A variety of yarns are available in the market today for knitting and crocheting purposes. If deciding what to use in your next project has become a dilemma, then it may help to understand some of the different yarns out there better.
With a wonderful variety of acrylic and wool yarns available in rich hues, a knitter has to follow certain guidelines in determining which kind of yarn is suitable for their project.
But if you’re a beginner, you may not have experience with all the wonderful types of yarn out there. That’s why we’re here to help.
So what’s the difference between acrylic and wool? Acrylic is a synthetic (man-made) material; it is a petroleum-based thermoplastic. Wool is a natural, protein fiber which is sourced from sheep’s fleece. Wool is warm, highly textured, and moisture-wicking. Acrylic is versatile, durable, and easy to care for.
In this guide, we’ll go into the specifics of both wool and acrylic yarn, outlining some of their key characteristics as well as the pros and cons of using each. Once you know a little more about how each behaves, you’ll be in a great position to pick the best yarn for your next project.
Let’s get to it!
As you can probably guess, wool yarn is ideal for all things winter. This extremely popular natural yarn fiber is quite warm; after all, it’s made of the very fleece that keeps sheep warm in cold English winters!
In fact, wool keeps you warm even if you are caught in the rain. It is moisture-wicking, meaning it can hold quite a bit of moisture without making you feel wet. Wool may not keep you dry for hours in the rain, but it’s a great material when you’re passing through a little snow on your way indoors.
Wool yarn is easy to clean, elastic, resists odor, and bacteria. In addition to its thermal insulating properties, this is why it is a natural choice for making mittens, hats, scarves, sweaters, and more. Elasticity is an ideal feature as it makes clothing easy to stretch but also bounces back in no time.
Thermal insulation is an obvious advantage especially if you are using woolen knitted clothing and accessories during winter. It is breathable yet keeps you warm and comfortable for long periods. It is great for making sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, and other apparel.
One of the most unique properties of wool yarn is that it is relatively flame retardant. It is self-extinguishing and hence, a safer choice in comparison to synthetic fibers.
The major disadvantage of wool yarn is that it should not be machine washed. Also, a small percentage of people are allergic to the lanolin present in wool fibers. Such individuals need to use merino wool yarn for their knitting projects. Wool is also somewhat expensive in comparison to synthetic fibers such as acrylic yarn.
Wool has elastic fibers and a coil-like structure. You can stretch your wool scarf and it will return back to its original form in an instant. The natural crimp in the fiber renders it a spring-like structure. Wool can bounce back to its original form even when it is wet.
If you are looking for something sturdy, then you should consider wool yarn for your next crochet project. It is a durable material which is less likely to tear. Wool fiber is seven times stronger than cotton and 10 times stronger than silk.
Wool fiber has an outer protective film which makes it fairly resistant to abrasion. It is possible to snag wool, but in general, it can stand up to a fair amount of wear and tear, making it ideal for outdoor clothing.
If you want your loved ones to remain warm during harsh winters, then wool yarn is a great choice for knitting sweaters, gloves, and scarves. Wool can be bulky and holds air due to its crimp, but this helps it retain heat.
Wool has a high heat coefficient and prevents heat transfer, keeping you warmer. Plus, it can hold moisture for up to one-third of its weight without feeling damp!
Resists Soiling, Dirt, and Static
Wool naturally resists static which is part of what draws dirt and dust. This makes it quite easy to brush off any particles from the apparel. The scaling effect of the fiber makes it easier to remove stains from the fabric.
Easy to Dye
Wool yarns can be dyed conveniently due to its high absorbency. Almost any type of dye or color can be used for dyeing wool.
Wool takes color quite well, however, that color will retain a more muted quality to it. Wool doesn’t take on very bright or deeply saturated hues usually, but keeps an almost earthy, softer coloring.
Wool may be durable when made into a textile, but as for washing it, it can be a little sensitive. You need to be really careful while subjecting it to hot water. Hand wash it to keep the fibers intact. Wool must be washed in lukewarm water gently.
Check the labels to be sure. There are different kinds of wool yarn available; some are more sensitive than others. If there is a stain on wool, you need to act quickly and use carbonated water for cleaning.
Subjecting wool fabric to strong light can fade the color over time. Hence, you need to place woolen items out of direct sunlight.
Moreover, there is also a major problem of insects ruining your woolen clothing if proper care is not exercised. Hence, you must cover the garment in a bag or use mothballs in their vicinity.
Wool: Pros and Cons
To sum things up, here’s a quick list of the basic pros and cons of working with wool. You’ll see it’s popular for good reason:
- Keeps you warm even when a little wet
- Wool wicks away moisture naturally thereby keeping you dry and warm
- Is a natural fire retardant and hence an ideal choice for making baby clothes and blankets
- Is versatile and can be lightweight depending on how it is knit or woven
- Dyes well and somewhat resists fading
- Has anti-bacterial properties
- Holds stitch better
- Good for beginners, as stitches are unlikely to drop
- 100 percent natural wool should never be machine washed
- Insects and moths like to chew it
- Some are allergic to it and may find it uncomfortable or itchy when too close to the skin
- Can felt if ruined accidentally
- Can be expensive in comparison to acrylic fiber
Acrylic yarn is a synthetic fiber and is cheaper in comparison to natural fibers such as wool.
It is easy to wash and is color-fast. It is a popular option among amateur crocheters, especially given the wide variety of worsted weight options out there.
Acrylic yarn is widely available and is nearly always much more affordable. Acrylic yarn is easy to take care of and very durable. You can even machine-wash items made from acrylic, though when it comes to hand-made items, you may still want to hand wash them whenever possible to extend their life.
Those who are allergic to wool can consider knitting with yarns made from acrylic. These can be made in different textures, from fairly rough (though less rough and textured than wool) to extremely soft. Acrylic usually resembles the bulkiness and softness of the wool. Some form of acrylic can be used for almost any project.
Many knitters and crocheters prefer using acrylic yarn and some can’t even stand the thought of it. Ultimately it boils down to choice and the convenience it offers. Care must be given to weigh the options to pick a more suitable yarn for your project.
Acrylic is petroleum-based and is derived from mineral oil. The fiber is developed by dissolving a polymer in a solvent and is then extruded through holes of a spinneret.
Acrylic yarns are available in bright colors. The fibers retain colors very well.
Acrylics are also resistant to wrinkling. However, they melt and burn relatively easily. Although not especially insulating, acrylics are usually not breathable, causing them to feel hot on the body if the garment is not loosely knit.
The acrylic yarn has synthetic fibers. You don’t have to put in much effort to maintain it.
Because acrylic is a petroleum-based plastic, it will not attract insects. Hence you need not worry about wrapping the garment or using mothballs.
You also don’t have to hand wash garments knitted from acrylic yarn all the time (although if you want your hard work to last longer, it’s a good idea to hand wash when you can anyway). Acrylic items can be easily washed in a machine and dried in a dryer. However, you need to make sure that the setting is gentle.
As we said, acrylic yarn is very durable. It’s possible to snag or rip up acrylic garments, particularly acrylics that have been made to be extra soft, but in general, you can wear acrylic items without worrying too much about fragility.
Takes Color Well
Like wool, acrylic is easy to dye. However, it is much easier to dye acrylic bright, vibrant colors, giving you a wider array of rich hues.
One of the major advantages of acrylic is that allergies are less likely to be an issue. If you or someone you love has a wool allergy, acrylic is a good substitute. This is one of the reasons many choose acrylic yarns for baby items.
However, it is possible to be allergic to acrylic, despite how much it is lauded as a hypoallergenic material. Although it does not seem to be common, you can in fact be allergic or sensitive to acrylic fibers, as well as to particular dyes used in manufacturing them.
Acrylic Yarn: Pros and Cons
Let’s some up some of the pros and cons of acrylic yarn:
- Is easy to care for
- Can be machine washed and dried in a dryer
- Soft and comfortable to wear
- Is generally easy to use, if not made to be too slick or smooth
- Can be dyed easily
- Is not breathable
- Does not resistant water or keep you warm when you are wet
- Is not fire-resistant
- Melts when it comes in contact with a heat source
- Is not sustainable
- Production can be toxic for those involved in the process
- Acrylic is considered to be somewhat toxic to people in general
Acrylic Vs Wool – What’s the Difference?
Just to make things easier, let’s sum up the differences between acrylic and wool, side-by-side.
|Thermoplastic made from petroleum derivatives||Natural fiber sourced from sheep|
|Is not breathable||Is breathable|
|Melts when it comes in contact with a heat source||Is a natural fire retardant|
|Not moisture-wicking||Keeps you warm even if you are wet|
|Can be machine washed and dried||Should be hand washed and air-dried|
|Lack of breathability makes you feel warm, but isn't as warm as wool||Keeps you warm in winter; good heat insulator; ideal for outdoor garments and warm blankets|
|Doesn’t have a special anti-bacterial property like wool||Has anti-bacterial property|
|Allergies are possible, but seem uncommon; a good alternative for those with wool allergies||Some people are allergic to the lanolin in the wool|
|May be rough or smooth||Feels somewhat soft on the skin, but can irritate or seem scratchy to some; may be best as an outer layer|
|Easy to maintain||Some care must be taken to maintain it|
Acrylic Vs Wool – Which is Better?
Which material is right for you will always be at least partly a matter of preference. Plus, it will often come down to your project anyway.
In general, both are great choices for beginners. Wool’s natural texture means stitches cannot be dropped easily; they are likely to “stick” in their shape even if they slip off your needle or hook.
Acrylic yarns often have enough texture to be similarly easy to handle; however, some acrylics are made to be extra smooth and slick with no elasticity. These can be difficult for an absolute beginner, and are also limited in what they can make well.
Although acrylic is not usually a top choice for summer clothing, it is probably a better choice than wool. Either works well for cold weather, but wool is basically the reigning champ of winter, tied with alpaca.
Allergy-wise, it’s a toss-up. Many opt for acrylic over wool thinking it cannot cause allergic reactions or irritate sensitivities; however, this is not quite true. Although few seem to report an acrylic allergy, some certainly are sensitive or allergic to it.
Sustainably speaking, wool is the winner. Wool is a natural, biodegradable material and can be processed more sustainably. Plus, it causes no harm to the sheep who simply get their annual “haircuts” in the late spring!
Acrylic, on the other hand, is not sustainable. It is petroleum-based and a type of plastic and does not break down well. The manufacturing process can also be harmful to those involved.
However, acrylic is much cheaper than wool and most other yarns, making it a popular choice nonetheless. If you want the best of both worlds, I highly recommend this acrylic/wool blend from one of my favorite yarn brands!
Whether you choose acrylic, wool, or a blend of the two, is ultimately a matter of weighing pros and cons. We wish you luck either way on your next project!
Up Next: Acrylic Vs Cotton Yarn – What’s The Difference?