What is Polar Fleece? Types, Weight, Features, Wash and Care
For over 40 years fleece has been, for most of us, our first choice when it comes to comfort and insulation. From plush socks, comfy bath robes, and fluffy blankets, to jackets, winter shirts, gloves, scarves, and beanies when going out in the cold to fish, hike, or ski.
Even if the first two explanations taken out of the dictionary for the word "fleece" are: “wool coat that covers a sheep or a similar animal”, or “the wool cut from a sheep”, we use “fleece” to refer to a plush-like fabric, that is not even made from natural wool.
This article has 5 sections. Click/tap on one of the titles below to jump to the desired info.1. What is Fleece?
2. 7 types of fleece explained
3. Importance of fleece thickness
4. Synthetic fleece properties
5. Wash and care
What is fleece?
In the late 1970s, in Massachusetts, an American textile maker experimented with synthetic materials, and in 1981 the first-ever fleece was introduced to the world.
Also known as polar fleece, the fabric is made from very thin looped polyester threads that are knit together. At least one side is brushed for loosening up the fibers to build volume. This process makes the fabric fuzzy, and soft, and creates small air pockets.
This fabric became popular for its ability to mimic the insulating properties of wool, while being lightweight, and for its low production costs.
The technology for manufacturing fleece is constantly advancing: the fabric can be made as fine as cashmere, and even processed from recycled PET from plastic bottles. Now, 44 years later, we can say that this magic material has entirely changed the way we dress for cold weather, to the point where we prefer it over other types of fabric.
7 types of fleece explained
This fabric can be made out of various materials, and here are some of the more common types, and their explanation. Types 1, 2 and 3 are made with cotton and other synthetic fibers, and types 4, 5, 6 and 7 are made out of synthetic fibers only.
1. Cotton blended fleece – has a smooth exterior and a plush inner nap, and is commonly used for bath robes, sweatshirts and pants. This type of fleece might not feel as warm as others.
2. Lycra spandex fleece – it’s composed of cotton with a small percentage of Lycra spandex to create a stretchy fabric. It’s popular for fitted clothes and performance wear.
3. Slub fleece – it’s a blend of cotton and polyester, and made from two different-sized yarns twisted together, which results in a fabric with a textured look. This fabric is often used for sweatshirts, shirts and jackets.
4. Terry fleece – isn’t fluffy, because it’s unbrushed on both sides. It’s thinner than other fleeces, absorbs water, and is not super warm. Do not confuse it with French Terry, which is a cotton jersey fabric. It is often used for shirts, shorts and light hoodies.
5. Microfleece – one or both sides are soft, and the overall fabric is thinner, making it lightweight. It’s breathable and flexible, but it doesn’t insulate as well as other fleeces. It's mostly used for ultra light clothes that are used for layering, or as a lining for jackets and coats.
6. Polar fleece – has a double-sided pile and is much thicker and warmer than microfleece. Polar fleece is frequently used for outdoor wear, being the to-go fabric when exposed to cold weather. It comes in different thicknesses, and it's less flexible the thicker it gets. It naturally repels water, dries quickly, and keeps you warm even when wet. This fabric is the most popular, and it's used for blankets, shirts, jackets, gloves, beanies, scarves and neck gaiters.
7. Sherpa fleece – often referred to as "high pile fleece", or called faux-sheepskin or faux-shearling, Sherpa fleece mimics the look of natural wool. It’s super light, very, very fluffy, and sometimes looks like faux fur, but it's 100% synthetic, drying faster than animal-based fibers. It's mostly used for plush winter socks, blankets, vests, pets cushion and as lining for winter jackets.
Which one do you need? Thinner or thicker fleece?
Lightweight – 100 – 200 GSM
It’s a thinner fleece, also called microfleece, weighs less than 200 GSM, and is considered lightweight. It’s often regarded as packable, flexible, and breathable, although it doesn’t insulate as well as a thicker fleece would.
Midweight – 200 – 300 GSM
Even if a medium-thickness fleece has less flexibility than a lightweight, it’s still comfortable, breathable, significantly warmer, and a better insulator than microfleece. Midweight is a good option if you require a fleece that works for some high-level activities, but still keeps you warm on cold days.
Heavyweight – equal and over 300 GSMNowadays, heavyweight fleece is not used too often, especially for outdoor wear, because even if it keeps you warm in very cold weather, it’s the least breathable. Although it protects you from the elements, if you move a lot and sweat, the perspiration will stay in.
Synthetic Fleece properties
Brushed fleece is soft against the skin and is more comfortable than many types of wool. It’s considered Vegan and looked upon as a good alternative for those who are allergic or get their skin easily irritated by natural wool.
Fleece has hydrophobic properties, meaning that the fabric tends to repel or fails to mix with water. This is because synthetic fibers do not absorb that much water – fleece holds less than 1% of its weight in water. Do not confuse it with a rain shell - the fabric isn't waterproof.
The way the fabric is manufactured allows moisture to evaporate while blocking the humidity from the outside, and by not absorbing as much moisture as cotton, fleece continues to be more breathable.
Fleece is known for being lightweight. Even if a sherpa fleece is heavier than a microfleece, it still doesn’t weigh very much. Remember that the fabric is brushed to loosen up the fibers and build volume, so fleece is actually made of fewer threads than you think.
The volume built when brushing the fabric creates small pockets that trap air, helping insulating in cold weather, as they don’t let your body heat get out. Midweight and heavyweight fleece are better at insulating, as microfleece wasn’t designed to keep warm on its own.
Fleece keeps most of its insulating properties even when partially wet. However, if fleece gets completely soaked up, the water displaces the air from the small pockets, and the insulation effect is considerably diminished.
Wash and Care
Recommended washing and detergent type
The good news is that fleece fabric is machine washable and dries quicker than natural fibers like cotton, wool, linen, hemp, etc.
It’s best to wash fleece separately, but it’s ok to wash it with similar colors and fabrics. Use cold water only, on a gentle cycle like hand wash or delicate, and a mild detergent.
Do not use bleach or fabric softener – the last can reduce the insulating properties of fleece. After washing, do not wring/twist to dry out excess water, as it can harm the fibers.
How to dry fleece
ATTENTION! This fabric can be damaged at high temperatures when washing, tumble drying, or ironing.
You can tumble dry on low or no heat, although it’s better to air-dry the fleece.
A good option is to dry flat, or on a hanger that doesn’t stretch or press the fabric. Remember not to iron it, but instead use a soft brush to improve the appearance and smooth the nap.
And not that you've learned what is a fleece, what kind of fabric types you can find on the market, what are the features of the material and how you can take care of it, you will know what to choose.
And if you're in need of a face and neck protection during cold weather, you can try GOT® Winter Neck Warmer - double layered for extra protection (2 polar fleece layers of 230 gsm each), stretchy, soft and warm.
Discover GOT® winter collection. Pick your favorite and stay protected...