What is acrylic fabric?

Written by g.d. palmer
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What is acrylic fabric?
Many inexpensive knitting yarns contain acrylic fibre. (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Acrylic fabric is an artificial textile fibre made from petroleum products. This material was first developed by the DuPont Company in 1950, and has gone on to be used in clothing, blankets, rugs, yarn, outdoor furniture and upholstery. Acrylic fabric is durable and low maintenance, but does have some disadvantages when compared to natural fibres.

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Production

Acrylonitrile is a colourless flammable liquid derived from polypropylene plastic and used to make acrylic fibres. Usually combined with other chemicals to improve dye absorption, this chemical is placed into a spinning solution. It can then be either dry spun, by injecting it into an air-filled space, or wet spun, by spraying it into water. The resulting fibre is washed, dried and crimped, producing either "tow," a long continuous fibre, or "staple," shorter fibres similar to wool or cotton. Both types of fibre can be woven into cloth like any other.

Benefits

Acrylic fabric resists oil and chemical spills, moth attack and degradation by sunlight. It has a wool- or cottonlike texture and wicks moisture away from the skin quickly. It takes dye readily in production and retains its colour well, even in conditions that fade other materials. As a man-made fibre, acrylic fabric resists wrinkling, retains its shape well and is easy to wash. It requires very little maintenance compared to natural fibres.

Disadvantages

Like many other man-made fabrics, acrylic textiles have relatively poor insulation qualities when compared to natural fibres. Acrylic sweaters are rarely as warm as woollen ones and lose their insulating power when wet. In hot weather, acrylic fabrics may make the wearer feel hot, compared to natural fibre fabrics, though acrylic's wicking power can decrease this problem. Since acrylic is derived from petroleum, it melts as it burns and can cause severe skin damage if it catches on fire. This material burns readily in contact with a hot iron, cigarette ash or heating element and is more difficult to extinguish than natural fibres like wool.

Care

Wash acrylic fabric in warm water on the gentle cycle, or by hand. Use fabric softener every third or fourth washing, as this material easily generates static electricity. Machine dry at a low temperature setting and remove garments as soon as the tumble cycle is over. Never dry acrylic fabrics at a high setting or use a hot iron on acrylic garments, as even moderate heat levels can melt or burn this material.

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