Lyocell vs. Cotton Fabric: The Pros and Cons of Each

With many fabrics being similar or used as fabric alternatives, it can be difficult to differentiate between them. That is certainly the case with the lyocell and cotton debate. Lyocell is a fabric sometimes used as an alternative to cotton, making it a good alternative.

Lyocell vs Cotton

However, the fact that lyocell has similar qualities to cotton has led to confusion about which fabric serves the purpose or if it’s even possible to differentiate between the two. But do their differences even matter? Read along as we highlight some of the properties of these highly soft and breathable fabrics.

What is Lyocell Fabric?

Lyocell fabric is a fabric derived from the cellulose fiber of wood pulp; the wood cellulose is further processed through several vigorous processes and the addition of some heavy chemicals to create fabric strands used for making textiles

Lyocell Fabric
Lyocell Fabric

Because the fabric’s main source is plant-based, while its production process is synthetic, lyocell is termed a semi-synthetic fabric or a processed cellulosic fiber. Lyocell is similar to rayon fabric which is processed using the viscose method. However, environmentalists consider lyocell better because its production process is less poisonous for its workers and the environment.

Another reason lyocell is preferred is that it’s more sustainable for fully synthetic fabrics like polyester than non-biodegradable ones. Vegan advocates also prefer lyocell as a good alternative to silk which is animal based. Completely pure lyocell is biodegradable; however, it is sometimes mixed with synthetic materials, which makes them less biodegradable than they are supposed to be.

What is Cotton Fabric?

Cotton is one of the world’s oldest, most popular, and easily accessible fabrics. It is a natural fabric produced from the fibers surrounding the seeds of the cotton plant, and the fibers emerge in a fluffy, round formation around the seeds once the cotton plant matures.

Cotton Fabric
Cotton Fabric

The process of making cotton is extensive but completely organic. The cotton fiber is first separated from the seeds with an automated machine called the cotton gin. The gin also removes other forms of debris from the bolls, including leaves, dirt, and stem sticks. Textile workers then card the raw cotton into long strands that are further processed into cotton yarns. The final production stage is weaving or knitting the cotton yarns into various forms of cotton fabrics.

There are two main types of cotton- long-staple cotton and short-staple cotton. Long staple cotton tends to produce softer fabrics than its short stapled variety.

Comparing the Texture of Cotton and Lyocell

Lyocell fabrics are incredibly soft and are popular for their exceptionally comfortable feel; lyocell’s gentle feel makes it a good silk alternative. 

Its look and texture have also made it a silk-alternative and cotton alternative. In addition, lyocell is breathable, stretchy, and moisture-wicking, making it a good active wear option. Lyocell is good for hot weather; however, once mixed with synthetic fabrics, it becomes less breathable and may become uncomfortable during hot weather.

Similarly, cotton is a super soft, breathable, hypoallergenic material, making it extremely comfortable for the skin. Cotton’s great breathability makes it ideal for summer clothes. It is also relatively stretchy, though it is not as stretchy as lyocell. 

However, as comfortable as cotton is, it isn’t moisture-wicking and tends to soak up sweat and become heavier when the wearer becomes hotter. Hence, cotton is not advisable for sportswear or other activewear.

Lyocell vs. Cotton Fabrics: Durability

Both lyocell and cotton fabrics are durable; however, cotton dusts lyocell when it comes to durability. Cotton is often made of tightly woven fibers which get softer over time and are difficult to rip or tear. 

Lyocell, however, is very delicate and more susceptible to ripping or tearing if not handled properly. They also wear out more easily than cotton fabrics. However, cotton is more susceptible to pilling than lyocell, and cotton is also easier to maintain than lyocell fabric. Lyocell often requires special care when it’s been washed or stored.

Lyocell vs. Cotton: Cost

Although lyocell tends to beat cotton regarding moisture wicking and soft, comfortable feeling, its production process doesn’t come cheap. Lyocell is one of few rayon fabrics that feature an environmentally friendly process; that process is still long, tedious, and expensive. 

On the contrary, cotton is not just one of the most comfortable fabrics but also one of the cheapest and most easily accessible fabrics. Cotton is cheap, and its production process is also cheap, making it ideal for producing a lot of textiles and easily purchased fabrics. Even the more expensive types of cotton, such as Egyptian cotton, are still cheaper than lyocell.

How Lyocell and Cotton Fabrics are Used

Lyocell and cotton are used in different ways. Here are some of the uses of both fabrics:

Lyocell Fabrics

Lyocell is used to produce a lot of materials. Due to its incredible stretchiness, lyocell is sometimes preferred for making those that require some flexibility. Here are some uses of Lyocell fabrics:

  • Lyocell is used in the production of fabric parts for conveyor belts. Lyocell-laced conveyor belts tend to last longer and are more resistant to wear and tear.
  • Tencel, a type of lyocell, is used to make medical dressings because of its high tensile strength and absorbency.
  • They are also used to make specialty papers and other specialty applications.
  • Lyocell fabrics are used to make clothing.

Cotton Fabric

Cotton fabrics are very popular and versatile and have many uses. Here are some of them:

  • Cotton is the world’s highest source of clothing material. It is estimated that about 75% of the world’s clothing uses some form of cotton.
  • Cotton is used in home decorations such as curtains and wall hangings.
  • Cotton gauze is used to make wound dressings and hospital bedding because it is hypoallergenic.
  • Cotton is used to make disposable diapers.

Care and Maintenance of Cotton and Lyocell Fabrics

Both fabrics require different types of care if you desire them to last long. In all you do, always check the fabric care label for the best instructions:

Care for Lyocell Fabric

Lyocell fabrics are very delicate and should be handled with extreme caution. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Always check the manufacturer’s label. Different grades of lyocell have to be washed differently, and some have to be dry cleaned.
  • Hand wash lyocell fabric that doesn’t need dry cleaning with cold water. It’s safer than using a washing machine.
  • Always use a gentle laundry detergent when washing the lyocell fabric. Avoid using harsh laundry products on the fabric.
  • Avoid ironing lyocell as much as you can. If you must, use a warm iron and turn the fabric inside out before ironing.
  • Line dry all lyocell fabric; avoid putting them in a dryer, as the heat could damage them.

Care for Cotton Fabric

Cotton is easier to care for; nevertheless, there are still some precautions you need to take:

  • It is preferable if you wash cotton with cold water. You can use either a washing machine or by hand.
  • Use a mild detergent and other mild laundry products like bleach only when necessary.
  • Use the steam or sprinkle option when ironing cotton fabric, or you can iron them when damp.
  • Ensure the fabric is dry before storing it to avoid mildew growth.

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