Soft and delicate, yet toasty warm, the right fleece blanket is perfect for snuggling on the couch or keeping the heat in your bed on cold nights. On the flipside, the wrong fleece blanket can shed all over the house or turn into a pilly mess after the first wash. In the worst case, you may be allergic to the fleece you bought.
The term “fleece” has come to cover a range of materials and a variety of thicknesses. Some companies have trademarked their fleece fabrics (Polartec©, ThermaCheck©), while others use numbers, like 100 or 200, to describe their blankets. Instead of getting mired down by the terminology, look for these important distinctions.
Often referred to as “polar fleece” or microfleece, synthetic fleece was created as a lightweight alternative to wool. The result is a soft, feather-light blanket that provides incredible warmth. In addition to being lighter than cotton fleece, it’s generally less expensive. There are a number of trademarked fleeces on the market, but the fabrics are generally very similar. An important distinction to look for is whether the fleece is “pill resistant.” One downside to fleece is that it can pill. This is why it’s important to look for high quality fleece, which retains its original texture after numerous washes and is resistant to pilling. Lower quality fleece blankets are prone to shedding. Another potential downside to synthetic fleeces is that is that it generates a lot of static, which can attract hair and dust. Although polar fleece is generally made from petroleum products, it is possible to buy high-quality recycled fleece. Be sure to follow drying instructions, as polar fleece can melt when exposed to high heat.
Cotton fleece is made from the same material as cotton sweatshirts and sweatpants, except it’s sewn so that the soft pile is showing on both sides. Although these blankets are generally more expensive and heavier than polar fleece, they can be just as warm and some people prefer a little heft in their blanket. For people with polyester allergies, cotton fleece is a great alternative to polar fleece because it’s made from natural fibers but is equally soft. It’s also possible to buy an organic cotton fleece blanket. On the downside, cotton fleece will usually shrink when washed, so look for manufacturers that take this into account when sizing their blankets and always follow the washing instructions.
To ensure that you’re buying the right blanket for your climate, check the weight (or thickness) of the fleece. Fleece weight can have a big impact the warmth of your new blanket, especially with synthetic fleece.
The term “microfleece” can mean a number of things in the world of synthetic fleece. Generally, microfleece is the most lightweight (or thinnest) polar fleece. It’s perfect for sitting by the fireplace or watching TV, but may not provide a lot of warmth on your bed during the height of winter. But beware, because some companies use the term “mircrofleece” to describe the feel of the fabric. In this case, microfleece is a smoother version of fleece (as opposed to synthetic shearling or Berber pile), but it may also be the warmest blanket that company is selling. Always read the item description to see what uses are recommended for the blanket of your choice.
Visually, it can be difficult to determine which synthetic fleece blankets are thicker than others. This is because an imperceptible change in thickness can have a big impact on the warmth of a polar fleece blanket. Look for fleece blankets that are designed for very cold nights or that have a number in their name (like 100 or 200). In the scale of synthetic fleeces, 100 is the step up from microfleece and is followed by 200, which is probably the warmest number you’ll see. But again, it all depends on the manufacturer; this number system is generally used by Polartec©.