Description: Sample of white staple fibre in a glass jar with a plastic lid - wet spun polyacrylonitrile (acrylic) fibre.
Acrylic fibres were first produced in 1941, by Dupont. Orlon was the first acrylic fibre to be produced commercially, initially as a filament but more successfully in the mid 1950s as a staple fibre.
Acrylic and modified acrylic fibre is produced by polymerising acrylonitrile (produced by reacting petroleum polypropylene and ammonia). Modified acrylic fibres are copolymers of acrylonitrile and another compound such as vinyl acetate, vinyl chloride, styrene, acrylic ester or acrylamide. The polymer is precipitated in water with a catalyst such as ammonium persulphate. The precipitate is then dissolved to form a spinning solution which can be wet or dry spun. Wet spinning involves pushing the solution through fine nozzles into a tank of containing a liquid chemical which causes the streams of spinning solution to set into filaments.
Acrylic and modified acrylic fabrics are are used for clothing, often blended with wool in knitwear; domestic furnishings; synthetic fur; and industrial applications such as filters where chemical resistance is needed.