Learn everything you need to know about acrylic yarn – what it is, advantages, disadvantages and recommendations for some of the best out there.
Acrylic yarn is a synthetic fiber that is usually less expensive than natural fibers, comes in many colors and textures, and is durable and easy to wash.
While acrylic yarn may not be suitable for all projects, it is perfect for those on a budget and makes great everyday clothing items.
Acrylic yarn can be bad for the environment, though. It also doesn’t “breathe” like natural fibers and many acrylics aren’t very soft.
Read more about the benefits and drawbacks of acrylic yarn in this post to decide if it is the right choice for your next project.
What is Acrylic Yarn?
Acrylic yarn is made from a polymer that is formed as a filament and subsequently chopped into strands, similar to wool, which is then spun into yarn. Orlon was the name given to the first acrylic fibers manufactured by DuPont in the 1940s.
Polymers are generated from several methods that generate lengthy string-like strands and are then molded into short, adaptable lengths, which are “spun” into yarn.
Acrylic yarns are made from twisted strands of acrylic thread rather than spun fibers, such as cotton, wool, cashmere, and silk.
See how acrylic is made here:
Advantages of Acrylic Yarn
Imagine a world where you can buy colorful, washable clothing that is also durable and easy to maintain. Acrylic yarn has many benefits for those looking for an economical alternative to natural fibers like cotton and wool.
You Can Find Acrylic Yarn Easily
Many retailers sell acrylic yarn and blends as inexpensive alternatives to natural fibers. When buying from a big box store, you can often find acrylic yarn on sale.
In my area I can find these types of yarns everywhere from JoAnn, Hobby Lobby and Michaels to Walmart. It’s everywhere!
You can find acrylicyarn in every yarn weight and tons of different types, from light baby yarn to super bulky and jumbo weight yarns.
Acrylic Yarn Is Very Affordable
Acrylic yarn is usually less expensive than natural fibers. For example, a small skein of acrylic yarn can cost $1 at places like the Dollar Tree, while the same weight in cotton might cost $1.50 and wool might cost $5.
You can find acrylic yarn for sale at stores like Hobby Lobby or JoAnn using coupons and discounts.
Acrylic Yarn Comes in Almost Every Color
Natural fibers like silk and wool come in limited colors and textures. Acrylic is flexible and malleable during manufacturing, so it can produce many different grades and varieties of yarns.
That means that acrylic yarn comes in many different colors and textures, including “glitter,” metallic, heathered, ombre, self-striping, variegated, multicolor, solid color and more.
Acrylic Yarn is Extremely Durable
Acrylic is a durable fiber that will hold up after time, unlike many natural fibers like silk and ramie.
It’s also resistant to moths, unlike natural fiber. Since it’s made from petroleum moths aren’t as likely to mistake it for lunch.
If you’re looking for something strong and resistant to wear and tear, such as a blanket or sweater, acrylic yarn is great.
Acrylic Yarn Is Easy to Care for
It makes the perfect choice for those looking for clothing that is durable and easy to wash.
Most all acrylic yarns are machine washable and they won’t shrink or fade. For items that are worn or used frequently, this can be a lifesaver.
Most acrylics can also be thrown in the dryer, making acrylic an even easier choice for items you need to clean regularly.
Acrylic is a good choice for those with allergies
Acrylic yarn is not made from animal products, so it doesn’t contain lanolin, mohair, or other animal-based oils. These are common irritants for those with allergies to wool or other natural fiber.
Acrylic is basically a type of plastic, so it is usually not an allergen, although there are a few people who have had a reaction to either the polymer or the dye used.
Acrylic is Great for Beginners
This makes it an excellent choice for beginners because you can rip out your work over and over again and the yarn will not suffer for it. I’ve had wools and other natural fibers break from frogging too much, but this won’t be a problem with acrylic.
With a lot of acrylics you can usually see your stitches easily, too, especially with lighter colored yarns, making it another reason it’s a great beginner yarn.
Disadvantages of Acrylic Yarn
Acylic is not without its drawbacks: acrylic yarn may be bad for the environment and it lacks the softness of natural fiber fabrics. Let’s take a look at some of the negative things about acrylic yarn so you can decide if it is a good choice for you.
Acrylic is made from petroleum, and it pollutes the environment with hazardous pollutants. Every time acrylic yarn is washed in a regular in-home washing machine, approximately 730,000 microplastics are released into the water.
It has also been shown that when items constructed using acrylic yarns are disposed of, they can take 200 years to fully biodegrade.
Can be Rougher than Natural Fibers
The manufacturing process of acrylic sometimes leaves the texture something to be desired. Back in the older days the “bargain basement” acrylics used to be so rough they would rub your fingers raw working with them.
That’s not true of most of today’s acrylics, however. While you will still find a good selection of super inexpensive, rougher yarns, there are a lot of softer acrylics and acrylic blend yarn on the market.
Acrylic Yarn Cannot Hold up to Heat
Acrylic is not a good choice for items that will be exposed to heat or high temperatures. It has a tendency to melt when it comes into contact with a heat source.
This makes acrylic unsuitable for items that will be exposed to heat, such as hot pads, trivets and oven mitts.
You also have to be careful if you block acrylic with heat as too much heat does what is known as “killing” acrylic, so save the steamer or iron for wool (and even then use it cautiously).
Acrylic can Trap Odors and Water
The acrylic fibers themselves trap odors and moisture, which causes odor-causing bacteria to build up inside the fiber. The fibers can trap body odor and sweat.
Acrylic also absorbs water, which is why it can take so long for the items made of the yarn to dry out. So if you are looking for something waterproof, acrylic might not be your best choice.
Acrylic doesn’t “breathe” like natural fibers
Natural fibers like wool and silk are still better choices for those who want breathable fabrics, since acrylic doesn’t “wick” away moisture the way natural fibers do.
Instead, it can trap sweat, making it uncomfortable for those who are more sensitive to hot temperatures.
Recommended Acrylic Yarns
These are my personal favorite acrylic yarns that I have used and love. I love acrylic synthetic yarn almost as much as a natural fiber yarn. You can be sure these aren’t your grandma’s acrylics!
Red Heart Yarn Soft
I designed my first baby blanket, the Duchess Baby Blanket, with this yarn. It’s super affordable and comes in a wide variety of colors. This is similar to the colors found in Red Heart Super Saver, but this yarn is a much better acrylic and is not much more expensive. It’s easy to find at a local craft store.
Fiber Content: 100% acrylic
Yarn Weight: Worsted (#4)
Yardage/Weight: 256 yards/5 oz
Lion Brand Yarn Vanna’s Choice
This amazing acrylic yarn has withstood the test of time and has been a fan favorite for years! It is used in so many types of projects, from crochet amigurumi dolls to sweaters to hats and mittens. It’s inexpensive, comes in a lot of colors, and has excellent stitch definition. Not to mention it’s easy to care for!
Fiber Content: 100% acrylic for most colors, some have a slight rayon content
Yarn Weight: Worsted Weight #4
Yardage/Weight: Varies by style (solids vs prints, etc), but solids have 100g/3.5oz and 156 yards
Care: Machine Wash, Machine Dry
PAINTBOX YARNS SIMPLY DK
Oh, my, how I love this yarn!! It comes in so many colors and is a dream to work with. If you are looking for a DK (weight #3) yarn, this is a must for you. You can also find other yarn weights in the “simply” line. I used Simply Chunky for a baby blanket and it’s amazing! Its genergous yardage means you get a lot for your money.
Fiber Content: 100% acrylic
Yarn Weight: DK weight #3
Yardage/Weight: 3.5 oz, 302 yards
Care: Machine wash cold, tumble dry low
One of my all-time favorite acrylic blends. I remember the first time I saw this in a Local Yarn Store and squished it. I really couldn’t believe it was acrylic!
Even though this yarn is sold in yarn shops and online, it’s an inexpensive yarn. It’s a premium acrylic that doesn’t even FEEL like an acrylic, so be sure to check it out. It is a blend of acrylic and nylon.
Fiber Content: 50% acrylic, 50% nylon
Yarn Weight: Worsted Weight (#4) and it also comes in Sock (#2), DK (#3) and Chunky (#5)
Yardage/Weight: 100g, 210 yards
Care: Machine wash gentle, tumble dry low
Common Questions About Acrylic Yarn
You can use fabric softener or hair conditioner to soften acrylic yarn. I’ve used this method on a finished item that wasn’t soft enough for my tastes by hand washing the item with hair conditioner – and it worked!
I’ve also heard that you can do this to the yarn before knitting or crocheting, but to me that sounds a lot harder!
You can make almost anything with this yarn type as long as the item doesn’t come into contact with heat.
Some great items are a baby blanket, sweater, scarf, and some even swear by acrylic socks (although I prefer the wool/nylon blend for these).
There are many great acrylic yarns on the market today. Most people who have a negative view of acrylic are thinking of the old type of yarn that was scratchy and used by grandmas. Today’s acrylics rival the feel of wool or cotton and are a great value. They also stand up to a lot of wear and washing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into the amazing world of acrylic yarn and that we’ve helped you decide if it is right for your next project!
Happy Knitting or Crocheting!