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How to Make Fleece Look New Again

Nothing makes a horse and rider look smarter than a tidy, well-groomed turnout and a bright white fleece saddle pad under your saddle. Fleece saddle pads are popular, affordable, and in some competitive disciplines, are considered the “correct” tack for showing.

The Problem: Clumped and Matted Fleece

The problem with fleece saddle pads- both genuine sheepskin and artificial fleece- is that they quickly pick up sweat, grime, horsehair, and all sorts of debris from the horse stable environment and trap it between the long, soft fibers. Although easy to wash, fleece saddle pads tend to look different- slightly more matted- after each washing.

Shearling fleece (fleece that has been trimmed) quickly mats into clumps even after just one washing. With continued use, these clumps of fleece form thick mats that begin to trap debris which makes your saddle pad, after just a few washes look old and dingy.

matted fleece like this saddle pad can be restored to fluffiness with this cleaning hack

Solution:  Comb your Fleece Saddle Pad

It turns out, an old housekeeper’s trick for cleaning sheepskin rugs and keeping them soft and fluffy works great for bringing new life to matted fleece saddle pads. In this tutorial, I’ll  show you how to revitalize a tired and old looking fleece saddle pad by combing out matted fleece fibers.  This method can be used on both synthetic fleece and real sheepskin pads.

combing with the right brush breaks up clumps, removes dirt, and restores a plush texture
combing with the right brush breaks up clumps, removes dirt, and restores a plush texture

To start, you just need one tool – carding brushes. Carding brushes are typically used on unprocessed fibers, in order to clean and align fibers before spinning into yarn. These same tools actually work great for smoothing, aligning, and separating fibers postproduction – such as a well washed and worn fleece saddle pad. Traditional carding brushes can be kind of expensive but if you know where to look you can find a suitable wire card-type brushes for only a few dollars, like the  $6 wire brush pictured below.

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Once you have the tool, make yourself comfortable with the matted fleece saddle pad in your lap and the tool in your dominant hand. Grasping the saddle pad firmly, begin passing the carding brush over the fibers. The matted fibers will tug and try to trap your brush, but the trick is to brush firmly, briskly, and not too deeply. For the first few strokes of the brush just barely press the wire teeth onto the fleece, as the mats break up you can press the brush a little deeper into your fleece.

 brush the fleece in short strokes to break apart clumps
 use the brush to first come out the top layer and then go deeper

This process is not particularly quick but with a good distraction – such as good conversation or a binge-worthy Netflix show, you can make quick work of an entire saddle pad. Simply work your way around the surface breaking up the matted fleece fibers with your wire carding brush.

You’ll need to stop once in a while to clean your brush. Loose fibers from the pad’s fleece and- perhaps most satisfyingly- the debris that was caught in the mats- will be trapped in your brush. Stop to clean loose fiber and debris from your brush regularly as the matter fleece breaks up into individual fibers.

 when you're done combing the matted fleece it will be fluffy again, just like new

Using this technique you can bring new life to even the most pathetic looking fleece saddle pads. You can help your almost–show-worthy pads return to show condition, and bring your almost-trash–worthy fleece saddle pads back to a good schooling condition. In a busy barn with regular second-hand tack sales, you might even be able to make a profit by purchasing old fleece saddle pads and selling them for a higher price once reconditioned.

 fleece is very easy to clean and restore with the right tools

A final tip for preventing fleece from re-matting after combing:

Saddle pad manufacturers like to tout the fact that artificial fleece saddle pads are washer-dryer friendly, however, because artificial fleece is made out of a polyester – which is essentially plastic – and all plastics melt at high temperatures, it is best not to place your fleece saddle pads, blankets, pads, or jackets in a dryer with heat. You can still tumble them on a “cool air” setting of a dryer, but it’s best to drive fleece saddle pads outdoors to prevent the type of matting that cannot be calmed out or repaired with this matted fleece fixing tutorial.

Once you have completed combing all of your matted fleece saddle pads, you can begin cleaning and fluffing the fleece sections of other horse equipment: combing and cleaning the fleece covered portions of horse blankets are one of the most satisfying parts of our ultimate guide to cleaning horse blankets.

Did this method for cleaning and revitalizing synthetic fleece and sheepskin fleece saddle pad work for you? I’d love to hear about it – drop me a comment below.

Why Fleece?

Synthetic fleece is a popular material for horse saddle pads for several reasons. Generally, it is a soft and comfortable material that provides a decent amount of cushioning and pressure relief for the horse’s back. It can help distribute the weight of the rider more evenly, reducing the risk of pressure points and soreness.

Synthetic fleece is, realistically, not the best material for saddle pads. It doesn’t distribute weight as well as a thin foam pad, and it doesn’t wick moisture as well as sheepskin. However, synthetic fleece is cheap and easy to clean. For most riders, this is enough of a reason. Realistically, most horses with a well-fit saddle, being ridden a few times a week don’t need cutting-edge saddle pads- Fleece is fine. However, for riding lesson horses or horses that do trail rides regularly, it’s worth investing in natural fleece: sheepskin.

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 one easy trick for restoring matted fleece saddle pads to a smooth, combed finish that can absorb sweat and dirt again

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