How to Wash and Care for Acrylic Clothing

Keep Your Best Acrylic Sweaters Looking Like New

Acrylic knitted sweater with care labels being shown

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr, 30 mins - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to 10

Acrylic fabric is a synthetic material commonly used in everything from sweaters to socks to children's pajamas. Popular for decades because of their durability and easy care, acrylic fibers are also used prominently in blankets, upholstery, and even luggage. Fabrics can either be pure acrylic or included in blends with other natural and synthetic fibers. Sweaters that are 100% acrylic and other acrylic garments are easy to machine wash using a gentle cycle in the washing machine with warm or cold water, though some care labels may recommend dry cleaning. These items tend to have bulk and fluffiness similar to wool, making them a common choice for sweaters and other cold-weather clothing.

Acrylic fibers are quick-drying and draw moisture away from the body. The fibers are resistant to mildew, odor absorption, insect infestation, and deterioration from sunlight, oil, and most chemicals. The fibers hold their shape well and most acrylic garments are easy to wash in a standard laundry cycle. Most acrylic garments hold up well to tumble-drying at low temperatures.

Here's how to wash and care for your acrylic clothing.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer or drying rack
  • Large sink or tub
  • Pressing cloth
  • Iron


  • Laundry detergent
  • Stain remover


As with any garment, it is best to carefully read care labels and follow recommended cleaning guidelines for that specific piece of clothing. Most acrylic sweaters and clothes can be machine-washed. However, some labels may recommend dry cleaning because the trim or inner structure may not be washable.

Delicate items and sweaters should be hand-washed and dried flat to prevent stretching. To hand-wash acrylic clothing, use a gentle laundry soap or a standard liquid laundry detergent specified for delicates. Soak the items for 15 to 30 minutes before rinsing them in either warm or cold water. Avoid hot water, which can stretch the fibers.

Materials and tools to wash and care for acrylic clothes

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

How to Wash Acrylic Clothing
Detergent Regular
Water Temperature Warm or cold
Cycle Type Permanent press
Drying Cycle Low heat
Special Treatments Use pressing cloth during ironing to prevent melting
Iron Settings Lowest setting


  1. Pretreat Stains

    Stains on acrylic fabrics should be treated as soon as possible, following specific stain removal guidelines for the type of stain. Pretreat the stains at least 15 minutes before washing so the stain remover has time to break apart the stains and the wash water can carry them away.

    Acrylic knitted sweater spot treated with stain removal spray bottle on top

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  2. Load the Washer

    Use your favorite laundry detergent for acrylic clothes. If the garments are heavily soiled, the best thing to clean acrylic clothing with is a heavy-duty detergent like Tide or Persil to be more effective in removing soil. Acrylic fibers can build up excessive static, but a small amount of fabric softener in the final rinse will eliminate clinginess. (Or, you can later use a dryer sheet when you dry the load.)

    Laundry detergent bottles resting on open washing machine with acrylic sweater

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  3. Wash the Load

    Wash an acrylic sweater or garment in the washing machine using warm or cold water. Rather than shrinking, acrylic tends to stretch with heat, so never wash these garments in hot water. Select the permanent press cycle to help prevent wrinkles that are difficult to remove. If your washer has a high spinning rate for the final cycle (usually a high-efficiency washer), set the spin cycle rate to low.

    Washing machine set to permanent press for acrylic clothes

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida


    Do not overload the washer. Acrylic clothes should move freely in the washer to prevent wrinkling.

  4. Check for Stains After Washing

    Take a few seconds to check acrylic clothes for any remaining stains before tossing them in a dryer. Never place an acrylic garment stained with oil in a hot clothes dryer because the heat can set the oil stain permanently, making it almost impossible to remove.

    If the stain remains, repeat the pretreating step and wash the garment again.

    Acrylic sweater checked for stains after washing

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  5. Select a Drying Cycle

    Acrylic clothes should be tumbled dry on low temperatures. Do not use excessively high heat, which can damage fibers, causing them to stretch or set in wrinkles almost permanently. It is best to remove acrylic clothes while still slightly damp and hang to finish air-drying. 

    Drying machine set to tumble dry low

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  6. Iron at Low Temperature (if Necessary)

    If ironing is necessary, use a very low iron temperature, steam, and a pressing cloth to avoid melting the fibers. If the fabric becomes shiny or develops a hole, there is no way to reverse the damage.

    Iron on low temperature passing over acrylic clothing with pressing cloth

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

What Is Acrylic Fabric?

Acrylic is a manmade fiber produced with long-chain synthetic polymers composed of at least 85 percent acrylonitrile, a petrochemical. Like polyester and nylon, acrylic is essentially a form of plastic created by applying heat and pressure to petroleum distillates. When used for fabrics, the plastic mixture is extruded into long fibers, which are then dried and spun into yarns that can be woven into many types of fabric. To improve the fiber's ability to absorb dyes, the acrylonitrile is usually combined with small amounts of other chemicals prior to extrusion into fibers. After spinning, the acrylic yarns can be dyed in vibrant colors that don't fade over time.

Acrylic fibers are among the few synthetic fibers that have an uneven surface when manufacturing is complete. The fibers can be cut into short lengths and spun into threads that resemble natural fibers. They produce a fabric that drapes well and has a silky feel. Acrylic fabrics can have bulk but still be lightweight.

DuPont developed acrylic fibers in 1941 and gave them the trademarked name Orlon. By the mid-1950s, acrylic fibers and fabrics were in mass production for sweaters, gloves, and any product that needed to provide lightweight warmth.

Treating Stains on Acrylic Clothing

Because acrylic is a form of synthetic plastic, it does a fairly good job of repelling organic stains such as mustard, blood, or wine. A few minutes of presoaking the garment in a sink filled with a mixture of cold or warm water and gentle detergent, followed by standard machine washing set to a gentle cycle, is usually enough to remove such stains. While soaking, gently rub the fabric together at the stain location. It's best to avoid hard scrubbing at stains on acrylic fabric, as the fibers can be stretched, but with very tough set-in stains, some gentle scrubbing with a toothbrush may be needed.

Acrylic Clothing Care and Repairs

Ripped seams on acrylic clothes are easily repaired by hand- or machine sewing. Repairing large holes in the surface of the fabric will be more difficult, and the repair will likely be noticeable.

Storing Acrylic Clothing

Before storing acrylic clothes, be sure that they are thoroughly washed and dried. Sweaters and other knitted garments should be folded and stored flat to prevent stretching. Sweaters should never be hung up for storage. Shirts and blouses made with woven acrylic should be stored on hangers with ample space between garments to prevent wrinkling. If putting acrylic sweaters away for the season, place them in sealed plastic containers.

How Often to Wash Acrylic Clothing

Acrylic sweaters and other clothing generally hold up well with washing whenever they become dirty or musty-smelling. But this may well be less often than with other types of clothing fabric, since acrylic does not hold sweat and moisture, and does a good job of repelling many stains. But like other synthetic fabrics, repeated washing—especially machine washing and machine drying—will gradually weaken or stretch the fabric. With knitted garments like sweaters, try to limit washing in order to maximize their lifespan.

Tips for Washing Acrylic Clothing

  • Never hang up acrylics to dry, as the weight of the water may cause the fibers to stretch. This is especially important for knitted garments, such as sweaters.
  • Keep dryer temperatures to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Don't handle acrylic garments while they are still warm from the dryer, as the fibers are susceptible to permanent stretching.
  • Always read garment labels. Many acrylic garments are blends of acrylic and other fabrics, and they may have special instructions for care.
  • Acrylic garments that become mildly wrinkled can often be easily smoothed out by using light steam or by simply hanging the garment in a steamy bathroom.
  • When ironing, use the lowest practical temperature and avoid hard pressure, as this can easily stretch the fabric.
  • Is acrylic fabric flammable?

    Acrylic fabric is one of the more flammable synthetic fabrics. While it is not particularly easy to ignite, once it does begin to flame, it burns very hot and steadily. However, it can be treated with flame retardants to reduce this risk in clothing.

  • Does acrylic clothing shrink in the wash?

    No. In fact, if washed or dried in hot water, acrylic clothes are actually more likely to stretch and "grow" in size. Over time, many acrylic sweaters will become larger if they are washed in hot water.

  • What is the difference between acrylic and polyester?

    Both types of fabrics are created by treating fossil fuel distillates with heat and pressure until they polymerize into a liquid plastic that can be extruded into fiber threads. But the formulas are different, resulting in materials with different properties.

    Polyester fabric is a more versatile material, used in many different types of clothing, while acrylic tends to be used primarily for sweaters and other garments where a high insulating value is needed.

  • Is acrylic fabric harmful to the environment?

    Acrylic is a form of plastic, and some activists express concern about acrylic clothing shedding microplastics as they are routinely washed and rinsed. Further, the manufacturing process uses some notably toxic materials, such as formaldehyde, that may create hazardous conditions for factory workers.


Article Sources
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  1. What Is Acrylic Fabric? Sewport.