Wool Vs. Acrylic Fabric : Key differences {& which is better}

wool vs acrylic

You are not to blame if you go to a showroom and get confused between wool and acrylic sweaters, scarves, and socks. It is a universal confusion.

In fact acrylic is a synthetic material made to mimic the qualities of wool, and if choosing between wool and acrylic fails to confuse you, then the material itself is a failure.

The tactile feel of both the fabrics can be the same, the look of both fabrics can be the same, warmth of both may be equal….

But as in everything, no two things are the exact same. There are some subtle differences and some glaring differences, and many advantages of one over the other.  

Let us see how acrylic fares against the ever favorite wool – as yarn and as a fabric, and as batting.

Wool yarns vs Acrylic yarns

If you love crocheting and knitting, you must already have a favorite yarn type.

For most knitters, choosing between acrylic and wool is easy and straightforward. They know which one to use. Maybe even without knowing the properties that make them a favorite. Here is an outline.

The main difference between wool and acrylic fibers is that acrylic is a synthetic material, whereas wool is a natural fiber.

Acrylic is an artificial fiber that originates from petroleum-based products. Acrylic fiber has acrylonitrile molecule as its main component. Wool is a protein fiber derived from animal fibers.

While wool has been used for centuries, acrylic has emerged recently as an option

A lot of knitters prefer acrylic because of its inexpensiveness and also the availability of a variety of colors – with gradation effects, rainbow effects, lustered, iridescent effects, and what have you. Wool yarns may not be available in this variety.

Then there are the blends – wool and acrylic blends are ever favourites because they make use of the better qualities of each type of fibers to the best of their abilities.

 

Acrylic fabrics vs wool fabrics


Advantages of Wool Fabric

Wool is a protein fiber that humans have known for the longest time. Since the prehistoric era, humans as hunters have used animal skin to keep themselves warm.

When humans experienced shame, that is when they discovered wool – because wool covered the animals, they figured it could cover them as well. Thus, woolen yarn is humans’ most primitive and basic fabric.

“Earliest civilizations used animal skins to protect themselves from the environment; people soon learned how to pound wool and goat hair into felt or weave it into cloth. Wool was the most common fabric used to make clothing in Mesopotamia,” says encyclopedia.com

The commonly known wool is mostly obtained from the animal fur of sheep and goats. There are many other different kinds of wool. Fundamental features of wool are that the fabric and yarn are densely textured, and warm.

Wool is one of the most popular and sought-after fabrics because of its natural insulating property. When we talk about winters and warmth-giving garments, wool is the first thing that comes to our minds. Wool yarn is perfect for making bulky hefty winterwear.

Recently, it has been slowly losing importance because of its high price, unavailability, and access issues. There are many substitutes that can surpass the softness of wool and beat it in price. But the wool fabric is still considered a premium quality fabric with a ton of advantages.

 Wool is moisture-wicking. This means it can absorb moisture (read sweat) and you will feel comfortable in it, even when too warm and sweating.

Wool is an age-old fiber, and it lasts for years. Wool items are durable and last a lifetime, so many consider woolen clothing an investment, rather than just a use-and-throw garment.

Wool resists odor and also bacterial growth. So, you can keep it safe for years. This is the same reason you would find sweaters and shawls of your grandparent’s generation intact even today.

Wool is naturally elastic and holds its proper shape even when stretched. Woolen garments like sweaters and scarves will bounce back into their shape even after you stretch them.

Wool is a fire retardant material. That means it will resist fire to a degree. This property adds considerably to the appeal of wool. Unlike many synthetic fibers, wool will not catch fire fast or be melted by flames easily.

Unprocessed raw wool may be itchy and poky because it is a natural fiber. But most Woolen yarns are processed before usage, making them softer and less itchy.

Advantages of Acrylic fabric over wool

The most important advantage of Acrylic fabric is that it is cheaper than wool. The process of manufacturing wool is more expensive than manufacturing acrylic. This also increases the cost of the woolen end products. Woolen garments are much more expensive than garments made of synthetic fibers like acrylic.

Pure wool or 100% natural woolen fiber cannot be machine washed, making it inconvenient to maintain, for many who dislike hand washing/dry cleaning. When it is washed rigorously, shrinkage is inevitable. If washed aggressively, the wool may felt, and that may not be a look you want. So, it becomes difficult to care for the woolen fabric for daily use.

Acrylic is a lot easier to take care of than wool. You can even machine wash acrylic garments.

Animal lovers may love acrylic because you don’t have to depend on livestock and animals for manufacturing acrylic. No cruelty involved; no exploitation. Acrylic is derived by dissolving polymers chemically in a solvent.

As wool is sourced naturally from livestock, and the livestock are bred in captivity for obtaining wool, and shearing the fiber from goats or sheep involves a lot of brute force. This is a messy process and is disapproved by many. On the other hand, synthetic fibers can be biochemically manufactured through various processes without involving any living beings.

Acrylics are not affected much by chemicals.

Acrylic fibers are excellent for dyeing and color retention. So, they can be used to create various designs and modern designer clothes that are impossible with wool. It is very difficult to dye pure woolen yarns, which limits their usage.

Acrylic fabric does not wrinkle. They are stretchable yarns that retain shape very well and do not get deformed even after processing or repeated washing.

Acrylic fabric does not attract any mites or insects. They are resistant to all types of insect attacks. Plus one for ease of maintenance. It takes extra effort to safeguard wool from insect attacks.

Many people are allergic to wool, so your choice will definitely be acrylic fabric. There is a natural protein component present in wool known as Lanolin. It is a potential allergen for many people and they usually stay away from wool.

Acrylic fabric generally does not cause any allergies. 

Acrylic fabrics are very soft – nowadays, they are made to be softer than the softest of wool. Not to say anything about the rough and textured ordinary wool.

Acrylic fabric is highly durable. They generally last a long time.

Disadvantages of acrylic over wool

Though acrylic has emerged to be a popular option in the fabric world, some disadvantages of using acrylic can be summed up as follows:

Acrylic fabric is not a breathable fabric. Wool adjusts according to the temperature, so you will be comfortable even when it is warm or cold.

Acrylic is a synthetic material, and all synthetic fibers melt and burn quickly when exposed to flame. When exposed to high temperatures, they burn very quickly. Acrylic can catch fire easily. (In its variation as modacrylic it can be flame retardant)

Acrylic fibers are not as strong or durable as wool.

Acrylic as a garment fiber is not at all breathable, and you may feel more uncomfortable wearing acrylic than you would with wool Most acrylic garments pill a lot.

If you find pilling annoying avoid acrylic as a dressmaking fabric.

If your acrylic sweater is wrinkled you will have to use a steam iron to iron it out – high heat iron pressing can damage acrylic fibers.

Wool yarn vs Acrylic yarn

Wool yarn and Acrylic yarn are both used for knitting, crocheting clothing and accessories, and creating multiple arts and craft items.

Acrylic yarn is a manufactured man-made fiber made out of petroleum chemicals. Acrylic fiber is a 100% synthetic material made to imitate wool. It is meant to have the insulation capacity of wool but it is a synthetic fiber like nylon but with greater loft and bulk. Acrylic fibers are light in weight.

Acrylic has other features like durability and easy maintenance. Acrylic fibers were created to mimic natural wool fibers in appearance and functionality. Acrylic is also a cheaper option than wool. Acrylic yarn is best suited for making regular daily use projects because of its easy-to-care nature.

Summing up Differences Between Acrylic and Wool

Acrylic

  • Man-made artificial synthetic fiber
  • Source of Acrylic – Petroleum and mineral oil based. Synthetically produced through chemical engineering.
  • Low on maintenance.
  • Will shrink only under the influence of heat
  • Only rare people have allergies to chemical-based acrylic.
  • Flammable Highly inflammable and can burn quickly.
  • Not breathable and generates sweat
  • Cheap and affordable
  • Usually bulky.

Wool

  • Organically sourced from animal fleece and coat.
  • Shrinks every time it is washed.
  • Breathable
  • Maintenance needs time and effort. It cannot be washed like regular garments. Requires expensive cleaning agents
  • Many people have allergies to the Lanolin present in wool.
  • Somewhat flame resistant.
  • Expensive
  • Available in many weights but less bulky than wool.

Questions

Which Fabric is Warmer? Acrylic or Wool

Wool is warmer than acrylic. Woolen fiber has better insulation and thus offers better warmth. The woolen fibers trap air between them that acts as insulation
Original acrylic (earlier variants) was not even closer to wool regarding warmth and heat protection. However, some modern textile engineering methods produce acrylic that gives more warmth. But, it can never match the comfort and breathability of wool.
Wool is always a better choice in manufacturing woolen garments or blankets and quilts. Some varieties of acrylic offer warmth similar to wool, but the comfort of wool is still higher

Acrylic felt vs Wool Felt

This is a very difficult choice because of a number of reasons – for one, you may not get woolen felt as easily as craft acrylic felt, so if you are not getting it what is the whole purpose of the question? Acrylic felt is found easily across craft stores. From preparing school projects to holiday decorations at home, acrylic felt is the top choice of craft enthusiasts all over the world. 
Wool felt, on the other hand, is not easily available. You will hardly get ready-made wool felt to work with. One has to take up a woolen ball and felt the fiber to get a considerably sized piece for the craft. 
Wool felt is thicker and dence it is difficlut to cut and sew especialy if there are many layers. Acrylic is easier to work with.  
Acrylic felt is available in a wide range of hues appropriate for multipurpose usage.

But those who use them swear by wool felt. It has a unique charm and softness. Wool felt can be great for occasional unique decorations and also for applique on garments.

Which Fabric is More Comfortable to Wear?

Woolen fabric is more comfortable to wear. As already discussed, wool is more breathable and gives superior warmth and insulation against cold weather. Moreover, wool is breathable and moderately moisture absorbing.
Acrylic, on the other hand, cannot absorb sweat and is not breathable. Thus, wool is a better choice in terms of functionality.

 

But Why do Many  still Prefer Acrylic Over Wool?

Acrylic is cheaper than wool. Moreover, it is easily sourced and needs significantly less maintenance. One can preserve acrylic in the same condition for a long time without much care.
Acrylic is not subject to shrinking or wrinkling and holds color very well. People are not usually allergic to acrylic; they can be destroyed only when very high heat or flames are used to burn them.

Conclusion

Each has its sets of pros and cons but acrylic is more easily available and is cheaper. Wool is better suited for long lasting outer garments, while acrylic is better for crafts and for discardable though highly useful garments.

Are you still confused ? I am! The choice depends on your own priority – whether it is for a natural fiber (Choose wool) or if you are ok with a synthetic fiber which is cheaper (Choose acrylic) ; whether it is on a tendency to be allergic (Choose acrylic); or you are particular about breathability (Choose wool) or on your need for a bulky but softer and lightweight garment (Choose acrylic) or you are particular about conservation of nature as it is (Choose wool) or you love versatility and variety in your material choice (Choose acrylic)

What would you choose?.

Related posts : Info about acrylic fabric ; Different names for wool fabrics.

Updated on August 18, 2022 by Sarina Tariq

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