on to your cloth, don't use the same cloth area to continue blotting. By turning the cloth over, you continue to remove the stain instead of re-introducing it back into the fabric.

These are exceptions to the rule where it
is best not to blot or use water:
POLLEN: Blow off loose pollen away from the cap. A clean vacuum hose nozzle or tape can be used to lift off any remaining traces.

MUD: For instances, when the stain is a small enough size to require spot clea­ning (not a full muddy cap, that would need the deep cleaning method) allow to air dry then carefully brush the dry soil out instead of working it further into the fibres. If it is still visible use a stain remover.

INK: Adding any amount of water to the area can cause it to spread.
Remove excess by blotting with a dry cloth. Then apply a dry cleaning solvent if suitable for your type of fabric.

On-the-go cap cleaning tactics
What to do when you don't have
cleaning products on hand
Imagine you're having a fun night out when something spills on your cap. It maybe wine or ranch dressing. In any case, ready battle stations!

These guerrilla tactics will help you in emergency situations when you don't have access to cleaning products . Using these tactics, you can greatly increase your chance of completely eradicating the stain later.

All you need to do is spend just a few minutes spot cleaning immediately after your cap gets stained. Yes, it's annoying to step into the bathroom when you're having a fun night out, and it may be temp­ting to put it off. However, the time period immediately after your cap gets stained is the critical time to get the stain out. Here's how:

Step 1.
Treat the stain immediately by blotting the area with a dry clean cloth or tissue. Absorb as much of the stain as you can.

Step 2.
Once you've absorbed the stain, apply a little cool water (use as little as possible so not to over wet the area) to the cloth or tissue and gently blot the stain again.

Step 3.
When you are satisfied the stain is gone (or you've removed as much as possible) use a dry cloth to dry the area. I sandwich two on both sides of the cap, adding firm pressure for a few minutes; this should do the trick. When your cap is light coloured, it's especially important to dry it quickly without heat. This helps you avoid ring marks.

1. Never use a brush on a wet cap. Don't scrub stains.
It may feel right in the moment, but scrubbing can work the stain deeper into the fabric. It can damage the fibres. I only use my cap brush to remove loose dust and dry crusty soil. I know it may feel satisfying to give your cap a bit of welly with an old toothbrush, but resist the temptation. For best results, use a clean and absorbent cloth to gently blot and wipe the area.

Bonus Tip
When selecting a brush for your cap, don't get hard bristles. Stay away from nail brushes. Invest in a cap brush specially designed for use on caps.

2. Show your caps love by not using hot water for stain removal.
Exposing the stain to high heat may cause it to 'set' the stain inside the cap 's fibres. This also applies to drying. Don't put your cap (clean or stained) on a radiator, and definitely don't use a tumble dryer.

After you clean your cap the best way to dry it is to use a hair dryer on a cool setting or let it air dry in a well ventilated area after spot cleaning. If you put it outside, make sure it can't get rained on. Keep wool caps out of direct sunlight when drying. Put your cap on a mannequin head or pad the inside with a balled-up towel.

Don't overstuff it as this can stretch the cap. If you 're in a rush, you can use a hair dryer on the cool setting (RE­ MINDER: COOL, NEVER HOT AIR) to speed up the pro­ cess.

3. Only use cleaning products made for the fabric of your cap.
Do not use washing up liquid or similar non laundry de­tergents. It takes forever to rinse them out. Any left over residue will attract more dirt to that area. What a nightmare!

Our stain removing formula is specially designed to clean caps. It tackles the most common stains without the need to rinse or soak in water, all of which can shrink and fade caps. You can check out our complete stain removal kits HERE.

4. Remember to treat stains immediately, or as soon as possible.
If you should have done it yesterday, and you didn't, can you guess what the next best time is? Today!

5. Don't give up right away.
Some aged or tricky stains may need more than one treatment. Work patiently and with care. Work patiently and with care. You can only assess the full results once a cap is completely dry. Don't rush or skip steps, and you will be rewarded.

Use these simple principles in stain emergencies to keep your caps looking fresh and fine for many years to come. To help you achieve the best clea­ning results, I'm committing to compiling a database of how to videos with step by step instructions for removing the many types of stains.

I hope this has helped you decide the best way to keep your caps without turning them into a waffle. Have any washing machine horror stories or fancy sharing your restoration triumphs? Feel free to send your stories to abi@thecaptician.com

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