Your Practical Guide to Felt Fabric
Felt fabric is believed to be amongst the oldest forms of fabric in existence. It’s unique in its construction, texture, and its numerous uses — ranging from clothing such as hats, coats, and boots, to crafting materials and, yes, even rug pads.
But what is felt really? We're glad you asked.
What is felt fabric?
Felt is a fabric made from natural or synthetic fibers that are interlocked or matted together. It’s mostly made from wool but it can also be made from synthetic fibers, such as acrylic and rayon (think yarn fibers).
In general, you’ve got three main categories of felt: natural fiber, synthetic fiber, and combined.
Natural fiber felt can come from cotton, animal fur, or wool. To create combined felt — you guessed it — you combine the natural with synthetic such as acrylic, nylon, or polyester.
However, felt is a bit more unique than you might think. Unlike most fabrics that are woven or knitted together, felt is made from a process that combines heat, moisture, and pressure to form an interlocked, durable fabric.
Origins of felt fabric
We don’t have much consensus on the origins of felt fabric — it’s THAT old. Most likely it originated in Asia several thousand years ago, where they used it to make tents and clothing.
Regardless of where felt came from, one thing is clear: felt has withstood the test of time. Basically, it was damn good back then, and it’s still damn good now.
How is felt fabric made?
Felt is made by applying heat, moisture, and pressure to fibers to interlock them into a durable fabric. The general method of making felt has remained unchanged over the years, but some differences do exist.
Here’s how people get it done these days (with wool). This is a kind of long process, so buckle in.
- The wool is separated into its different colors — white, gray, or brown.
- It’s then cleaned to remove debris caught in the wool. (Have you been up close to a sheep before? They are not the cleanest of animals.)
- The wool is put into a machine that loosens and separates the clumps that naturally form.
- Next, the wool goes through a process called carding. (No, this doesn’t mean asking the wool for it’s ID to check if it’s over 21.) Carding involves untangling the wool by passing it through cylinders to form a standardized web. If you have a fluffy dog, it’s kind of like what happens if you use one of those needle-type dog brushes.
- The carded wool is combined to create batts that are rolled in preparation for felting.
- Layers of batts are combined using steam on a conveyor belt.
- The combined layers of batts then go through a process called “hardening,” which uses a drop-down plate that applies force to the batts, further matting the fibers.
- Fulling is next, where the fibers are fed through a set of upper and lower steel rollers which are covered with rubber or hard plastic to enable the batts to move about. This process shrinks the batts and also hardens them.
- The felt is then cleaned to remove impurities and any chemicals used in the process.
- The felt is then dyed.
- Then the felt is laid out to dry. The felt fabric that isn't dyed goes directly from washing to drying.
- Then the felt goes through a “pressing” process to even out the felt and ensures consistent thickness in the fabric. In some cases, the pressing process is used to further interlock the fibers.
- Finally, the felt is shaved to remove uneven edges and unlocked fibers from the fabric.
For combined felt, the natural and synthetic fibers go into big open cylinders that have steel nails inside to help with combining the different fibers.
Afterward, they are carded and the rest of the process is similar to what we outlined for wool felting.
Types of felt fabric
As we mentioned, there are three main types of felt: natural, synthetic, and combined.
- Natural fiber. Made from 100% natural fibers such as wool, furs, or cotton.
- Synthetic fiber. Made from synthetic fibers such as acrylic, rayon, polyester, and nylon.
- Combined fibers. Made from a combination of natural and synthetic fibers, most commonly a mix of wool and acrylic.
But! There’s also different types within that too. Let’s dive into a few of those here.
Crafting acrylic felt
Alright, this is probably the type of felt you know the best. The felt you’d find in a kid’s project or what you’d find at Michael’s.
These are synthetic felt fibers that use interlocking acrylic. Why is this the OG crafting felt? A few reasons.
First, they’re stiffer than natural fiber felt, yet easier to cut. Two, they’re cheaper than other types of felt. And three, they can take on different pigments really well so you can dye them all different types of fun colors.
Made from recycled plastics, these are similar to acrylic felts (made by interlocking plastics), but more eco-friendly (surprise surprise). This type of felt also makes excellent craft material because it's stiff, coarse, and waterproof.
Eco-friendly felts can be made from recycled felt, yarn fibers, or leftover carpet fibers. Considering the “eco-friendly” in the name, it makes sense that this felt doesn’t use any chemicals, glues, or adhesives so they’re non-toxic — great for kiddos.
The Eco-Plush rug pad is one such example of this. (So I mean, we’re not biased or anything, but it’s basically the best kind of felt fabric. 😉)
Blended wool felt
This material is made from mixing wool with synthetic fibers, such as acrylic. The two most common ratios that exist for this combination are:
- 35% wool; 65% acrylic
- 20% wool; 80% acrylic
These are good for crafts, but you’ll also see this felt in accessories like pillows or plush toys because they have a firm yet soft texture.
100% wool and natural fiber felt
100% wool felt is made by interlocking wool fibers together to create a fabric that doesn’t wear down easily. (That whole process we explained earlier.)
Under a microscope, the surface of wool appears to have scales. The felting process interlocks these scales, creating a durable, water-resistant material. This would be the type of felt that people used way back when for clothing, especially in rainy climates like England and Scotland (think kilts).
It’s non-flammable, too — wool singes and the flames simply go out. This makes it ideal for lining fire-fighter uniforms because while it’s non-flammable, it’s also lightweight so it doesn’t slow the firefighters down or impede their movement.
Properties of felt fabric
Felt, unlike most other fabrics, is not woven or knit, meaning it doesn’t have warp and weft threads (the vertical and horizontal threads in weaving). This means that it doesn’t easily fray at the edges, and also makes it easy to cut and work with (since cutting it will not destroy the integrity of the entire fabric).
Felt is also durable because many layers are interlocked in its construction. It’s water-resistant and non-toxic.
Advantages of felt fabric
What’s so good about felt? Everything.
Okay not everything, but felt does have a lot of benefits. Specifically, it’s durable, warm, lightweight, protective, insulating, and soundproofing. Let’s dig into those a bit more.
Due to the interlocking process used in manufacturing, felt is strong and durable. Seriously, felt can take a beating and be just fine.
In terms of rug pads, this makes your pads durable and long-lasting.
Warm but lightweight
The fibers in felt are lightweight, but you’ve got a TON of them all interlocked together so they’re also warm. Interlocking creates the lightweight quality of the fabric, as it’s compressed through pressure being applied when matting the fibers.
Keep in mind, because of the density, felt isn’t going to be your ultra-lightweight performance clothing. But unless you’re clocking crazy miles, you probably wouldn’t notice the weight so for the amount of warmth it provides it’s pretty damn good.
Plus, when used in rug pads, that weight and density can actually be nice — it can help keep the pad flat and adds more cushion to your rug. However, since the pad is still fairly low profile (the whole density thing) the felt is unlikely to raise your area rug too high up, so the rugs aren’t a tripping hazard.
Felt is used for lining clothing such as boots and coats for the winter season because it’s warm, lightweight, and water-resistant. That doesn’t mean waterproof, it’s just that wool fibers naturally have some water resistance, especially when tightly woven together like with felt (have you seen where sheep live?? They need some water resistance).
Because it’s water-resistant, felt is also good for rug pads. Any liquid will take a moment before starting to soak in. And even then the recycled felt we use is pretty great at absorbing liquid too. This gives you time to clean any spills before they can damage your floors.
Plus, since the felt is only water-resistant and not non-porous waterproof, it means the material is also breathable. What’s the benefit to that? It means you’ll have airflow between the rug and floor. So, even if liquid were to get under the pad, it wouldn’t get trapped there—it could simply evaporate up through the pad.
Insulating and soundproofing
Because many layers of felt layers are interlocked together during felting, the resulting fabric is excellent for insulation and soundproofing. They have premium cushioning and are able to absorb sound.
What is this quality good for? You guessed it—rug pads.
Especially in a multi-storied house or apartment complex, the extra soundproofing can be a massive benefit to keep the peace between neighbors.
(P.S. The Eco-Plush rug pads we carry have excellent soundproofing. 😉)
Disadvantages of felt fabric
Nothing’s perfect and felt certainly isn’t an exception here. We want to make sure you really know felt — the good, and the bad.
Moths (For Wool Felt)
Even though felt is a strong, durable material, it can be destroyed by moths. The whole natural thing? Moths are a big fan of that too, unfortunately. Specific species of moths actually feed on animal fibers like wool, so your wool clothing is an all-you-can eat buffet to them.
(Note: our rug pads use recycled synthetic felt, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the whole moth issue if you’re thinking of getting a felt rug pad.)
Felt is not a grippy fabric. This is great for socks when you want to go sliding around on wood floors.
Not so great when your small area rugs go slipping out from under you (or under your dog). For this reason, some manufacturers use adhesives to ensure that rug pads stick to the floor (which in itself can be damaging to the floor).
Instead, we design our non slip rug pads to grip the floor by adding rubber backing.
The Contour-Lock and Superior-Lock rug pads both use felt with a natural rubber backing.
The manufacturing process of felt can often make the surface a bit coarse and rough, so it can be a bit scratchy on the skin (especially synthetic felt). It’s still a soft enough surface that it won’t scratch floors or even be that uncomfortable on the skin, it’s just not going to compare to something like fleece or alpaca wool when it comes to softness.
FAQs about felt fabric
Still have questions? We’ve got you covered. Check out these other commonly asked questions about felt that we’ve answered here for you.
Is melton the same as felt?
Melton is similar to felt and is often mistaken for it.
Melton is a woven fabric, but the finishing of melton makes it shrink and appear matted like felt.
Where can you buy felt fabric?
Felt can be bought by the yard or in pre-cut felt sheets. Michael’s or similar crafting stores are good places to buy felt. Most crafting or fabric store should carry some felt.
(Though keep in mind, this is just felt, not made for anything specific — if you want something specific for say, rug pads, we’ve got you covered with our 100% felt rug pad.)
Can you wash felt fabric?
Yes, felt can be washed. We recommend washing it by hand using cold water to avoid shrinking though.
Is felt fabric waterproof?
Felt fabric is water-resistant — not fully waterproof. Think of it like a thick fuzzy jacket in the rain that isn’t necessarily a rain jacket; it’ll keep you dry for a while, but eventually you’ll get wet.
Is felt a non-woven fabric?
Yes, it’s a non-woven fabric made from interlocking fibers.
Is felt a strong material?
Yes, it’s a strong material. However, it’s not like steel metal-level strong — it’s still a fabric and if you push it too hard, those interlocking fibers can come apart.
What is the best quality felt?
100% wool felt has the best quality for water resistance, comfort, and durability — but it can also get eaten by moths.
Are felt and fleece the same?
No, they’re not the same. Felt is made from natural wool or synthetic fibers and is non-woven. Fleece, on the other hand, is woven and made entirely from plastic.
Can you tumble dry felt?
No, it is better to air dry it as putting it in dryers can misshape it and mess with the interlocking fibers.
Can you iron felt?
Yes, it's fine to iron felt. No need to use steam for it either.
How do I clean dusty felt?
Dusty felt can be cleaned using a clothes brush to remove dust and lint. If it’s on your floor like a rug pad, you can also use a vacuum cleaner on a low setting.
Does felt stick to felt?
Natural fiber felt does not naturally stick to felt unless glue or adhesive is applied. However, you will see those acrylic felt boards that do stick together — that’s because the fibers interlock with each other like a weaker version of velcro.
Does felt unravel?
No, felt does not unravel — it’s non-woven, so there’s really nothing to unravel.
Is felt a good insulator?
Yes, felt makes a good insulator because it’s matted and dense with all the fibers pushed together.
What is flic flac felt?
Flic Flac felt is a felt fabric that is ideal for art and crafts use. It is packaged in assorted colors and already cut into manageable craft squares.
How can you tell if felt is wool or acrylic?
Wool felt is more supple and softer to touch than acrylic felt. Acrylic felt is stiff and coarse.
Is felt a sustainable material?
It depends on the type. Wool felt is generally a sustainable material because it’s renewable and biodegradable. It doesn't cause unnecessary environmental pollution and it’s economically sustainable.
Recycled fiber felt is also fairly sustainable since it uses recycled materials and can be re-recycled. On the other hand, brand new acrylic fiber felt can push the envelope on the whole sustainable thing since it uses polyesters and plastics. It can still be recycled and doesn’t have to use harsh or toxic chemicals, so it’s certainly not the worst.
Other materials used for rug pads
If you’ve realized that felt doesn’t suit your fancy when it comes to rug pads, that’s totally fine! We have other rug pad materials too.
The Anchor Grip uses felt and EVA while the Eco Plush rug pads use 100% felt. The RugPro, Contour-Lock, and Superior-Lock pads use a combination of felt and rubber.
EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate)
The Anchor Grip pad is a felt and EVA rug pad made in the United States. It has great grip and doesn’t stick to your floors, discolor them, or dry them — making it an ideal rug pad material for vinyl and luxury vinyl plank flooring.
Natural rubber is a naturally occurring polymer that comes from the rubber tree.
It’s an ideal material to use in rug pads because it grips floors, ensuring your rugs stay in place, without damaging the floor or your rug. Plus, it’s non-toxic and doesn’t have a strong smell.
We use natural rubber in our non-slip rug pads, such as Nature’s Grip and Super-Lock Natural, for its gripping properties.
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