Acrylic Yarn Vs. Cotton

Knitting image by Yuriy Rozanov from

While trends are moving toward everything natural and organic, it is smart to compare the qualities of both natural and man-made fibres. Acrylic and cotton have different properties, but each can be useful, depending on the circumstances and performance requirements.

Look at the advantages of each material and decide which one best fits what you need.

Acrylic Properties

Acrylic is a material made from acrylonitrile, a chemical also used in plastic manufacturing. In 1950 the DuPont Company was the first to develop acrylics. High-quality acrylic yarn has the potential to be very soft--comparable to cashmere in feel and appearance. It is warm, holds colour well and is resistant to stains and wrinkles.

Cotton Properties

Cotton is a natural material woven from the silky fibres of the cotton plant. The fibres can be woven or knit together to form commonly used fabrics such as flannel, muslin, terrycloth and duck, a heavyweight canvas. Cotton is often mixed with other fibres to add new properties, such as linen for strength and texture, and polyester for stability. Lightweight fabrics made from 100-percent cotton can be flammable, though they are sometimes treated with chemical retardants to reduce the risk. Cotton is well known for its ability to breathe in hot temperatures and to absorb around 25 times its weight in water.

Acrylic Care

Clothes made with acrylic yarn have become more durable with technological advances since the 1950s, when the material was first popular for sweaters. Acrylic pills less 60 years later and holds its shape well, but the more carefully you launder it, the longer it will last. Read the tag and follow the instructions. Some acrylic garments must be dry-cleaned or washed by hand in cold water. Iron acrylic on a medium setting only, or it may burn slightly and shrink.

Cotton Care

Cotton can handle very high temperatures and is stronger wet than dry. Check the tags for care information before buying, because many 100-percent cotton products can shrink 10 to 15 per cent when washed for the first time. Otherwise the tag will read "preshrunk." Chlorine bleach is safe to use on white cotton garments, but may yellow some chemically treated cottons or take colour from dyed cotton clothing.

Primary Uses

pile of socks image by Adkok from

Sweaters, scarves and wraps are all popular uses for acrylic yarn. Acrylic is the recommended material for athletic socks because it does not absorb moisture. It allows water to transfer to the shoe and then evaporate.

Cotton absorbs water, expanding inside the shoe and causing blisters during running or hiking. This absorbency is a bonus in cotton terrycloth, used for towels and other absorbent products. Cotton shows its advantages best when exposed to air. It breathes well, helping the wearer cool off. Oxford shirting material is made of cotton. A variety of cotton fabrics are popular for home furnishings, including organdie, sateen and poplin, and can be used for curtains, bed sheets and upholstery.

Environmental Effects

Cotton plant -3 image by Alexey Burtsev from

Cotton has a strong effect of the environment than acrylic because of the manufacturing process and the pesticides used to grow the plants. Organic cotton is being used more for clothing by large manufacturers and is tested for pesticide control. Organic Exchange and the Better Cotton Initiative are two companies working to regulate the use of pesticides in growing fibres for production.

Acrylic is chemically synthesised and not directly harmful to the environment, but its fumes are dangerous to inhale during the manufacturing process, when the chemicals are heated.