Yarn Matters: Acrylic vs Cotton Yarn

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Yarn -- we all love it! As makers, we can all understand the rush of picking up a beautiful new yarn and daydreaming about the projects we'll complete with it. After all, yarn is fun! There are so many different colors, textures, and weights to experiment with. In a way, that's also an issue. How in the world do we know which yarn to choose for our upcoming project? When it comes to knitting and crochet, there are two popular yarn types: cotton and acrylic. What's the difference, and why does it matter? Read on to find out!

Acrylic Yarn

The Good

Acrylic yarn is perhaps the most popular yarn choice due to its low price and widespread availability. Acrylic yarn tends to be very cost-effective, and can be found in nearly any craft store or department store. There are plenty of color options as well! Projects made with acrylic yarn are easy to clean, since they can simply be thrown in the washer and dryer (without shrinking!) Acrylic yarn also tends to be easy to use for beginners.

The Bad

As cute, colorful, and convenient acrylic yarn is, it does have one major drawback. Acrylic yarn isn't great for the environment. Acrylic yarn is essentially made of plastic. More specifically, acrylic yarn is manufactured from petroleum products, which are melted and spun into long, thin fibers to replicate the feel of wool yarn. Unfortunately, this means that when the yarn is washed, it releases tiny plastic fibers called microplastics into the water supply. Check out this information from darngoodyarn:

"Each time that acrylic yarn is washed in a standard in-home washing machine, approximately 730,000 microplastics are released into the water. Although microplastics are microscopic in size, they add up fast. Studies have concluded that up to 85% of the man-made waste on shorelines around the world is made up of microplastics! It has also been proven that, when items made with acrylic yarns are disposed of, they can take up to 200 years to fully biodegrade. Because of this, synthetic yarns contribute to the world-wide plastic pollution crisis. "

Acrylic yarn can't be recycled, and it isn't biodegradable, so a product that's reached the end of its life will sit in a landfill forever. What a bummer!

Cotton Yarn & Other Natural Fibers

The Good

Cotton and other natural fibers, such as hemp, bamboo, or silk, make for beautiful garments, home décor, and personal care products. Not only is this yarn soft and breathable, it also withstands heat better than its plastic counterpart. The best part of it all? Cotton yarns are made from plants, not plastic! They aren't produced using chemicals or any artificial materials. This means that cotton yarns and other natural yarns are biodegradable. Once the yarn has reached the end of its life, it only takes about 5 months to decompose naturally. Cotton yarn is also easy to wash, and can be thrown in the washing machine using cold or warm water.

The Bad

Yarn made of natural fibers can be harder to find. When you enter a craft store, you may be disappointed to find just a few color options and only a couple brands of cotton yarn. Typically, the shelves are stocked with acrylic yarn, since it is cheaper to buy and produce! Thankfully, online shops such as KnitPicks, Hobbii, and Yarn.com have tons of great options at affordable prices, and your local yarn shop likely does, too!

The Final Verdict

While acrylic and cotton yarn both have their pros and cons, we much prefer to use cotton and other yarns made of natural fibers whenever possible. Not only do they get softer with each wash, withstand heat, wash easily, and look great, they're also eco-friendly!

Don't worry -- we aren't asking you to get rid of all your acrylic yarn. While natural fibers are better for the environment and produce higher-quality items, we understand that knitting and crochet can be expensive hobbies. Sometimes, it simply isn't possible to use natural fibers due to cost or availability. We are stoked to see that knitting and crochet is more accessible with acrylic yarn -- we just wish it wasn't so harmful for the environment! While we make it a point to use exclusively natural fibers for our products, we still occasionally buy acrylic yarn for personal use, especially from secondhand shops and resale stores, in an attempt to give it some use before it's thrown away.

No matter which yarn you use, thanks for reading and happy crafting!

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