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Cleaning spots, stains and soiling from felt hats

Johnnysan

One Too Many
Messages
1,171
Location
Central Illinois
mosandel said:
Hi scotrace, thanks for the complement, thanks for the welcome... this is a swell website to be on. Yeah, the avatar is me. -Mo

Mo,

Great photo and welcome! Love that collar...is it a celluloid detachable? Always wanted to try the look, but not enough room for my multiple chins! :cry:
 

Andykev

I'll Lock Up
Bartender
Messages
4,118
Location
The Beautiful Diablo Valley
The sweat stays in, if I remember correctly.

fedoralover said:
Andy, could you clarify this. are you saying the sweatband stays in but the liner comes out when they dip it? I was never sure if they took all the insides out or not when they did this.

thanks fedoralover

If I recall, the leather stays in the hat. The liner has to come out, or else the pattern will telegraph thru the top of the felt. I watched Graham do hat cleaning (I think Thursday is cleaning day), and the sweats stayed in. The hats were cleaned, spun, and brushed. The liners I believe went into the tank for cleaning also, if needed. They sewed in the liners, but I didn't see the girls sew in sweats or the ribbon trim.

If they took off the sweat, and ribbon, then it is a "total rebuild", and not a cleaning only.
 

mosandel

New in Town
Messages
5
Location
Austin, Texas
Johnnysan said:
Mo,

Great photo and welcome! Love that collar...is it a celluloid detachable? Always wanted to try the look, but not enough room for my multiple chins! :cry:

Hi Johnnysan, Thanks... No, this collar is cloth but detachable. I've got some celluloid ones; they're easier to clean but not as comfortable (if you can call any starched, high collars comfortable...) I wear these all the time. You gotta love the look cause they're a pain to put up with. I'd hate 'em if I *had* to wear 'em like guys used to. -Mo
 

photobyalan

A-List Customer
Update:

Well, I've gone and done it. I got a Dobbs Homburg from an eBay auction and the stench from cigarette smoke was unbearable. I decided to try dipping the hat, lining, leather, and all, in a big bowl of Afta cleaning solvent.

I dipped and swished and dipped some more, then let the solvent run through the crown and the brim. I let as much solvent drip back into the bowl as possible, then left the hat to air-dry overnight with the sweatband turned out. The hat looks and smells like new, no ill effects to the satin, plastic crown lining, or leather, and no shrinkage. Heck, it didn't even affect the center dent or the shape of the brim. It did, however, dissolve the cement that held the satin lining in the hat. A couple stitches will fix that just fine.

This method worked so well that I have gone ahead and dipped two other lids that really needed cleaning. They look great, too.

The only real downside is the nasty fumes from the solvent. It's definitely an operation that needs to be done out of doors, preferably on a breezy day.
 

Fedora

Vendor
Messages
828
Location
Mississippi
You could always use what the oldtimers used. White gas. Not the gas you use in your car, but gas like coleman fuel with no additives. The old hat shops would soak a stack of like colored hats in the gas, overnight. This removes the salt stains and grease stains. The hat was stripped down prior to soaking, but the binding was left on the brims, if they came with one. Of course another old technique that is no longer used on hat is the smoke bath to give the felt a dead finish, which was popular back then. There are other dry cleaning chemicals out there, but white gas works as well an any. Do it outside, of course. ;) And do not light up a cigar. Fedora
 

photobyalan

A-List Customer
Brad Bowers said:
How dirty was the solvent when you were finished? :)

Brad
It was definitely yellowish-brown, with some darker precipitate, but not quite as dark or dirty as I expected it to be.

Now that everything has dried completely, I did notice a bit of shrinkage on two of the three hats, but it was less than half a size, by my estimate, and a little steam-and-stretch got them back where they were supposed to be.

I'll defnitely use this method again, but only when it's really needed.

Unfortunately, I can't remember how much a gallon of this solvent cost (I bought it several years ago) so I don't know if it would be more economical to use Coleman fuel or some other solvent. I expect any type of petroleum distillate-type solvent would do just as good a job. I bet denatured alcohol would work, too.
 

riosfernando

New in Town
Messages
18
Location
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Cleaning..

photobyalan said:
Well, I've gone and done it. I got a Dobbs Homburg from an eBay auction and the stench from cigarette smoke was unbearable. I decided to try dipping the hat, lining, leather, and all, in a big bowl of Afta cleaning solvent.

I dipped and swished and dipped some more, then let the solvent run through the crown and the brim. I let as much solvent drip back into the bowl as possible, then left the hat to air-dry overnight with the sweatband turned out. The hat looks and smells like new, no ill effects to the satin, plastic crown lining, or leather, and no shrinkage. Heck, it didn't even affect the center dent or the shape of the brim. It did, however, dissolve the cement that held the satin lining in the hat. A couple stitches will fix that just fine.

This method worked so well that I have gone ahead and dipped two other lids that really needed cleaning. They look great, too.

The only real downside is the nasty fumes from the solvent. It's definitely an operation that needs to be done out of doors, preferably on a breezy day.


Hello, Could you tell us wnat brand of nafta you use and how long you left the hat in the solvent? Thanks
 

photobyalan

A-List Customer
The solvent I used is called "Afta". I got it at Home Depot several years ago, but I think it is still available. Look in the part of the store that has paint thinners, etc. You could also use generic naphtha solvent. I think they are pretty much the same thing, actually (petroleum distillate).

I only had the hats in the solvent for a minute or two, just long enough to get it good and wet and to let solvent flow through the felt a few times all around the crown and brim. I didn't let them sit there, rather I dipped them in and out and swirled them around a little (I used a big stainless steel bowl that the hats fit in).

Looking back, I should have waited for better weather before cleaning the hats this way. I did all the dipping outdoors, but rain was forecast for later that night, so I brought the hats into my basement to let them dry. The weather stayed very damp for the next few days and I had to leave the hats inside. Really stunk up the house for a couple days. It would have been much better to let them dry outdoors on a sunnny, breezy day. Once they were dry, though, everything was fine and the smell dissipated.
 

Fedora

Vendor
Messages
828
Location
Mississippi
To add some info. The small shops back in the early 1900's soaked the hats overnight in the solvent. The dark colors were stacked together in one container, and the light colors in another. The following morning the hats were pulled out and brushed with the solvent and then allowed to air dry. The hats were stripped of liners and leathers, but the trim was left on, normally, unless it was to be replaced.

Another thing that I found very intersting is on renovations and even newly made hats, the "dead finish" hats that were popular at the time was achieved by smoking the hat in smoke that came off of burning cotton saturated in some sort of oil. That would not work nowadays of course, as many have an aversion to any smoky odor on our hats! ;) Of course, back at that time, smoke was everywhere as many folks burned wood and coal for cooking and heat. Needless to say, most folks had a smoky odor about them at times, and thought nothing of it. It was a part of life. I can remember those days, and I was born in 1951 !! If your vintage fedora smells like smoke, I would relish it myself. It would be entirely accurate to the era. :cheers1: Fedora
 
Messages
10,647
Location
My mother's basement
Took the plunge

My roughly 10-year-old bluegray Borsalino, worn on hundreds and hundreds of occasions in all kinds of weather, was getting to the point that it was suitable to wear only with blue jeans. It had sweat stains where the brim meets the crown front and back and was kinda dirty-looking over all. So I figured that, seeing how it isn't a vintage hat and is therefore easily replaceable (for something like 250 bucks, if that qualifies as "easily"), I'd try the naptha trick.
Went to the hardware store and bought a quart can each of naptha and denatured alcohol. Came home, removed the liner, dabbed at the dirtiest spots with a terrycloth rag soaked in naptha. That didn't seem to work so well. So I grabbed a large Pyrex bowl and poured several ounces of naptha into it and soaked the hat (this entire operation was conducted out of doors), pushed the crown back into an open shape and then hung the hat from the back of an old chair. A couple of hours later the hat was still damp and reeked of naptha, but by morning it was essentially dry and to detect the odor I had to put my nose right up to it.
Results are good. The sweat stains are all but gone (they're so faint you have to have them pointed out to you) and the rest of the hat looks good as new. (Next time, provided there is a next time, I'll buy a larger supply of naptha and let the lid soak in it for a few hours.) The sweatband seems no worse for the experience.
A hat seller once told me that cleaning has the potential of leaving the lid less water-repellent than it was. Any of you gents have an opinion on this? Obviously, the best way to have a clean hat is to not let it get dirty in the first place, but I live in the real world (the real rainy and snowy and dirty world) and I'm a sweaty guy. And half the point of wearing a hat is to protect my shiny dome from the elements. So I'd like to get straight on this water-repellency thing before I subject any of my more-treasured hats to the naptha treatment. What solvents do the pros use?
Thanks for the tips, guys.
 

jeboat

One of the Regulars
Messages
154
hat cleaning

Try Optimo for best results. Graham has cleaned one vintage Resistol dress hat for me and did a great job. I sent 2 more this past week for an overhaul.

The problem with spotting, wiping, etc is that you stand a very good chance of having a "mottled" hat with some clean areas and some not so clean. Also, the cleaning job includes a reblocking and styling.

jeboat:cool2: :cool2: :cool2:
 
Messages
10,647
Location
My mother's basement
Undoubtedly good advice, jeboat. I wouldn't even attempt cleaning hats myself if there were someone nearby to do a proper job of it, but I don't know who that someone is and the prospect of sending my hats half way across the continent and then waiting weeks for their return has little appeal. I don't attempt to home clean my "dryclean only" clothing because there is no reason to. There's a drycleaner on every other corner, it seems.
A few years ago, an old-time hat cleaner hereabouts retired and passed the business along to a person who shut it down after a fairly short tenure. But even back when the old guy was running the shop, it took weeks to get your hat back. Maybe it was that he was getting old and didn't wish to work so much anymore, or maybe, being the only hat cleaner left in a fairly large metropolitan area (the only one I knew of, anyway), he had more work than he could keep up with.
I've been to a website or two that warn would-be hat cleaners against trying home remedies. You're as likely as not to end up with a ruined hat, they say. But I go to this fine site and hear otherwise from guys who obviously know of what they speak. And my little experiment with a thoroughly soiled hat came out pretty well. I don't imagine that hat cleaning is something a person learns overnight, and I recognize the potential for doing more harm than good. But, until I locate a good hat cleaner locally (with the growing number of guys wearing hats out here in these rainy climes, maybe someone will jump into the biz), I remain interested in doing it myself. And besides, it's kinda fun.
 

Pilgrim

One Too Many
Messages
1,719
Location
Fort Collins, CO
One small victory

I recently got a light grey Whippet, and it was clean except for a couple of small spots about halfway up the crown in front. They looked like some kind of cosmetics (blush or such) had come in contact with the hat.

Following ideas in this thread, I dampened a spot on a white terrycloth towel with denatured alcohol and brushed the spot repeatedly in a counterclockwise direction. It took a couple of tries, with 30+ seconds of brushing each time.

It took an hour or two for the alcohol to dry out of the felt, but the result was a clean hat with no visible spot from the alcohol. On a light grey hat, I feel fortunate it turned out so nicely. :cheers1:
 

kabuto

Banned
Messages
2
Location
Fort Worth, Texas
I thought I'd contribute my experience with cleaning spots and smears from felt hats. For more thorough cleaning of the whole hat you need to either dunk the whole thing in naphtha or the like or send it to a hatter. Apparently, sending it to a hatter usually gets you a new ribbon, liner and sweatband, which you may not want.

So let's say your hat blew off you head and rolled down the asphault, or you didn't duck low enough in the shed and it hit the ceiling, or some food splashed on it. What do you do?
  1. The first rule is Do No Harm. If the spot is barely noticeable, consider just leaving it alone.
  2. You can try flicking the soiling with your finger and brushing it with a clean handkerchief. If it smears, stop. But often this is enough.
  3. Otherwise, take it home and try brushing it with a hat brush (counterclockwise on top, clockwise on the bottom). I have been stunned at how many horrible looking marks can be completely removed simply with a hat brush. If the spot spreads or seems oily, stop.
  4. Next step if that fails: You should have a felt hat cleaning sponge, which are sold by M&F Western Products, but which seem to be nothing more than a kind of super-open nylon foam, one of those sponges that seems almost like a bunch of kinky nylon thread mashed together. Rub the sponge back and forth on the soiled area. The sponge acts like very mild sandpaper. You shouldn't use this if the spot is oily, and don't overdo it.
  5. Finally, for the tough spots, you need aerosol hat cleaner. I have three types, available in western stores, all appropriate for oily and water-based stains: Scout Felt Hat Cleaner for Light Hat Colors, Bickmore Ultra-X Light Powdered Hat Cleaner, and Bickmore Ultra-X Dark Hat Cleaner (I suspect there's also a Scout for dark hats on the market). The Bickmore Dark is a solvent. The other two combine a solvent with some emulsified solids for absorbancy. The next steps are done outdoors for ventilation. In all cases, especially with older darker hats, test for color fastness by lightly spraying an inch-diameter spot on the brim underside at the back behind the sweat band stitching and waiting five minutes and brushing. Look for color smearing. The light hat products will leave a light spot, but from powder, not color smearing. If everything looks OK, follow the instructions and spray the spots and soiling on your hat. Let the hat dry for five minutes (the solvent evaporates quickly) and brush. The light products will leave a white powder, and the powder will concentrate on any oily stain. If you have a speck of oil on the hat, that speck will have turned pure white. This is alarming at first, since it looks like the cleaner has bored some sort of moth hole in your felt. But it's just an accumulation of powder stuck together in the felt at that point. To get most of the powder out of the felt surface, get out your hat brush and brush the area. Don't go overboard, since brushing will fuzz up the felt surface, and you don't want one section to be different from the rest of the hat. A short period of brushing will get out enough of the powder that only you will notice the rest. To get it all out may take months of wearing and brushing the hat (it took about half a year or more for a silverbelly Campdraft that I own.
  6. If the stain is still there, but it seems to have lessened, you can reapply the hat cleaner. But if it hasn't changed, it's probably something that ain't going to come out. At that point just forget about it and wear it, or if it's bad, turn it into a hiking or gardening hat. I have no proof, but I personally don't think that a hatter or naphtha will be able to get out a stain that you can't get out by a couple hat cleaner applications. But hatters and naphtha are probably great for overall soiling that isn't concentrated in a spot.
 
Last edited:

Joshbru3

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,409
Location
Chicago, IL
Here's a wonderful article from a 1917 edition of "The American Hatter." It explains how they cleaned felt hats back then.

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Short Balding Guy

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,669
Location
Minnesota, USA
Josh; Thanks for the article. I have saved a copy as it answers some of my questions regarding the different stains that I have encountered on vintage hats. The section on vegetable and egg stains are exactly as my encounters have played out. I am curious as to the next installment of the American Hatter as it is said to contain a gas bath expose. If you locate that, please post up a copy. Correct technique and tactics are "correct" without regard to age.

Ready to tackle a greasy hat cleaning today. Eric -
 

TipTop

Practically Family
Messages
540
Location
Albany, NY
This first message is very useful information; the second is a bit beyond OSHA guidelines. Why I was searching was this stained Stetson that I took interest in until the seller said it did not look like rust to her. Then, i got to thinking, and wondered if it were blood, spilled on an upturned hat that had seeped through to the top of the brim. If someone here bought this, I'll be interested in your cleaning results.
 

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