So many of us crafters use acrylic yarn. It is affordable, versatile and durable. Most of our wooly accessories and clothes are made from acrylic yarn, so we don’t question its safety, but we should.
There have been studies done, along with a lot of chatter online, about how acrylic yarn may actually be toxic. There is a big movement towards natural living, and maybe this is a trend we should pick up when choosing our yarn, opting for more natural wools.
So, is acrylic yarn really toxic?
What is Acrylic Yarn?
Acrylic yarn is a wonderfully versatile, synthetic material. It has so many uses and possibilities. Acrylic can be either made into yarn or fabric, as well as many other textiles.
Fundamentally, acrylic is a type of plastic. It is a manufactured fiber that is not found naturally, it is a long-chain synthetic polymer that is close to plastic.
Benefits of Acrylic Yarn
While there is talk of acrylic yarn being toxic, its benefits cannot be doubted.
Easily available – Acrylic yarn can be bought at almost all yarn stores, and it is available widely online. The production of these yarns is massive, so they come in a wide array of colors and textures which is a great bonus to knitters and crocheters.
Economical – Acrylic yarn prices do vary, but they are usually much cheaper than wool, cotton or bamboo yarns. For bigger projects, acrylic yarn can be a great cost-saver.
Durability – As it is a manmade fiber, it has been made to last a lot longer than other fibers. While the durability does vary between the different acrylic yarns, they do tend to be more durable than most other yarns.
Easy to wash – Most acrylic yarns can be easily washed and dried in machines. You will need to check the label of your acrylic yarn for specific instructions. Many people choose to use acrylic yarn for baby items as it is so easy to clean and maintain.
Stitch definition – With the simpler acrylic yarns, you will get better stitch definition than other yarns. Acrylic yarns tend to be slightly stiffer than other yarns, which does help pick out stitch definition, making knitting easier and making the end pattern look more defined.
Non-allergenic – Wool and other yarn fibers may cause an allergic reaction to those who are sensitive to these fibers, however very few people are allergic to acrylic yarn.
Disadvantages of Acrylic Yarn
As with everything, there are disadvantages to acrylic yarn as well.
Texture – Acrylic yarn is not as soft as natural fibers. With modernizing technology, the acrylic yarn has become softer over the years, but it lacks that softness that occurs with natural fibers.
Flammable – Acrylic yarn is considered flammable and melts into plastic. Because of this, it isn’t a great choice for kitchen accessories, or even for baby clothing.
Manmade – For those who look to be eco-friendly, acrylic yarn isn’t the right choice. It is manmade with chemicals and does contain some toxins.
Is Acrylic Yarn Toxic?
Acrylic yarn contains chemicals and toxins that do make them slightly harmful to humans. They are still widely used throughout the knitting and crocheting scene. Knowing your yarn and how it is made could help you decide if it is the right yarn for you.
There are different chemicals used in the production of yarns for spinning and weaving, these chemicals are not natural and may have adverse reactions to our health.
To prevent shrinkage, a formaldehyde product is applied to the yarn, and it is trapped permanently into the fiber. Adding to this, petrochemical polluting dyes are also used to color the yarn.
More chemicals are added to the yarns to make them fire-retardant, softer, wrinkle-free and stain-resistant. The chemicals which are used to treat the yarn to be flame-retardant emit formaldehyde, which really isn’t great to be breathing in.
Acrylic yarns are actually polyacrylonitriles, which are considered to be possibly carcinogenic.
Taking all of this into consideration, there have been links between the chemicals used in the synthetic production of yarns and health problems such as immune system damage, cancer, hormone disruption, and behavioral problems.
What Makes Acrylic Yarn Toxic?
Acrylic yarn is petroleum-based. It is made from vinyl acetate and methyl acrylate, both which are known as carcinogens which can be the cause of nausea and irritation in the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
During the chemical process of creating synthetic acrylic yarn, the solvent NN-dimethylformamide is used, which has been linked to liver damage through studies. Other chemicals used in the process to wash, twist, dye and stretch the yarns are also toxic for humans.
Another aspect to be aware of is that while acrylic yarn is just as flammable as other fibers, it melts into plastic which could cause further damage to the skin in the case of burning.
Other Toxic Fabrics
Acrylic yarn is not the only manmade fiber around. There are other fabrics that contain the same or similar chemicals, and similar synthetic production which could be harmful to your health:
• Polyester – Polyester is possibly one of the worst fabrics around. It is made from synthetic polymers which are made using esters of dihydric alcohol, as well as terpthalic acid.
• Rayon – Rayon is made from recycled wood pulp which is treated with chemicals such as caustic soda, ammonia, sulphuric acid, and acetone. These chemicals are used to help the material survive regular wear and washing.
• Acetate and Triacetate – These materials are also made from wood fibers called cellulose. They undergo thorough chemical processing in order to land up with the finished product.
• Nylon – Nylon is created from petroleum and has a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful to your health.
• Other fibers labeled as wrinkle-resistant, static-resistant, permanent-press, stain-proof and no-iron – These materials are usually treated with perfluorinated chemicals.
If this all puts you off using acrylic yarn, you might want to widen your horizons and see which other yarns there are to use that aren’t as harmful and toxic.
Luckily, there are quite a few non-toxic yarns to choose from, however, they are usually more expensive than acrylic, but have many great benefits.
Cotton Yarn – There are some beautifully soft cotton yarns available, some being 100% organic as well. These yarns are spun from cotton which is usually grown and harvested without using Agri-chemicals. Cotton yarn is usually naturally dyed and have a twist which works well with cable knitting. It’s also one of the best yarns for cable knitting!
SeaSilk Yarn – Just as the name suggests, this yarn is made using seaweed. It is a blend of 30% Seacell, which is derived from seaweed, and 70% silk. It is silky soft and has rich colors that are hand-dyed.
Bamboo Yarn – Bamboo is incredibly eco-friendly and is used to make such a wide range of natural products. It is now being used to make eco-friendly yarn, which is 100% bamboo. It is very soft and drapes really well.
Alpaca Yarn – Alpaca yarn is so incredibly soft. It is usually made from a blend of 80% llama and 20% alpaca fleece, although this ratio can change. It is perfectly machine washable and does not shed or pill and it is naturally hypoallergenic. It is quite expensive though. It’s also one of the best yarns for knitting hats!
Marino Wool – Marino wool is made using 100% organic wool and is processed within the Organic Trade Associations Fiber Processing standards. It is free from harsh chemicals and despite its durability, it gets softer after each wash.
Soysilk Yarn – Soysilk is a renewable fiber that is made by being spun from soy proteins. It is eco-friendly and has a wonderfully soft texture and feels as warm as cashmere. It drapes really great as well.
Hemp – Hemp is a wonderfully renewable resource, and it produces more protein, oil, and fiber than any other plant on earth. It is a stronger fiber, so it gives finished pieces a longer lifespan, and it is warm in winter and cool in summer.
Corn Yarn – Fibers of corn are used to create a flat-strand yarn. Corn yarn is eco-friendly and it is washable and dryable. It is lightweight and makes great pieces for the summer.
Many people continue to use acrylic yarn and other synthetic fibers because of their durability, versatility, and affordability. But if the cons outweigh the pros for you, there are some really great options to choose from, many of which are eco-friendly and made from natural fibers.
There are many different products and sources around us that can be toxic, we just need to choose which to cut from our lives, and which we are okay to live with.
It is always important to do your research on the product you are using, to help you know what it is made with and how it is made. This should give you enough information to make an informed decision.
At the end of the day, you cannot take away from the contribution acrylic yarn has made to the crocheting and knitting industry, but it is up to you how to continue.