Flannel and fleece are both soft and cozy materials that you can see everywhere during colder winter months.
They are known for their ability to retain warmth, so it’s no wonder and they’re always popular as we get into the coldest month of the year.
But just because you’re used to seeing them, doesn’t mean you understand them perfectly.
So what’s the difference between flannel and fleece? Flannel is a loosely woven, warm, soft, and breathable fabric typically made of cotton or wool. Fleece is typically a synthetic material made from spinning fibers together in a special way. Both are popular warm, cozy, and soft fabrics, but they have different best uses.
Although flannel and fleece are quite similar in terms of property, they’re not interchangeable. In this article, we will help you compare fleece and flannel, how to care for them, and what they’re best used for.
What Is Flannel?
When it comes to flannel, we often think about the plaid pattern that you see on a lot of flannel clothing or blanket.
In reality, flannel is a kind of loosely woven fabric and it can come in a variety of different patterns. Yes, you can definitely find plain flannel fabric, although that’s hard to imagine for most people!
Historically, flannel was made by weaving carded wool or yarn together into a loose pattern. Thanks to this weaving method, flannel materials often have tiny air pockets that allow the material to be super breathable, while still typically being quite warm.
Nowadays, flannel is typically made from cotton or wool, although you can surely find flannel made from synthetic material.
No matter what it’s made of, flannel is typically designed to help insulate heat, keeping you warm, despite its fairly loose weave, which helps to keep it a relatively lighter fabric.
Is Flannel Cotton?
Flannel is not necessarily made from cotton, although it is very common.
As we said, flannel is usually made of either cotton or wool. Most flannel that is made from 100% cotton is super soft and cozy, yet can still retain warmth while still being moisture-absorbing and breathable.
On the other hand, flannel made from wool or synthetic materials may not be as soft, but it will still share some of the characteristics of flannel, including the woven pattern and its ability to insulate body temperature.
These qualities make flannel the material of choice when it comes to winter months. For some extra warmth, some flannel can even be brushed before or after weaving to create a fuzzy texture. You will find flannel that is not brushed, brushed on both sides, or brushed on one side.
The brushed texture is created by running a metal comb through the wool before weaving, or through the fabric after weaving, to raise the fiber and create an uneven texture.
The fuzz makes brushed flannel extra cozy and warm for winter. You’ll see this super cozy brushed flannel more often in blankets, thick scarves, or coats.
Since most flannel is made of woven cotton or wool, it will shrink in the first wash. Some flannel may come pre-shrunk, but when you buy flannel fabric or flannel clothing, pay attention to the washing instructions so you won’t make any mistakes while caring for flannel.
Flannel Vs Cotton
As we said above, while some flannel is made of cotton, not all cotton is flannel. But since this is a common misconception, let’s make the distinction clearer, shall we?
Flannel refers to the type of pattern that fibers – which can be wool, cotton, or polyester – are woven in, usually this is a very loose weave. Flannel is usually quite inexpensive to purchase, compared to some types of cotton.
Meanwhile, cotton is a type of material that comes from the cotton plant. Cotton can be used to make a variety of textured materials, which includes denim or flannel. Depending on the variety of cotton, it can be relatively inexpensive to super luxurious.
Cotton does have some very distinct characteristics. If a fabric is made of 100% cotton, you can count on it to be very breathable and soft. It is quite easy to wash, although it may wrinkle and shrink in the process, so you will have to pay attention to the care instructions.
Compared to flannel, cotton is not as warm and cozy.
If you want a material that is easy to care for, flannel is the answer. As mentioned above, it is super warm, doesn’t wrinkle, and may not shrink in the wash, depending on its composition. Since most flannel is made of cotton anyway, it tends to be kinder on your skin and won’t cause any skin irritations.
However, if you’ve worn flannel during drier winter months, you’ll know how easy flannel can collect static generated from rubbing layers of clothing together. Flannels also tend to collect pilings, so it may look worn out really quickly after only a few washes.
Caring for Flannel
As with any clothing items, you should check the washing instructions before putting flannel in the washing machine to make sure that you won’t damage the item.
A general rule for washing flannel is that you should use the delicate setting on the washing machine, and adding a fabric softener to avoid piling. When drying, you should air-dry the item, or tumble dry to avoid any shrinkage.
If you’re using a dryer, lint can build up in the machine. Make sure to empty the lint dryer so that it doesn’t get on your clothing after drying.
If your flannel is made of 100% percent cotton, it can still shrink slightly after a few washes.
Obviously, this is undesirable, especially if you have a fitted sheet or a flannel shirt that already fits well. To avoid this problem, you should check before buying to see if the flannel has been pre-shrunk, and if not, you can buy a size larger to account for the shrinkage.
Flannel fabric also tends to shed easily. To treat the shedding, you can wash the flannel in a vinegar solution to minimize shedding in the future.
Over time, you will find that the flannel can become a bit stiffer and more irritating to the skin. This may be because of softener buildup in the fabric. You can treat the fabric by washing it out in warm water or run it through a rinse cycle in your washing machine, and air dry. The flannel will be as soft as new!
What is Fleece? Is it the Same as Wool?
Fleece is another cozy material that can offer tremendous warmth during cold winter months. Fleece gets its name from the sheep and looks like the texture of a sheep’s coat, but it’s actually predominantly made of polyester or polyester-blend materials.
Fleece made of a polyester-natural blend is often extra warm and cozy. Nowadays, you can find fleece that is made of recycled polyester, which was processed from plastic bottles and old textiles, so it’s definitely greener for the environment.
On the other hand, wool is made of natural fibers, specifically from sheep. There are so many types of wool, depending on the breed of sheep, that it has different properties and price ranges. After collecting the fleece of the animal, wool has to be processed, washed, and carded, and woven into yarn or fabric.
Depending on the breed of sheep that the wool is collected from, wool can range from relatively inexpensive to highly luxurious. Wool also comes in a versatile range of texture and thickness.
Although fleece and wool share a lot of characteristics, including the ability to trap and retain heat, they are not the same thing. Fleece is usually more durable than wool, and definitely much cheaper than certain types of wool.
In addition, fleece is more water-resistant and will not wear out as quickly, compared to natural wool. Because of its texture and composition, fleece is not very breathable but can retain warmth really well, which makes it perfect for colder winter months.
Because most fleece is made of synthetic materials, it won’t shrink in the wash and can retain its color and texture really well after months of use.
Fleece is slightly stretchy, so if you have clothing or sheets made of fleece, it may stretch out over time. In addition, fleece will also pill over time, making it look worn out after some use.
Caring for Fleece
Fleece is especially easy to care for since it is usually made of synthetic fiber that does not shrink or wrinkle in the wash. The only rule that you need to remember when caring for fleece is that you don’t have to treat it with fabric softener, since it can damage the synthetic fiber.
It is especially important that you never bleach fleece. The synthetic material can be permanently damaged when coming in contact with bleach.
When washing, you can use the gentle wash setting in your washing machine, using cold water. Since fleece can also pile easily, you should always tumble dry or air-dry the fleece to make sure that it stays new. If you tumble dry, pay attention to the lint drawer so that lint doesn’t get on your other clothing.
Although fleece won’t shrink in the wash, it is a stretchy material that can stretch out over time after some use, although the stretch may not be significant enough for you to notice, especially on a blanket or a coat.
However, it can affect the look of some tightly fitted items, so you should take extra care to make sure that the fleece doesn’t stretch as much.
There are clothing items that are made of really high-end fleece, so it’s highly recommended that you take them to a dry cleaner so that you don’t damage the material and ensure long-lasting use.
Fleece Vs Flannel – What’s the Difference?
While fleece and flannel are both popular materials during cold winter months, since they’re known for their ability to retain body heat, there are a few key differences.
As mentioned above, flannels are usually loosely woven to create small air pockets that make the fabric light and breathable. Flannel is also typically made of cotton, so it feels really soft against the skin and it can help regulate your body temperature pretty well. Since flannel is technically a weave, it will unravel when the fabric is cut.
In comparison, fleece has a thicker texture because it’s made of spinning fibers around each other. The fabric is made of polyester or polyester blend, so it can retain heat really well but it is not as breathable as flannels. Fleece clothing should be worn on especially cold days, otherwise, it may get too hot.
Working with fleece fabric is pretty easy since it will not unravel when cut. The fabric doesn’t shrink, so it’s easy to care for when using. Certain types of fleece can get a bit expensive compared to flannel, but you can definitely buy fleece that is on the cheaper side.
Choosing Fleece Vs Flannel
Now that you know the difference between fleece and flannel, you may wonder when it’s best to use a fleece material and when it’s preferable to use flannels.
It is generally advised that you use flannel for clothing and everyday items that touch your skin, including your clothes, scarves, and bedsheets. Since flannel is a super breathable material that’s kinder to your skin, flannel clothing and bedsheets will allow you to feel warm and cozy without any irritation.
You can take advantage of flannel’s ability to insulate your body temperature by wearing flannel on days where the temperature is mild to moderate because you won’t overheat. Flannel clothing can be a great layering piece, thanks to its lightweight material and distinct look.
Crafting with flannel can be a bit difficult.
Since it is a woven material, the fibers will unravel when it is cut. You will need a serger to seal off the edges when you are sewing with flannel. In addition, you will need to pay attention to the fabric’s shrinkage so that your garment will have the correct measurements after washing.
Meanwhile, fleece is known for its ability to trap heat really well. You often see fleece as outerwear or coat linings, because it’s water-resistant and can act as a barrier to help you retain body heat.
It is especially amazing for super cold days when you need some real protection when going outside. However, fleece is not as great in warmer climates or during warmer months, since it won’t allow you to regulate your body temperature, so it can get too hot.
Fleece also makes for great throw blankets for your couch, so you can enjoy cozy movie nights at home. It is super durable, soft, and you don’t have to worry too much about caring for it.
Crafting with fleece is quite easy since the stretchy material makes it really forgiving for beginners. Fleece won’t unravel when it is cut, so you won’t need a serger to work with fleece material.
We don’t recommend using fleece for items that will touch your skin for a prolonged period of time. Due to its inability to insulate temperature, your body can overheat. When touching sensitive areas like your back or your chest for a prolonged period, it can irritate your skin and cause bumps and acne.
Although both fleece and flannel are popular materials during the winter months, there are definitely distinct differences that you will need to consider when picking the right material for different types of use. Now that you know the differences between flannel and fleece, you can pick the best materials for your everyday use.
Both materials are relatively inexpensive and easy to care for, and they both offer similar warmth and coziness on cold winter days. However, choosing the wrong material can cause skin irritations and discomfort.
The general rule is: if it touches your skin a lot, use flannel or some other natural material for breathability. If you want to retain heat and protect against the harsh environment, choose fleece or other synthetic material.
Although both materials are easy to care for, you should also pay attention to the caring instructions so that the materials won’t shrink or stretch and can stay new for a longer period. We hope you can have a cozy winter with this helpful guide.
Up Next: The Best Fabric For Making Tea Towels