Microfleece, also called polar fleece or simply fleece, is a soft, napped, synthetic wool material often made from polyester. It was first manufactured in 1979 by Malden Mills, now called Polartec LLC, but the company did not patent the product, with the result that there are now many different makers of polar fleece. Fleece is warm like wool and similar in appearance, but it is much softer, lighter, and easier to wash.
Any product that can be made from wool can also be made with microfleece. It is used in jackets, hats, sweat pants, blankets, and many other products. Microfleece comes in four different thicknesses: micro is the thinnest and most flexible, followed by 100, 200, and 300. Microfleece is also a great alternative for people who are allergic to wool, or those with sensitive skin.
Microfleece is also hydrophobic, or water-repellent, making it quick to dry and warm even when wet. When fully soaked, microfleece holds only one percent of its weight in water and remains breathable. Its hydrophobic properties make it good for wicking away sweat, so fleece is a great material for active wear.
Fleece has a few disadvantages as well. Depending on its quality, microfleece is not always durable. It can be especially susceptible to pilling and tears. Fleece also generates a lot of static electricity, making it a magnet for hairs and dust. It is also not always windproof, though denser forms of fleece and fleece products with windproof linings are available.
In addition, though fleece is easy to machine-wash, it can be damaged by improper care. If washed in hot water, tumble dried, or ironed, polar fleece can be ruined. A cool iron can be used if necessary. Polar fleece is also one of the most flammable clothing materials, especially compared to natural fibers like wool. Many fleece products are treated with a fire retardant to compensate for this.
Some believe that microfleece is more environmentally friendly than wool because it is often made from recycled plastic bottles, and is a vegan alternative to wool. However, research shows that microfleece may not be as environmentally friendly as initially thought. These studies indicate that every wash of microfleece clothing releases synthetic microfibers smaller than one millimeter into wastewater, which eventually finds its way into the environment, and inevitably into human food sources. Experts are currently studying to learn the effects of synthetic microfibers in the environment, and also ways that the shedding of these during a wash could be avoided.