How to Care for Your New Straw Hat

September 18, 2019 9 min read

How to Care For Your New Straw Hat

Panama hats, also known as toquilla straw hats, are light-colored, finely woven hats made from the straw of the toquilla palm plant. Their attractive shape, light weight and breathability make them a fashionable and practical choice for sunny, hot weather. They're suitable for both men and women and are available in many different styles and colors.

However, they're also delicate and require special handling and maintenance. Read our guide to learn more about straw hats, including how to take care of and clean them. As is the case with most hand-woven items, it's important to understand the nuances of maintaining your straw hat so that it doesn't age, fray or become discolored.

Origin of Panama Hats

Although the name suggests they came from Panama, Panama hats actually originated in Ecuador and have been made there ever since the early 1600s. Their industry expanded steadily over the next several hundred years, and by the 19th century, the hats were being exported to Europe, Asia and the Americas. According to one story, as early as 1834, gold-rush miners who were traveling to California via the Panama Canal would buy these hats there, earning them the nickname "Panama hats." Although miners traveling through Panama regularly bought these hats, they weren't widely used in the United States until Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing one on a trip to Panama. By 1944, these hats were Ecuador's most popular export.

Originally, all Panama hats were hand-woven, but their popularity eventually led to their being mass produced, and today most Panama hats are woven by machines. Panama hats come in many shapes, and the fedora-shaped Panama hat is the most modern-looking variety.

Basic Care For Your Straw Hat

Basic Care For Your Straw Hat

Here are some general tips for straw hat care — as well as what happens when you don't care for them.

1. Avoid Water

Straw hats are meant to protect you from the sun, but not from the rain. If your hat does get wet, it can lead to some undesirable consequences. Not only will the water cause it to swell and eventually lose its shape, but it also can cause rot.

2. Handle With Care

If you use your hat frequently but have noticed it's gradually losing its shape, this may be a result of how you hold it. When holding your hat, do so only by the wings. If you grab it from the front or pinch the crown, this could cause the straw to break over time. 

If you want to straighten your hat's brim or flatten out any marks or creases, you can do so with an iron. Before you do so, however, check the instruction labels to make sure your hat can be ironed, taking note of the recommended temperature setting. We suggest that you play it safe and use the lowest temperature setting to avoid burning your hat's delicate fibers. Even if your hat was made with high-quality materials, damage could still occur. When ironing, make sure to straighten the straw threads with your finger.

3. Rest It Upside-Down

When setting your straw hat down, turn it upside down so that it rests on the crown. Placing your hat on a flat surface will cause it to bow in the front and back.

4. Store Your Hat in a Cool, Dry Place

The fibers in your straw hat are vulnerable to extreme temperatures, so make sure not to leave it hot places like your car in the summertime. Extreme heat will crack and dry out the fibers, and the hat will end up looking frayed.

Store your hat in a place where it's cool and won't get dirty. Putting it on the top shelf of a dark, dry closet or hanging it on a hook are both good ideas.

Do not store your hat in a humid place. As straw is a natural product, a damp environment can cause rot or mold to appear. Never put your hat in a plastic bag, either, as this could lead to discoloration and mildew.

If your hat's brim is curved, we recommend storing it in a hat box to keep dust and bugs off and prevent it from becoming misshapen. You can also stuff the inside top with tissue paper to help it keep its shape, or put it on a mannequin head and cover it with a white, cotton pillowcase.

5. Clean Your Straw Hat

When you're finished wearing your straw hat, you can wipe it down using a clean, damp cloth. Doing this will remove the dust that has accumulated throughout the day and keep it from embedding itself too deeply in the hat. Whether your hat is made of natural straw or a synthetic material, the cloth you use should always be plain white so that no dyes are transferred to the hat.

Alternatively, you can clean your hat using a soft-bristled brush. This should remove dirt and debris, including pollen and dust. Brushing your hat regularly should prevent dirt build-up, staining and discoloration.

If your hat is exceptionally dusty, you may have to advance to a more extreme cleaning method — placing pantyhose or netting over a vacuum brush, then vacuuming the hat. Only use this as a last resort.

How to Clean a Panama Hat

How to Clean a Panama Hat

Straw hats spend a lot of time resting on a sweaty head while being exposed to a variety of elements, so it's no surprise they suffer some wear and damage every now and then. If you notice that your hat has stains, becomes brittle, gets wet or dirty, don't throw it out. Instead, follow the cleaning tips below to return them to their original condition.

Before you start cleaning, see if your hat is washable. Look for a label, which may be under the brim. When you find it, see if the hat is made from shantung, baku, or any other material that you can wash using water. Some hats contain a type of straw that cannot be washed by hand, although these hats are uncommon.

Also, make sure to remove any ribbons or trim. These can be cleaned separately by hand washing or dusting, and you can also refresh them by ironing them or exposing them to steam. If a glue residue is left on the hat after you remove the trimmings, remember that it will not be seen once the trim is replaced. 

1. Sweat

Panama hats are meant to be worn in hot, sunny weather, so there's a good chance you're perspiring profusely while wearing one.

You sweat, unfortunately, can lead to stains. If you sweat easily and are headed to an extremely hot place like Las Vegas or Phoenix, we recommend that you use panty liner inside your hat. If you cut up the absorbent materials into strips and place them underneath the liner of the hat, this will absorb your sweat like magic. Of course, if you feel uncomfortable shopping for panty liners, paper towels will do just as good of a job.

If you do happen to get sweat on your hat, however, there are ways to remove it. As soon as you finish wearing the hat, wipe the stained area with a clean, damp cloth. As mentioned above, the cloth should be white to prevent the transfer of any dyes from the cloth to the hat. Here are some tips:

  • Use peroxide on light straw. For stains on light-colored sweatbands, use a 1/2 teaspoon of warm water and a 1/2 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide. 
  • Use ammonia on dark straw. If your sweatband is dark-colored, use a 1/4 cup of warm water and a 1/2 teaspoon of ammonia. 
  • Use a soft-bristled brush. Brushes with soft bristles such as old toothbrushes are most effective. 
  • Work on small areas. Focusing on areas of just one or two inches at a time is recommended.
  • Blot with a towel afterward. After cleaning, blot the hat with a white towel that you've dampened with water. 
  • Let it dry. Do not use the hat again until it is completely dried out.


2. Brittle

Sometimes straw hats get a little stiff. One of the best ways to prevent this is by taking it out of storage during the winter, although doing so any time of the year is helpful. If your hat feels brittle or stiff when you squeeze it, this means you need to steam it.

Take your hat into your bathroom and turn on the shower. Make sure the water is hot. The steam from the shower will restore moisture to the hat, making it flexible again. Just to be clear, you don't actually want to put your hat in the shower — just place it on a counter and let the steam do its magic.

You can also remoisturize your straw hat using the moisture from boiling water. To do this, boil a pot of water, and when it starts releasing steam, rest your hat on top of the pot. This will moisten your hat and give it more flexibility. 

Hats frequently become stiff in dry climates. If you live in an area with little moisture, check the brittleness of your hat regularly.

3. Rain

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, avoid getting your hat wet at all costs. If you get caught in the rain, run for cover or tuck your hat into your jacket or shirt.

We understand, however, that hats still end up getting wet sometimes. Perhaps you're in Ecuador and got water poured on you during the Carnival festivities. If your hat does end up getting soaked, there are ways you can dry it.

One thing you absolutely do not want to do is blow it with a hair blow dryer or lay it on a direct heat source. This will dry the straw and make it stiff. Instead, get a clean cloth and use it to absorb the water in the hat. Then, just leave it out to dry naturally, without any hair dryers or heaters. When leaving it to dry, you can turn the hat inside out, which will allow the inside to air dry fully. To ensure the entire hat dries, turn the sweatband inside out as well.

4. Dirt

How to Remove Dirt from Panama Hat

If your straw hat gets stained, don't panic. To remove the stains, carefully follow these steps:

  1. Wipe with a gentle cloth. Find a cloth that is not likely to leave behind pieces of lint, as it the hat could easily snag them. Do not use a traditional towel. The best cloth for this step is a cloth napkin like the ones you find in restaurants. If your hat still isn't clean, you'll need to proceed to the next step for a more aggressive cleaning approach. 
  2. Boil some water. Pour water into a kettle and bring it to a boil. Once you've let it slowly simmer down, transfer it to a cup.
  3. Create a cleaning solution. Add some ammonia and laundering soap to the cup of boiling water and then stir the mixture with a spoon.
  4. Find a brush. A brush used for scrubbing dishes should do the trick.
  5. Brush the hat. Stick the brush in your mixture and apply it to the areas of the hat that need to be cleaned. Scrub the truly dirty areas.
  6. Rinse with hot water. When you're finished cleaning, dump out the cleaning mixture, and then pour hot water in the cup. Apply the hot water to the hat using a brush that is freshly clean. This step is meant to remove all the soap and cleaner from the hat. This mixture should be applied more gently than the previous one.
  7. Re-rinse. Fill the cup with fresh hot water and then add glycerine. Rinse the hat a second time using this solution to ensure that the hat is cleaned thoroughly but also retains its original characteristics.
  8. Press out excess water. Hold the hat over a bathtub or sink and use your hands to press out the excess water. Once you've done as much as you can, gently shake the hat several times.
  9. Let it dry. Put the hat on a dry, clean surface in the sun and let it sit there for several hours until it's completely dry. The hat should be clean and still have its original shape. While a Panama hat may never retain its original cleanliness, it should be well cleaned after following these steps.

Come to Us for Your Straw Hats

View Our Selection of Panama Hats

You don't have to travel all the way to South America to find an authentic straw hat — we offer a wide selection right here at Penner's, some of which are even woven in Ecuador. If you live in or around San Antonio, come downtown to explore our 8000-square-foot store. We sell the finest suits, sports coats, shirts, jeans, shoes, accessories and various other items. We also have seven full-time, in-house tailors, many of whom have over 25 years of experience, who will alter your garments free of charge.

We have been in business for over a century, and we attribute our success to our superior clothing and customer service. If you have any questions regarding our products, you can reach us directly by calling 210-226-2487 or write us using our contact form.