How to Soften Acrylic Yarn & Save Your Project!

by Shehla Ahmed

I wanted to share a neat trick with you guys today. I’m sure everyone has picked up a skein of acrylic yarn that wasn’t exactly soft. You bought it, you used it and hoped the end result would be okay, but then your hard work just felt stiff and scratchy at the end. You put time and effort into it and you really don’t want to start over, so what do you do? How can you soften acrylic yarn?

 

how to soften acrylic yarn

 

When I started out, some of my family gave me a lot of Red Heart Super Saver. It was nice of them, but I needed a way to soften acrylic yarn. I’d seen people soften it before using it, but that seemed too risky. I didn’t want to throw the whole skein in the wash and get it tangled. And I didn’t want to use the whole thing right away! So I played around and figured out how to soften acrylic yarn after I made my piece.

 

 

How to Soften Acrylic Yarn

 

This is a really easy way to soften acrylic yarn, especially yarn that can be stiff as well as scratchy. I used Red Heart Saver and SC to make the scarf I’m using as an example here. You’ll just need a few things you probably already have around.

  • Hair conditioner (any is fine)
  • a plastic bin* or a sink you can stop
  • towel
  • dryer (optional)
  • Blocking mats* and pins (optional)

 

1. First, knit or crochet your project. I found it easier to soften the yarn after making the item because it took care of blocking at the same time. Also, I didn’t have to worry about pre-treating the yarn before I started, and I could just do it all at the end.

 

 

2. Next, fill your sink or a plastic bin with warm water and submerge your item in it. The item will absorb water so add more if you need to in order to keep it submerged. Let it sit for a minute or two and get the fibers soaked.

 

 

3. Add two or three pumps of hair conditioner to the water and mix it around to get it bubbly. Any conditioner is fine; I used whatever I happened to be using at the time, which was Pantene Pro-V, but it doesn’t matter. Massage the conditioner into the item like you would with your hair. It’s doing the same job, really, by adding moisture and softness into the strands. Then, let the item soak for another half hour.

 

 

4. Rinse the item out with cool water and gently squeeze any excess water out into the sink. Be gentle and work in sections to get as much water out as you can. The fibers are more delicate when wet so don’t twist or wring the piece because that could damage your stitches. Then, using a towel, go over it again. It should just be damp when you’re done.

 

 

Blocking

Now you have two options: you can either lay the item out on a towel or a blocking mat and block the item to finish as you normally would, or you can dry it the rest of the way in your dryer. For items that you want to keep a certain shape, like sweaters or gloves, I would recommend blocking them. But for simpler items like this scarf, you can just put it in the dryer without worrying about it becoming misshapen.

 

Related: All About Blocking Crochet and Knits

 

If you don’t know how to block things or if your item needs blocking, go ahead and click the image above for a post all about blocking. There’s also a freebie there!

 

 

For the dryer option, throw the item into the dryer for 40 minutes on a low heat setting. You can also use a dryer sheet to prevent static if you like. If the item isn’t completely dry in 40 minutes, you can dry it a while longer, or let it air dry the rest of the time.

 

 

That’s it! Your item should be soft now and move the way you want it to. Although it takes a while to get it soft like this, a lot of that time is spent letting the item soak or dry, so it doesn’t need much attention from you. This is the best way I’ve found to soften acrylic yarn, and it’s worked great on everything I tried it with.

 

You only need to do this the FIRST time you wash. You can repeat it and try to get softer results, but after a while, it doesn’t do much more. After that, you can just throw in the wash as you normally would and not worry about it.

 

 

 

Using Higher Quality Yarn

 

If you really want super soft acrylic yarn, the best thing is to just buy higher quality yarn. When I wrote this post, I used whatever I had because I needed to use it up. But since then, I’ve found so many yarns I prefer to use over scratchy acrylic. And they aren’t expensive or hard to find at all! You can find them right alongside the Red Heart Super Saver and get better quality for the same prices. I have a big list here of all my favorite yarns and what I like to use them all for if you want to see what I use. 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading!

I hope this makes your crocheting and knitting a little more relaxing since you don’t have to worry about scratchy yarn.  I share new patterns and tips every week, so subscribe down below to get new posts, patterns, and tips in your inbox along with access to the resource library! That’s where I keep all my best resources and printables and it’s totally free 🙂

See you soon!


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54 comments

Devorah September 16, 2019 - 7:17 pm

I decided to make a baby sweater on a deadline, but the yarn store had a very small selection in the colors I wanted today for some reason.
So I bought a cheap acrylic yarn, but it worked up really scratchy.
I tried your trick on a swatch, and worked so well! Thank you!

Reply
Shehla Ahmed September 19, 2019 - 1:22 pm

That’s great to hear!

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Megan October 6, 2019 - 3:55 pm

Will putting your project in the dryer shrink your project at all?

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Kitty October 6, 2019 - 7:02 pm

Megan if it’s acrylic, a hot dryer will actually melt/stretch/warp your project. Cotton may shrink. The yarn packaging should have wash instructions but if not play it safe and air dry or dry cool.

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Amanda Edgeworth July 24, 2019 - 4:26 pm

Thank you for these helpful tips! I forgot about the how to soften scratchy yarn reminders are always helpful! Blocking I have never done so this is really awesome. Thanks again! Amanda

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Shehla Ahmed July 26, 2019 - 4:41 pm

No problem, I’m glad it helps! It’s been a while since I had to use these techniques since I usually find better acrylic now, but it’s always good to know in case I need it!

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Bananboi Beanie – Moon Kingdom Crochet May 4, 2019 - 11:12 am

[…] One Pound Yarn:This works up very firm, so it may need a little softening. There’s lot of methods online, but they’re basically all the safe. Wash with shampoo, and […]

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Mock Turtleneck Sweater – Moon Kingdom Crochet May 3, 2019 - 3:56 pm

[…] One Pound Yarn:This works up very firm, so it may need a little softening. There’s lot of methods online, but they’re basically all the safe. Wash with shampoo, […]

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Kim April 2, 2019 - 8:49 am

I’ve soaked and washed acrylic skeins in the washing machine with zero tangling. I first wrap the yarn around my arm like a rope or hose, and tie the whole ring in several places with short pieces of yarn, as if you were tying it into a circular wreath. I use a different color of yarn to tie and help me find the ends later, and to make sure they don’t knot around the circle. Wash on gentle. After washing, I remove the ties and hang the circle on a clothes hanger to dry, or lay it on a towel, fluffing it a bit every once in a while to help keep the fibers from compressing.

Thanks for this post. It’s going to come in very handy when I move & won’t have a washer yet. Your blog is great.

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Loreen Buford March 19, 2019 - 11:43 am

Spraying the items with water and using a fabric softener sheet in the dryer will give the same results without all that work.

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Shehla Ahmed March 23, 2019 - 2:34 pm

Thanks, Loreen, that one is new to me! I’ll be updating this post with more alternatives soon.

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PatLee December 31, 2018 - 3:08 am

I soften yarns by washing in washer with detergent and dry in the dryer using a dryer sheet or two. Works very well! I do this with Super Saver and any other yarn that seems to have a stiffening agent on it.

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Kitty September 1, 2018 - 3:12 pm

Hi! I’m just trying this out on a baby blanket that turned out super scratchy, and wanted to ask what kind of results anyone has had after subsequent washings? I’d like to wash it with detergent after treating with conditioner to make sure it doesn’t irritate baby’s skin, but I’m afraid it will lose its softness. Have your acrylic projects stayed soft after laundering as usual?

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Shehla Ahmed September 1, 2018 - 4:52 pm

Hi Kitty,

Washing it afterward won’t undo this process. It will stay soft and even get softer after more washing!

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Anon August 16, 2018 - 8:03 pm

Scary question, but would this work on cotton yarn too?

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Shehla Ahmed August 16, 2018 - 8:14 pm

Absolutely! Cotton gets softer and softer as you wash it it anyways, so try washing it normally a few times and see if that helps first. This is more for hard to soften acrylic so it’s a little more of a process

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Michael Ann July 27, 2018 - 12:56 pm

Thank you so much. I just made a beautiful cabled poncho in a Loops and Threads yarn that FELT soft, but now that the project is done, it doesn’t drape very well. The edges are stiff and it looks so awkward on, I don’t want to wear it 🙁 It’s so beautiful I don’t want to take it all apart! I thought maybe I could soften it somehow and found your post. I’m soaking it now. Wish me luck!!

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Rebekah July 5, 2018 - 8:09 pm

Hi Shehla, have you used this technique for baby projects? I’m using a worsted self striping yarn right now that gives me the look and colours I want but it’s a little stiff. Don’t know if I should use a gentler conditioner in case the baby has allergies or if it really won’t matter.

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Shehla Ahmed July 5, 2018 - 8:13 pm

It won’t matter, since the conditioner is wanted out. You could use an fragrance free conditioner or soak meant for knitting/crochet if you want to be sure. The fragrances are usually the reason for irritation in most things.

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Pamela April 24, 2018 - 9:22 pm

Pamela
Wow thanks heaps. I’m making a rug now with leftovers and it’s very scratchy, can’t wait to see the results.

Reply
Shehla Ahmed May 9, 2018 - 11:45 am

I’m glad it helps Pamela!

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Anonymous December 29, 2017 - 4:07 pm

Is it necessary to repeat this procedure after each washing of the garment?

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Shehla Ahmed December 29, 2017 - 4:15 pm

No, just the first time!

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Anonymous October 19, 2017 - 8:08 pm

I try not to buy acrylic yarn that doesn’t feel soft in the skein. I never buy Red Heart because it’s so scratchy. I have found some really nice but inexpensive acrylic yarn at Herrschners.com. Their own brand comes in 8 and 12 ounce skeins and the colors are beautiful. Sometimes you can get the 8 oz skeins for $1.99! I also like willow yarns. They have several 100% acrylics that are beautifully soft and one bamboo blend that is sooo lovely and nice to work with. I happen to prefer working with dk weight rather that worsted weight and Willow Fawn is a wonderful yarn for childrens clothes and blankets. I will pass the tip along to my friends who knit/ We have a prayer shawl ministry and we get a lot of leftovers that aren’t so nice and soft and this will fix the problem.

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Shehla Ahmed October 22, 2017 - 1:00 pm

I’ve been using the Yarn Bee acrylic lately and it’s so soft! I used this trick a lot before I found it and it’s helped save so many projects. Thanks so much for sharing it with your friends! I hope they get good use of it 🙂

Reply
Julia Nyanyo May 31, 2017 - 3:47 pm

What a great tip, thanks for sharing.

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Shehla | The Blue Elephants June 1, 2017 - 4:18 pm

No problem, I’m glad you found it helpful!

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Heather Ingraham April 20, 2017 - 1:15 am

Thank you , I shared this on my facebook page Nana’s Knits

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Shehla | The Blue Elephants April 20, 2017 - 10:03 pm

Thanks, Heather! I’m glad you found it useful 🙂

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Gail ADAMS February 14, 2017 - 9:07 pm

Wonderful tip for softening yarn and will definitely try this. Love your patterns.

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Shehla Ahmed February 15, 2017 - 9:18 am

Thank you! It’s my tried and true method and the easiest way I’ve found!

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Haleigh Barnhart February 12, 2017 - 4:17 pm

Would I be able to soak it in my bathtub if I am making an afghan?

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Shehla Ahmed February 12, 2017 - 4:52 pm

Yes! I do that for mine too. You can also use a large plastic tub if you need the bathtub free.

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annie February 11, 2017 - 2:52 pm

I never prep, I use red heart for almost everything. I just wash on cold delicates, then pop in dryer for about 20-30 mins with dryer sheet. It always comes out soft and does not lose shap.

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Shehla Ahmed February 11, 2017 - 3:22 pm

I like to prep for projects that I’d like a little softer than a normal wash, but it’s totally about preference!

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Loreen Buford March 19, 2019 - 11:46 am

Exactly! Why do all that prep work to get the same results. For double softness, you can even add a liquid fabric softener in the final rinse.

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Nicole January 6, 2017 - 10:43 pm

Do you have to redo this every time you wash? Thanks!

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Shehla Ahmed January 6, 2017 - 10:57 pm

No, just the first time! You can machine wash as you normally would after.

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Cat McMorris November 13, 2016 - 8:53 am

I never use ANY heat at all with my acrylic yarn projects. I always air fluff them until dry in the dryer. I do this even with the sweaters that I buy too. I have found this works best and the sweaters keep their shape better without blocking evetytime.

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Shehla Ahmed November 13, 2016 - 2:02 pm

Thanks for the tip, Cat. I only need to block it the first time, but then I machine wash and dry as usual. I haven’t had any problems using heat, but I’ll try to air dry a few items and see if there’s a difference.

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khairieh November 2, 2016 - 6:41 am

I used the same method for a sweater I made from rough untreated sheep wool, it worked great. Thanks for letting me know it works on acrylic as well 🙂

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Shehla Ahmed November 2, 2016 - 11:57 am

Oh wow, even works on untreated wool? I’ve never used wool like that before but it’s great to know this will still work! It’s so easy and gentle on the materials.

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Kimberlee August 30, 2016 - 7:27 pm

What a great and interesting idea. I like using the Hobby Lobby I Love this Yarn which is softer than some acrylic yarns I have used but it could still use a little softening. I look forward to trying this. Thanks. Pinned.

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Shehla Ahmed August 31, 2016 - 11:38 am

Thanks! I get I Love This Yarn whenever I can because it is softer and the colors tend to be richer. Sometimes Red Heart has more color options though, so I like knowing that I can get the yarn softer if need be.

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Jess July 28, 2016 - 11:29 am

What a great tip!

I would love for you to share this with my Facebook Group for crafts, recipes, and tips: https://www.facebook.com/groups/pluckyrecipescraftstips/

Thanks for joining Cooking and Crafting with J & J!

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Shehla Ahmed July 28, 2016 - 1:47 pm

I hope you find it useful next time you have scratchy yarn that needs saving!

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Shehla Ahmed May 30, 2016 - 9:10 pm

Thank you! I love using this kind of yarn when I'm still testing out patterns or trying a new stitch pattern, so it's great to know that I can make something soft with it too!

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Crochet Hooks May 30, 2016 - 9:09 pm

too neat! love how simple this is. sometimes the more colorful yarn is so rough so this would work great to soften the yarn! thanks for sharing the idea!

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Shehla Ahmed May 24, 2016 - 5:15 pm

You'll love it!

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Jessica Abegg May 24, 2016 - 5:14 pm

I have some Red Heart I will have to try this with!

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Gina Soldano-Herrle February 27, 2016 - 5:49 pm

I'll check them out. I saw that they're crochet. I usually stick to knitting. I have a hard time keeping up with crochet. But since you have some beginner projects, maybe I'll give it another try.

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Shehla Ahmed February 27, 2016 - 12:26 am

I am so glad you found it helpful, Gina! If you liked this post so much, I really think you'll like the other posts I put up! Be sure to subscribe for the updates and the free ebook!

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Gina Soldano-Herrle February 27, 2016 - 12:22 am

I love this post!!!!! I had a ton of acrylic yarn and hated using it. It was just so scratchy. I've already pinned this for later. It's something that's so useful to me! I can't thank you enough!! 😀

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Jess February 12, 2016 - 10:58 pm

What a great tip! Who'da thought?! 🙂

Thanks for joining Cooking and Crafting with J & J!

Reply

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