What The Heck Is Acrylic Yarn (And Why People Love It Or Hate It)

Michael Daly
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What is Acrylic Yarn?

Do I Have To Worry About Stretching?

Acrylic yarn is a man-made fiber that is a great addition to your crafting repertoire. It’s inexpensive, the colors are vivid, and it’s easy to care for and feels warm and cozy. It’s also a fantastic option as a first-time yarn because it’s easy to care for, inexpensive, and you can substitute it for wool without having to worry about felting.

The biggest concern people have regarding acrylic is that it might shrink when washed. Fortunately, modern acrylic yarn is designed to be machine-washable and to withstand regular washing. And even if the label doesn’t guarantee machine-washing, you can still wash it in the washing machine

However, all acrylic yarn is susceptible to stretching in the same way that wool yarn is. You don’t have to worry either about cold-weather or hot-water washing because the boiling point for acrylic is extremely high.

Advantages of Acrylic Yarn

Acrylic yarn has proven to be a popular choice for knitting projects and clothing for a lot of reasons.

For one, acrylic yarn is the cheapest kind of yarn you can find, and if you’re a beginner, it’s probably an important factor for you.

The fact that acrylic yarns are easy to find and cheap to buy also means that it’s easily accessible for anyone who wants to start hanging up their own knitting.

Where to Get Acrylic Yarn

Sometimes you need to add a little touch of color to your work. You can achieve that by using acrylic yarn.

It’s a yarn which is made from synthetic fiber without much variation. It comes under a lot of brands with varying qualities and different function and terms related to them.

Learn the key terms used in it and make sure you get the best product you can.

The yarn in the picture you see here is made by Bernat. It’s 100% acrylic, with worsted weight.

The brand terms all mean different things, for example:

“Worsted” means that the fibers have been combed. The fineness of the yarn is graded from A to F. What grade constitutes as best or worst depends upon the material that you are using and the intended use of the finished product. IMPORTANT NOTE: As acrylic is a naturally synthetic fiber, the quality of the acrylic yarn is based on how well the fibers are blended, combed and spun. Hence, there are premium quality acrylic yarns available.

Acrylic Yarn Is the Perfect for Those on A Budget

First, let me begin by saying that just like acrylic yarn has its disadvantages, so does wool. Why? First, wool yarn is more expensive than acrylic yarn. Second, there is the possible problem of itchiness with wool yarn. The allergy problem usually is the cause of lower grade wool yarn, just like the quality of acrylic tends to be awful at times.

Now, just what is acrylic yarn? Acrylic yarn is a kind of yarn that is made with synthetic fibers and is spun with natural fibers, such as wool. However, an acrylic yarn is a realistic alternative for all my animal lovers out there.

It’s the knitters and crocheters that love acrylic yarn as it is easy to work with, easy to dye, easy to care for and straightforward to obtain. And, it is a reasonably low cost material.

Acrylic yarn is ideal for blankets, outerwear, scarves, hats, and sweaters, which involve items that need to be thick and heavy.

This yarn is not only easy to get but it is uncomplicated to use and uncomplicated to take care of.

Acrylic Yarn Comes in Many Different Colors & Textures

Acrylic yarn comes in many different weights, textures, thicknesses, and colors. It is available in natural tones or in bright, earthy colors.

It is available in different styles and textures such as boucle, ribbon, and variegated.

Acrylic comes in a type of micro-ribbon which is usually used in weaving and embroidery. It also comes in added textures of boucle and mohair.

The most common types of acrylic yarn are often used for things like clothing and accessories, but it is suitable for knitting and crocheting, too.

Most traditional yarns such as wool, cotton, and silk are more durable than acrylic. They are also more expensive than acrylic yarn.

Despite this, acrylic yarn has advantages that other yarns do not. It is easy to maintain and it holds its shape really well.

Depending on the amount of money you want to spend, acrylic yarn is available in all price ranges. It can range from 5 cents to a dollar, per skein in the case of some hand-spun varieties.

You can buy large amounts of it at a time and you do not have to worry about it going bad. It will last a very long time when gently cared for.

Acrylic yarn is also washable and can be dried in a clothes dryer. You can get acrylic yarn in a variety of different weights.

Acrylic Yarn Can Withstand Heavy Wear

Acrylic yarn is great for beginners and pros alike because it’s in the middle on the scale of softness and strength.

Almost every craft and knitting magazine uses acrylic yarns for their projects because it’s easy on the hands and cheap to buy.

What's more, acrylic yarn is very versatile for casual or home crafts. Whether you're crocheting a doily, rug, scarf, or blanket, acrylic is a great choice.

It's not strong enough to withstand heavy labor, but if you need a yarn to use for clothing, it will be able to stand up to vigorous wear and tear while providing flexibility and warmth.

Here's what really sets it apart, though: It's machine washable. Imagine being able to throw your favorite sweater or blanket in the washer and dryer without worries about fading or shrinking.

Acrylic knitting yarns come in gorgeous colors and they are definitely the most affordable.

They're the perfect choice for beginners because of how cheap they are. If you don't like something you had made with acrylic yarn, you won't feel too bad about it.

Acrylic Yarn Is Machine Wash Safe

Acrylic is easy to take care of because it’s machine washable, easy on the budget and can be used for projects involving and for special occasions. It comes in a range of colors, making it possible to create any project, no matter how intricate.

Today, acrylic yarn is one of the most popular types of yarn you can find on the market.

It’s popular for all sorts of reasons, but the main one is that it’s easy to care for. You can machine wash it, so care is really super simple.

The downside, however, is that acrylic yarn can stretch. If you’re a size 14, you probably don’t want your sweater to end up looking like a size 10.

And, when some people knit with acrylic yarn, they get a stitch definition that is clear and crisp, resulting in cables that look perfect.

Other times, the same people get a less than stellar result.

Cables are loose and lopsided and it’s hard to get the stitch pattern to look just right.

This is usually due to the fact that acrylic yarn is thicker and rounder than other types. For some people, this is a problem. For others, it’s a bonus.

Perfect Yarn for Those with Sensitive Allergies

Acrylic Yarn, simply put, is man-made fiber made from petroleum product.

Plain and simple. It’s not natural like wool or alpaca.

Acrylic yarn is made from polymers, and its fibers are similar to that of spandex. This is why when handled, it is soft and stretchy. It is often referred to as “art yarn” or “craft yarn.”

It is as it sounds: a yarn you can use to craft and create beautiful pieces.

Disadvantages of Acrylic Yarn

Acrylic yarn also has its disadvantages. One of the biggest ones is itchiness. Overall, acrylic yarn is less itchy than wool, or even than cotton if you do it right.

Considering the fact that it feels more like cotton than other textile yarns, you can usually wear your acrylic clothing close to your skin.

But, there must be some itchiness.

Another disadvantage is that acrylic yarns aren’t so elastic as other fabrics. A 100% acrylic sweater (or a scarf or hat), for instance, is much less elastic than even a cotton one.

Bad for the Environment

Acrylic is by far the most popular yarn used for crafts. It can be machine washed, so it’s ideal for knitting up garments that will be washed regularly, e.g., baby clothes, booties, household knits, washcloths, etc.

It also can be hand-washed using a delicate cycle in the washing machine.

Many yarns are a blend of acrylic and wool. This combination creates a yarn that is lighter in weight than pure acrylic, but also has more drape and sheen than pure wool.

Although acrylic is widely used because of its machine washability, the downside is that it’s a petroleum-based product, so it’s not biodegradable and is contributing to the problem of beach pollution and the plastic soup in our waterways.

Some organic yarns are available, like cotton yarn spun with recycled plastic. Other companies are producing certified organic wool from sheep raised on sustainable family farms.

As a consumer, you have the option to buy yarn that is made from recycled plastic water bottles. Check with local yarn stores and online vendors for fibers made from recycled materials.

While organic yarns are less commonly available, they are easily found. While they cost a bit more, getting the peace of mind of knowing that our landfills and waterways will be a little greener makes it worth a few extra dollars.

Not as Soft as Natural Fibers

Those who dislike acrylic yarns for garments like sweaters, scarves, and other home project projects usually point out one fact: it is not as soft as its natural counterparts.

While this is true, many who put their crafty skills to good use don’t mind the lack of softness so long as the project they are making is long lasting and can survive some everyday use and rough handling.

Consider the photos in this article. Collected from around the web, all of these crafts were made out of acrylic yarns. Some of these little projects are household items. Others are super cute plushies. You’ll see adorable creatures made out of acrylic yarn, as well as high end looks that can rival those made with natural fibres.

Yes, acrylic is not as soft as silk or merino wool, but so what?

Acrylic is so inexpensive, you can buy it in bulk. With a few super cute acrylic projects in your expert repertoire, you can show off two-tone sweaters, blankets, scarves and hats.

This is the general summary of the differences between natural and synthetic yarns. As for which is the best yarn type to use for a specific project? Well, that all depends on your choice and given circumstance.

Acrylic Yarn May be Unsafe for Some Projects

The use of acrylic yarn is a popular choice for fiber artists and yarn crafters, it is the most widely available type of yarn. Acrylic yarn is found in inexpensive projects or high budget and expensive crafts.

Generally, unlabeled yarn is made from acrylic. By law, the manufacturer can use the word "yarn" without specifying a fiber type.

When buying acrylic yarn, try to make sure exactly what fiber it is made of, if you’re allergic and always know the content before you start.

It’s necessary to know that acrylic yarns are made with acrylic fibers. The fibers used are different and the fabric created is different as well.

When working with acrylic yarn, you do not want to make items that are worn next to your skin. Acrylic yarn can make for a toxic combination when worn against your skin.

It’s best to use the yarn for outerwear that can be washed regularly.

If you do experience sensitivity while using acrylic yarn, discontinue use.

Holds Odors and Water

One of the biggest things people seem to dislike about acrylic yarn is that it tends to hold on to smells. While this can be true under certain circumstances, it’s not always the case.

You see, when you first start using the yarn, it may smell a bit odd, but if you wash it, you should find that it loses that weird smell. And then it won’t really hold on to the smell of anything.

If you’ve already started using your acrylic yarn, just try washing it in cold water and some wool wash, and you should find that it removes most of the smell. If that doesn’t work, wash it in hot water to see if that helps.

Some people recommend putting a bit of vodka into lukewarm water instead of using wool wash as it helps create a deeper clean.

The water will also fix the problem of the yarn getting wet.

Interestingly, it doesn’t matter if you make the yarn into a ball on the hook when you’re working. The yarn will stay in place.

But if you put the yarn in an open bowl while you’re working, it may get wet. And if this happens, it will certainly lose its shape.

Where to Buy Acrylic Yarn

You’re knitting away on your latest project, when suddenly you notice something…strange, like a bunch of fuzzy strands on your knit or purl stitches. What the heck is the fuzz? And how can you make it stop?

Some knitters are not fans of acrylic yarns for a reason, but acrylic yarns have a certain tendency to grab fuzz and other debris from the air and deposit it on your dress (or sweater for that matter).

The most common problem is that the yarn itself it itchy or irritating. If your skin is sensitive to wool and you have a choice, choose the acrylic yarn over the wool. But even wool yarns can cause itching if the manufacturers chose not to treat them.

If you’ve never used acrylic yarn before, a good place to start is with a superwash yarn. Superwash yarns are made from acrylic yarns that have been processed so they can be machine washed and dried.

When shopping for yarn, be sure to check the care label …use the washing machine setting to see if the yarn can withstand this level of laundry treatment.


Admittedly**, with the exception of a few projects, the most practical thing that I learned about from the book was that acrylic yarn can be a viable alternative to purchasing wool for home dec projects.

I hadn’t ever considered it as a viable option before so I reached out to Knit Picks to share a few tips for beginning knitters on how to use acrylic yarn on my blog and soon after I got to chatting with Kristin (the great Knit Picks social media manager). Kristin sent me a few skeins of their Brava yarn in some of their most popular colors (shown here) and I got to work making a few of their popular patterns (shown here) to use for the samples.

I’m actually really impressed. The yarn is incredibly soft and easy to knit with and I love how cozy it feels.

Direct (Red Heart, Caron, etc.)

Vs. Indirect (Bernat, Lion Brand, etc.) Acrylic Yarn

Acrylic is without a doubt the most popular yarn for beginners, and especially for beginning crocheters. The reasons for this are many: most of the inexpensive yarns available today are acrylic, the yarns are relatively inexpensive, have vivid (and often unique) colors, and are very versatile in what they can be made into.

In addition, acrylic is very easy to work with, is soft, durable, and most important: Machine washable!!

In general, there are two groups of acrylic yarn: those made by the Scott Company, which end in an add (+) sign, and those made by the Coats Company, which end in an x (x). This makes for an easy way to distinguish between direct and indirect yarn.

Here is a chart of direct and indirect yarns.

In general, yarn made by the Scott Company is of a higher quality and has a tighter twist. This makes the resulting yarn softer and with more drape (how a fabric hangs). It also tends to hold up well in really hot weather and takes longer to pill (those little balls of yarn that collect around your clothing).

In contrast, those made by the Coats Company are coarser, have more of a matte finish, and pills more readily.

Annies Craft Store

Acrylic yarn is a generic term used to describe a material that is designed to look and feel like animal fibers (wool, alpaca, etc).

First created by DuPont, nylon has been strengthened and modified to produce what we now know as acrylic. Similar to other types of synthetic materials, acrylic yarn is much softer than animal fibers, making it wonderful for those with sensitive skin.

It is a cheap material for the manufacturer to use when compared to other animal fibers and that is reflected in the price of the garment.

The word "acrylic" can be used to describe any type of yarn that is made of 100% acrylic or those that are blends of acrylic and materials like cotton or polyester.

The standard for measuring yarn is called a "cut" and it essentially means that weight of an item is measured in ounces. One cut equals 0.48 grams.

Amazon, Walmart, Joann

So, a few things first:

One of my biggest knitting pet peeves is special-ingredient yarn … all those yarns that are suddenly made out of something else! Yarn that takes more setup or that comes from a special place or has something that makes it foreign to your usual yarn preferences! So, I am in a happy place seeing only RED HEART on the outside of this package … it feels alllllllright to me.

Questions About Acrylic Yarn You Were Too Afraid to Ask

Acrylic yarns come in a range of gauges and textures, and are available in a variety of colors. They can be as reasonably priced as the equivalent weight of cotton yarn. Acrylic yarns are naturally soft and can be machine-washed and dried.

What’s not to love about acrylic yarns? In some cases, crocheters may feel the desire to avoid acrylic yarn as if it were green eggs and ham, but it’s the incredible variety of acrylic yarns on the market that can give the crochet enthusiast just the look she wants, in a range of budgets.

Here are some of the questions that fiber artists have regarding acrylic yarns:

Is it nitrocellulose?

Nitrocellulose is a type of acrylic that is made from cellulose (wood). Acrylics made with this composition made their way into the fiber arts in the mid-1900s and unfortunately gained a bad reputation for manufacturing flaws. Poorly made acrylic yarns can smell of hazardous waste and shed dust as well as causing rashes.

Is it modacrylic?

Modacrylic, which is made from a synthetic version of cellulose acetate, has a good reputation for being affordable and well made. Today, modacrylic is used in luxury yarns and is characterized by a soft hand.

Is it reactive?

Is acrylic yarn safe?

Acrylic is a synthetic yarn. It is durable and easy to get a hold of, because it is a very cheap material. It makes great projects that are durable (i.e. baby items), and there are also a lot of great patterns used on fabric.

Things to be cautious of. Acrylic can contain small amounts of yarn that are not acrylic which may pose health hazards. For example: yarns with wool or silk mixed in with acrylic. Also, in large quantities, yarns that contain acrylic can cause skin irritations.

The rubbery texture of most acrylics may be irritating to skin, and, as with all synthetic fibers, heat is a problem. All synthetic fibers melt when exposed to high heat. It is best not to wear acrylic clothing or yarn while cooking or while ironing, as the heat will damage the yarn.

People that work with acrylic yarn will test their tolerance level to it before starting a project.

Follow the brand guidelines when washing acrylic clothing. You may find that the old rule of “hand wash or machine wash in the gentle cycle” does not apply. And the temperature is also important. Be sure to follow the recommendations as they have your best interests in mind.

Is acrylic yarn itchy?

Acrylic yarn is usually softer than wool yarn, so many of us assume that it’s itchy like wool yarn. It is, however, only soft because it’s got a significant amount of plastic in the fiber. This was a selling point in the beginning because of the lower price point and the simplicity in the manufacturing process.

The soft texture is also attributed to the way the yarn is spun. Many manufacturers use roving in the spinning process. This creates the softness in the yarn.

The plus side is that acrylic yarn is less expensive than many other fibers. Another positive aspect of this yarn is that there are a variety of colors which can perk up your knitting without breaking the bank.

Some people also feel that acrylic yarn is warmer, especially when it’s used to make sweaters for men.

Is acrylic yarn good for blankets?

If you need a blanket that has simple stripes of color and that will be good for daily wear and tear, then acrylic is a good choice.

Because acrylic yarn is durable, it’s a good choice for children. However, there are some disadvantages to choosing acrylic.

If you plan on making afghans, blankets, or shawls, then your hand-knits will become less soft over time and could possibly shed.

Below, I will discuss the basics of acrylic yarn and the advantages and disadvantages of using it as your choice of yarn.

Is acrylic yarn good for winter?

Acrylic yarn is made from synthetic fibers. It is lightweight, warm, and does not damage easily.

Acrylic yarn is good for cold winter wear because it can retain warmth against the skin.

We all know that winter is the best season for knitting and crocheting. It's shorter days, cozier evenings, and of course the lure of new winter hats and mittens. And one yarn we love to work with around the holidays is acrylic yarn. Between the natural color choices and the lovely textures available, it's a great choice for holiday decorative pieces and daily winter wear.

So, why does acrylic yarn have such a bad rap?

The reason acrylic yarn has earned a bad reputation is due in large part to Craft Yarn Council standards.

When you look at the Yarn Council website a knitters worst nightmare is realized. All of the technical stuff about standard swatches and standards means absolutely nothing to the everyday knitter. So what do you do?

Don't buy wool yarn, buy acrylic instead.

Acrylic yarn comes in a huge variety, unlike wool.

It comes in a wide variety of colors and is inexpensive.

Because acrylic is so readily available in any store that sells yarn, its uncomfortable-factor loses some of its appeal. We use it to crochet daily projects because we have easier access to it.

Can you put acrylic yarn in the dryer?

Acrylic yarn can be machine-washed and -dried using a delicate cycle and low heat.

It's important for you to check the care instructions on the label on the ball band of your yarn to determine if it can be machine-washed and -dried.

For additional protection from pilling and fuzzing, you can use a washable or dryer sheet, placing it in with the hosiery or lingerie.

Somewhere around 30 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit is a good range to aim for if you choose to air dry the hosiery.

It's important to thoroughly air dry the acrylic yarn before you load it into the dryer.

Putting it wet into the dryer could damage the fabric or even cause the yarn to knit up too small due to the moisture being trapped inside the fiber.

Can you dye acrylic yarn?

The short answer is yes. While manufacturers do not recommend it, acrylic yarn can be dyed. Heed this warning though, when dyeing acrylic yarn, be sure to use fiber reactive dye.

Fiber reactive dye will substantially weaken the strength of your yarn over time. So if you plan on using your colored yarn for an item that will be put to the test (like a blanket), consider another material like organic cotton.

Or if you just want it to add a little color in the middle of the skein, go for it.

If you do choose to dye your acrylic yarn, be sure to test a small piece of the yarn first. Dyeing acrylic yarn will lighten and soften it. If you don’t like the results, try dying the yarn at a higher temperature and for a longer period of time.

Does acrylic yarn pill like cotton yarn?

A. Yes, acrylic yarn can pill too. In fact, acrylic yarn can pill worse than cotton.

When made into fabric, acrylic yarns are produced using spinning techniques. These spinning techniques create a fuzzy surface on the knitted or crocheted acrylic yarns, causing all those little fuzzy fibers to form with use.

Spinning is a manufacturing process. Cheap acrylic yarn is cheaply processed. So it’s no wonder that poor quality acrylic yarn pill worse than expensive quality acrylic yarn.

The best you can do is choose top quality acrylic yarn and use the correct washing and drying instructions.

Tips for keeping acrylic yarns from pilling:

Launder in a gentle cycle.

Wash and dry separately from other fabrics.

Avoid fabric softeners & dryer sheets.

Avoid hot water because heat and pilling do not mix.

A mild detergent like Woolite is a good choice because it’s free from optical brighteners and bleach.

Use a garment bag to protect the fabric and hold its shape.

Check out the video to see how to spin wool and acrylic during production.

Final Thoughts on Acrylic Yarn

While acrylic yarns are not the most durable option in the knitting and crocheting world (wool, cotton, and bamboo come to mind when I think of durable fibers), they are extremely versatile and have many advantages.

They can work for any season, from lightweight cashmere cardigans in the summer to chunky 100% acrylic afghans for the winter.

They can be worked in nearly any style. While you may get different results with different fiber blends, the fact is most styles can be worked with acrylic and still look good.

They’re easy to care for and machine washable, which makes them an excellent choice for beginners. They’re definitely one of the easier fiber types to learn on.

The list goes on and on. Acrylic yarns definitely have their benefits. In reality, whether or not you should use acrylic is really going to depend on what you want your finished item to look like.

If you favor soft and luxurious projects, consider using a different type of yarn. For your every day wallet, save yourself the cash and go with acrylic or at a minimum, a blend. These fibers will come in handy for those times when you quickly need a gift or you just want something easy and fast.

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Acrylic yarn is a yarn made of synthetic fibers that look a lot like natural fibers such as wool or cotton, although it’s not as comfortable to wear.

A lot of knitters, crocheters and other crafters swear by other types of yarn, such as wool or hemp, claiming that you’re better off using those. However, acrylic yarn can be very useful, depending on its purpose.

If you’ve ever questioned whether or not acrylic yarn is worth using in your next project, try to understand exactly what it is, and then decide if it fits your needs.

The pros and cons of acrylic yarn are:


Affordable- Depending on the different uses you have for your finished object, you can find acrylic yarn for just a few dollars per ball, which is less than the cost of other yarns. This makes it cheaper for you to complete the item, whether you plan to sell or give it away after you’re done.

Versatile- Because of its affordability, acrylic yarn is great if you have multiple projects going on at once. You can work on multiple projects without the need to continuously buy and set aside yarn for each new one. This means you are less likely to have yarn that has been sitting around since you started the project.