Acrylic yarn is the most popular and affordable material for knitting and crocheting. It is available in almost every color and texture, so if you are an avid knitter or crocheter, you have probably used acrylic yarn in a project or two.
However, whether to use acrylic yarn is still a controversial topic in the knitting and crocheting community because of the many disadvantages of this synthetic material.
What is acrylic yarn, exactly? Acrylic yarn is made from petroleum-based chemicals. It is a fossil-fuel-based fiber that can be treated to have many different textures and colors that closely resemble natural fibers like cotton or wool. It is much more affordable than natural fibers while offering similar textures and appearances.
However, acrylic yarn cannot replace natural fibers completely because of its many disadvantages, which we will discuss later in this article.
Stick with us to learn what acrylic yarn is, how it differs from natural fibers such as cotton or wool, the pros and cons of using acrylic yarn, and how you can effectively use it in your next project.
What Is Acrylic Yarn Made Of?
To make acrylic yarn, coal-based and petroleum chemicals are treated with monomers to become acrylonitrile, which is a synthetic polymer. These acrylonitriles are then further treated with chemicals to become a gel, which is then extracted to create very thin fibers that resemble wool.
These are then stretched, washed, and dyed before they are spun into the acrylic yarn that you can buy in most craft stores.
Dupont first developed this process to create acrylic yarn during the 1940s, but this process is now so popular that almost every commercial fiber brand makes and sells acrylic yarn.
The process of making acrylic yarn has now become so advanced that at first glance, you probably cannot tell the difference between acrylic yarn and natural fibers like cotton or wool.
This is because acrylic fibers can be treated and spun to create different weights, textures, and appearances. Acrylic fibers can also be blended with natural fibers to minimize the yarn’s undesirable characteristics.
For example, uncut and tightly-twisted fibers produce a rough and textured yarn, while further treatment like brushing the fibers can make the final yarn extremely soft to the touch.
Acrylic yarn can also be dyed to become different colors and finishes, and the resulting colors are permanent and won’t bleed. As a result, you will often find a wider color range when opting to use acrylic yarn.
The Advantages Of Acrylic Yarn
The versatility of acrylic yarns has made them a staple in almost every crafter’s yarn stash. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of using acrylic yarn in your project.
1. Acrylic Yarn Is Affordable
One of the best advantages of using acrylic yarn (or other synthetic fibers, for that matter) is its low price. Because it can be mass-produced and sold in large quantities, you can find acrylic yarn in almost every craft store at a fraction of the price of natural fibers.
This is because producing natural fibers, especially protein-based fibers (fibers that come from an animal), can be very time-consuming and expensive.
For instance, it costs a wool producer around $5,000 to raise a sheep until the time its coat can be collected to create wool. That’s not to mention the cost of manufacturing and distributing the wool to retailers.
Cotton, one of the most affordable plant-based fibers, is still more expensive to purchase compared to acrylic yarn. This is because cotton still needs to be farmed, harvested, and treated to become the cotton yarn that you can buy in the craft store.
As a result, acrylic yarn is still the most accessible and affordable choice on the yarn market today. It is perfect for projects that demand a large quantity of yarn (like a crochet blanket) or for beginners who are just practicing.
2. Wide Range Of Colors And Textures
Acrylic yarn is hard to describe because it’s not just one thing – it’s actually available in so many different colors and can be spun to create many different textures.
Thanks to the versatility of the production process, acrylic yarn is available in any texture and color that you can think of, including stripes and gradients.
You can also find an acrylic yarn with loops and textures that are similar to natural fibers, and sometimes it’s very difficult to tell the difference!
Because of a special dyeing process, the colors of acrylic yarn won’t run, and you will be able to find a wide range of colors available with acrylic yarn to create any project that you can think of.
3. Acrylic Yarn Is Durable
One of the main advantages of acrylic yarn is that it is incredibly durable. Cotton or wool yarn is often very delicate and can become worn out quite easily, especially without the proper care.
Because acrylic is a synthetic fiber, it is extremely low-maintenance and can stay looking new with very little effort. Also, acrylics are pest-resistant, so you don’t have to worry about any degradation when storing them in vulnerable areas.
4. Acrylic Yarn Is Machine Washable
Acrylic yarn is machine-washable and can even be dried with a dryer. It won’t shrink or bleed, and the fibers won’t become felted in the wash. Sometimes, acrylic yarn can even become softer after going through the washer and dryer.
Natural fibers are a lot fussier when it comes to laundering. Wool needs to be hand-washed and air-dried because the fibers are easily felted when met with soap, friction, and heat. Cotton and other plant-based fibers can easily shrink in the washer and dryer.
Because of its low maintenance characteristics, acrylic yarn is great if you want to make items that need to be tossed in the laundry fairly regularly – anything from baby clothes to blankets and dishcloths.
5. Acrylic Yarn Is Hypoallergenic
Although natural fibers like wool are known to be extremely soft and kind to skin, some people can experience skin irritation and rashes when wearing (or working with) wool.
If you are one of those people with sensitive skin, acrylic yarn can be the answer. Since acrylics are synthetic, they do not contain the histamines that can cause allergic reactions.
This makes them an excellent choice for people who have allergic reactions to wool or other protein-based fibers.
The Disadvantages Of Acrylic Yarn
Did we mention that acrylic yarn is quite controversial in the crafts community? That’s because, in addition to the advantages mentioned above, acrylic yarn also has many disadvantages that can be deal-breakers for some crafters.
Let’s take a look at those disadvantages below.
1. Acrylic Yarn Is Not Eco-Friendly
Like many other synthetic materials, acrylics are also not eco-friendly. The main chemical used in making them is acrylonitrile, a fossil-fuel-based substance. As a result, producing acrylic yarn has a significant carbon footprint.
Since acrylics are known to contain tiny plastic fibers, they end up in the wastewater every time you launder your acrylic products. That means more microplastic particles are released throughout the use of your acrylic sweater or blanket.
As a synthetic fiber, it’s also not biodegradable, which means when you discard your worn-out acrylic sweater, it will end up in landfills and stay there for hundreds of years, harming the environment in the process.
2. Acrylic Yarn Is Not As Comfortable As Natural Fibers
If you are making apparel like a sweater or scarf, using acrylic yarn may not be a good idea.
This is because acrylic tends to trap heat and moisture, so it will not feel as breathable as natural fibers like cotton or wool. If you are wearing a natural fiber, it will feel much more lightweight and breathable, thanks to the fibers’ ability to wick away moisture and ensure airflow.
Although you can find acrylic yarn that is treated to become extremely soft to the touch, it still will not be able to compare to the softness of wool or silk.
Because acrylic yarn’s softness comes from its chemical treatments, it may not retain this softness over time, so your acrylic sweater will become rougher and rougher with more use. In contrast, natural fibers like wool will stay soft for years if they are cared for properly.
3. Acrylic Yarn Will Trap Moisture And Odor
In addition to not being very breathable, acrylic yarn cannot wick away moisture. This means if you are wearing a sweater made from acrylic yarn, your body sweat won’t be able to evaporate quickly, resulting in body odor.
Acrylic yarn will also hold moisture for quite a long time, so if you are caught in the rain, you will feel cold for longer because the moisture won’t be able to evaporate as quickly compared to natural fibers.
This is why in regions with unpredictable weather, natural fibers like alpaca wool are still ideal for keeping you warm and protecting you from the elements.
4. Acrylic Yarn Can Melt
One of the easiest knitting or crocheting projects for beginners is making a potholder, which is essentially just a square. However, acrylic yarn may not be a suitable choice to make something like that.
Why? Because acrylic yarn can melt under high heat. So when your casserole is hot out of the oven, handling it with an acrylic potholder can melt the yarn and even burn your skin!
Acrylic yarn is also extremely flammable, so using it to make kitchen accessories are definitely out of the question.
Myths About Acrylic Yarn
Because the acrylic yarn is so popular, there are also some very common misconceptions about this type of fiber. Let’s debunk some common myths about acrylic yarn below.
1. Myth: Acrylic Yarn Has Rough Texture
This is completely false! Acrylic yarn comes in so many textures, rough or smooth.
Like every other type of yarn, acrylic yarn also comes in a wide range of prices. Cheaper types of acrylic yarn may feel scratchy when it touches your skin, but that’s not your only option!
You can find acrylic yarn that is extremely soft and high quality, perfect for things like baby garments!
2. Myth: Acrylic Yarn Can Pill Easily
It’s true that some low-quality acrylic yarn (or even cotton yarn) can pill after some use, but that’s not necessarily true for all types of acrylic yarn.
High-quality acrylics can actually resist pilling (look for the ‘anti-pill’ label on the sleeve). If you are worried about the yarn pilling, you can wash your sweater inside-out to avoid some of these issues.
3. Myth: You Cannot Dye Acrylic Yarn at Home
While the acrylic yarn is available in almost every color under the sun, some crafters love to dye their own yarn to get just the right shade.
It’s a common misconception that acrylic yarn doesn’t dye well. You can totally dye acrylic yarn at home using the right type of dye for this type of fiber.
Disperse dye, which needs to be heat set, is the perfect type of dye for synthetic fibers, including acrylic yarn.
4. Myth: You Cannot Felt Using Acrylic Fibers
Felting is a very popular fiber art that requires bonding fibers (like wool) together using various techniques.
Felting with natural fibers can be done simply with soap, water, and friction. Because acrylics and other synthetic fibers do not have the natural enzymes required to bond together using soap, water, and friction, many crafters don’t think that you can make felt with acrylics.
This is completely false! You can totally felt with synthetic fibers, but use the needle felt technique instead. This is where you use a small needle to punch the fibers to physically fuse them together in order to achieve the same felted effect.
5. Myth: Acrylic Yarn Is Toxic
Although acrylic yarn is indeed made with a lot of chemicals, it’s not as dangerous as it sounds.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no harmful chemicals in acrylics. The fibers are made from polyacrylonitrile, which is a completely non-toxic polymer resin. This means that acrylic yarn is not at all damaging to your health when you use or wear them!
Acrylic Yarn Vs. Natural Fibers
Should you use acrylic yarn or other natural fibers like wool or cotton? Well, that depends on your budget and preference.
Here’s a quick comparison between acrylic yarn and protein-based fibers (like wool or silk) and plant-based fibers (like cotton or linen).
|Yarn Type||Acrylic Yarn||Protein-Based Fibers (Wool, Silk)||Plant-Based Fibers (Cotton, Linen)|
|Materials||Made from petroleum derivatives||Made from animal products (sheep’s wool, alpaca wool, silkworm cocoons, etc.)||Made from plants|
|Environmental Impact||Not environmentally friendly||Biodegradable||Biodegradable|
|Price||Very affordable||Expensive to very expensive||More expensive than acrylic but more affordable than wool|
|Breathability||Not breathable||Very breathable||Very breathable|
|Moisture Wicking||Not moisture-wicking||Good moisture-wicking ability||Absorbs moisture|
|Insulation||Traps heat||Insulates without feeling stuffy||Insulates without feeling stuffy|
|Allergens||Hypoallergenic||Lanolin can cause allergies||Hypoallergenic|
|Cleaning||Machine-washable||Needs to be hand-washed and air-dried||Can be machine-washed with cold water and tumble-dried|
|Potential to Shrink||Won’t shrink in the wash||Will shrink moderately in the wash||Will shrink a lot in the wash|
If you are interested in maximizing the advantages of each type of fiber, you can also consider acrylic blends, which are a bit more expensive than regular acrylics but still highly affordable.
For example, you can find an acrylic/wool blend or acrylic/cotton blend, which enhances the yarn’s durability and low-maintenance qualities while still feeling super soft and highly breathable.
Best Projects To Make With Acrylic Yarn
If you are a beginner hoping to start a project using acrylic yarn, there are plenty of projects that you can explore.
Let’s revisit the advantages of acrylic yarn:
- Comes in a wide range of colors and textures
- Very durable
- Machine washable
Because of these advantages, there are projects that would be great with acrylic yarn:
1. Blankets And throws
Knitting or crocheting a blanket is not only a huge time commitment, but it also demands a lot of yarn as well! If you want to use wool or other types of natural fibers, it can cost a fortune to make a blanket!
That’s why acrylic yarn is the way to go when you want to make a big blanket without breaking the bank. For cold winter nights, an acrylic blanket can also trap heat really well and feels soft against the skin without causing any skin irritation.
Similarly, a shawl (which, in our opinion, is just a blanket that’s appropriate to wear outside) can consume a lot of yarn. If you want to save on the cost of yarn, you can use acrylic yarn instead of wool.
Because the shawl is the outermost layer of your clothing, it doesn’t need to be very soft or breathable, so the acrylic yarn would also be a wise choice.
3. Pillow Covers
Knitting or crocheting beautiful pillow covers is a great way to showcase your craft in your house. Since acrylic yarns are available in a wide range of colors and textures, you can totally explore different patterns and techniques.
Plus, acrylic yarn is super easy to launder, so you can easily throw it in the wash and keep your living area clean.
A crochet basket for your throw blankets or your children’s toys would be the perfect project for acrylic yarn.
These baskets need to be very durable because they go through a lot, so using a type of yarn that can withstand all of the moving around the house and resist molds and pests is always a great idea. Fortunately, acrylic yarns have all of those great properties!
5. Latch Hook/Needlepoint Art
Acrylic yarn comes in such a wide range of colors and textures, so using it in your textile art can open up a world of possibilities! You can feel free to explore different color and texture combinations without being restrained by the available colors of the yarn.
Plus, your art is not worn, so you don’t have to worry about whether the yarn is breathable or comfortable to wear. Acrylic yarn is the perfect choice in this case.
Projects That Are Not Suitable For Acrylic Yarn
We’ve mentioned the disadvantages of acrylic yarn:
- Not very comfortable
- Will trap moisture and odor
- Can melt
Because of these disadvantages, you should not make the following things with acrylic yarn:
1. Summer Apparel
Crochet bralettes and shorts are super cute for the summer, but we would advise you not to use acrylic yarn for those projects.
Do you know what else happens during the summer? You sweat a lot. Because acrylic yarn is not very breathable and can trap moisture and body odor, wearing summer apparel made from acrylic yarn can be extremely uncomfortable, and it won’t help anything when it comes to BO either.
When you make a cute crochet top for the summer, you definitely want to wear it out and show the world. For those types of projects, it’s best to go with lightweight cotton that will be more comfortable and breathable to wear.
Similarly, your feet will sweat a lot, whether it’s the summer or the winter.
You may think that acrylic yarn will make good socks because they’re super durable and can withstand all the friction when you walk, but that benefits cannot outweigh the stinky feet that you can experience when the acrylic yarn traps your sweat and odor.
If you’re knitting a pair of socks, it’s best to opt for a wool sock that can wick away moisture while resisting wear and tear.
As we’ve mentioned, acrylic yarn would make for terrible potholders because it is highly flammable and can totally melt when met with high heat. You don’t want to hurt yourself with a melted potholder when cooking!
If you want to make easy-to-launder potholders, it’s best to use cotton, which can be machine-washed with cold water. More importantly, cotton won’t melt under high heat and can handle hot pots more effectively.
Up Next: Aran Vs Worsted Yarn