Viscose may not be as much of a household name as cotton, but they both have excellent properties, making them fabrics of choice for many. These fabrics are often inexpensive but luxurious, providing comfort and style to those who wear them. Due to how similar cotton and viscose can look, many often struggle to differentiate between each fabric, which is important as the differences can affect how you use and care for them.
This article examines each fabric’s production, texture, and physical properties and why it is important. You will also learn about the durability and usage of viscose and cotton and how to maintain the fabrics.
Viscose vs. Cotton Fabrics: Production Processes
What are Viscose and Cotton Fabrics, and how are they produced? Let’s take a look!
Viscose is a semi-synthetic fabric made from wood pulp; the fabric is also known as rayon. Viscose is sometimes used as a substitute for silk because of its similarity in smoothness and drape. While the primary ingredient of viscose rayon is wood pulp, the production process is extremely lengthy. Although viscose is made from wood pulp which makes it organic, the process it is subjected to is so lengthy, tedious, and involves so many chemicals that the result is almost synthetic.
The first step in making viscose is creating or extracting wood pulp that is at least 90 percent pure in a process called the cellulose extraction stage. The extracted cellulose is then dissolved in caustic soda to produce a chemical reaction that converts the cellulose to alkali cellulose; this stage is called alkali cellulose conversion. Cellulose conversion is important because it helps viscose manufacturers get rid of impurities.
The next step is the pressing stage, where excess liquid is removed. Afterward, it passes through aging and xanthation, ripening, filtering, and extruding, and finally acid bath and completion stage. The finished product is now woven and knitted into viscose rayon fabric. Generally, although the process of making rayons is lengthy, the materials are cheap: meaning viscose can be manufactured on a large scale.
Cotton is a white fluffy material made up of twisted hairs surrounding a cotton plant’s seeds that are made into textile fiber and thread for sewing. Generally, it passes through the spinning and weaving stages, where the thread is woven into fabric. Cotton production passes through the defoliation process, where the leaves are removed from the cotton plant and then moved on to the next stage, machine harvesting.
At the machine harvesting stage, the machine not only harvests the cotton but also removes contaminants from the fiber and forms it into bales. Then it passes through the separation and transfer stages. The next stage, which is the carding stage, is where the cotton fibers are formed into long strands, and then they are spun to create yarn.
The spinning stage leads to the dyeing process, where the fiber undergoes various chemical treatments. The final stage is the weaving stage. At this stage, it is woven into any textile material needed, and it could be t-shirts, jeans, or beddings.
What is the Texture of Viscose and Cotton?
Viscose is cool to the touch and somewhat delicate. It is lightweight and breathable, meaning it doesn’t stick to the body. This characteristic makes it ideal for warm-weather clothing. It is also soft and can feel cold against the skin.
Cotton, on the other hand, is also soft to the touch and can absorb moisture. It is also breathable and comfortable for the skin. They are stretchy and strong, which accounts for their durability. These qualities and texture make it ideal for pajamas, underwear, t-shirts, and luxurious outfits. We can safely say that cotton fabrics are built and made for comfort.
Other Noteworthy properties of viscose and cotton
Viscose does not trap heat and wicks away sweat, making it ideal for active or sportswear. The fabric also has color retention properties and can hold dye for a long time, even after washing it severally. Though not elastic, textile manufacturers often combine viscose with other elements like spandex to make it stretchy. It has low permeability, which makes it hypoallergenic.
Viscose is generally biodegradable and environmentally friendly; however, the production process sometimes causes environmental damage. Viscose is lightweight and airy, making it ideal for summer clothes; it also does well to maintain shape over time, although it is not very good with ironing.
Cotton is strong, resilient, and can stand up against abrasion, wear, and high temperature. It is incredibly soft and has heat retention attributes making it feel like silk and wool. Cotton also has high tensile strength and is very water-absorbent.
However, cotton is relatively susceptible to pilling and rips. Nevertheless, it remains one of the market’s most sought-after and highly produced fabrics. You can wash cotton in high heat or cold water, but it is relatively prone to wrinkling and will shrink when washed excessively over time.
Durability and Strength
Viscose is not as durable as cotton but smooth and lighter, which is why many people go for it. When wet, the tensile strength is less than when it is dry. Viscose is easily stretched when wet and swollen. They also tend to shrink more than cotton, but when blended with wool, the shrinkage reduces. Since it is made from cellulose fiber, it will lose strength when it comes in contact with heat.
Cotton is more durable than viscose. It is a strong fabric and can stand up against heat and abrasion. They have high tensile strength making them difficult to rip or tear. Among the strengths of cotton is that they are breathable and transmits moisture away from the body. It provides thermal insulation, so you don’t necessarily have to worry about cold or hot weather. It can withstand many washes in heat as well.
Uses and Application of Viscose and Cotton
Viscose is cheap to produce, which is why they are easily made into embroidery threads, lace, outerwear, lingerie, blouses, hats, sports shirts, sports wears, slacks, ties, and suits. They make domestic textiles like bedding, curtains, carpets, blankets, table clothes, and upholstery. They are also industrial textiles that reinforce mechanical rubbers like tires, braided cords, conveyor belts, etc.
Textile manufacturers use cotton fabrics to produce clothing, bedding, towels, fishnets, book bindings, coffee filters, soap and cosmetics, sportswear, yoga wear, diapers, earbuds, foot mats, ropes, and bags. They are used to make home and industrial wear.
Care and Maintenance of Viscose and Cotton
To properly care for viscose,
- Be gentle when washing viscose to improve its longevity.
- Never squeeze or stretch the fabric when washing, as this could damage it. Instead, shake it gently, and the water will start to dry up and smooth out any wrinkles before it dries up.
- Always wash viscose with cold water, whether handwashing or using a machine.
- Electrictric dryers are known to shrink rayons, so it is best to avoid them. Always air dry your viscose fabric.
- It is often best not to apply a hot iron to viscose rayon as this could melt and spoil the fabric. If you must iron it, always turn it inside out before ironing.
To care for cotton fabrics,
- Pretreat stains by filling a bowl with water and a very good detergent before dunking your fabric. You can leave it there for a while for the stains to loosen up before washing them up.
- Cold water works best for cotton, but you can also use warm water, especially undergarments, to kill off bacteria.
- If possible, try to sun dry your cotton fabric after washing.
- It is iron-tolerant, so you can iron your fabric when dry at a medium hot to low temperature.