Rayon or Cotton: Which is the Right Fabric for You?

Rayon and cotton remain some of the most popular fabric forms today, but many struggles when asked to differentiate between the two. For one thing, rayon is a fabric that is practically used similarly to cotton.

Like cotton, its use is versatile; textile manufacturers use it to produce a dizzying array of products ranging from clothes to household items. Some even argue that rayon has qualities that make them preferable to cotton. But is this the case? This article looks at some of the differences between rayon and cotton and how we can properly care for them.

What are Rayon and Cotton Fabrics?

Rayon and Cotton Fabrics
L-Rayon; R-Cotton

Rayon is a fabric made from purified cellulose fibers; these fibers are created from wood pulp. Although rayon is derived from natural materials such as wood or bamboo, extracting the cellulose requires chemicals, so it is considered a semi-synthetic fabric. 

Rayon is a versatile fabric that can imitate many properties of natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and linen. They are smooth, comfortable, and highly absorbent but have poor insulating properties and durability. Regular rayon also has the lowest elastic recovery of any fabric.

On the other hand, cotton is a natural fabric extracted from the mature bolls of the cotton plant. It is one of the oldest and most popular fabrics in the world today. Cotton fabric is highly breathable and lightweight, making it ideal for hot weather. They also have high absorbency and are famous for their soft, almost silky feel.

Unlike rayon, cotton is a very durable fabric; they also have good drapability, making them ideal for making interior decorative products such as curtains. They also have good elasticity, a property that adds to their durability.

Rayon vs. Cotton: Production Process

Rayon and cotton have vastly different means of production, which have sometimes sparked debates on the cost of production and how environmentally friendly the processes are.

Rayon is produced from bamboo, beech trees, or pine wood pulp. Textile workers dissolve the wood pulp in sodium hydroxide, which converts the pulp to alkali cellulose. 

The cellulose undergoes further processing until it is spun by machines called spinnerets into filaments and, consequently, into threads. Manufacturers can choose to weave the threads into fabrics or knit them, and the knitting or weaving process will often determine the texture and appearance of the fabric.

Cotton, on the other hand, is produced from cotton bolls. The bolls are harvested and separated from clingy seeds called gin fluffs before manufacturers process them further into loose strands. Large machines spin the strands into yarns which can be woven or knitted into fabrics.

Cotton vs. Rayon: Differences in Texture

Many people prefer cotton because it is one of the softest fabrics currently produced in the textile industry. Cotton’s soft texture is partly a result of the delicate nature of the cotton bolls used to make the fabric. Other factors that make the cotton soft are the yarn length or thread count. Cotton types like Pima cotton and Egyptian cotton with longer yarn lengths tend to be softer than those with shorter yarns.

Rayon is widely regarded as one of the softest synthetic fabrics; it is partly derived from plant matter and has breathability almost on the same level as cotton, making it very comfortable. Its silky smooth surface also allows it to drape quite elegantly. However, cotton has a softer texture than rayon. Despite the incredible efforts of textile manufacturers, its chemically altered fibers are still no match for the natural fluffiness of cotton strands.

Differences in Strength and Durability of Rayon and Cotton

Lots of factors impact the strength of Cotton and Rayon. Rayon has good tensile strength when dry but becomes less durable when wet. They are also easily susceptible to shrinking, stretching, and tearing when exposed to moisture.

Cotton is stronger than rayon, whether wet or dry, and it is more likely to last longer and withstand the great strain. However, the strength of cotton can vary depending on the cotton type, and cotton with longer yarn length has greater strength than regular cotton.

What is Rayon Cotton Fabric?

Rayon Cotton Fabric

Sometimes, textile manufacturers merge cotton and rayon to attain the silky smoothness of rayon and the soft breathability of the cotton. To do this, textile workers twist cotton and rayon fibers into yarns. 

There are several advantages to blending cotton and rayon. For one thing, it brings out the best qualities of both fabrics. The texture, appearance, and durability of the fabrics also improve tremendously. Additionally, production costs also reduce, leading to more affordable products.

Uses and Applications of Cotton and Rayon

Rayon and cotton are versatile fabrics that have been utilized in numerous ways. Here are just a few:

Uses of Rayon

  • Rayon is used in the textile industry to produce sarees, shirts, dresses, and socks.
  • They are also used to make bedsheets, blankets, and other textiles.
  • Rayon is employed in the medical field to produce equipment like surgical wraps and bandages.
  • Rayon is also crucial in the sanitary field; they are used to produce tampons, sanitary pads, and other hygienic supplies.
  • Rayon is also used for packaging many processed foods.

Uses of Cotton 

  • The use of cotton is widespread in the fashion industry. Like rayon, they are used to produce men’s and women-wear shirts, dresses, socks, bath towels, and scarves.
  • Cotton makes good bed sheets, curtains, tablecloths, and other home decor.
  • Cotton is also used in the medical field to make wound dressings and bandages.
  • Due to its soft, hypoallergenic, and breathable nature, cotton is used to make baby clothes and hygienic products like diapers.

Differences in Caring For Rayon and Cotton

Rayon and cotton have different properties; hence, caring for them is also different. Always read the manufacturer’s care label for the best way to care for these fabrics. Other precautions you can take are:

Caring Properly For Rayon Fabric

Rayon is a very delicate fabric when wet, so you must take extra care when washing them. Here are a few tips:

  • Most rayon fabric comes with a ‘Dry Clean Only’ label. This type of rayon will deteriorate and even shrink badly if washed.
  • Hand washing is always the best option if there’s no dry clean label.
  • You can machine wash some rayon blends, but ensure that the machine is set to a very delicate setting. If possible, use a front-loading machine to reduce the strain on the fabric.
  • Avoid washing rayon with harder fabrics like denim; you might damage the fabric.
  • Avoid hanging rayons on a clothesline, as they lose shape easily. The best way is to flat dry them.
  • Iron rayon from the inside while it’s slightly damp. Set the iron on a low setting. A high setting will burn the cellulose fiber.

Caring Properly For Cotton Fabric

Cotton is not just a cheap and versatile fabric; it is also fairly easy to care for. Here are a few tips on preserving cotton for as long as possible: 

  • You can hand wash cotton or use a washing machine set to a gentle setting. Use a gentle detergent and wash with cold water to reduce the shrink option.
  • Air-drying cotton is usually the best option, but you can also use a dryer set to a low heat setting.
  • Iron cotton while it’s still damp. Always refer to the fabric care label for the appropriate iron setting.

Leave a comment