How to Care for Fleece to Prevent and Reduce Pilling and Matting

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I’ve read different thoughts on this, but none that I would consider authoritative. So I’m hoping you can help. I have a brand new fleece that I actually dropped some decent coin on (read: not Old Navy). Actually, it’s not all that new, truth be told. I just haven’t washed it at all since I bought it *mumble mumble* months ago because I hate how fleeces look as soon as they start to get pilled up. So ideally what I actually need is to spot it for stains, then wash it, and it somehow (magically) comes out clean and as soft as the day I bought it. Is this possible? It is black, so I’m much more concern about it staying soft than I am about some already difficult to detect stains.
Finicky Fuzzies

how to care for fleece

Dear Finicky Fuzzies:

Great question! First, let’s look at what fleece is, which helps explain how to care for the material.

Fleece is a man-made fabric that acts like wool in many ways but only has a fraction of the weight. Like wool, fleece is an excellent insulator, which is why it was originally called polar fleece when it was first created. Fleece is made from synthetic materials, sometimes from recycled plastics, which I find pretty neat.

During manufacturing, the fleece is first woven on a loom, the vertical or warp yarns form the foundation of the material, and the horizontally run yarns form the weft. To keep warp and weft straight in your head, remember that weft rhymes with left.

With fleece, the loops are very small and tightly knitted to the warp threads on one side and loose on the other. After the material has been dyed, the side of the fabric with the loops is run over brushes designed to pull the loops apart in a process called napping. This is what gives fleece its characteristic soft and fuzzy feel.

All those tiny, tiny synthetic fibers are also what make fleece a bear to care for.

Heat and friction are your enemies with fleece.

Both heat and friction will change the feel of fleece by melting or matting those tiny fibers.

Wash your fleece in cold water on the delicate or hand wash cycle and then tumble dry on LOW or simply air dry.

Do I have to tell you that ironing is a bad idea? Also, avoid bleach and fabric softener.

Keep in mind that some fleece, hopefully not in your case, is especially prone to pilling and that the friction generated by everyday wear and tear may be enough to create pilling.

fleece jackets on hangers

Unfortunately, once the fibers melt and matt, the fabric has undergone a change that can be irreversible. You can try to restore some of the texture by using a razor to remove the pilling and by using a wire pet brush and a lot of patience to restore the nap. You’ll want to start in one corner of the item and work in small sections brushing gently to loosen the matting and separating the fibers.

Good luck!

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7 thoughts on “How to Care for Fleece to Prevent and Reduce Pilling and Matting”

  1. I feel compelled to confess.. I was once dumb enough to attempt to iron fleece. It has a nice double whammy effect of ruining the fleece AND the iron (it was like something melted onto it and no amount of cleaning could get it off the iron).

  2. I was under the impression that fleece was a knit, hence its stretchy nature and lack of fraying. That would mean that it wouldn't exactly have a warp and weft… Fleece is a variation of a jersey with yarns added to help make it fuzzy.

    • I have had mostly good results brushing Polartec fleece with a brush meant for auto upholstery and carpet. It’s under $10 on Amazon, Mothers Carpet & Upholstery Brush. It restores the smooth, soft finish, and even works on moderately matted fleece. I say ‘mostly good results’ because my arm gets tired using this. I wish someone would make a revolving motorized version of this same brush! The bristles are stiff but not metal, some type of synthetic. It is fairly gentle on the fleece surface, only pulling off really tight pills. I would hesitate to use a metal-bristle pet brush, fearing that it would quickly wear out the fleece.


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