Which Is Warmer Fleece or Cotton?
Fleece and cotton both have many excellent qualities, but if your focus is solely on warmth, pick fleece. Here’s why: Cotton is known for its breathability. That means air can circulate through its woven fibers. If that air happens to be cold, you will feel it.
Fleece, however, is not known for its breathability. While it certainly can be made from cotton, it usually is not. Most fleece is made from synthetic fibers like polyester or polyester blends. Those polyester fibers bring some other benefits that also help with warmth.
Because fleece is knitted rather than woven, then brushed to create the fuzzy softness we all love about it, it will repel liquids better than plain old cotton.Think about the last time you spilled water or got caught in a sudden rainshower while wearing a cotton shirt. The water soaked right in. Luckily, with cotton’s breathability, it dried quickly. If you had been wearing fleece, far less of that water (if any) would have soaked in. The brushed knitted fibers cause liquids on fleece to roll away. It is not completely waterproof, but it is safe to refer to fleece as water repellant. It also dries quicker than cotton in most cases.
The idea of water repellent is referred to as “moisture wicking” in terms of performance wear. If you are looking for a warm, lightweight jacket to wear during your workouts, you are looking for “performance fleece.” It is simply a light-weight fleece that offers warmth while also staying dry.
Synthetic fibers in fleece are more durable than cotton’s natural fibers. That is why 10-year-old fleece blankets hardly show any signs of aging. A 10-year-old cotton shirt, however, will show signs of wear in the elbows and armpits, areas of friction.
On the surface, a yard of fleece costs more than a yard of cotton, but think about how long each one lasts. When you factor in durability, fleece doesn’t seem that expensive at all. You will pay more for fleece based on its weight. Lighter weights will cost less than a heavy weight fleece.
There are some specialty fleeces that may cost more. For example, minky fleece is popular for children’s blankets and stuffed animals because its longer fibers make it so soft and cuddly. One minky fleece I see a lot is called minky dots. Imagine a textured polka dot fabric – the dots are about the size of dimes. It is very cute incorporated into a patchwork quilt.
Yes, there is a variety of cotton fabric, but there is also a good variety of fleece. At Joann, they carry five different types of fleece – blizzard, anti-pill, luxe, minky, and sherpa fleece.
Blizzard fleece is great for no-sew crafts and blankets, but also good for those warm jackets for cool fall nights. When my daughter was 2 and hated to wear bulky coats, we could always get her to wear her blizzard fleece jacket. Here in the south, that’s often enough on even the coldest day.
Anti-pill fleece is also great for jackets and blankets because it does not get those frustrating little knots like most other fabrics do. (Hint: if your fleece or cotton items are pilling, remove the pills by hand or with a clothing shaver to make them look brand new again.)
Joann’s luxe fleece collection is heavy weight fleece. It is available in a variety of solid colors and prints.
Minky fabric, already discussed under the cost category, is soft and velvety.
Sherpa fleece has become a blanket favorite in my family. It is warm and wooly, which makes it great for blankets and jackets. This will be the highest priced fleece because of its thickness. Straight-up sherpa fleece will range in price depending on its color and design. More expensive than it is the flannel/sherpa combo. A smooth flannel is on one side and the backing is the wooly sherpa. This combo makes it a great choice for a super-warm jacket because the sherpa “lining” will keep your body warm and give your jacket the traditional look of smooth flannel on the outside.
Fleece Makes Easy Blankets
Fleece, because it is not a woven fabric, does not have to be hemmed or have finished edges at all. If you want to make an easy blanket, fleece is your best option. If you want a finished look, it is easy to hand stitch the edges with a wide blanket stitch. You can also use your sewing machine to finish the edges with a zig zag stitch, if you’d like.
Just how long can a fleece blanket with unfinished edges be used? I mentioned my daughter’s favorite fleece jacket from when she was 2. My mother also bought a yard of coordinating fleece to make a blanket for her. But the kid couldn’t wait for her to blanket stitch the edges – she wanted it right then. That was 17 years ago and that fleece blanket (really just a yard of fabric with no special edging ever added) is still used frequently. It’s color looks just like it did the day she first dragged it out of my mother’s sewing room. In all this time, it has never absorbed any foul odors (see the “cons” below for more info about that.)
For all its positives, fleece has a few “cons” as well. For instance, since fleece is mostly made of synthetic materials, it is basically made of chemicals like petroleum products. Also, since it is not breathable like cotton, once it absorbs odors, they can be very difficult to remove. And lastly, it takes much longer for fleece to biodegrade. That’s great if you are looking for a long-lasting product, but not-so-great if you’re taking into consideration the carbon footprint fleece leaves behind.
Ultimately, you should make your choice – fleece or cotton – based on your need. If you need long-lasting and warm, fleece gets an A-plus. When you consider how long it lasts, the cost seems more like an investment than overpricing.