How To Clean Your Filthy Baseball Cap

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I recently spilled liquid candle wax on a 100% polyester pullover jacket. In fact, I spilled quite a bit, so it looks like the jacket has clotted blood all down the front. It's rather embarrassing so I'd prefer not to get into how something like this could happen and kindly ask if you have anything that I should try to remove it. I've washed it twice (not sure why I thought it would work the second time) and tried to just, sorta scratch it off, but that didn't work. That's about all I got!

The other night I was lying in bed thinking about Squalor. As I do. It occurred to me that since packing up my bucket and moving my Clean Self over to Deadspin and Jezebel, the questions I've gotten have been notably tamer than the ones I received in this column's previous iteration. Which is OK! I could chat with you all the livelong day about dish-washing techniques, but I do strive to keep the questions lively. Remember the guy who buttered his car? Now that? That was a good time.

I say all of that in order to say this: Please don't write to me asking how to remove wax from your person without providing the detailed backstory on how the wax got on your person in the first place. It's such a bummer. Also, I've concocted a story about how the wax got on your person that I can assure you is far more deviant than whatever it is that actually happened, because I have an absolutely filthy mind. I'm not sure if that's actually-ironic or Alanically-ironic, but either way now you know that about me.

With that dose of "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed" out of the way, let's talk about wax removal. Basically, there are two ways to go—hot or cold. Both methods work, the trick is figuring out which is best suited to the task at hand.

Hot Method

The hot method of wax removal requires an iron and a piece of brown paper, like the stuff used for grocery bags. Lay the sheet of paper over the wax you want to remove, turn the iron on to the lowest setting, and place it on top of the paper. The heat will melt the wax, the paper will absorb it, and your shirt or tablecloth or French maid costume will be wax-free.

Some notes!

  • Check under the paper to see how things are doing, and turn the iron's heat setting up if need be.
  • If the wax spill is on the large side, rotate or swap in a fresh sheet of paper as sections of it become saturated with the wax.
  • If the wax was colored and has left behind a stain, use a laundry pretreatment product on it and then wash on cold water, checking to be sure the stain is gone before you put it in the dryer. If the wax has left behind a greasy stain, use one of our known degreasers like Pine Sol or Lestoil on it, then launder.
  • Don't use this method on anything that doesn't react well to heat, which means that our LW should opt for the cold method, as polyester doesn't much care for heat.

Cold Method

The cold method involves either ice cubes or just tossing something that you've waxed into the freezer. If the something that you've waxed is too large or oddly shaped to go in the freezer, or if your freezer doesn't have room, grab some ice cubes and put them on the wax you want to remove. The wax will harden and shrink, and you'll be able to pop it right off. A butter knife will also help to pop the wax off.

I've got quite the collection of favorite baseball caps that suffer from varying degrees of time-induced filth. Whether it's dark hats that appear to have been dipped in the dead sea, or "white" hats that are now a greasy beige, I'm not quite sure how to clean them without:

a) Bleaching/making the dye run;
b) Leaving the hat a shrunken wrinkled shell of its former self.

Based on your prior posts, I'm thinking you'll recommend the OxiClean-in-a-bucket route due to the oil factor, but any additional tips would be greatly appreciated.

Yeah, I'll probably recommend the OxiClean-in-a-bucket route. Wait for it ... oh there it is: OxiClean-in-a-bucket is the way to go.

Really, the thing with ball caps is that hand washing is the best way to get them clean while preserving their shape and color. The good news here is that hand washing your caps, unlike other types of hand laundering one might perform, is an almost entirely a labor-free experience. Mostly you're just going to soak the hat for a few hours and let the combination of warm water (warm, not hot!) and detergent do the work for you.

The three basic steps you want to follow are:

1. Spray the cap liberally with a laundry pretreatment product (say, OxiClean?), or a degreaser such as Pine Sol, Lestoil, or Zep. In terms of application, if your chosen product didn't come with a nozzle, you can fill an empty spray bottle and spritz away, or just dab some onto the cap straight from the bottle using a clean rag.

This spritzing is one instance where I'm not going to warn you about overdosing on laundry products—go ahead and get wild, soak that hat with the stain treatment, throw your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care.

2. Fill your sink (your clean sink), or a bucket, or your tub if you'd like to wash a large batch all at once, with warm water—not hot!— and a tablespoon or so of laundry detergent. You can also use dish soap in a pinch. Put the cap in, swirl it around to saturate the fibers and then ... just let it be.

3. After two to three hours, rinse the cap well under warm running water.

There are options, however, beyond hand washing and we should review those here because knowledge is power and power is a grand thing to possess.

Dishwasher: There are mixed opinions in the cleaning community as to whether or not the dishwasher is an appropriate place for dirty ball caps. The debate goes something like this: "The dishwasher is no place for a dirty ball cap!" "But it gets them clean!" "But then all the dirt from the dirty ball cap gets all over the dishes you eat off of!" "Then run a load with no dishes. Also, the heat produced during a dishwashing cycle is enough to kill off any germs from those dirty ball caps!" "Right, and the heat produced during a dishwashing cycle isn't safe for ball caps that have plastic parts, and can cause the cotton or canvas to shrink and ripple. AND ANOTHER THING! Many dishwashing detergents contain bleach, which can lead to fading and/or spotting on colored ball caps."

I hate it when they fight like that.

Washing machine: If you've got a front loader or HE washer, machine washing is an option; if you've got a top loader with a center agitator, forget it. The hat is far too likely to become warped or shredded.

If you do choose to wash your caps in the machine, opt for the gentlest cycle you have available to you and use a cold or warm water setting, avoiding the use of hot water. Always air dry your caps, the dryer is no place for them. To dry, reshape the hats and place them on a towel; a fan pointed in their direction will speed the process along. If the hat is on the floppy side, you can ball up a hand towel and put it inside the cap to lend it some structure as it dries.

The Squalor Archive: Armpit Stain Eradication | Blood Stain Removal | Booze Stench Elimination | Brightening White Towels & Sheets | Cleaning Car Consoles | Caring for Athletic Clothing | Cat Pee | Dog Mess on Carpet | Filthy Couches | Football Glove Care | Fur Cleaning, Faux & Real | Gasoline on Clothing | Grain Moth Infestations | Grease/Rubber Stain Treatments | Gross Computers | Guests & Bedbugs | Hunter Boots | Karategi Cleaning | Ketchup Stains | Laundering Bathmats | Lube Stains | Makeup Debris in Bathrooms | Makeup Stains On Upholstery | Marijuana Stench | Mayo Stains | Melted Microfiber on Enameled Cast Iron | Menstrual Cup Care | Mildewed Towels | Moldy Trousers | Mustard Stains | Nail Polish Stains | Odor Removal for Non-Launderable Items | Oven Cleaning | Pee-Smelling Bathrooms | Rank Roller Derby Pads | Rust Stains on Clothing | Salt Stained Leather | Scorched Pots | Semen Stains | Sheet Changing Cycles | Sheet Changing Etiquette & Tricks | Skidmarks | Stained Tennis Whites | Stinking Sinks | Stinky Feet | Suede Care Tips | Sunscreen Stains | The Great Bra Washing Extravaganza | Towel Laundering Cycles | Treating Testicular Odor | When Butter Attacks | Yellowed Fingernails | Yellowed Sheets | Yellowed Swimsuits

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.

Image by Natykach Nataliia/Shutterstock.