Acrylic Yarn vs Wool: Which is Better?

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If you’re new to the crafting world, choosing the right materials for your projects can be a difficult task. There are simply so many factors to think about – synthetic vs. natural fibers, the cost, maintenance, and so on. If you’re not sure whether to use acrylic yarn or wool for your next project, we’re here to help. Let’s find out all about these two fibers, the differences between them, and what they’re best used for.

How to Tell the Difference Between Acrylic Yarn and Wool?

Telling the difference between acrylic and wool yarn is easy if your yarns are still in their original packaging. The label will state information such as the type of yarn (fiber content), thickness, and other characteristics of the yarn.

 

However, if you have two balls of yarn without labels, the easiest way to tell the difference between wool and acrylic yarn is by touch. Wool is typically softer than acrylic, but this is not always the case as many acrylic yarns can be very soft. In terms of color, wool tends to have more mattified shades, while acrylic is a little shinier.

 

Here are some other methods to help you figure out if a yarn is wool or acrylic:


-      Smell Test – Fibers that come from animals, such as wool, tend to have a distinct, animal-like odor when wet. Simply cut off a piece of your yarn, soak it in hot water, and give it a sniff.


-      Break Test – Acrylic yarn is known for its durability, so another easy way to test it is by pulling. Simply pull a strand of yarn to see if it breaks. If it does, it’s wool, and if it doesn’t, it’s acrylic.


-      Burn Test – Wool and acrylic act differently when exposed to fire. Simply put apiece of yarn over a flame and look at how the yarn behaves. If it doesn’t catch fire right away, has a charred end, and gives off the smell of burning hair, it’s wool. If it melts, rather than charrs, and smells like plastic, it’s acrylic.


-      Felt Test – You can also tell the difference between these two yarns by felting. Simply cut two pieces of yarn and unravel their ends. Then, put the unraveled ends together, dampen them with water, and rub them together until dry. If the two pieces can be pulled apart easily, you have acrylic yarn. If they’re holding together, it’s wool.


-      Bleach Test – Lastly, acrylic and wool yarn behave differently when bleached. Take a piece of yarn and submerge it in some bleach. Leave it overnight in a safe place. If the yarn dissolves in bleach, it’s wool. If it has only lightened in color, it is acrylic. 

Acrylic Yarn Pros

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Now that we’ve covered some methods for discerning between wool and acrylic, let’s discuss some of their main characteristics. First, let’s talk about all the benefits of using acrylic yarn for your crafty projects.


Maintenance


One of the best things about acrylic yarn is that it is easy to take care of, thanks to its synthetic fibers. What we mean by this is that this fiber can endure washing machines and dryers (albeit on a lower setting) without losing too much of its shape. What’s more, as a synthetic fiber, it doesn’t attract insects.


Color Absorption


Acrylic fibers are very easy to dye. It even allows for more vibrant, richer colors than most other materials. In other words, acrylic yarns can come in extremely wide ranges of colors, making them a great choice for an array of projects.


Allergy Free


Don’t get us wrong, acrylic is not a hypoallergenic material (despite what many think). However, acrylic allergies occur much more rarely than wool allergies. That is why many people see acrylic as a good substitute for wool if they’re knitting or crocheting an item for someone with allergies.

 

That being said, people can still be sensitive to this material without necessarily having an allergic reaction, or they may react to the chemicals in the dye.


Affordability


In most cases, acrylic yarn is much more affordable than wool yarns. Many will say this is due to the quality difference when compared to wool. While this may be true in a lot of cases, especially in many higher end wools, we feel there are many premium quality acrylic yarns out there such as some of the ones we provide. We strive to source the best quality acrylic yarn as we can.

Acrylic Yarn Cons

While acrylic yarn has quite a few benefits, it is definitely not without drawbacks. Here are the main ones.


Sustainability


Like many other synthetic materials, acrylic is not sustainable since it is derived from petroleum. If you’re looking for amore eco-friendly material for your projects, you should probably look elsewhere.


Not as Breathable


One major disadvantage that acrylic has in comparison to wool is its breathability (or lack thereof). This can make it uncomfortable to wear, especially if we’re talking about garments that come indirect contact with the skin.


Heat and Water Protection


Despite being quite durable and immune to wear and tear, acrylic does have two natural enemies – water and heat. When exposed to high temperatures or fire, acrylic will melt (and make a mess). On the other hand, it doesn’t hold water well, so it might not be the best choice of material for items such as towels, dishcloths, and so on.

Wool Pros

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Now that we’ve covered the main pros and cons of acrylic yarn let’s talk about wool. Here are some of the biggest advantages of using wool yarn for your crocheting and knitting projects.


Durability


Despite not being as durable as acrylic, wool is still a pretty strong fiber. In fact, it is considered to be seven times more durable than cotton and as many as 10 times more durable than silk. This makes it great for outdoor clothes, as well as items that are meant to be used often.


Retains Shape/Wrinkle Resistant


Wool is a very soft fiber, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t hold shape. In fact, it has a bit of a bounce factor to it, so even if you stretch it, it tends to bounce right back to its original shape. Additionally, wool doesn’t really wrinkle, so you won’t have to worry about ironing and hanging your wool garments.


Keeps You Warm


Lastly, wool is one of the best insulating fibers out there. It can retain heat and keep the cold out, making it an excellent choice for winter clothes, hats, gloves, scarves, and so on. In addition to this, given that wool is quite absorbent (it can hold up to one-third of its weight in water without feeling damp to the touch), wool is a good choice for wet, snowy, or rainy days.

Wool cons

As you can see, there are many advantages to using wool, but there are certainly some drawbacks, too.


Limited Dye Options


Wool is quite absorbent and takes color very well. However, unlike acrylic or other synthetic fibers, wool can’t retain the vibrancy of the color. Instead, the color of wool tends to look muted and mattified.


Maintenance


We mentioned that wool is quite durable and retains shape, but that is not always the case. When it comes to washing, woolen garments should, ideally, be hand-washed with warm water. Machine washing runs the risk of the item losing its shape and/or shrinking.

 

Additionally, exposing items made of wool to strong light can make the colors fade. And lastly, since it is a natural material, wool could attract insects.

 

However, it is important to mention that there are many different types of wool out there, and some have been processed to be more resistant. If you’re not sure how to properly care for your wool, always follow the instructions specified on the label.


Price


Wool tends to cost more on average than acrylic. Especially for higher end wools.

Acrylic vs Wool: What’s the Difference? (Side-by-Side Comparison)

Let’s take a closer look at all the differences between wool and acrylic that we mentioned above.

 

Category

Wool

Acrylic

Origin

Animals

Petroleum plastic

Cost

Can be expensive

Affordable

Washing

Hand-washing

Machine-washing

Shrinking

Can shrink if machine-washed

Can shrink in high heat

Breathability

Very breathable

Not as breathable

Softness

Very soft, but can be itchy

It can be very soft or rough

Allergies

Can cause allergies

May cause allergies

Flammable

Natural flame retardant

Very flammable

Level of Care

Requires some care

Easy to care for

Which One to Choose for Different Projects?

As it probably seems clear by now, both wool and acrylic yarns have their pros and cons. In other words, the choice between the two will often depend on the type of project you’re working on. So, let’s take a look at some different items you can make with either yarn.

socks

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Socks are often made out of both wool and acrylic and commonly out of wool-acrylic blends. Acrylic socks tend to keep the warmth inside, making them great insulators for very cold weather. If this is what you’re looking for, try knitting these Slouchy Socks using Red Heart Super Saver Brushed 100% Acrylic Yarn.

 

On the other hand, if you’d rather be comfortable and let your skin breathe (while still being warm), you should opt for woolen socks. They will not insulate your feet as well, but that also means less sweating and odor.

 

If you’re trying to find the right balance between the two, we recommend knitting or crocheting your socks out of wool-acrylic blends. Some great wool-acrylic blends to choose from include Premier Coffee Shop Yarn (85% acrylic, 15%wool, light yarn), Premier Spun Colors (65% acrylic, 35% merino super wash wool, worsted yarn), and Lion Brand Wool-Ease Solids (80% acrylic, 20%wool, worsted yarn).

sweaters

When it comes to sweaters, the choice between acrylic and wool is purely one of preference. Acrylic is more affordable and easier to care for, but it is not breathable and tends to pill. On the other hand, sweaters made out of real, quality wool are breathable yet warm and don’t pill, but they can be quite expensive and require special care.

 

Of course, just like with socks, sweaters made out of wool-acrylic blends are also an option. This way, you get to retain the breathability and quality of wool but also add some durability and sturdiness to it.

 

If you want to make a sweater out of a wool-acrylic blend, check out this free Sophia Sweater Pattern for knitters or this free Lush Lace Pullover Pattern for crocheters.

blankets

The whole point of blankets is to keep us warm, and both acrylic and wool can do that quite effectively. So, once again, the choice between the two will depend on your preferences. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, go with acrylic. If you want a heavy, quality blanket that will last, wool might be a better choice. If you have sensitive skin or a wool allergy, acrylic is the right alternative. You get the point.

 

Want to make a blanket out of acrylic yarn? Check out this free Dazzler Diamond Afghan Pattern for crocheters or this free Seed Stitch Ombre Blanket Pattern for knitters, both using Red Heart Super Saver 100% worsted-weight acrylic yarn. And if you’d like to make a blanket out of an acrylic-wool blend, here’s a free Shaded Ripple Afghan Pattern you can crochet using Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick & Quick Yarn.

baby items

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Crafters should always be careful with their choice of material when making baby items because a baby’s skin is much more sensitive than ours. Wool can be a risky material for baby items due to the possibility of an allergy. Additionally, since wool can be a little rough, it could irritate the baby. For these reasons, acrylic is better for baby items. In fact, many brands produce 1000% acrylic yarn, specifically with baby items in mind, such as Mary Maxim Twinkle Baby Yarn and Bernat Softee Baby Yarn.

 

However, if you’re sure the baby you’re knitting or crocheting an item for isn’t allergic to wool, you can still use this material. Ideally, though, you should use superfine merino wool, as it doesn’t have that rough, itchy property that most other wool does. Additionally, wool blends could do the trick, such as Mary Maxim Silk Merino Yarn, a blend with 65%merino wool, 25% nylon, and 10% recycled silk.

Acrylic Yarn vs Wool: Frequently Asked Questions

We hope we have managed to answer your questions regarding the differences between acrylic yarn and wool. But just incase there are still some things you’re unsure about, here are some frequently asked questions about acrylic and wool and our answers to them.


Is Acrylic or Wool MoreComfortable?


In general, wool is more comfortable to wear for several reasons. First, since it is breathable, it allows your body to regulate temperature well and won’t make you sweat a lot while keeping you warm. Additionally, it absorbs very well, so even if you do sweat, you won’t feel as uncomfortable.

However, for people who are allergic to wool or simply find this material too itchy for their skin, acrylic is the more comfortable option. Unlike wool, acrylic doesn’t have the same roughness, so it can feel gentler on the skin.


Is Acrylic Warmer Than Wool?


Both acrylic and wool are very warm materials, meaning that they help you retain body heat, even in cold weather. The difference, however, lies in their breathability. Since wool is more breathable, it does allow some of that heat to escape while not compromising on the warmth too much. Acrylic, on the other hand, retains heat more effectively, but since it’s not a breathable material, it can make you feel too hot, sweaty, and suffocated.


Is Acrylic Itchy Like Wool?


Many people find wool too itchy to wear directly on their skin. In fact, this property of wool is precisely why acrylic is considered the best wool alternative. Unlike wool, acrylic doesn’t have that rough texture that causes itchiness, making it a better choice for people with sensitive skin.


Which Is Better: Acrylic or WoolYarn?


In short – there is no right answer. Both acrylic and wool have their positives and negatives, and the choice between them will depend on a number of factors, such as:


-      What type of project are you making?

-      Who will be wearing/using the item you’re making?

-      How much care and maintenance are you willing to put into the item?

-      What color or colors do you want your item to be?

-      Do you want to use eco-friendly materials?

-      What is your budget?


Once you have the answer to all of those questions, you will have an easier time deciding whether to use acrylic yarn or wool for your next project.