How to Make Scratchy Acrylic Yarn Soft and Lovable

By A Guest Writer – 36 Comments

A Guest Post by Molly Ferriter.
(Tips from a Crochet-Obsessed Mommy)

Okay, I’ll admit it… I used to be a yarn snob. I’m serious; I was a real Crochet Princess. I used to shun the Walmart yarn section like the black plague. I mean, who wants that scratchy acrylic yarn anyway? I’ll tell you who… I do! I am a former public school teacher turned SAHM (stay at home mom), obsessed with crocheting, and now that my family of five lives on one income, I can’t afford to be a yarn snob. And to be honest, I’ve come to love the abundance of colors and the wash-ability in acrylic yarn. I very rarely use anything else anymore. I can toss my hand-made hats, mittens, sweaters, afghans, and amigurumi Elsa dolls right into the washer without worry, because honestly, I don’t have time to hand-wash my crocheted items. I need a durable, washable, dryer-safe, colorful, kid-friendly yarn. Red Heart Super Saver to the rescue!

messy girlI know your children and grandchildren are clean, tidy little angels that don’t leave your hand-made winter hats in mud puddles, right? (wink, wink) Well, mine do. My little girls are healthy, active, messy little angels that love everything I make for them, which sometimes means they get dragged through muddy snow piles, dabbled with melting Halloween candy, layered in peanut butter, or worn by puppies at tea parties. They get used, abused, and are all-around well-loved. As a result, everything they wear has to be washable. I have three kids, a sometimes messy husband (don’t tell him I said that), two puppies, and an elderly cat. I simply don’t have time or energy to hand wash anything. When I do have extra time, I’d rather be watching new episodes of Longmire, or working on a new crochet project, not washing old ones.

I use acrylic yarn that is durable, colorful, washable, and soft! Yes, I said soft. There is just one ingredient needed to make acrylic yarn soft and lovable and its right there in your shower… conditioner!

First of all, you should always wash your hand-crocheted items right after finishing. The process of hand-crocheting leaves skin cells, odors, and just general dust and dirt on the garment as it is crocheted over time. Not to mention the occasional coffee spill or donut droppings. I simply throw the garment or afghan in the washer and wash on warm. Not hot, warm. Please check the washing directions on the label before doing this just to make sure, but I always machine wash my acrylic crochet items.

After washing the item, I throw it in the sink or tub, fill it with warm water and soak it with conditioner. If you don’t want to waste your favorite conditioner on your crochet, don’t worry, any inexpensive conditioner will work. I use whatever is in the shower at the time. Now comes the fun part, rub in the conditioner. Give it a good massage! Take out your frustrations on it! Turn it into a therapy session and massage it hard as you describe how your dog ate your favorite shawl that morning, or how your kids told you that your new slow cooker Peking chicken recipe was “yucky”. Take a couple of minutes to work the conditioner into the fibers.

softening yarn

Let it soak for several hours or even over night. Go to bed, watch a movie, clean the house, whatever you need to do because the work is over. That’s it, just a quick massage and the work is over. Rinse well, and dry. If you want to block your item, go ahead and block it out and air dry. Otherwise, toss the item in the dryer. Like I said previously, check the label, but I always toss my crochet items in the dryer. Children make way too much laundry to keep up with. I need to be able to just toss it in the dryer.

So next time you reach for the Alpaca silk blend to make your great-niece a baby blanket, or the lace-weight cashmere to crochet that scarf for your next door neighbor’s son, stop. Just stop! Give your hand a slap. Go to the next aisle of the yarn section and choose a yarn that is colorful, washable, acrylic, and kid-friendly. Acrylic yarn can be soft and loveable. Besides, you can use the extra money left over to do what all crocheters love. You can buy more yarn!

Molly Ferriter is a public school teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, turned crochet podcaster living on the Mogollon Rim of Arizona. You can watch her crochet-obsessed ramblings on her podcast, “Forest Home Fiber Arts” on Youtube.

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  1. Do you have to recondition it after you wash it? Or does that permanently make the acrylic softer? I’d love to be able to use my cheap colorful acrylic yarn and have it be soft enough to wear next to my skin!

    • Hi, Sarah! After I do the initial conditioning, I don’t usually have to recondition later. Once the item has been washed and dried a couple times it becomes even softer. I just finished a shawl made from Red Heart Super Saver and I wear it wrapped around my neck. It is soft! Its my favorite shawl right now.

      • Tracy says:

        Thanks for sharing this! My daughter is an avid crocheter who thinks I’m persnickety about yarn. I can’t stand the scratchy feel of Red Heart so I invest in softer, more expensive yarns for her. I can’t wait to try this!

  2. Kelleen Louchart says:

    What a marvelous tip! Thank you so much!!!

  3. Twinkie Lover says:

    I’ve never understood the yarn snobbery or the Support Your Local Yarn Shop thing. LYSs seem to favor knitters and knitting, anyway. I know many crocheters, and we all use primarily acrylic or cotton yarns, which we buy at department stores or big craft store like Michaels. We also buy at garage sales and thrift shops, etc.

    That said, since I’m choosing to use yarn that is easy to work with and machine washable, why in the heck would I bother washing it “right after finishing it” and hand conditioning it with hair conditioner in the sink or tub?! That is NOT going to happen. The author seems to be going to a lot of trouble to make low maintenance yarn high maintenance.

    A friend of mine just uses fabric softener when she washes her crocheted items (in the washing machine, not the sink!). Makes a lot more sense to me. Plus I might actually do it.

    • Maggie says:

      Why WOULDN’T you wash your project after finishing it? That isn’t a particularly fussy step. That is acknowledging that after hours, days, or weeks of being handled while being crocheted, your item needs a quick wash. I agree that the conditioner soak is fussy (fabric softener works just fine) but tossing a hat in the laundry?

      • Twinkie Lover says:

        I was referring more to the “right after” part of the phrase, as in, immediately. Also, some of us are not fortunate enough to have a washer and dryer in our residence, so dragging those crocheted items to the laundry room when we have actual laundry to do is not always a high priority. And I don’t make hats. I do make teddy bears, and they are NOT getting dunked in the sink, or tossed in the washing machine or dryer.

        • Maggie says:

          I think you’re reading too much into “right after,” in the sense that I don’t think she meant “the second you weave in your ends,” as much as, “before using.”

          And I do wash amigurumi pieces before I sew them together. (And yes, I have lived most of my life without a washing machine in my apartment. I either toss the finished items into the hamper for next laundry day, or give them a quick wash in the sink with a bit of dish soap or shampoo.)

          • Donna says:

            I don’t see why anyone would not wash their winter hats, scarves too. It’s the kind of stuff you generally wear when it is icky outside, it gets dirty. Unless it were a felted item, there’s no good reason not to, it makes them softer and smell fabulous for a while! I wash mine fairly regularly when seasonal and at the start of the season if necessary. I know I for one don’t like dirty or dusty hats or scarves!

    • Monique says:

      Fabric softener works by breaking down the fibers of the fabric/yarn. Not what I want to be done to anything I’ve put my heart and soul into making. Just saying.

      • Panya says:

        That’s not how fabric softeners work. They coat the fabric with a waxy substance to make it feel more slippery, and create a static charge that makes the fibres *that are already sticking up slightly* stick up even more, which makes it feel softer. While I’m not a fan of the potential build-up of fabric softener residue [just one of the many reasons I don’t use it], the static charge is temporary and does not harm the fabric in any way.

  4. Sheila says:

    I think this is a wonderful tip. I make things for an outreach program and some of the yarn I have is not the best quality and I like to give nice things to those in need. I do not personally use conditioner but will purchase some for this purpose. I am allergic to fabric softeners and do not use them. Softeners coat the clothing and is not particularly healthy for long time use. I will certainly try this tip very soon. thank you so much.

  5. Beverly Evanger says:

    wow! that was a terrific article. thank you so much. i never thought to use conditioner. i just wash and dry with a dryer softer.

  6. Sandy Williams says:

    In cold weather your hands get dry and scratchie. All the hand lotion does is go to the yarn, I use hair conditioner on my. I use a pea size amount, rub my hands together till they get warm from the rubbing. This helps from snagging your yarn. Repeat as needed especially a round your finger tips and nails.

  7. MsKat says:

    No matter what yarn I use I just wash the finished project according to washing instructions on the label. Most times the motion ‘blocks’ the item and makes it lay/drape better. Plus I don’t like to sell or give an item that has dust, hand oils, and whatever may be in the working environments while I am making it. I use a fragrance free detergent, and vinegar in place of fabric softener. Maybe about 1/2 teaspoon of those fragrance beads depending on the recipient, just enough for a little scent but not to overpower. The vinegar strips off any sizing or manufacturing byproducts that may have left the item stiff and scratchy. With fancier yarns, they usually won’t require vinegar, just a bit of woolite or shampoo will usually do the trick.

  8. Patricia says:

    You can also soften your crocheted articles by purchasing those little travel size bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Empty them both in the washer at the same time run washer and dryer as you normally would. They will be baby soft.

  9. Lynne says:

    Wow. This is so simple it makes me want to do a head-slap. I’ll be getting some conditioner at the dollar-type store to try this. I, too, find the colors in the acrylic yarn beautiful, but the texture is “icky.” Thank you!!

  10. chantal says:

    What if you have multiple colors… I heard using vinegar to help set the colors? I have one graphgan I made for my son that needs a wash and I am afraid as there is lots of colors… and white…

  11. Serena says:

    Have you ever experienced dye bleeding? I’m currently working on an American flag afghan and I’ve never washed something like this, (yes, I typically support the local yarn shop, but this afghan would’ve cost a pretty penny if I’d gone that route this time) and I’m a little worried my white might turn pink or purple.

  12. Aaron says:

    Does this technique for making yarn softer ruin the color of the yarn I am using for my project that I am planning to do

    • Rachel Choi says:

      Hi Aaron! It shouldn’t ruin the color. If you would like to test it before using the technique on an entire project, try crocheting a small swatch and then doing it on that first.

  13. Candace says:

    Some additional input for everyone worrying about how this affects the color in their yarn: acrylic isn’t dyed in the same manner as natural fibers, and if it’s made by a big company (e.g. Red Heart, Caron, Bernat) as opposed to home dyed, you’re probably not going to lose any color in the wash. I have an afghan in deep colors that’s still as vibrant after at least ten years of washing, and all the colors are bright and distinct, not muddy.

  14. Jo says:

    I really like your idea on softening good ol Michaels yarns…am making blankets and snuggies for homeless moms and babies. (not the snuggies for moms) and I have a snuggie that has touch
    of metallic in it. Will soaking in hair softener hurt the metallic?

  15. fleurdelis says:

    It really works! I belong to a senior group that crochets just about everything for charity. So Red Heart is affordable but the fiber content is often unreliable. I wash and dry every piece w/a dryer sheet before donating it. This time I tried your hair conditioner trick on a completed scarf and it turned out soft and beautiful. Can’t wait to show and tell the girls tomorrow!

  16. Roisin says:

    Great tip thanks, my mother bought my baby a gorgeous teddy, but now my son is at the age where he loves choosing a bear for bed he doesn’t reach for it. I’m hoping to make it soft and snuggly before we travel to visit her next month as it will make her so happy if the bear is loved. She slept with it for 2 nights before mailing it when he was born and before she could visit so that baby would know her scent!!

  17. GM says:

    I tried this and it works!!! Thanks so much

  18. Tracy says:

    Can u wash your scarf if u use different colors like red n white or will it run?

  19. Sharon says:

    Hi…some wanted to know why they should support the LYS…because they are small businesses that are usually owned/operated by woman who love yarn, and sadly a lot of them are knitcentric to the point of making crocheters feel unwelcome. I am a crocheter, over 40 years, who also just happens to knit, for about 4 years. I work at a LYS, the owner of which is a knitter who just happens to crochet. At any given time 50% of our display samples are crocheted, and most of the knitters just can’t tell the difference. I have found that there are more and more LYS that have realized they need to be more welcoming to those who crochet. I love the yarn we have,and while I will buy it for something very, very special, my go to yarn, for making most things for myself and to give, is something that is that can be tossed in the washer and dryer. Red Heart, Lion Brand, Caron, and Patons have been introducing better and better yarns, and most are just a pleasure to work with..but my fav is still Red Heart Super Saver…love the colors, the price, and the fact that it does soften up wonderfully once machine washed and dried. It has been my standby for years…I even knit with it…..and noone can tell I have used something from a “big box” store.

  20. Natalie says:

    Does anyone know if this helps the item be “droopy”? I was given a cowl, and I had in mind a droopy, slouchy item, but it’s more stiff, and stands up like it’s been starched. Hoping this technique will help it be slouchy and soft!

  21. Rocg says:

    For a better quality, and more color variety to choose from– go to a craft store, a fabric store which also sells yarn, as a joanns or Michael. These are a very good step up at no extra cost or just a few pennies more.
    If you want to flop out a garment acrylic fabric, set your iron on low-medium heat, with a wetted press cloth and gently press to the degree of softness you want

  22. Susan says:

    Thank you for the tip. I also use the Red Heart yarn and have concerns with the stiffness of it. I tried this and now my yarn is baby soft.

  23. DonnaMarie says:

    Three words…. conditioner, Dollar Tree.
    Three more words….or fabric softener.
    They both work. I usually use fabric softener when i wash it. Usually i fill the wash machine and put in the softener, let it soak an hour, then wash as normal with maybe an extra rinse. Done. With thus said i sometumes absolutely cannot resust some of that fancy yarn. Usually due to it being a color i want!

  24. Ailie says:

    Thanks for the tip. I am going to try this when I get home. I hope I don’t lose some of the color. I wonder if yarn manufactures do this when making yarn.

  25. Pat says:

    What if you don’t have a dryer?

  26. Annabelle says:

    Hey Molly!
    I am a blind woman who absolutely loooooooooooooooves anything soft! And I really love to make homemade gifts for those I deeply care about, but especially friends and family members. I would love to learn how to crochet, since I want to make an afghan for my friend, Markus Johnson (yes, that’s “Markus” with a “K”, not a “C”), specifically for his little daughter, Cora, who absolutely loooooooooooooves birds and rainbows! As for making afghans soft and loveable, may I recommend an alternative to commercial fabric softeners? I myself get a rash from those, since I have sensitive skin. I do, however, use dryer sheets, more specifically Seventh Generation Lavender and Blue Eucalyptus scent. As for fabric softeners in the washing machine, I make a homemade softener with two main ingredients that work well together. Ingredients you probably have right at home. Vinegar and baking soda. The vinegar brightens the fabric, as well as disinfects it, while the baking soda helps to neutralize any musty odors that may be left behind. If you like, for a nice scent so your fabric won’t smell like a salad, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to the mix when you make the softener. I like the soaking in conditioner idea, though I’ve never tried it before. It sounds like something that would make a crocheted afghan smell wonderful. I usually buy Alba mango scented conditioner, though I must warn you, it’s a bit spendy! $7.99 for a 12-ounce bottle! I have a few afghans that my Grandma made for me, two of which have satin skeins on the edges. One of my afghans, a little one with multicolored yarn patterns, has a skein that got torn slightly when I put it in the washing machine for the first time, as I made the mistake of washing it on the Regular cycle in hot water, then on the Regular dryer cycle with high heat. Not so smart move on my part! Especially since it not only has a slightly torn skein, but I believe it may have shrunk the yarn in the process! Grandma says that since those are delicate, from that day on, I’ve been washing all my afghans in warm water on the Delicate cycle, then drying them with either the Air Dry or the Delicate dryer cycle on low heat. As for wringing out the excess water, I wonder if a slow spin, like the one on the Delicate cycle would work? That way, there’d be less of a mess in the house. As for the dryer cycle, I wonder if when I use the Delicate dryer cycle on low heat, would you recommend a Steam Clean option as well? Or would that tear the skeins and shrink the yarn?

  27. Annabelle says:

    I tried your conditioner trick for softening my afghans, and not only are they angel soft, but they smell like love and cuddles! Even better, I now wash them with shampoo instead of laundry detergent, and they’re really soft. Speaking of making things soft and loveable, I have a little stuffed kitty cat, I think she’s like one of those Beanie Babies, who I named Donna, a gift from my American sister. One day, when I took
    her home in my schoolbag, I had her in the same pocket as a few packets of dipping sauce from McDonald’s, which I was planning to bring home to my stepbrother,
    Timothy, who loves dips. Unfortunately, the one packet that was mustard dip exploded in my bag, and my little kitty cat got mustard on her back. Fortunately
    I put her in the washing machine, however, I’m not sure if that got her ruined, because I used regular laundry detergent in a conventional top load washing machine, and her fur got all stiff and
    matted. I wonder if the shampoo and conditioner trick will make her soft again. And I bet a front load washing machine like the one I have right now would be better.

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