Does 100% Acrylic shrink? How Shrink & Unshrink Acrylic

Acrylic fabric, also known as acrylonitrile or synthetic wool, is a popular choice among synthetic fibers due to its heat-retaining capacity. Most synthetic fibers show better shrink resistance than different bio fibers.

Does 100 Acrylic shrink

So, does 100% acrylic shrink?

Among various synthetic fibers, acrylic is normally more prone to shrinking. But again, compared to bio fibers, the shrinking is significantly less. Acrylic fabrics tend to shrink only when they’re exposed to high heat and moisture.

You can avoid shrinking your favorite acrylic clothes just by following some simple rules when washing them.

Give this article a read to learn how to avoid shrinking acrylic fiber. You’ll also learn how to shrink and unshrink different types of acrylic clothing as you wish.

What Is Acrylic Fiber?

Acrylic fiber is a type of synthetic polymer fiber in which at least 85% of the monomers are acrylonitrile. A monomer is a large molecule that can stack up and create a polymer material.

The rest of the monomers in different acrylic fibers can vary, but the most common ones are vinyl acetate and methyl acetate. Plus, acrylic fiber was first invented in the 1940s but got popularized by different businesses in the 1950s.

Fabrics and clothes made out of acrylic are known for their warmth, durability, and comfort. Acrylic is also very light, which is surprising as the rest of its quality heavily resembles a similar bio fiber, wool.

No wonder it slowly replaced the market of wool clothing

It’s often called synthetic wool, but it’s actually more durable and shrink-resistant than the original wool.

Bugs that damage clothes can’t get their way around most synthetic fibers, which is another reason why acrylic became so popular.

Nowadays, acrylic fiber is used to craft a versatile line of clothing and fabrics. One of the most popular lines is winter clothing like sweaters, vests, tracksuits, etc.

Acrylic is also used in blankets as a substitute material for wool. Fabrics made of acrylic don’t easily tear or fade.

How Much Does Acrylic Shrink?

Although acrylic fiber shows improved durability and shrink-resistance compared to any bio-fiber like cotton and rayon, when the comparison comes with synthetic fibers, acrylic falls off a bit.

Compared to nylon, polyester fiber, or most other synthetic fibers in the market, acrylic shrinks more when washed and dried. This is mostly because acrylic fiber has a very high water affinity.

Heat and moisture are the main two culprits behind shrinking fabrics. Damaged fibers just accelerate the shrinking process.

Acrylic isn’t as vulnerable to heat as it is to moisture. Heat actually has a peculiar effect on acrylic fibers.

Shrinking an acrylic fabric via heat requires achieving a very high temperature.

A moderate amount of heat will actually imply a reverse effect and make the fabric prone to getting stretched. When washed and dried in high heat settings, acrylic fabrics can shrink up to 10%.

Both the shrinking and stretching features of an acrylic fabric can be exploited to make them fit better. Also, if you just follow the proper washing procedure, avoiding shrinkage for any type of fiber is just a piece of cake.

Main Reasons Behind Acrylic Shrinkage

People often ask online, ‘Does acrylic shrink in the wash?’ and ‘Does the acrylic shrink in the dryer?’. Although the answers to both these questions are yes, you need to understand that it’s not the machines that are shrinking your fabric.

Using these machines with the right settings can keep your acrylic items from being shrunk. To understand these settings better, let’s take a look at some of the main factors responsible for shrinking acrylic fabrics.

High Heat

Most fibers in the market, especially plant-based ones, can’t retain their original shape when washed or dried in a high-temperature setting. Acrylic fiber isn’t an exception.

Rough Handling

You should always handle your acrylic fabrics gently, both for hand-washing and machine-washing.

Many people believe washing your clothes agitating makes them cleaner. While that may be applicable for a few cases, most of the time, washing in a rough manner will simply damage your fabric fiber and make it more likely to shrink.

Using Hard Chemicals

You don’t need hard detergents or chemicals to wash your acrylic fabrics. Hard chemicals, like rough washing, damage fibers and reduce shrink resistance.

Improper Storage

Acrylic fabrics are extremely vulnerable to humid spaces. If you store your acrylic clothes in a warm and humid space, they’ll gradually shrink to an unwearable shape.

Blends of Other Types of Fiber

You may not get a 100% acrylic fiber item in the market. Since it’s an artificial fiber, other fiber types, like cotton, rayon, etc., are often mixed with acrylic to enhance the comfort of the fabric.

These acrylic-cotton or similar kinds of blends are more prone to shrinking when exposed to heat and humidity.

How to Wash Acrylic Clothes Without Shrinking It?

Now that you know the reasons behind the shrinkage of your acrylic fabrics, let’s see how you can avoid that.

You may wash and dry your acrylic items using machines, or you may do them manually, but if you’re not careful, chances are you’re going to shrink them.

Washing acrylics is actually easier than many other fabrics as acrylic fiber is more resilient. Here is how you wash and dry your acrylic clothing so that they don’t shrink.

Know the Suitable Procedure

The preferred washing mechanism for acrylic clothing will vary by brand and clothing type. Some are advised to be hand washed only, while some may not have any restrictions at all.

Every clothing or item should have a care label mentioning the preferred washing method or specific washing tip if the item needs any. Make sure you wash the item in the mentioned way only.

Get a Mild Detergent

Washing your acrylic clothes with hard detergents and chemicals will never bear good results. If you don’t want your fabric fiber to be damaged and vulnerable, wash using mild detergents only.

Manage Water Temperature

If you wash your acrylic clothes in hot water, they’ll shrink for sure. That’s why, whether you wash your fabrics by hand or using a washing machine, always use lukewarm water.

For hand washing, get a tub or sink full of lukewarm water and mix a tablespoon full of a mild detergent that you managed. Stir the water by hand until it’s foamy.

Now, soak the clothes in the water for about 30 minutes. Soaking will help the detergent do its work.

For the washing machine, select the mildly warm water setting and gentle cycle. Avoid rough cycles because they’ll just damage your fabric fiber.

Finish Washing

If you’re washing by hand, pull the clothes out of the water and put them back in with mild force. Repeat this 2-3 more times, and the clothes should be well-cleaned.

Now, rinse the fabric under running water to wash all the soap away. Washing off soap is essential because soap remnants can weaken your fabric fiber.

Many people tend to wring out excess water from washed clothes to make them dry quickly. This is a horrible practice for most fiber types.

For acrylic and especially plant-based fibers, the best you can do to remove water is gently squeeze.

Dry Properly

After finishing washing, you can use a dryer to dry them or hang them out in the air.

Use your dryer in a low to medium heat cycle for acrylic clothes. Applying a high heat cycle will shrink the clothes severely.

Can You Shrink Acrylic Fiber?

Yes, you can shrink acrylic fiber if you want to. The process is rather simple, but the lack of control over it makes it very risky.

Especially clothes like sweaters, and jackets, which are made of acrylic, often come with a chemical coating that prevents them from shrinking.

To shrink these types of clothes, you need to melt off the coating first. You can hold the hot surface of an iron an inch away from the clothing to melt this chemical coating. The problem is if the iron touches your fabric, it may leave an ugly spot.

Even if the fabric doesn’t have a coating on it, shrinking it can go wrong in many ways. You’re only going to get somewhat control over the whole process.

That’s why shrinking the fabric too much is a very common occurrence.

Also, a rough 5-10% shrink may be easily achievable. But any more or less than that will be almost impossible to accomplish.

Acrylic doesn’t tend to shrink without applying extremely high heat. And with that level of heat, your fabric fiber can melt or get burnt.

How to Shrink Acrylic Clothes Step By Step

Shrinking acrylic might be risky, but the gain can be amazing if you manage to pull it off. Following the steps below can help you get a satisfactory outcome with your shrinking process.

Separate the Clothes You Wish to Shrink

Your acrylic shrinking process will be far more intense than any normal washing.

Shrinking wool can be done using medium to high temperatures. But for a synthetic fiber like acrylic, washing in the highest heat setting may only get a 5% shrink at best.

So, please don’t put any other fabric or clothes with your shrinking fabrics. A bio-fiber fabric will shrink to a gerbil if it accidentally gets in there.

Wash in Hot Water

Now, wash your fabrics in the washing machine’s highest heat setting. You’ll still need to use a mild detergent and avoid any sort of hard chemicals for the washing process.

And remember to use a gentle cycle. The acrylic shrinking process has a lack of controllability. You don’t want to exacerbate the situation by damaging the fabric fiber.

Dry in a Hot Cycle

After washing your fabrics, don’t wring out excess water. Give the fabrics a few gentle squeezes, and then get them in the dryer.

In the dryer, you’ll need to dry the fabrics in the high-heat cycle. Stop the dryer every 5-10 minutes to check how much your clothes have shrunk.

This way, you’ll get a little bit of controllability in the process.

Finish the Process

Once your fabric shrinks to almost the desired level, stop the dryer. Don’t try to achieve a perfect result because you’re most likely to shrink it too much when you attempt that.

After the shrinking is done, finish drying the fabric in a low heat cycle if it’s still wet. You can also hang it to dry after shrinking instead of drying it in the dryer.

How to Unshrink Acrylic Sweater and Knitted Items?

Acrylic is used to knit items like sweaters, blankets, beanies, etc. When acrylic is knitted into an item, it’s very susceptible to stretching.

So, unshrinking them shouldn’t be a problem for you.

Follow the process provided below to stretch or unshrink your acrylic items.

Machine Washing

What I’ll say next may sound confusing because, so far, we have heard that heat causes acrylic items to shrink. But heat can also make acrylic items stretch as long as it’s at a tolerable level.

In fact, only extreme heat shrinks acrylic items.

Get your items in mesh bags and wash them in the machine for the shortest cycle possible. Use medium heat settings for water.

Add a small amount of baby shampoo, hand wash liquid, or any other mild soap material for washing.

Drying in the Dryer

After finishing washing the item, tumble dry it at 120o F. Stop the drying process once every few minutes to check the progress.

Finishing the Process

If your item reaches almost your desired size, it’s better to stop the process. You may overstretch the fabric if you aim for a perfect result.

Also, if your item is stretched enough but is still damp, make sure to dry it completely before getting it out.

Grabbing and touching a warm and damp acrylic item will cause incoherent stretching here and there. This may even deform the item altogether.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does acrylic yarn shrink?

Acrylic yarn acts a bit peculiar when it comes to shrinking and stretching. Normally, acrylic yarns can shrink when exposed to heat. But after being knitted into a garment, it shows more tendency to stretch.

So, if you have knitted your yarn into a blanket, beanie, or garment, it’s not likely to shrink when washed. Avoid using high heat settings anyway when washing because fabric quality and properties can highly vary depending on manufacturers.

Also, acrylic yarn may not shrink under high heat, but it can melt. So, if you don’t want your favorite acrylic project utterly ruined, don’t wash or dry it in high-temperature settings.

How to hand wash acrylic yarn so that it doesn’t shrink?

Hand washing your clothes doesn’t often require an agitated process. Most people seem to believe otherwise. They use hot water, hard chemicals, and a high-heat drying cycle and, as a result, ruin their fabric. Washing yarn is a bit delicate process compared to washing normal clothes.

First, take a tub full of lukewarm water and add a small amount of soft detergent to it. Make the water foamy by stirring it with your hand. Now, submerge the yarn in the tub and let it sit there for a while. To get rid of dirt and debris, gently agitate the yarn fibers under water.

After a while, take them out and rinse them under cold running water. Remember, no soap should remain on the fibers. To dry the yarn up, roll the wet fibers into a towel and press it.

How to determine the necessary amount of shrinkage or stretching?

You can determine how much to shrink or stretch your selected clothing by comparing it to a similar piece that fits you well. Get a measurement tape and write down all the necessary dimensions to keep track of them. There is another way of getting the right fit for your shrinking clothes.

But it’ll require a lot more effort. The method is to wash the items in the highest temperature setting available in your washing machine. After washing, let the item cool down to a tolerable temperature. Now, wear it and let it dry in the air. It should dry to a fitting shape.

Final Words

Acrylic is a great alternative to natural and expensive fibers like wool and cashmere because of how it feels. And compared to most other fabrics in the market, the acrylic fabric is more shrink resistant, especially if it’s 100% acrylic.

So, does acrylic fabric shrink? To say, in short, 100% acrylic shrinks very little, and it does so only in extreme conditions.

Stay careful with the process you follow to shrink your acrylics, as it requires extreme heat settings.

Hi, I'm Robert Jameson. I'm a textile engineer. As a textile engineer, I design & create fabric. When I'm not busy with my family members, I research, write, and edit content for Fabric Fits.

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