Caring For Your Deep Pile Fleece

That Classic "Teddy Bear" Look

Whether you love or hate it, deep pile fleece is an iconic piece of fashion history. You can guess that we believe the former, given that we wrote this article. Is there any better feeling than wrapping yourself in a fuzzy, cozy fleece jacket? We don't think so. If you think similarly, ten read on for some tips on how to keep your fleece (and as a result, you) feeling great. 

Fleece was invented as a synthetic alternative to wool; it's warm and soft, but much lighter and quick to dry when wet. Although the first pile fabric was intended for toilet seat covers, Yvon and Malinda Chouinard (founders of Patagonia) saw fleece's functional potential and turned it into the outdoor performance gear we associate it with today. The earliest version of this fleece was a bulky pile, referring to the loops of fibre that stand up from the base fabric. The deeper the pile, the "fluffier" the fleece. However, with great reward comes great responsibility; we may be fleece fanatics, but we also understand that fleece is not perfect.

The two main, inevitable consequences of deep pile fleece are matting and pilling. Matting happens when the pile compresses from points of contact, reducing the depth and fluffiness of the fleece. It predominantly occurs on the elbows/forearms, but can also happen around cuffs and on the back. Pilling occurs from friction and results in the long fleece fibers forming small knots, resulting in a more rough texture to the fleece.

Both of these complications are notoriously difficult to fix (to the point where it usually isn't worth the effort). If you have exceptional mental fortitude and excess time on your hands, you can cut the fleece fibers that have matted/pilled to create new fibers, but these new fibers don't look the best compared to the normal fleece around it. Most importantly, taking this approach is painstakingly tedious. Since there are no good solutions for these issues, it's important to prevent them from happening in the first place. Like we said earlier, your fleece will inevitably experience some degree of matting and pilling. However, with proper care, you can minimize this and keep your favorite fleece looking its best for years to come.

How to Care For and Prolong the Life of Your Fleece

Brush after wearing. Think of your deep pile fleece as a pet that doesn't need fed. Grab a clothes or shoe brush after long hikes (or treks across town) and gently brush the fleece out; this will remove debris/dirt as well as keep the fibers soft and fluffy. By dry brushing your fleece, you can prolong the time between washes and minimize stress from your washing machine. Natural fiber brushes work best here (boar or horse hair), but synthetic fibers can work too as long as they aren't too stiff. When brushing to prevent matting and compression of the pile, focus on high-contact areas such as the elbows, cuffs, and back/shoulders if you're hiking with a pack.

Wash as least often as possible. If your fleece isn't dirty, don't wash it! Brushing, spot treatment, and airing out your garment after wearing will go a long way in ensuring its longevity. If it's come to the point where your garment does require a full wash, we recommend hand washing if you are willing/able to; it is the best method to prevent more wear and tear on the fleece fibers (but honestly, we don't always do that ourselves). If you do opt for the washing machine, turn the temperature to cold and wash inside out, ideally in a garment bag to reduce friction with other items in the machine. We especially like the Guppyfriend bag, which collects broken fibers to prevent microplastic pollution. Washing fleece in warm/hot water will degrade the synthetic fibers due to the higher temperature, facilitating fiber breakage and making them more prone to pilling

Hang, don't fold. This is especially true when drying post-wash; fleece is more susceptible to matting and pilling when wet. Hang your garment on a thick wooden hanger to prevent compressing the pile and retain the shape of the shoulders. When it's dry, try not to keep your fleece folded for long-term storage. We want to minimize compression of the pile and prevent matting, so hanging in a closet is the way to go.

Avoid fire. This should be common knowledge for everyday life, but is especially true if you're bringing your favorite fleece on a camping trip for the weekend. Be mindful of campfires! Since deeper piles have more surface area and can stick out 1/2" from your body, it's easier to come into contact with flying sparks. Although superficial, fire damage can burn away the pile in the area where the spark hit. Smaller singes can usually be covered up by the fleece around it, but larger ones may be more noticeable. 

What If I Just Want to Wear my Fleece and Not Worry About It?

Good point. At the end of the day, it's just clothing. It's meant to be worn. We encourage you to wear and repair your garments until rendered functionless. However, if you do have a fleece that you love and you want it to function for as long as possible, we hope that you learned a little bit about how to do so.


Until next time,

- The Gorp Guys