A Guide to Acrylic Fabric
When selecting a fabric for your project, do you take the type of material into consideration? Knowing whether the fabric is cotton, polyester or acrylic can tell you a lot about how the fabric will perform. In order to help you pick the best material for the job, we’re going to feature six common fabric fibers and take a look at the pros and cons, variations, and source of each. Kicking off our series is acrylic, the fiber behind Sunbrella brand fabrics.
Acrylic is a synthetic man-made fabric that was originally developed to be an alternative to wool. Today it’s a widely popular fabric for its durability and ease of care. Acrylic is used in apparel, upholstery, rugs, awnings, boat and vehicle covers, luggage, blankets and stuffed animals.
How Acrylic is Made
Acrylic is made from Acrylonitrile, a colorless flammable liquid that is derived from polypropylene plastic. It is combined with other chemicals and placed into a spinning solution. The mixture is then either injected into air-filled space and dry spun or sprayed into water and wet spun. The fibers are then washed, dried and crimped. At this stage, the fibers are either long and continuous “tow” fibers or they are short “staple” fibers like wool or cotton. Both types of acrylic fiber can be woven into fabric, resulting in a different look.
Why Acrylic is Great
- Resists Shrinkage
- Doesn’t wrinkle
- Soil and oil resistant
- Resistant to sunlight and fading
- Moisture wicking
- Quick drying
- Resistant to mildew and insects
- Surprisingly soft
- Easy to clean
The Drawbacks to Acrylic
Acrylic does have a few drawbacks. The fabric is inherently hydrophobic (a tendency to repel water), which can be a plus, but this feature also makes the fabric prone to creating static electricity. It also has been known to burn easily and can be difficult to extinguish.
Acrylic is not the most abrasion resistant fabric. However, for most applications, adding chafe protection patches of a more abrasion resistant fabric to high wear areas will strengthen the fabric.
Additionally, some acrylic fabrics have been known to pill, leaving what looks like tiny lint balls all over. Higher quality acrylics, like Sunbrella, however, have been manufactured not to pill.
How Acrylics Vary
While all acrylics have some of the same inherent properties, there are a lot of variables that can change the way a fabric performs. Two of the most common variances are the weave and chemical or topical additives.
An acrylic woven with a very tight weave will keep water from seeping through the fabric. Acrylics with a looser, more open weave, however, are less water resistant because the water can pass through the holes left between the fibers.
Chemical and topical additives are often used with acrylic to enhance its features. For example, Sunbrella Marine Grade is pre-treated with a topical additive that enhances water repellency and mildew resistance. Acrylic can also be coated with polyurethane or vinyl to increase water repellency and abrasion resistance as in Sunbrella Plus and SeaMark.
As you can see, acrylic has a lot of benefits and can be a very versatile fabric. Different weaves and treatments make this fiber appropriate for a wide range of uses. Give acrylic a try in your home or on your boat.
Have you used acrylic fabrics for your projects? How have they performed for you?