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Cotton vs. Acrylic Yarn: A Great Comparison!

If you are someone who has ever tried knitting or crocheting you probably know that there is a big variety of types of yarn. Some yarn is made from wool, others from bamboo, silk, or even banana fiber, however, the most common types we see are cotton and acrylic yarn.

Key Takeaways

  • Acrylic yarn is man-made from petrochemicals, while cotton is organic.
  • Cotton is a soft fabric and acrylic is rough.
  • Acrylic fibers hold water and cotton absorbs it.
  • Cotton can be tricky to work with for beginners.

What makes them different and why is that important?

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between cotton and acrylic yarn? To the everyday person, they might look the same, but anyone that has worked with fabric would tell you otherwise. 

The main difference is that acrylic yarn is a man-made fiber that is synthesized using polymers that are created from petroleum products, this makes the fabric affordable and easy to manufacture. On the other hand, cotton yarn is a completely natural plant-based fiber harvested from the cotton plant which is native to the tropical and subtropical regions around the world. This soft and breathable fabric is a staple in the clothing industry.

What are the advantages of acrylic yarn?

As we already mentioned this fiber is man-made by synthesizing petroleum products and making polymers. This fiber is pretty cheap compared to others because acrylic polymers don’t go through a rigorous washing and carding process. It is also very versatile!

Acrylic yarn can be as soft as cashmere or as warm as quality wool, therefore, it has excellent value for money and it is fairly easy to produce in mass quantity. Other benefits of this man-made fiber are that it is great for beginners and experienced knitters would not advise looking elsewhere when you are starting out. The acrylic yarn has a very good stitch definition and allows you to have a good grip while knitting.

As we mentioned, this fabric is very affordable, so if knitting or crocheting is something you like to do as a hobby acrylic is the way to go. It also comes in a wide variety of colors so you won’t be forced to settle on bland and boring clothes.

Another key factor in the popularity of acrylic yarn is that it is extremely durable, meaning it can last for years with little to no maintenance. You can simply throw it in the washing machine at any setting and it will be completely fine. If you are someone who likes to feel warm and cozy you will love acrylic yarn because it can keep you warm just as a quality wool blanket would.

What are the advantages of cotton yarn?

Cotton fiber makes a fabric that is highly absorbent and breathable which makes it a perfect choice for those hot summer days spent walking around under the blazing sun. Also, cotton can be very soft, so it feels soothing on bare skin.

The fabric however is not made to be stretched out. This can give you a nice opportunity to play with different shapes that can make clothing very appealing and unique.

Cotton, similar to acrylic yarn, is very durable and can last for years, however, you might want to wash it with colder water when using a washing machine, around 30 °C to 40°C, or wash it by hand. If you are not sure how to wash your fabric, simply read the label or ask the manufacturer.

Because it is a good absorbent, cotton is great for making household items such as pillows, blankets, towels, dishcloths, and rugs, as well as soft robes and baby clothes.

What are the disadvantages?

We already told you why are these fabrics great, but in order to help you choose which one is best for your needs, we are going to mention some of the disadvantages and the challenges you might face while dealing with these types of yarn.

Fabric made from acrylic yarn is not breathable and will hold on to the heat your body produces, it also holds water and odor so if you are walking around on a warm summer day it will not be pleasant. Because acrylic is basic plastic it melts at fire-like temperatures and it can cause severe burns, that’s why you shouldn’t place acrylic apparel near the fire. 

Some professional crocheters and knitters will tell you that the fabric may sometimes be lumpy or twisted giving you unwanted results. Lastly, this is not an eco-friendly choice since it is synthetic and petroleum-based.

On the other hand, dealing with cotton can also be challenging in some aspects. The yarn is made from natural fibers and that causes the fabric to wrinkle very easily, so if you prefer cotton clothes you might want to keep your ironing board around. Even though cotton can be dyed very easily, the color can start to bleed at high temperatures.

This means that we should not mix dark and light colors while washing cotton. Working with cotton yarn can be confusing especially for people that are just starting out.

Most find wool yarn to be easier to work with because they are more elastic when compared to cotton fibers. Last, cotton can be heavily sprayed with pesticides, as it does come from a plant. If this concerns you, you can always look for organic cotton.

Which one should I choose?

This is a question we, sadly, cannot answer for you. The answer depends on your personal preference and the type of project you are working on. If you want a cheaper yarn for making a warm blanket that will keep the heat in, you might choose acrylic yarn, on the other hand, if you are making a soft towel for your newborn baby you might want to choose cotton as it is more absorbent.

Both choices have their own pros and cons and it is up to you which one suits your needs best.

Further Reading

There are other articles for you to read; for example, you can find a great list of scissors sharpeners.

There’s also a blog that explains the best fabric for curtains; another one lists the top mini irons for sewing, while another blog explains how to close an ironing board.