When done correctly, fleece bedding is much healthier for your piggies, but there is a lot that goes into it (that unfortunately, isn’t talked about enough…until now).
When fleece is not properly prepared or not used with an absorbent layer, it can actually be detrimental to your little ones’ health and can cause a boatload of problems such as bumblefoot, respiratory infections, etc.
First Thing’s First– What is fleece bedding?
Fleece bedding is an alternative to wood or paper shavings. A wicked (VERY IMPORTANT…more on this term later) fleece liner allows the urine to pass through to the absorbent layer beneath the fleece, leaving your piggies’ feet nice and dry. The only thing you need to do is spot clean (sweep up) the poops 1-2 times per day and depending on cage size and number of pigs, changing the fleece 1-2 times per week. A larger cage requires less cage changes, yet another benefit to having the biggest cage you’re able to do.
Second Thing’s Second–there are two ways to fleece.
Fleece liners– two pieces of fleece with an absorbent layer sewn in between the fleece. This is what I have always used for my pigs. You can either make your own (can be difficult, but there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube!) or buy them on a platform like Etsy–there are hundreds of fleece and cozy makers on Etsy. Not all shops are created equal, but trusted people like SkinnyPigs1 has a Trusted Guinea Pig Shops section in the description of all her YouTube videos (we’re in there, nbd :P) You want to make sure the liners are ~ 3″ longer on each side to account for shrinkage from washing. Also ensure the fleece used is either Blizzard or Anti-Pill fleece, and must have an absorbent layer (90% of the time it’s uhaul)
Using fleece draped over an absorbent layer- While liners are much easier to manage, they may be out of the question due to an inability to sew or due to price from having them custom made. Another alternative would be to have the absorbent layer on the bottom of the cage (uhaul blankets, old towels) and drape a wicked piece of anti-pill or blizzard fleece over the absorbent layer
HOW TO PREPARE FLEECE BEFORE USING
Before you can switch to fleece bedding, the fleece must be wicked first to allow the urine to pass through into the absorbent layer. It’s going to seem complicated, but it’s really not.
There is a lot of washing and drying initially, but once it’s prepared properly, you only need to wash it once when you do cage cleaning. (Unless you’re me and you test each piece of fleece each time you wash it. Which actually isn’t the worst thing as sometimes fabric softeners from our personal laundry can be left behind in the washing machine, replacing the barrier that prevents the urine from passing through.)
1. Make sure you use an unscented detergent with no dyes or anything. I personally use Tide Free and Clear.
2. Wash the fleece on warm water with the detergent and 1 cup distilled white vinegar (helps break down the plastic barrier on the fleece and helps disinfect)
3. Dry on LOW with NO dryer sheets (no dryer sheets or fabric softener can ever be used because it replaces the barrier that prevents urine from going through)
4. Test it by dropping some warm water on the liner. If the water immediately disappears, it’s ready. If not, rewash and dry until it’s ready. It can take up to 10 times sometimes.
When it’s written out, it seems obnoxiously complicated, but in practice, it becomes second nature.
When it’s time to do a cage clean, follow these steps: 1. Take the fleece liner outside or over a large trash barrel and (we recommend and use a rubber bristle brush as it helps with getting more fur and hay off) shake the liner to remove as much debris as possible and brush as much hay and fur off as possible as well. We also strongly recommend using a fleece laundry bag to keep any excess hay or fur out of your washing machine. This bag from Wheeky Pets is wonderful!
2. Wash the fleece with warm water. Add your unscented and dye-free detergent and add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar (natural fabric softener and helps with smells and disinfects). If your washing machine supports this, add an extra rinse cycle.
3. Dry on LOW with NO dryer sheets.
4. OPTIONAL (But recommended by TNC): Test the fleece once it has cooled down with some warm water to ensure the fleece is still properly wicked. If the water goes in right away, it’s ready. If it pools on top, it CANNOT be used as your pigs will be standing in their own urine, leading to many health problems. If this happens, repeat the washing and drying process until properly wicked.