What The Heck Is Acrylic Yarn (And Why People Love It Or Hate It)
This Article May Contain Affiliate Links
Acrylic yarn is the subject of controversy in the fiber arts community.
Many crafters will praise the benefits of synthetic yarns, while others argue that the costs outweigh those benefits.
Acrylic yarns are easy to praise.
They are manufactured and sold in high volumes, in a variety of colors and styles.
Great for beginners, acrylic yarns make knitting and crocheting more accessible to hobbyists.
Crafters love the versatility and affordability of acrylics. On the other hand, acrylic yarns tend to produce lower quality products. Advanced fiber artists prefer the quality and consistency of natural fibers as compared to acrylics.
Plus, natural fibers are biodegradable, and some are sustainably sourced and produced. For crafters who value reducing waste and environmental impact, acrylic yarns are a part of the problem.
Before deciding whether to buy acrylic yarns for your next project, get familiar with the pros and cons.
Table of Contents
What is Acrylic Yarn?
Acrylic yarns are a replica of natural cotton and wool yarns.
It is manufactured to mimic its natural fiber cousins, such as wool or cotton, at a lower cost and higher quantity. The biggest difference between acrylic and natural yarns is in the fibers themselves.
Acrylic fibers are manufactured from petroleum products by melting and extruding the materials into long, thin fibers.
These fibers are then treated depending on the desired result. Acrylic fibers can be twisted to various tightness, blended with natural fibers during spinning, brushed, cut, and otherwise manipulated to produce a wide range of yarn types.
These variations in treatment will change the feel and strength of the resulting yarn.
Uncut, tightly twisted fibers result in a strong but rough textured yarn. Cutting, brushing, and blending the fibers soften the final yarn.
A looser twist helps to soften the yarn, as well, but also lowers the tensile strength of the final product.
Production technology is changing all the time, and manufacturers continue to innovate to produce acrylics with a wide variety of texture and strength.
Advantages of Acrylic Yarn
The benefits of acrylic yarns seem to outweigh the costs and have made them a staple of the crafting world. These yarns are easy to find, affordable, versatile, durable, and hypoallergenic.
Where to Get Acrylic Yarn
Acrylic yarns are everywhere.
Their affordable price point and ease of manufacturing make them the widest available yarns on the market.
You can find a variety of brands and styles of acrylic yarns at any big box store. Natural fiber brands, on the other hand, tend to be a specialty item.
If you are looking for high quality wool or cotton yarn, you may have to find a fiber arts store or search online.
Acrylic brands such as Red Heart and Caron are available in both small specialty shops (such as Fabric.com) and big box stores. Many of these acrylic yarn brands provide free patterns and projects, as well, making the craft even more accessible for beginners.
Acrylic Yarn Is the Perfect for Those on A Budget
One of the most significant benefits of acrylic and acrylic blend yarns is price.
Unlike natural fibers, acrylics are mass produced quickly and easily, and at a very low overhead. Acrylic yarns also have a long shelf life, making them easy to purchase and store in large quantities for distribution to big box stores like Walmart.
Conversely, natural fiber yarns are both time-consuming and expensive to produce. The cost of wool, for example, must include the cost to raise and care for the sheep, in addition to the cost of manufacturing, packaging, and transporting the yarn itself.
When it comes to plant-based fibers, the math can get even trickier. Not to mention, these natural fibers don’t keep as well as synthetics.
In addition to cost, many natural fibers tend to attract moths and other vermin, breakdown when exposed to the elements and biodegrade over time.
These factors make natural fibers more costly and less practical for large outlets, making them less available and more expensive.
Acrylic Yarn Comes in Many Different Colors & Textures
The manufacturing process for acrylic yarns is flexible and malleable.
Fibers can be extruded from a variety of chemical mixtures, spun with different fibers, molded into a variety of textures, and produced in a rainbow of brilliant colors.
The versatility of the manufacturing process has increased creativity in production. Mass production has led to the wide availability of acrylics in almost any color you could want.
Acrylics are even colored to create specific effects, such as stripes and gradients.
Specialty acrylics add textures, loops, and nubs to their final products. These variations are used to mimic natural fibers, like loose-spun wool, as well as create unique results, such as eyelash yarns.
Acrylic Yarn Can Withstand Heavy Wear
A major advantage of acrylic yarns is durability.
Many acrylic yarns are washing machine safe and won’t shed or shrink if you throw them in with the rest of your laundry.
Because they are manufactured from petroleum; it takes years for the fibers to degrade naturally. A blanket knit from acrylic yarn can last for decades if cared for properly.
Acrylics are also safe from fiber eating insects and critters, like moths. Even when stored in vulnerable areas, like your attic, acrylic goods detract moths and other pests.
If you store your acrylic knit goods properly, they can last for generations.
Acrylic Yarn Is Machine Wash Safe
Many natural fibers are too delicate for traditional washing methods. Wool and silk fibers often need to be dry cleaned, or their fibers will be irreparably damaged.
Acrylic fibers are highly durable and can be washed and dried with everyday laundry.
Though it is always important to check the care labels on your yarn, many acrylic yarns can be tossed into the washing machine and dryer. The preferred method for washing knitted or crocheted clothing items is in cold water, delicate cycle, and hanging or laying flat to dry.
For less precious projects that are handled roughly, like blankets, washing in cool or warm water and drying at medium heat can be okay.
Breaking down those acrylic fibers in the dryer sometimes makes an item softer and more pliable.
Perfect Yarn for Those with Sensitive Allergies
Many people have allergies to natural fibers.
Yarns made of animal-based fibers, such as wool or alpaca, can cause itching, irritation, and even rashes.
Acrylic yarn is synthetic, so it doesn’t contain histamines that cause allergic reactions. No matter what your project or who it’s for, you won’t have to worry about allergies.
Disadvantages of Acrylic Yarn
Bad for the Environment
Like many synthetic fabrics and fibers, acrylic yarn is not environmentally friendly.
The process of manufacturing acrylonitrile, the main chemical in acrylic yarns, has a significant carbon footprint. The petroleum products used in manufacturing are not sustainable, and the product itself may be carcinogenic.
Acrylic yarns continue to have a negative environmental impact during its lifetime. Every time the yarn is washed, it releases tiny fibers called microplastics into the water supply.
Acrylic yarn isn’t biodegradable or recyclable. Once your yarn is past its prime, it will spend decades in a landfill.
Not as Soft as Natural Fibers
Many people pass over acrylic yarns because of their rough, scratchy texture. Especially noticeable with less expensive variations, acrylic yarns tend to be stiffer and harsher to the touch.
Improved technology is changing the quality of acrylic yarns, but softer varieties tend to come at a higher price point. Blended or natural fiber yarns are more likely to give you a consistently softer feel.
Acrylic Yarn May be Unsafe for Some Projects
Acrylic yarns may be an excellent choice for a beginner project, but it can be unsafe.
Any project that may be exposed to flame or extreme heat, like a potholder, is out of the question.
Acrylics are highly flammable and will melt on contact with heat.
You may want to consider the flammable quality of your yarn before making things like baby blankets or home goods, as well.
Holds Odors and Water
Acrylic yarn isn’t always well suited for a project, either.
Because of the nature of the synthetic fiber and twisting process; acrylic yarns hold water more than natural fibers. Clothing items made with acrylic yarn tend to be less breathable and hold onto sweat and body odor.
They will also soak in moisture and precipitation, making them less effective protection from the elements.
Acrylic yarn projects are more suited for indoor wear or temperate climates.
Where to Buy Acrylic Yarn
One of the benefits of acrylic yarns is availability, but prices and selection can vary from store to store. Depending on what you are looking for, the vendors below are a great place to start.
A well-known online distributor and Amazon affiliate, Fabric.com has a vast selection of yarns and fiber arts notions. A quick search yields hundreds of acrylic and acrylic blend yarns in a variety of weights, colors, and styles.
Direct (Red Heart, Caron, etc.)
If you have a favorite acrylic yarn brand, purchasing directly from the manufacturer is the best way to guarantee you get precisely what you want. Most major acrylic brands sell directly to consumers from their websites.
Redheart.com lets you search by type, color family, and weight. Lionbrand.com has look books to help you choose the right yarn for your project. These websites are also great for finding accessories, patterns, and knitting/crocheting tips.
Annies Craft Store
Annie’s Craft Store is known for its creative designs and patterns, but its online store boasts a fair inventory of acrylic yarns. With the “Build-a-Kit” section, you can get your pattern, yarn, and accessories all from the same location.
Amazon, Walmart, Joann
Big box stores are the perfect retail outlet when you are looking for a specific product. When you want large quantities of a particular acrylic yarn or dye lot at a low cost, checking out Amazon or Walmart will be your best bet.
Questions About Acrylic Yarn You Were Too Afraid to Ask
Finding information about acrylic yarns can be challenging. Craft stores may try to upsell you to a higher cost natural fiber, and fiber artists may not have all the facts. Before you consider buying acrylic yarns for your next project, make sure you have the answers you need.
Is acrylic yarn safe?
Acrylic yarn is safe when used for appropriate projects and in sustainable ways.
Acrylic yarns are flammable. They also melt at high temperatures. It isn’t recommended to make kitchen goods out of acrylics, due to their proximity to flame and heat.
In addition, acrylics are nonbiodegradable. When the fibers break down, they leach microplastics into water systems. Taking care of your acrylic goods and disposing of them properly when they start to show signs of wear, can help offset the environmental impact.
Is acrylic yarn itchy?
The short answer to this question is: it depends. The softness of an acrylic or acrylic blend yarn depends on several factors.
Cheaper acrylic yarns tend to have a rougher feel. Acrylic yarns that are brushed or blended can be very soft but may come at a higher price point. If you are looking for something softer, try a loosely twisted yarn in bulky weight, or a tight twist in fingering weight.
The one thing you won’t have to worry about is allergies. Unlike wool or cotton, which can cause skin irritation, acrylic yarns are hypoallergenic.
Is acrylic yarn good for blankets?
Acrylic yarn is great for blankets!
They have a low price point, are durable, and come in a variety of colors and textures. These factors are perfect for creating large scale projects like blankets.
Is acrylic yarn good for winter?
Projects made with acrylic yarns tend to be very warm, but don’t offer as much protection from the elements.
A sweater made with acrylics will keep you cozy on a cold night in the desert, but you might want to leave it at home on a snowy day.
Can you put acrylic yarn in the dryer?
Manufacturing techniques for acrylic yarns have come a long way. Some acrylic yarns are explicitly made to be dryer safe. Check the care instructions on your yarn labels to be sure.
Can you dye acrylic yarn?
Most acrylic yarns won’t take dye the way that natural fibers will. Rather than dying your yarn, look for a brand that manufactures acrylics in a variety of colors
If you can’t find that perfect color of yarn, you may still be able to dye your project. Make sure you pick up a specialty dye specifically for synthetic fabrics, like Rit Dyemore.
Does acrylic yarn pill like cotton yarn?
One of the biggest downsides of the acrylic yarn of yesteryear was it’s susceptibility to pilling (or creating hard little balls on the surface) after it has been washed a few times. However, companies such as Premiere have introduced new acrylic yarns that offer anti pilling technology. This will help to resist this pilling that is not only unsightly, but prevent the yarn from feeling scratchy at all.
Final Thoughts on Acrylic Yarn
Love it or hate it, acrylic yarn is here to stay.
These highly affordable, versatile yarns make large projects affordable. Durable and washable, clothing items made of acrylic yarns are great for everyday wear.
Though the manufacturing process is not environmentally friendly, technology is changing every day.
In the meantime, repurposing and reusing acrylic yarn projects keep them out of landfills. Acrylic yarns come with benefits and costs, and ultimately it is up to the crafter.