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What is Acrylic Fabric: The Comprehensive Guide

Currently, the textiles we come across can generally be classified into two categories: natural and synthetic. As a synthetic fabric, polyester is often regarded as a substitute for natural silk. Which synthetic fabric could replace wool as our ideal winter companion? The answer has emerged, it is acrylic.

What is Acrylic Fabric?

Acrylic fabric, also called “artificial wool,” is a type of synthetic fiber classified as a high-end chemical fiber. It closely resembles wool in terms of its properties and texture, providing a soft, fluffy feel and similar elasticity. However, the cost of acrylic fabric is significantly lower than that of wool, making it an attractive choice for cost-conscious individuals.

Acrylic fiber was developed by DuPont, an American company, in the 1940s and was initially known as “Orlon.” It was officially registered as a trademark in 1948. As a substitute for wool, acrylic fabric quickly gained acceptance and became widely popular during the 1950s and 1960s. 

In 1954, Bayer in Germany further enhanced the fiber’s performance, contributing to the advancement of acrylic fiber development. Today, China has emerged as the primary producer of acrylic fabric.

What is Acrylic Fabric Made of?

Acrylic is primarily derived from a synthetic polymer called acrylic acid, extracted from chemical products. 

The main production process encompasses polymerization, spinning, preheating, steam stretching, washing, drying, heat setting, curling, cutting, packaging, and textile production.

It begins with the by-product of petroleum refining, where propylene reacts with ammonia and oxygen in the presence of a catalyst to yield acrylic nitrile and other mixtures. Due to the high purity requirements of the polymerization process, purification and separation steps are necessary.

Purified acrylonitrile can be used to obtain polymer polyacrylonitrile by solution polymerization and suspension polymerization. In solution polymerization, chemical solvents serve as the medium for the polymerization process. 

On the other hand, suspension polymerization takes place in a water medium. The resulting polymer precipitates in a flocculent form, necessitating re-dissolution in a solvent. 

Various production processes for acrylic nitrile exist categorized based on the solvent. DuPont initially employed the dimethylformamide method.

The acrylic nitrile polymer is transformed into fibers through wet spinning or dry spinning techniques. Subsequently, it undergoes stretching and heat-setting treatments to enhance its strength and stability. 

After a series of treatments, the fibers are spun into yarn, suitable for weaving or knitting, offering a wide range of applications.

Types of Acrylic Fabric

Acrylic fabrics encompass a diverse range of categories. Each type possesses its distinct properties, and you will discover the ideal acrylic fabric for your needs below.

Acrylic

Acrylic fiber is a widely used acrylic fabric type that contains a minimum of 85% pure acrylic. Derived from petroleum, this polymer is skillfully crafted to emulate the texture of natural wool, providing a soft and lightweight sensation. It finds primary application in the production of cold-weather garments like sweaters, hats, scarves, and more.

Modacrylic

Modacrylic represents a modified form of acrylic fiber. It incorporates not only acrylic but also other monomers to produce a synthetic fiber. Developed during the mid-20th century, it comprises between 35% and 85% acrylic units. The addition of monomers like vinyl chloride can enhance specific properties. 

Modacrylic fibers exhibit flame-resistant qualities while retaining a soft and elastic texture. They also boast attributes such as mold resistance and chemical durability, making them well-suited for interior decoration and fire safety applications.

Nytril

Nytril is a synthetic fiber extensively employed in industrial applications, including tires, conveyor belts, and safety ropes. It made its debut in the mid-1940s. This fiber is primarily composed of vinylidene dinitrile, which imparts it with heightened strength, durability, and toughness.

Consequently, it stands as an excellent choice for high-performance requirements. When utilized in technical textiles, its properties can be further optimized. This enables it to uphold exceptional performance even under extreme conditions.

Lastrile

Lastrile is a fiber that provides enhanced elasticity compared to standard acrylic. It consists of a mixture containing 10%-50% acrylonitrile, combined with other components like butadiene. By harnessing this unique attribute, you can design sportswear that delivers exceptional performance,  leaving you pleasantly surprised.

Acrylic blend fabric

Acrylic blend fabric can bring together acrylic fibers with other fibers. Whether they are natural or synthetic, to achieve distinct performance characteristics. For example, when acrylic is blended with wool, it enhances the fabric’s softness, drape, and cost-effectiveness. The blending of acrylic with polyester results in a smoother surface appearance and increased durability.

Manufacturers combine acrylic fibers with a variety of other fibers to produce fabrics suitable for a wide range of applications, including clothing, interior decoration, and outdoor use. These acrylic blend fabrics offer remarkable versatility across various domains.

What is Acrylic Fabric Used for?

Acrylic fabric offers a wool-like texture at a more affordable price, making it worth exploring its practical uses in various fields.

  • Apparel: The softness and warmth of acrylic fabric ensure comfort in cold environments. Cardigans, sweaters, scarves, hats, and gloves made from acrylic fabrics are essential winter items that will keep you cozy.

  • Home Furnishings: Textiles used in your home experience frequent use. Whether it’s cushions for sofas and chairs, curtains, blankets, or carpets, choosing acrylic fabric guarantees durability and vibrant colors for all your household textiles.
  • Outdoor Use: Outdoor weather can be unpredictable, and fabrics are prone to mold and fading when exposed to water and sunlight. Acrylic fabric is resistant to fading and mold, so it can help mitigate these issues. Consider acrylic fabric when purchasing or designing outdoor gear.
  • Artistic Field: Acrylic fabric is cost-effective and effectively showcases colors. It is an ideal choice for creating theatrical props, and costumes. It is highly regarded by artisans for crafting projects such as plush toys, accessories, and knitting materials.
  • Industrial Applications: If you’re engaged in an industrial project that demands robust and long-lasting fabrics, modacrylics are an excellent choice. Its exceptional elasticity and chemical resistance make it a reliable assist for your work. However, exercise caution with regular acrylic fabric as it is flammable.

What Does Acrylic Fabric Feel Like?

Acrylic fabric is commonly regarded as a wool alternative, but when you get a hands-on experience, you’ll find it offers an incredibly soft and comfort. It is even lighter and less prone to scratching than wool.

The fluffy nature of acrylic fabric provides exceptional elasticity and resilience, resulting in a more comfortable and better draping feel. It enhances the overall appearance with improved aesthetics. However, it’s worth noting that acrylic is a synthetic fiber and may not replicate the feel of natural fibers like silk. Nonetheless, advancements in technology have significantly enhanced its tactile experience.

Advantages of Acrylic fabric

  • Acrylic fabric offers a soft, fluffy, or smooth texture, providing diverse experiences for you.
  • It is lightweight yet provides warmth, ensuring comfort without added heaviness.
  • Compared to natural fiber fabrics, it is more cost-effective while maintaining versatility for a wide range of applications.
  • High colorfastness preserves vibrant and long-lasting colors, even when exposed to sunlight.
  • Excellent elasticity retains the fabric’s shape, ensuring an appealing appearance.
  • Chemical and mold resistance guarantees the stability of acrylic fabric and simplifies maintenance.

Disadvantages of Acrylic fabric

  • Acrylic fabric is less breathable than natural fabrics, potentially reducing comfort when worn.
  • It tends to generate static electricity, causing dust to cling to the fabric and potentially irritate the skin.
  • Regular acrylic fabric is flammable and melts easily at high temperatures, so it is advisable to choose flame-retardant acrylic fabric for safety.
  • Acrylic fabric is prone to pilling, affecting its aesthetic appeal.
  • It has poor resistance to alkalis, which can lead to fading and damage, so it is important to avoid contact with alkaline substances during everyday use.
  • The production of acrylic fabric has a negative environmental impact.

Environmental Impact of Acrylic Fabric

Acrylic fabric is a synthetic fabric derived from petrochemicals, and its production and use can harm the environment and human health.

  • The production of acrylic fabric heavily relies on petroleum, leading to the excessive exploitation of this non-renewable resource.
  • During the manufacturing process, energy consumption not only results in greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution but also contributes to water scarcity due to high water usage.
  • Acrylic fabric involves the use of various chemicals, including solvents and dyes. Improper handling of these chemicals can cause pollution and pose risks to both the environment and human health.
  • The laundering of acrylic fabric has the potential to contaminate water resources with microplastics. 
  • If disposed of improperly, acrylic fabric takes a significant amount of time to decompose in the environment, releasing harmful substances that continue to pollute the surroundings.

How to Clean Acrylic Fabric?

  1. Follow the care instructions for regular maintenance.
  2. To ensure acrylic products retain their shape, avoid using hot water and scrubbing or wringing vigorously.
  3. Do not use alkaline detergents.
  4. Avoid tumble drying. Pure acrylic fabric can be air-dried normally, while blended fabrics should be dried in a cool and shaded area.

FAQs About Acrylic Fabric

Is acrylic a good fabric?

Acrylic fabric is a soft, highly colorfast, and affordable synthetic fabric. However, it falls short in terms of sustainability, and breathability, and is prone to pilling. Additionally, it is flammable. If you prioritize high-quality and sustainable fabrics, acrylic may not be the optimal option for you. However, if you’re seeking a cost-effective and practical fabric, it could be worth considering.

Is acrylic cotton or polyester?

Acrylic is distinct from both cotton and polyester. Although it shares its source with polyester as they are derived from petrochemicals, acrylic serves as a synthetic alternative to wool. It offers comparable softness and warmth.

Does acrylic fabric shrink?

Acrylic fabric is generally resistant to significant shrinkage, but it may experience some shrinkage under high-temperature conditions. Therefore, it’s important to handle acrylic fabric with care by using low-temperature settings during washing and drying.

Is acrylic fabric itchy?

Compared to wool, acrylic fabric is typically less likely to cause itching. However, if you have sensitive skin, it is advisable to exercise caution. You can try on acrylic garments or products before purchase to ensure they don’t cause discomfort or irritation.

Conclusion

Acrylic fabric is an economical synthetic option that can effectively replace wool. With its impressive performance capabilities, it lends itself well to a wide range of applications, appealing to both designers and craft enthusiasts. You’ll consistently uncover new highlights when working with acrylic fabric.

More Resources:

What is the Most Sustainable Fabric – Source: Sinosilk

What is the Most Breathable Fabric – Source: Sinosilk

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