Soften Up That Stiff, Scratchy Acrylic Yarn

Updated on July 29, 2014
With just a little work your Red Heart Super Saver yarn can be just as pillowy as a more expensive acrylic.
With just a little work your Red Heart Super Saver yarn can be just as pillowy as a more expensive acrylic. | Source

I live in the middle of butt-freaking nowhere, and the only yarn that’s regularly stocked is Red Heart Super Saver. A lot of people in this area grew up with it and aren’t keen on trying anything else. The bottom line is that most of the time I have to use Red Heart Super Saver, even if it's stiff and scratchy. It’s a great, cheap yarn for big decorative projects with lots of colors that other brands of yarn just don't make. Not to mention that in some areas (mine) cheap acrylic yarn is the only option available. Are you sunk because it’s the only yarn you can afford or find?

Nope. I’ve looked around on the internet and found a bunch of tutorials for how to soften up cheap-o acrylic yarn. Now, I know knitters everywhere are turning up their noses, but let’s face it: you guys don’t use anywhere near as much yarn. Lucky dogs.

I saw two types of advice when I was doing my research. One involved softening yarn before you ever stick your hook in it, and another had you softening the finished product. Me? I said, “Why not both?”

So did both, and it was just great.

Some pretty pastels.
Some pretty pastels. | Source

Softening Yarn Before Working With It

Here’s what you do to fix up your yarn before you crochet with it:

Get rid of all those yarn labels. Take them off, throw them away, keep them for the patterns, write hate male to your senator on the back…whatever you want. Just don’t wash the yarn with them on.

Put your fingers in it and get the yarn nice and loose, but don’t take it apart! Just make sure there’s plenty of room for the water to get in.

Stick it in a lingerie bag or if you don't have one of those around, a pillowcase. Wash it on cold with lots of fabric softener. Put it in the dryer with a dryer sheet. Take it out and touch it with wide eyes like I do every yarn in the yarn aisle at Wal-Mart for ten minutes at a time. Soft, innit?


Softening a Crocheted Project After It's Done

But what if you want to soften up your finished project later? That's simple, too!
Soak it in cold water for twenty minutes. I like to do this in the sink so I can relax in a nice, hot bath while I let it soak for the longer part of the whole ordeal. Yep. I’m opulent. Some people put a little bit of vinegar in the water, but I’ve only done this once and didn’t have any on hand so I didn’t use any. If you do, only put like, a fourth of a cup per sinkfull, and be sure to rinse your project out twice after the twenty minutes are up.

Hand wash it in cold water with shampoo and rinse it two times to make sure all the shampoo is gone.

Take that bad boy out and put some conditioner on it. I mean, tons and tons of conditioner. Fully saturate it so much you can not get more conditioner in it, even if you tried. Any conditioner and shampoo will do the job. You can get some cheap conditioner and shampoo if you don’t want to waste the stuff you use on your hair.

Let the project sit somewhere for ten minutes.

Fill your sink or tub or whatever with some new, clean ice cold water. Let your project---still thick with conditioner---soak for another hour at the least. I let mine sit for an hour, but I’m assuming that “at least” means you can go for longer if you want to. I wouldn’t go too long, though. I get impatient.

Rinse out all that conditioner. Every bit of it.

Transfer your masterpiece to your washing machine. If you’re worried about it coming undone, stick it in a pillowcase just like you did when you were softening it up on the skein. Or a lingerie bag, of course, if you’re the fancy pants type.

Wash it on the lightest setting your washing machine will do. Put in a little detergent if you want and a lot of fabric softener.

Transfer it to the dryer with some dryer sheets until it’s just a teeny weeny bit still damp. Block it if you’re gonna.

Do you work with acrylic yarn often?

See results

And there you have it!

I’ve mentioned the scratchy yarn problem before and most of the answers I get involve, “just buy softer yarn.” I don’t have that many options, though, and I definitely don’t have the budget if I’m going to be working with a whole lot of colors. Like, you know, if I’m making a rainbow afghan using every color of the spectrum. Not to mention, of course, that Red Heart seems to have a lot more colors available than some of the pricier yarns.

The more you wash acrylic yarn the softer it gets, so feel free to live in what you crochet!


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    • profile image

      Scarly 2 weeks ago

      I tried the skein business, it did fine on the outside but found it wasn't thoroughly soft on the inside. So I am going to try the garment method next. Will post what I think after I give it a try. Thanks for these instructions

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      Jael 2 weeks ago

      I was looking for this! Thank you so much.

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      Iola Robitaille 3 weeks ago

      I find that if I steam the finished product with a clothes steamer, the yarn will come out much softer.

    • profile image

      i have no name 2 months ago

      hello i dont like the feel of yarn so i want it soft

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      Anjea 2 months ago

      Can you not use the simpler steps from softening the whole skein in advance for finished projects too? The latter seems like so much extra work and I’m not understanding why the two who processes are sthe different. Thanks.

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      Janice 2 months ago

      Thank you for this information. I am going to give it a try. Unlike where you are from, I live near the city and have lots of options but not the money to use the more expensive brands.

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      Tina 2 months ago

      God, all those chemicals! Fabric softener, shampoo, conditioner. Anything else? Definitely wouldn't recommend for baby items. It's simple enough to wash and dry to soften acrylic yarn. You don't even need to use detergent or fabric softener. It's not the cleaners or softener that soften. It's the process.

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      Jessica 3 months ago

      Hi I'm wanting to do this but I don't have a drier - is this part necessary or can I just shampoo and condition and then put it on a spin cycle?

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      Enid 3 months ago

      My daughter is allergic to wool! So I have to use acrylic yarn. These really work. I am going to try it on some rug yarn I have. Wish me luck

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      Jackie 3 months ago

      I will try this. But I'm afraid of it getting all tangled when you wash it before using. Is that a problem? Would doing all this to the finished product be just as good? I don't mind the feel of the yarn as I crochet with it.

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      Angela 5 months ago

      This did not work for me at all. I put it in a mesh bag and they ALL came apart. This does NOT work.

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      Melissa 6 months ago

      I'm not gonna lie, I was totally ready to ruin my yarn. But to my surprise, it came out softer than most of my expensive yarn! Of course I totally flopped and didn't tie the pillowcase tight enough (Yarn. EVERYWHERE.) but I recommend this hack to everyone

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      Tristyn 7 months ago

      Haha hilarious and so informative! Thanks lady!

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      Caroline 10 months ago

      I've been using RED HEART YARN 4 yrs & never thought of doin that stuff on sotening up my yarn. Im gona have 2 try it. Thks so much 4 that advice

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      Carla Ives 10 months ago

      I used to be a yarn snob but live out in the middle of nowhere now and I'm stuck with what's at Walmart most of the time unless I want to mail order. However, I've learned that there are even more scratchy yarns than Super Saver. 99% of them soften up with a good machine washing with fabric softener. And for those that don't, there is your mention of shampoo and tons of conditioner. One thing about Red Heart Super Saver, though, it's TOUGH. My joke is that in the year 2525, they will unearth perfectly usable children's garments made from the stuff!

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      Elsie 10 months ago

      I make my blankets then soften up the wool but I just put them in the washer on gentle cycle and add detergent and then in the dryer with 3-4 dryer sheets

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      Regina 11 months ago

      Thank you for your post. Our church has yarn donated to us that is from TG&Y! Very scratchy stuff. Why do you use cold water instead of warm or room temperature? Does the cold water vs the warm cause it to be softer?


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      Janet 12 months ago

      I have one of the pound skeens and couldn't get it dry. Ran thru dryer twice and center still didn't dry. Any suggestions.

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      Valda B 12 months ago

      Thank you for this article, I hadn't thought of the vinegar as well. Which is useful for colorfastness. Also, thanks to Kess with the tip about the corn starch. I'll have to try that one, also.

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      Kess Hemingway 12 months ago

      I'm in the same boat with you...I live in the suburbs of bumtuck Egypt and my little town has one chain store to buy yarn...And living on a retired fixed income you have to squeeze pennies til they scream as well.I thank you for your suggestions and I'll definitely try them out! My tip is for those of us who don't soften it first; It tends to have a sort of "friction" thing going on with my metal hooks at times, may be dry air or whatever- I don't know.But I stared using a sprinkle of dry cornstarch(not much,just a light dust) on my palms and then rubbed onto the hook itself.It makes stitches move like lightning! Also,it will was clean easily.I put some in an old plastic spice shaker ( with a flip top lid) and keep nearby for when I need it. It's truly a great hack!

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      Christie B. 13 months ago

      I tried your method, and I was skeptical. But I plowed through and the results were nothing less than fantastic. My blanket feels like a dozen bunnies wrapped in kittens! I think you for making the directions clear, concise, and fun to follow. I loved Red Heart yard before because of its price point and color choices... but now, i am in love for life! I think I used to buy yarn by feel and not buy things for the same reasons. My horizons are now broadened. Thank you!

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      Lanay 13 months ago

      Does anybody know if this results in a project with a lot of "frizz"? I'd love to have softer yarn but I don't want the halo of frizz around it from washing.

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      Paula Mersing 14 months ago

      When I finish the item, I throw it in the washer, then in the dryer with a dryer sheet and it comes out soft.

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      Danielle 16 months ago

      Brilliant thanks so much. Love my crochet but the budget doesn't really alow for the amount of the more expensive yarns that most afghans etc need. I'm off to get soaking and conditioning.

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      Vixen 17 months ago

      Ok so i am making a tail and the only yarn i had on hand that was enough to do the project was acrylic yarn. I sewn in little tufts and such but I don't know if the tail will be safe in a washing machine and dryer. What might you do in this kind of situation?

    • profile image

      Sara 17 months ago

      I was so excited to do this but it didn't work and I actually think it made my yarn worse :/

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      Tracy 17 months ago

      Exactly how much fabric softener do you use?

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      Teresa 19 months ago

      I have a lot ( and I mean a lot) of acrilic yarns, handed me downs from friends. I can't stand the rough texture on my hands. You have giving me a tremendous gift by sharing this information. I will use your technique and enjoy creating new projects . I am so thankful, as a retired school teacher, i can't afford the high prices of other yarns. Thank you so very much!!!!

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      Angela 20 months ago

      Holly, thank you for the steaming option. We have severe allergies to soaps, fabric softenerin, etc. in our household, so the author's method is not for me.

      Kennedi, thanks for the article, either way. I've refused to use Red Heart for clothing because it's so rough, but yarn gets so expensive!

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      lizie 22 months ago

      I use acrylic yarn ALL THE TIME! Can you just put it on water for a while?

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      Denise 24 months ago

      I just loved reading all these tips! I'm recovering from eye surgery and had to hold my head down for 7 days/24 hrs each day. I had a crocheting good time. Now to finish off the projects with your great tips. Thanks everyone!

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      Abbey 24 months ago

      Thank you for the post! I love RHSS for the color selection and price. Sometimes I just wash my finished products in a pillow case on delicate with a small amount of detergent and fabric softener. Then dry it on low heat. Even just doing that, softens it up a lot! Then I just block it. :-D

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      Becky Cooper 2 years ago

      to Deb, whose son is a vegan - please take that boy out in the country to a sheep farm, and have the sheep farmer educate him about WHY sheep (and whatever other animals' coats are used to make yarn) are shorn(sheared?) Or let him do some research on the internet, like I just did, where I found this: "Shearing or crutching (Crutching is clipping the wool around the hind end and between the back legs.) before lambing helps to keep the animals cleaner during birthing as they won't have a full fleece for blood and afterbirth to collect in. Some shepherds also believe the lambs have an easier time finding the udder on a shorn ewe. Wool sheep cannot be left to go without shearing. The wool continually grows and will become heavy, soiled and unhealthy if not annually sheared." Your kid's worries are totally unfounded, without reason, and should not be a deterrent for you to forego using wool yarn if you choose.

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      teresa 2 years ago

      Does anyone else have to wear plastic gloves to work with super saver yarn? It is a great yarn for some projects that need more body but it really tears up my hands. The gloves help.

    • profile image 2 years ago

      I use a steam iron to break down the fibers too. I put a dish towel over the part I'm ironing to protect it. I was amazed at how it made the yarn softer and appear to be a much higher quality product. (Don't over do it though. I over steamed a crochet hat and it was too limp to be worn.)

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      Deb 2 years ago

      This is great. My son in law is vegan, and doesnt like the idea of yarn that comes from an animal. Shame but I have to respect that. And when I knit for grandkids this will come in handy.


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      meg 2 years ago

      All you have to do with a project made with Red Heart yarn is to wash it in the washer & dry it in the dryer. No great problems. It comes out great.

      By the way, what do you mean by "write hate male to your ..." I'm guessing it means "hate mail" but just wanted to make sure. :)

    • hazeltos profile image

      Susan Hazelton 2 years ago from Summerfield, Florida

      What a great hub. I am going to try you suggestions. I don't care for stiff and scratchy yarn. Thanks so much

      for sharing.

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      Patrice 2 years ago

      Wow. Now why didn't I think of washing it before I started. I have been washing my projects like this for years and it does work. I use my favourite shampoo and conditioner. Now I can have that feeling of lovely yarn while I complete the project. Even a seasoned knitter can learn something. Thank you

    • brsmom68 profile image

      Diane Ziomek 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Those are good tips, because I often bypass yarn if it isn't soft. I love working with alpaca yarn, but I can't spin it as fast as I crochet it. I can relate to the "middle of nowhere", because Red Heart yarn is a staple in a local store. I will have to wash a couple of projects I have made this way to see how much I can soften them up. Shared, pinned and tweeted. :)

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      Hopesturtledove 2 years ago

      I just use a steam iron on my finished project - it breaks the fibers down to make it so soft then trow in washing machine with some - not a lot of fabric softener and then dryer a whole lot faster and easier and yes I know it has a NO iron statement on the the tag but it works and doesn't affect the color or project

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      Becky 2 years ago

      I have a "blankie" drom when I was a baby/toddler and am passing it down to my toddler but its so stuff and scratchy. Cant wait to try your tips!

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      Janet 2 years ago

      I enjoyed your wonderful sense of humor and of course the information. I haven't tried it out yet but hope to do that in the near future. I make crochet toys and animals for church sales and my grand kids so the softer the better.

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      Swag 2 years ago

      Do the colors bleed when you wash the finished project?

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      jfh_dragonfly 2 years ago

      I'm presently in India, and they've never heard of good yarn here. Thanks for this, I'm going to try it on the baby blanket I'm making with cheap acrylic yarn!

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Using shampoo and conditioner on yarn? Voted up. Pretty unique thinking.

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      Kailyn h 2 years ago

      when you wash it it says use lots of fabric softener but you don't say anything about detergent

    • lolaestrella profile image

      Dalila C 2 years ago from Denver, CO

      I love this article! And thank you so much for sharing these ideas of softening the acrylic yarn. I was like you, living in the middle of almost nothing and had only Red Heart yarns around. Plus they are usually cheaper than other brands too! Anyway, yea, I need to start doing this and I'm gonna share it with my friends living outside of USA because you don't know how crappy the yarns they have (I feel bad for them.) Anyway, good post!

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      Holly 2 years ago

      I use my garment steamer once I'm finished with my project. I lay it out on my bed and steam the crocheted piece and it becomes softer than you can ever imagine. Much less messy and time consuming.

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      Kennedi Brown 3 years ago from Richlands, Virginia

      Just the first time. Every other time you wash it you should be good just putting it in with the delicates :)

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      Olirishlace 3 years ago

      Question - do you need to go through this whole process each and every time you wash the project? Or just the first time to get it soft - and after that it will be fine....thanks,

    • Kennedi Brown profile image

      Kennedi Brown 3 years ago from Richlands, Virginia

      Sure can! :) It works for any 100% acrylic yarn.

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      Kate 3 years ago

      So I just bought some Hometown USA yarn to make a scarf. It's not really that scratchy but I have pretty sensitive skin so I like really soft things around my neck. It's 100% acrylic. Can I still use your method to soften it more?

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      Rosemary 3 years ago

      I personally don't think acrylic yarn is that bad... maybe that's because I don't usually crochet or knit clothing or blankets. I still don't think its as scratchy as some people say it is!! I made a blanket in Loops and Threads and its super soft! That being said, I'm going to try this with the "Coffee" brown red heart super saver yarn. It's noticeably worse than the other ones and even I hate it!!

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      Kennedi Brown 3 years ago from Richlands, Virginia

      You're welcome! It really does work well, a lot better than I thought it would :)

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      Arac M. 3 years ago

      Ah I just tried your steps for the first time.

      amazing results. Thank you so much for posting this!