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How to Tell if Yarn Is Wool or Acrylic

Learn how you can tell wool from acrylic yarn.

Updated November 05, 2019
How to Tell if Yarn Is Wool or Acrylic

How to tell if yarn is wool or acrylic? You can smell it, felt it, or set it on fire! Read more about how to do these methods and more in our article.

Presumably you're wondering how to tell what your yarn is made of because the label is missing. Otherwise, the first obvious step would be to check the label, which will have information about the fiber content on it. 

Additionally, do you remember how much you paid for the yarn? Wool tends to be more expensive than acrylic. However, if you bought it for pennies at a secondhand store or you bought it so long ago you can't remember what it cost, it's time to give one of the tests below a whirl!

How to Tell if Yarn Is Wool or Acrylic

Sniff Test

This is perhaps the simplest test that requires the least effort. Wool and other animal fibers will smell like an animal when the yarn is hot and wet. Cut off a small piece of the mystery yarn and soak it in hot water, then smell it. If it smells like a wet dog or sheep, it is an animal fiber. If it doesn't, it could be acrylic. Try another of the tests below!

Try Breaking It

Here is another simple test you can try! Attempt to break the yarn simply by pulling or ripping a strand. If it does break, it is probably real wool. If it is impossible to break the yarn without cutting it with scissors, it is probably acrylic.

Felting Test

Cut two pieces of yarn from the skein you want to test. Unravel the ends so they are splayed, and then push the two ends into each other.

Once the splayed (or frayed) ends of the two pieces of yarn are "pushed into" each other, dampen the threads with water. Rub the yarn between your hands quickly until dry. Now, try to pull the pieces apart. 

If the yarn has felted together, it is wool. If the yarn has not felted together and pulls apart easily, it is acrylic. Wool will "felt" when you perform this simple test, and acrylic will not.

Burn Test

This is a fun one and one of the easiest indicators that the yarn is either acrylic or wool. 

Cut a strand of the yarn long enough so you won't burn your fingers. You should do this test in a safe area, such as over a sink or outside where other things won't catch on fire, perhaps on a driveway. 

Attempt to light the end of the yarn on fire. If it doesn't catch easily, smells like burning hair, and leaves a charred end, it is wool. If it smells like burning plastic and leaves a melted glob at the end, it is acrylic.

Bleach Test

If you have bleach on hand, you can try submerging a small strand of yarn in the bleach for a few hours or even overnight. Do this in a glass jar and do this in an area where children or pets can't get to it. 

After a few hours (or overnight), if the yarn has dissolved, it is wool. If the yarn has not dissolved and only has lightened in color, it is acrylic.

Note: if the yarn has partially dissolved, it's possible you have a wool-acrylic blend on your hands!

Still Not Sure Whether It's Wool or Acrylic?

Try taking your yarn to your local independent yarn shop and asking an employee what they think! Together you can compare the texture and feel of the yarn to other yarns available to see if you find a match.

What are some other methods you've tried for determining what yarn is made of?

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