A Detailed Guide For Fleece Bedding

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Swissgreys

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Overview:
1. What is a fleece cage liner?
2. Getting started with fleece
3. Fleece washing tips
4. General Fleece Tips
5. Fleece FAQ’s



1. What is a fleece cage liner?

What is a fleece cage liner and how does it work?
A fleece cage liner consists of at least 2 layers, and most commonly 3 layers.
The top layer is fleece, which essentially offers a dry layer for your guinea pigs to live on.
Fleece does not hold moisture, so any pee will soak straight through and be ‘trapped’ in the absorbent layer underneath.
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What is the absorbent layer?
Underneath the fleece layer you need an absorbent layer to soak up moisture.
Common absorbent layers include Zorb (more common in the US), U-haul blankets (also US), mattress protectors (100% cotton for absorbency), old bath/beach towels, or disposable options such as puppy pads/incontinence pads or newspapers.
In many cases the absorbent layer will be sandwiched between 2 layers of fleece to help keep the bottom of the cage dry, by trapping any moisture in the middle.
Whilst a third layer is not essential, it does mean you can use different patterns or colours on the top and bottom, and then essentially have 2 different cage liners in one. It can also offer some protection for the bottom of your cage.

Does a fleece liner need to have a waterproof layer?
It is also possible to have a waterproof bottom layer using a mattress protector (incontinence bedding) or other waterproof fabric such as PUL.
My limited personal experiences is that these are not as effective and tend to smell more quickly, and of course you can’t use both sides as the waterproof layer always needs to be on the bottom.
However, if you cage liner is directly on a surface that needs to be protected (wood, carpet, etc.) this can be a good option. If you do not want a liner with a waterproof layer, then it is possible to achieve the same level of protection by putting a waterproof layer (such as a shower curtain) directly underneath your normal fleece liner.


2. Getting started with fleece

Buying ready-made liners
The easiest way to start using fleece bedding for your guinea pigs is to buy ready-made liners.
Some suppliers used by members of this Forum can be seen here:
Members recommended UK and US sites for fleece cage liners and accessories

Sewing your own liners
A good option if you have a sewing machine (or a friend with a sewing machine) is to sew your own liners.
This allows you to customise them for your cage size, and can offer a cheaper alternative to buying commercial liners.
A good video explaining how to make your own liners and how they work can be seen here:
How to Make Your Own Waterproof Cage Liners
In the video she uses a waterproof bottom layer, but this could easily be replaced with fleece if you prefer.

There are more ideas for sewing fleece liners and accessories are here:
Tutorials for Making Fleece Liners and Cage Accessories

A YouTube search will also bring up a host of suggestions for making all types of fleecy cage accessories for guinea pigs.

Creating a simple test liner or temporary set up
The cheapest way to try fleece (maybe before investing in expensive pre-made liners) would be to buy a piece of fleece or a fleece blanket, place an absorbent layer underneath, lay the blanket over the top, and see how this works for you and your piggies.
A well illustrated example of this set up can be seen on this thread:
Temporary Housing Solutions?
 

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3. Fleece washing tips

General washing guidelines

  • Shake off as much hay and mess as possible before putting the fleeces into your washing machine.
  • Use a washing powder designed for sensitive skin (unscented, non-bio), and remember you generally need less than the manufactures recommendation. When washing fleece, less washing powder/liquid is better.
  • Unless you have a dedicated washing machine for animals, put your fleece into a bag before washing to keep hay and hair out of your machine.
  • Horsewear wash bags are great (E-bay, tack shops, Amazon), and will help contain fur and hay inside, and protect your washing machine from mess and blockages. Another alternative is a duvet cover that closes with a zip or can be held closed with a large elastic band (I personally use a duvet cover with an old hair scrunchie). If you do opt for a duvet cover a thin, nylon passed one will work better than a heavy cotton one.
  • Never use fabric conditioner as this will prevent the moisture soaking through the fleece and being absorbed. Instead you can add a small splash of white vinegar to the fabric conditioner drawer in your machine. This acts as a softener and deodoriser, and whilst not essential, can help reduce odours.
  • Fleece will benefit from being washed at 60 degrees occasionally. This is particularly important if you have an ill guinea pig, as it will ensure all bacteria are destroyed.
  • Be careful not to overload your washing machine as this can make it difficult for your machine to rinse or spin the load properly, leaving you with a sodden mass of smelly fleece! For some machines one large liner (5 x 2 C&C) will be the maximum they can take. I tend to was my smaller pee pads separately from the large liners to ensure they have plenty of space to be properly cleaned and rinsed.
Do I need to wash my fleece before using it?
Yes. Commercially bought liners are often pre-washed, but if you are planning to sew your own it is essential to wash all the layers first at the hottest temperature you can without damaging the fabric.
Not only should this remove any coatings or treatment on the fabric, but will also pre-shrink everything. There is nothing more heartbreaking that sewing a beautiful liner only to find it is slightly too small for your cage once it has been washed (trust me on this one).

I have washed my fleece and water still sits on top.
How do I make my fleece wick?
What is wicking?

Wicking is the process of transporting liquid through a layer. In this case we want our fleece to wick urine through the fleece, and into the absorbent layer below.
Most new fleece material/blankets, are treated with a water-repellent layer that means liquid will not automatically flow through them*.
Wash your new fleece 3 – 4 times at 40-60 degrees with a small amount of liquid detergent and a splash of vinegar in the additive’s drawer. Do not use any fabric condition or a detergent with conditioners already added.
There is no need to dry the fleece between washes, and you do not need detergent in every wash (just the first 2 is enough). After this dry your fleece, and it should now be ready to use/make into a liner.
At this point you may be tempted to test with water and see if it soaks through the fleece as opposed to pooling on top. Even if it doesn’t soak in immediately try not to panic – guinea pig urine is very different to water, and the fleece should still work once it has an absorbent layer underneath.

*The exception to this is many pre-made liners which have generally been stripped before sewing, so arrive in a ready to use state. The seller will usually advise you if you need to wash the liner before use.

I have washed my fleece and it still smells.
My fleece gets smelly very quickly.
Over time detergent can build up on your fleece and leave it smelly, even after washing.
The same is also true of your washing machine.
If your fleece is smelly start by ‘cleaning’ your washing machine. Run the machine on a hot cycle, totally empty. If you see foam inside at any point in the cycle then you have a build-up of detergent. Repeat this step (with an empty machine and no additives in the drawer/machine) until the water inside is clear at every stage of the wash cycle.
Once your machine is clean, wash your fleece, again with no detergent or additives. If the water is foamy then you need to repeat this step until it isn’t.
Fleece also benefits greatly from being dried (or at least aired) outside occasionally.
Line drying (even inside) is also better than tumble drying.
Even in the depths of Winter I will often put a clean, dry liner outside to air, and in Summer I try to dry them outside as often as the weather allows.

Another possible issue may be changing the liner too frequently.
After a major cage clean, some guinea pigs feel it is their duty to scent mark the entire cage as quickly as possible. If you are certain that your liners are clean and not suffering with detergent build up, then try not to change all of the bedding in the cage at the same time. When you remove the liner, keep some of the older pee pads in certain crucial areas to try and make sure the cage still smells familiar to your guinea pigs, and makes them less likely to rush around in a scent marking frenzy.
 

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4. General Fleece tips
  • To extend the time between main liner washes try using smaller fleece pads in high traffic or messy areas of the cage (underneath water bottles and food bowls, in corners where piggies are more likely to pee, underneath houses, etc). Even if you buy your main liners elsewhere, small fleece pads are easy to sew, and making your own can save you money.
  • A large hay tray will also help keep the liner cleaner.
  • A minimum of a quick sweep out at least once a day is necessary. A basic dustpan and brush work well for this.

5. Fleece FAQ’s

How many liners will I need?

You will need at least 2, to allow for one in the wash and one in the cage.
If you have multiple cages you will need at least one liner for each cage and a couple of spares.

I want to make my own liners – where do I buy fleece?
UK: B+M, Dunelm Mill, Asda (kids fleece blankets often have some fun patterns), E-Bay, Primark, Tiger, FabricOnline.
US: Joann, Ebay, FleeceQueen.

A google search is always a good starting place, particularly if you have a specific colour or pattern in mind.

What type of fleece should I buy for liners?
The most common type of fleece is Polar fleece (sometimes called Blizzard fleece in the US), which comes in 2 main varieties – ‘anti-pill’ and ‘regular’ (basically if it doesn’t say anti-pill then it is regular).
The only real difference is that over time regular polar fleece is more likely to develop small balls (pilling) on the surface, but this will in no way affect its functionality.
Fluffier fleeces such as minky, terry, and sherpa are unsuitable for liners, as their increased surface texture and longer fibres make them difficult to clean.

How often do I need to change my liner?
This will depend on many factors including the size of the cage and the number of guinea pigs living in it, however you should plan to do a full change at least once a week.

How can I get most of the hay off of my liner before washing?
Using large hay trays (a size that will accommodate a couple of piggies is ideal) will help minimise the amount of hay that gets onto the fleece, but it is inevitable that some will still end up on your liner. A good shake outside is the best place to start, but if you really need to remove more a rubber dog brush (e.g. Zoom Groom) or a horse curry comb will help.

My guinea pigs live outside. Can I use fleece in an outdoor hutch?
Fleece is not a great choice for outdoor hutches, but a lot will depend on the set up you are using.
If your hutch is in a shed or fully sheltered location then fleece can certainly be an option, however you need to bear in mind that once wet fleece becomes cold (and sometimes frozen) very quickly, and this can make a hutch feel damp and cold for your guinea pigs.
A good compromise might be to use fleece in the bedroom area of a hutch, which is naturally very sheltered anyway, but be prepared to change the fleece items on almost a daily basis in wet weather.
Fleece should never be used in an open or exposed area of the hutch where it could get wet from rain or snow.

I am worried about my piggies burrowing underneath the liners
Some piggies are burrowers, but fortunately this is actually quite rare.
If you do have a burrower this can be very frustrating, but there are a few things you can try.
Place houses or something heavy (smooth ceramic tiles) in the corners of the liner to make it harder for them to lift.
Try to make sure the liner fits the base of your cage snugly and lies flat.
Place a fleece blanket over the top of your liner (or absorbent layer) that is much larger than the base of the cage, and use large bull dog clips to secure it all the way around the base with the excess fleece hanging outside of the cage.
 

This_Little_Pig

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Thanks for this, lots of great information.

Excellent timing for me, just setting up our first cage.

Any links to bargain fleeces & pads much appreciated!
 
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