Before you learn how to take good care of your fleece, there’s a little backstory to keep in mind. While fleece might seem like an age-old tradition, it’s anything but. Fleece hit the scene in 1981 thanks to a then-little, now-big company: Patagonia. Unlike its predecessor—the wool sweater—fleece isn’t itchy, heavy, or a disaster in the rain. It instantly became a favorite layer for skiers, hikers, and fireside tea drinkers alike.
So what is fleece, anyway? Typically, fleece is made from polyester, which is basically a synthetic plastic in fiber form. At Cotopaxi, we only use recycled polyester in our fleece to ensure this adventure-friendly layer has a lighter impact on the planet. Extending the lifespan of your fleece through proper care will further reduce the impact of your gear investment.
Wool sweaters and fleece have a few things in common when it comes to care—both like cold water and gentle drying methods. Read on for care instructions and tips to make your next fleece your forever fleece.
How to Wash Your Fleece
There are two key things to remember before washing any fleece:
Read the label. Starting with the specific care instructions on your fleece’s label is the best way to make sure you’re cleaning it properly.
Think before you wash. “People wash their clothes too often,” explains Oriana Delgado, Cotopaxi’s Manager of Material Development. Washing too frequently will shorten the lifespan of your fleece, so only wash if it looks or smells dirty.
That second piece of advice will likely vary depending on your fleece. A lightweight, performance fleece that you wear next-to-skin while sweating will likely need to be washed more often. But a heavier fleece that you wear as a mid-layer or outer layer probably won’t need to be washed very frequently.
When you do decide it’s time to wash that fleece, use cold water. Hot water will deteriorate your fleece’s material and may make it more prone to pilling.
Choose a mild detergent—liquid is preferable, but powder is fine, too. Fragrance-free is recommended. “If you went on a 10-hour hike, and you need a stronger detergent, don’t feel guilty for using it once in a while,” Oriana says. So basically, if you follow these instructions most of the time, but occasionally mess up or have an extremely dirty fleece and want to use hot water or strong detergent, don’t stress—you won’t immediately ruin your favorite fleece.
A few more don’ts when it comes to washing your fleece:
No fabric softener, which creates a waxy coating over your fleece that can actually decrease quality and damage texture over time.
Don’t use too much detergent. Use what’s recommended on the detergent container. Too much detergent can damage fabric or lead to suds or residue left over on your clothes.
Avoid washing different colors together–this is especially important if you do use hot water. For white or light-colored fleece, washing with other colors will tint the fabric. For colorful fleece, washing with other colors will dull your fleece’s brightness over time. This isn’t something you’ll likely notice after one wash, but the effects build up.
The Best Way to Dry Fleece
For all fleece, the best option for preserving its lifespan is air drying. Since fleece is designed not to absorb water, it should dry pretty quickly this way.
The next best option is to use a low tumble dry setting with medium temperature in your dryer. But the more time your fleece spends in the dryer on any setting, the higher the likelihood you’ll see pilling or shrinkage.
If you’re air drying, lay your fleece flat or put it on a drying rack. You can also hang it on a clothesline, but with lighter weight fleece, this might stretch out the shoulders. “After air drying, fleece might feel tight and stiff,” Oriana explains, “but after a couple hours of wearing, it usually goes back to its original handfeel.”
How to Remove a Stain From Fleece
The uneven fibers of fleece don’t absorb liquid very well, which makes this layer less likely to stain in the first place. If you do get a stain, use a spot-cleaning approach. If the stain is new, you can try to work it out with some mild dish soap and water right away.
If it’s an older stain, OxiClean or another sodium carbonate product should do the trick. Rinse off the spot cleaner or wash according to the instructions above.
Storing Your Fleece
If you’re putting your fleece away for the summer months, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure it will reemerge in good condition for winter.
Oriana recommends folding your fleece and putting it in an airtight bag. You could add some baking soda, a dryer sheet, or a moisture absorber to the bag if you live in a humid climate to prevent mold growth and keep your fleece smelling fresh. If possible, try not to hang your fleece on a hanger. The lighter the fleece, the more likely it will be to stretch.
More Fleece Care Tips: Pilling, Holes & Microplastics
Pilling is mostly an aesthetic issue, but it’s an unpleasant one. While you can physically remove pills, this is pretty tedious. There are devices you can buy to remove pilling, but you have to be careful not to remove too much material.
To prevent pills from forming in the first place, follow the washing instructions above and avoid putting your fleece in the dryer. Pilling can also be the result of abrasion, so don’t hug too many trees while wearing your favorite fleece.
If you’ve got a hole, fleece is not the easiest fabric to repair with thread and needle. You can try to sew small holes, though the repair will be noticeable. You could theoretically use a patch to repair a larger hole, but if it’s a sewn-on patch, the stitching could cause more damage, so it’s not necessarily recommended.
Finally, since fleece is made with a form of plastic, if you want to make sure you’re not contributing to the microplastics problem, there are a few steps you can take, from running full loads, to installing a specialized microplastics filter or purchasing a ball designed to catch these particles. None of these measures should have a negative impact upon your fleece when washing.
Still shopping for that forever fleece? Check out our guide to finding the perfect fleece for you.