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Discussion in 'Hats' started by RBH, Nov 15, 2009.
Yes, please! Make this one sticky. Good idea, Mr. Tutt.
Over then last couple months I've done naphtha baths on 4 vintage hats ranging from very dark to silverbelly with no observed negative results. They are usually in for 5 to 6 hours and then I just hang them to dry. I haven't seen anything bad happen to the sweat, the felt, the liner, or the logo. In anticipation of the bath all the sweats were conditioned with lexol for several days prior to the bath, but not within a few days of the bath itself.
After the bath I roll the sweat to the out position when I hang the hat to dry. When the hat has dried enough so that it is wet but isn't soaking I take a brush to it to make sure the felt is set correctly for drying. I put several light to medium coats of Lexol on the sweat after it looks and smells like it is dry. I finish it all off with a good spray with Scout felt protector.
Each hat I've done this with has come out looking better, a couple a lot, the others a little. The felt always feels wonderful, like a rug after a really good vacuming... Surprisingly, even the paper tag at the back seems no worse for the wear.
I can't help but imagine it drys out the leather in a serious way as it is soaked and then the naphtha evaporates, but they seem fine so far.
Anyone do this years ago and notice any long term negative results with the leather?
p.s. I fist bought naphtha at home depot for $7 or $8 a quart, then I found it for $15 a gallon at a local Ace hardware...
p.p.s. Make sure you wear protective glasses, the correct type of chemical gloves and get a mask rated for fumes, not just a handyman dust mask, even if you do all this outside.
Here in the US, Coleman Lantern Fuel (Campfuel) seems to be a more refined Naptha than the hardware store type which is associated more with paint supplies and furniture refinishing. I think because of it's use as a pressurized lantern fue it needs to be "cleaner" with less parafin in it to flow and not clog the Coleman style lantern or stove. As such I think it provides a better cleaning base it is called the white gas and mentioned with benzine in the old books as the "dry" cleaning agent.
Walmart tends to be the cheapest venue for it I have found in my area.
I also seem to recall that some people would flip or roll the sweat to stick out of the hat and try to be careful not to soak it as much in these cleaning sessions.
I'm in. Suuuuubscribed.
For what its worth:
I recently found this in the book Understanding Wood Finishing, How to Select and Apply the Right Finnish, Bob Flexner, Readers Digest, 2005:
Page 158/159: "VM&P naphtha (also called benzine) is distilled at a lower temperature than mineral spirits. Therefore, at any given temperature naphtha will evaporate faster than minerals spirits. Kerosene barely evaporates, and mineral oil doesn't evaporate.
The faster the solvent evaporates, the less oily it is. The slower it evaporates, the more oily it is. Naphtha is less oily than mineral spirits, which is less oily than kerosene. ...
You use naphtha when you want a solvent that evaporates relatively fast or is non-oily. Naphtha is best for degreasing. You use mineral spirits when you want a slower-evaporating solvent and you don't mind the oiliness. Mineral spirits is good for thinning oil finishes and varnish. Kerosene is not used in finishing; it evaporates very slowly or not at all, and is very oily."
Of course the author is making these observations in connection with varnish solvents and thinners, but I think it helps here as well. There is also a petroleum distillates chart on the page that charts the distillates from faster-evaporating at the top to slower-evaporating at the bottom, and looks something like this:
If we place camp fuel/white gas in the gasoline category it would seem that, according to this author's position and not just our observations, it is a less oily, faster evaporating solvent...Although he doesn't mention using gasoline at all, my guess is this may be due to the fact that he is not talking about cleaning but about cutting finishes and gas might evaporate too quickly for that purpose...
F&S, I seem to recall reading some years ago that the Coleman "white gas" was more a lable of convienience than an actual designation... but I can't remember where or when....just a stray spark in the memory banks.
I'll second Tony's remarks about soap and water clean up. I've found that a good bath does wonders for a felt hat. I've had great success with Dawn dishwashing liquid dissolved in a sink full of tepid water. I immerse the hat completely with the intent of getting it thoroughly soaked through. Then I use a chip brush (little 2" throwaway china bristle paint brush) to scrub the dirtier places until the stains are gone. After that, all that is needed is a thorough rinsing and drying. Two caveats: 1) Don't agitate the hat too much as you might re-activate the felting process. This will cause shrinking that is devilishly difficult to rectify. 2) There will be some shrinkage from the water but, even if you don't have a block, this can be easily overcome by simply re-bashing the hat and wearing it periodically while it is wet. It will stretch back out to fit. Also, if you re-bash the hat while it is wet, it will hold the crease better.
Something else that might be worth noting. My guess is that neither naptha nor water are universal solutions to a dirty hat. Certain grease stains don't react to water and even a good detergent but will dissolve in naptha. Other, water based stains, may not react to naptha but will in a water bath. For a really grimy hat, you may have to use both to get the best results.
Here's a before and after of an Open Road:
When I opened the crown, there were two dark lines of dirt running from back to front where the ridges of the cattleman's crease were. They almost looked like racing stripes on the fedora version! A little Dawn and water and they're gone.
I have never given a hat a Naptha bath. But I have cleaned probably 20-30 in a Woolite solution. As Tony says, the water will RUIN a sweatband. If you are very careful, you can get away with it with a reeded sweatband, by turning the sweatband out and soaking the hat in the solution UP TO just below the sweatband. But with non-reeded sweatbands, it's almost always fatal to the sweatband - I've ruined two so far
Regarding felt shrinkage from water, I have only had that problem with cheap felt - never with vintage name-brand hats.
A couple years ago, I had a leather jacket cleaned locally at a dry cleaners. They used naptha, because it took it a few days to lose that odor after I picked it up. And of course, it smelled just like what I use. I did recondition the leather afterwards though. With Pecards. I could tell the bath had dried out the leather somewhat.
I think naptha was used traditionally for greasy hats, and salt stains. Other chemicals were used for various other stains, with soap being one of them.
And, if you wash a new hat in naptha, it can taper as it dries. Vintage felt doesn't do that. Probably because the fur is long dead in those hats.
When I clean hats, I always strip them down, and just clean the felt, because I generally replace the sweatbands anyways. Plus, even if using the same sweat, I feel better not taking a chance of dye bleed. Afterall, they are not my hats I am cleaning, but customers. But these days since I deal only in Indy hats, of my own brand, I seldom have to clean any hats. Most my guys like dirty hats!!! Fedora
Do you happen to remember tha Open Road you cleaned and blocked for me a few years ago?
It had really dense felt.
I admit I had to laugh at that one...
It does seem inappropriate to clean those hats!
I just got a severely messed-up hat in the mail and was going back and forth on Naptha vs Woolite. After reviewing this thread a few times, I decided to go with Woolite/water. My reasoning was that the sweatband was in bad enough shape that if it soaked up some water it couldn't get much worse. The results are the best I've ever had, but this method requires a lot of attention to detail. It also requires a flange and a full-size stretcher:
1. Lexol'd the outside of the sweatband GOOD, especially the joint with the felt, then turn sweatband out and leave that way for rest of process.
2. Lexol'd the inside rough felt joint really well. Then Lexol'd part way up the sweatband, but not the top. On dry stiff sweats with some cracking, Lexoling the top will cause severe separation and you can throw away the sweat at that point.
3. Filled a big bucket with about 5 inches of Woolite/water
4. Filled hat up to about 1/2 inch from sweatband, with water from above
5. Put hat upside-down in bucket, then added enough additional water to bucket to maintain the water level in the hat
6. pulled brim down in the water to get completely wet with sudsy water. If water gets in crack at sweat attachment, blow it out or dry with a towel - important.
7. Let soak for 2 hours.
8. scrub felt where the sweat/grime is caked on near front and back, with toothbrush
9. Remove from water, let water drain through top of hat
10. Rinse inside and outside with water, avoiding contact with sweat (except some water will get on outside sweat/felt joint, so just dry it off when it happens)
11. Sit hat on its crown on a towel, and let it start drying
12. After 5-10 minutes you can start working the crown and brim to get the shape back.
13. Get out your flange and let the hat sit on top with the sweatband going through the hole and the brim resting on the flange, turned down. Smooth the brim onto the flange.
14. As the crown dries, I have a very large ball that I work around from the inside (like a softball).
15. Once the sweatband is dry, put an old liner inside the hat, then turn the sweatband back to its correct position
16. Put the hat on the stretcher while still wet, to flatten the sweatband back to its correct shape - this also helps with the crown. Leave it on for a few minutes, then remove
17. Let the hat dry.
I know the above sounds tedious and sort of unorthodox, but it's what I've come up with after cleaning quite a few hats without Naptha, and avoiding taking my hats apart. There have been at least two times where after all the work, the sweatband had to be removed anyway, and the hat sent to a professional...but it was still fun, and good practice. And it ALWAYS worked fine with reeded sweatbands.
In the example I did last night (non-reeded sweat), the felt was very, very dirty, the ribbon was covered with sweat stains, the sweatband was on the verge of total loss, and there was quite a bit of caked on sweat and grime near the front and back.
The hat is still drying, but I'll post pics later. Unfortunately, I did not take 'before' pics, but here's the ebay auction:
Royal Stetson Playboy - 1941-43 vita felt
After pics. The sweatband got wetter than expected, and is still drying, so I left my garbage liner inside. The hat is now resting on its crown drying. Once completely dry, I'll Lexol the sweatband again and bash it.
Also forgot to mention previously that when the hat is in the soapy solution, the ribbon is submerged. The result of the ribbon was way, way better than I had hoped for:
That's some good info and the step by step is very helpful. I'm gonna have to try it now. Maybe I'll take one of the hats I cleaned with naphtha and see what else comes out with good ol' soap and water.
My pleasure. The sweatband is still as stiff as when I began, but it's now shaped much better. The ribbon/bow is much nicer, but faded around the attaching stitches. The felt looks great and the sweaty areas are much softer and cleaner. But for me to wear it would require replacing the sweat, so I'll probably put it on the bay for a smaller-headed fellow.
Actually I do!! Probably one of the last I cleaned. Fedora
Would Xylene work as a naptha cleaner? I am only looking to remove the musty smell from a very nice vintage mallory that is clean in all other regards.
For what it's worth, in one of the other cleaning threads a couple people highly recommended putting a smelly hat in a box or bag filled with crumpled up newspaper for a day or two to remove odors...
Some say put in bag with the Arm & Hammer Baking soda frig deoderizers.
Another deoderizing trick is to cover with baby powder, let it sit for a few hours then brush off. The talc will also take some spots & dirt with it as well some smells. I have used the wadded up newspaper trick above to get rid of heavy smoker smell from vintage lids. HTH