What is Acrylic Fabric?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Acrylic fabric is a type of fabric made from acrylic fibers, and was first manufactured by the DuPont Company. DuPont no longer manufactures acrylic fabric, but it is still widely manufactured throughout the world. It does use a chemically produced substance called acrylonitrile, which is also used in the production of plastics. Acrylonitrile tends to break down easily in the environment, though there is some argument on this point. High levels of acrylonitrile exposure might be considered toxic, but the quick break down often keeps acrylic fabric marketed as environmentally friendly.

A red sweater made from acrylic yarn.
A red sweater made from acrylic yarn.

Acrylic fabric is used widely in knits, as upholstery covering, and the fibers may be woven to make rugs. People often think of acrylic fabric as an excellent wool substitute, and certain forms of it are exceptionally soft, while remaining lightweight. Certain cashmere substitutes are made with acrylic fabric and are considered as good or better than cashmere in softness and appearance. Some woven garments may contain an acrylic blend with natural fibers.

Hikers often wear acrylic fabrics.
Hikers often wear acrylic fabrics.

Early acrylic fabric was prone to pilling, and washing it regularly could cause the top of the fabric to have a worn appearance. To this end, Monsanto Chemical Company developed a chemical process called Pil-Trol® that keeps acrylic fabric from pilling. This has proven helpful, but acrylic fabric still requires gentle care, may need to be dry-cleaned or at the very least washed in cold water on gentle cycle in your washing machine. The more carefully you treat acrylic fabric, the more likely the garment will last longer and retain a “new” appearance. For best results, always follow the garment’s tags for cleaning care.

Acrylic socks may be part of the standard uniform for kids playing football.
Acrylic socks may be part of the standard uniform for kids playing football.

Acrylic fabric has grown popular in a variety of sports garments. The National Football League, for instance has acrylic socks as part of their standard uniform. You will often have to purchase acrylic socks for kids playing baseball, football or soccer. Socks in acrylic fabric are a great choice because they keep their shape and can be highly elastic. They may be a better choice for hikers, because you are far more likely to get blisters from cotton blend socks than from those made of acrylic.

A lint shaver can be used to remove pilling from acrylic fabric.
A lint shaver can be used to remove pilling from acrylic fabric.

Acrylic fabric is favored for a variety of other reasons. It is warm, can be quite soft, holds color well, and is both stain and wrinkle resistant. These can make acrylic fabric a popular choice, and for those who love wool but are allergic to it, acrylic can be an excellent substitute.

When acrylic fabric was first made, it was often thought “cheap” and not as valuable as natural fiber garments. Some early acrylic fabrics weren’t comfortable and were quite itchy. New manufacturing processes have mainly solved these issues, and many prefer acrylic to natural fibers because it tends to be easier to care for.

Acrylic fabric is warm and holds its shape well.
Acrylic fabric is warm and holds its shape well.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon996514

I love my acrylic long sleeve shirt. It washes and dries perfectly and has lasted for years. Can't do that with some of the "blends."

anon994538

I recently wore a new sweater made of 95 percent acrylic and 5 percent rayon. I wore a short sleeve sweater with a higher neck of another material under it to layer my clothes to protect me from the cold. The next day I broke out with a bad rash on my arms from the end of the short sleeve sweater to my wrists. I cannot wear wool sweaters because they itch me but they never caused a rash.

anon993008

anon176161

Post 19: that's because idiots will buy anything at overpriced rates as long as they think they look good in it! Ban acrylic, polyester, nylon and modal! The bible's right on this: don't wear garments made of two or more fibers, as you can be sure one of them will kill you! I love my silk sweaters!

anon993007

Today's acrylic fabric is super toxic. When I was a kid, I could wear the Dupont but now, I am lucky that I cannot wear it as it is rabidly itching and atrociously scratchy! I have MCS so while you can wear anything off the websites and racks, you're slowly giving yourself cancer, while I wear the same cottons all the time but will avoid the lethal illness!

anon992396

Acrylic is cheap and doesn't absorb water. Unlike cotton and wool which will soak up water and have to dry out, acrylic fabric can get wet and the water rings right out. It's like dropping a paper bag into water vs a plastic bag. Yes, the plastic bag will get wet, but the water runs right off - the paper bag will have to dry.

No doubt, wearing a plastic bag instead of a paper one might give someone a rash, but it's not because of the material itself: the plastic's inert; and correlation doesn't imply causation.

anon991595

If I had a reaction to acrylic clothing, how will I react to body cement which is made of some sort of acrylic?

anon354777

I am 39 years old I was searching to see what caused my very, very bad rash. I felt like I was on fire. This rash causes a very bad burning and the blisters got so bad that they became water blisters.

My wife thought I had to have been burned by a chemical a "chemical burn," but after researching 100 percent acrylic, (being made from chemicals, toxins), which is what the sweater I was wearing is, I will never wear anything acrylic again and will tell everyone I know to stay away from it. This stuff is toxic.

anon343490

When did "All acrylic" fabrics first appear on the market?

anon317281

Does anyone know whether acrylic fabric is more or less "eco-friendly" than natural wool?

anon312207

Acrylic is quite good for some things, but it also has its weak points. Some see it as a horrid material indeed since, as discovered by the european government in 1749, it is a material that was first used for missiles and bombs, before being properly sold to the public. Therefore, in some people, it does cause some terrible side effects, such as the dreaded rash.

anon309477

Many people think they are having allergic reactions to acrylic fabrics, but are most likely wearing the garments without first washing them. They may in fact be allergic to the sizing and other chemicals added to make the item look good on the shelf for the purchaser in the store. Also, we consumers never know what dust and other contaminants may have gotten on the fabric in transit from China and other foreign origins.

I would suggest 99 percent of folks put on clothes from the store, never thinking of who may have had the item on prior to their wonderful find and purchase. Then never wash out all of that questionable material before wearing.

anon308190

Acrylic does fine with me. I never had a problem and it's not itchy or scratchy like wool. I think it's great when combined with other fibers.

anon265320

This acrylic stuff is really annoying to wash. Anyone reading this, don't buy acrylic clothes.

anon216268

I saw a cute purple sweater dress at Bare Feet Shoes for $15. There was one on the mannequin and two left behind it. Both had holes, like the sweater was about to rip slowly, but the one on the mannequin seemed fine so I purchased it, came home and saw a hole on the bottom on the sweater dress forming. I read the label of what fabric it was and now I'm here posting that I will be returning this. It also says to hand wash cold. It's not worth it since I don't hand wash clothes.

anon214501

Great article! It was informative which is important to me as a consumer. Also beware of formaldehyde treated clothing, which can also cause skin irritations and allergies.

anon176161

I used to wear acrylic stuff and sweated like a pig, really embarrassing. saw some good knitwear today for a cheap price and was excited but found out it was acrylic.

everything's acrylic in stores these days and it's real bad quality. can't believe they sell this cheap crap just to make a profit.

anon175133

An allergy to wool is medically possible, but is extremely rare. Most people who say they are "allergic" to wool really have a skin irritation due to scratchy, coarse wool. Humans wore wool for thousands of years with no problem until artificial fibers were introduced. Guess who came up with the idea that you could have an allergy to wool?

anon172652

I also have a skin reaction to acrylic. It's basically "woven plastic." It's strong and durable, doesn't shrink and can be easily combined with stretch materials.

It is semi-flammable, and melts into black plastic goo which will stick dangerously to skin. Firefighters, for example, are prohibited from wearing this material.

Acrylic clothing, like many other synthetics, can cause excessive perspiration (and sometimes foul odors) by holding moisture against the skin during exercise.

anon169830

I tried on a scarf in the shop. it was 100 percent acrylic and now I have welts under my chin and across my neck and bust.

anon54492

My 11 year old daughter came home from school with a huge rash on her arms after wearing a sweater made with 100 percent acrylic. makes you wonder how safe acrylic is.

anon50964

it is a man made fiber

anon50926

What are the bad things about Acrylic?

anon41599

is it year round material?

anon39705

are acrylic fabrics flammable?

cynthiah

what is the fabric group classification of acrylic?

habura

Anon26690 - Acrylic fibers are manmade fibers.

anon26690

Are acrylic fibers naturally occurring fibers or man made?

anastasia

Pretty informative article. It's worth mentioning that thousands of people have become allergic, or sensitive, to acrylic. I'm one and I have to avoid it in all it's forms. That's why sites like this are needed. We need to know "what it is" or "what's in it"... Thanks

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