I'm fully aware that this can be a bit of a controversial topic, and I want to say, first and foremost that I am not coming from a position of judgement, but rather a desire to educate!
Jumping right in, synthetic and Superwash fibers seem convenient, have a fantastic price point, and make caring for them much easier than some other fibers. But there are some negatives as well, and I'd like to take some time to discuss those.
1. Synthetic and Superwash yarns are made with plastic.
If you are thinking "really?", the answer is yes, really. In both cases - even though neither feel that way. Acrylic is a man-made fiber, born of a chemical process and made of synthetic polymer. In layman's terms, that's plastic. Many of us are moving towards less chemicals in our lives overall, due to health warnings, and I believe that should stand for both our own processes and the processes of our makers.
If we look at Superwash on the other hand, you'll see that the fiber (in its core) is some form of wool, such as 100% Superwash Merino, but the Superwash aspect is effectively the chemical removal of the outer layer of wool. In fact, some wool is actually dipped in an acid bath for this process! Then the yarn is coated in another polymer (read: plastic) so that your fibers will not felt at high temperatures in the wash or dryer.
2. There are environmental hazards when washing synthetic yarns.
One thing I had never thought to think about was what happens to water that is used to wash synthetic yarn (or really any synthetic fibers)? When it comes down to brass tacks, one can easily see that a lot of different types of fiber will shed to some extent, and every piece of acrylic or Superwash layer that gets put into water waste can find its way into soil that may need to be used for something important, such as farmland, or even the ecosystems in which animals live. This would reduce the quality of that soil, not to mention the water, in that environment.
3. Synthetics can be flammable.
I'm not entirely sure I need to go into too much detail on this one, but it makes me nervous to cook near a gas stove when wearing a sweater knit with acrylic yarn! And if children are wearing that type of material around an open flame, I'd be even more nervous.
4. They do not decompose quickly.
Let's take a minute and think about what is great about wool (before even getting to number 5 on this list). It's a natural material that will decompose back into the Earth from whence it came. Even what I do, natural dyeing, allows me to compost my used dyestuffs. I am turning food waste and plant waste back into something that will nurture the soil.
Alternately, if we think about acrylics and Superwashes again, I think it stands to reason that something either entirely made of plastic, or even simply coated in plastic, is not likely to quickly to deteriorate at a speed which would ultimately be healthy for our environment.
5. You will miss out on the benefits of wool.
I love to talk about wool and the amazing properties that it has! Did you know that it's antibacterial? That it's moisture-wicking? It is naturally fire-resistant? And choosing to use wool supports the farmers that raise those sheep. I feel so strongly about this! We are ultimately bettering a community by simply choosing the most natural option.
I won't say that I have not knit with Superwash wool, or even acrylic yarns. I also will admit that I have some leftover in my stash still in my closet (that I probably will use because I can't bear to let things go to waste). But I do know that for me, going forward, I'm working towards a better world by making choices that have a positive impact, even if it costs a little more out of my pocket upfront.
If you think you might be ready to take a step forward and look at a pure non-Superwash wool alternative (but not quite ready to make the jump just yet), a good place to start would be my Tasting Box.
The Tasting Box will allow you to knit up and sample my NewMerino and Cormo bases so you can experience how it feels before deciding if it's for you!