Rayon vs Cotton: What is the Difference
Written by Dreamcloud Editorial Team
Last Updated on Jan 31, 2023
Every fabric is made differently, each possessing different characteristics. For example, wool comes from animals, silk from insects, and cotton from plants. Consequent to their origins, every fabric has different attributes and needs to be treated differently.
One such varying comparison is rayon vs cotton. Though both fabrics are widespread and are used in the textile industry, one is semi-synthetic, and the other is resourced naturally. Besides the different resources, keep reading to know what else is different.
|Origin||Wood pulp||Cotton plant|
|Strength||Becomes weak when wet||Have a strong tensile strength|
|Durability||With proper care, it can be in good shape and last many years||Lasts many years, but pills overtime|
|Softness||Smooth and silky||Soft and fluffy|
|Elasticity||unless blended with spandex its not elastic||When made into a knit fabric it's somewhat elastic|
|Absorbency||More absorbent than cotton||Highly absorbent|
|Pilling||Does not pill over time||Pills overtime|
|Wrinkling||Does not wrinkle easily||Wrinkles easily|
|Sustainability||Not as sustainable as completely natural fabrics, but is more eco-friendly than most synthetic fabrics||Renewable plant resources but production methods are environmentally unsustainable|
|Care||Handle it gently, often requires dry cleaning||Normal care, machine washable, though dryer use is not recommended|
|Cost||Cheaper than real silk, but more expensive than most synthetic fabrics||Compared to synthetic fabrics it is expensive|
|Uses||Everything from apparel and bedsheets to tire cord||Everything, from clothing, curtains, beddings to medical bandages|
What Are Rayon Sheets
Before getting on with rayon sheets, first, know what is rayon. Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber manufactured from regenerated cellulosic fiber derived from wood pulp, from eucalyptus trees, bamboo, soy, cotton, etc. It was developed as the substitute for silk in the late 19th century and was the first man-made fiber.
Sheets made from rayon fabric are rayon sheets. When comparing cotton vs rayon, though rayon is not as sustainable as natural fabrics, it is more eco-friendly than most synthetic fabrics and has many properties similar to cotton. Furthermore, rayon and cotton sheets are often preferred by some people as bedding due to its smooth and silky texture and its high absorbent and breathable quality.
Pros and Cons of Rayon
Here are some advantages of rayon, as well as disadvantages.
- Breathable: Rayon has high moisture-wicking properties, making it feel softer, more comfortable, and lightweight against the skin than most synthetic materials.
- Luxurious Appearance: Being the substitute for silk, rayon is silky, smooth and drapable.
- Versatile: Rayon can hold its dye very well and are available in various prints; in addition to that, it can blend well with other fabrics.
- Wrinkle resistant: It is wrinkle resistant.
- Cost: As a silk substitute, the manufacturing cost is much cheaper.
- Lightweight: Since the fabric is lightweight, it can get damaged easily if not handled with care.
- Shrinks easily: Rayon can shrink easily when wet and often requires a dry clean or hand wash.
- Durability: It is not a durable fabric, and gentle care when washing and ironing to ensure it doesn't lose its shape.
- Harmful production process: Although rayon uses fewer chemicals than a fully synthetic fabric, it is still manufactured with a complex chemical process making it environmentally unfriendly.
- May cause an allergic reaction: Because of all the chemicals used in manufacturing, people with sensitive skin may experience an allergic reaction.
Types of Rayon
There are mainly three types of rayon that vary in the manufacturing process, fiber properties, and applications.
Viscose rayon is the first and the most common variant of the rayon fabric that was developed in 1884 as a cheaper alternative to silk. The manufacturing process involves 7 clear steps that include extracting and dissolving the wood into a pulp solution, which is then washed, cleaned, and bleached. This silk alternative remains popular and is used in clothing, household items, etc.
Modal is the version of rayon that represents a significant evolution in the history of this fabric. It was first developed in 1951 in Japan, and in more than one way, modal rayon is nearly identical to viscose rayon. The modal rayon uses hardwood cellulose such as birch and oak. The production requirements are similar to viscose rayon, and the steps involve spinning reconstituted beech trees into cellulose fibers that are then woven into fabric. They are often blended with spandex to create a stretchy and comfy material, commonly used for making sportswear, underwear, T-shirts, and bed sheets.
Lyocell is another variation of rayon fabric used as a silk or cotton substitute. It was initially developed in 1972 by American Enka; it became popular in the 20th century and is still relatively popular. And unlike the other two, lyocell rayon manufacturing involves directly dissolving the pulp and spinning it into cellulose fibers. They are commonly used for making denim, dress shirts, underwear, towels, etc.
What Are Cotton Sheets
Compared with synthetic rayon vs cotton, cotton fabric is resourced naturally from the cellulose that grows in a protective case around the seeds of the cotton plant. And unlike silk, manufactured only in Asia, cotton is now produced worldwide.
The history of cotton goes way back and can be traced to domestication, where it has been used as a fiber at least since 3000 B.C. by Indians and Americans. However, no one accurately knows where cotton primarily originated from.
Even so, this fluffy and soft gift of nature can be modified into several varieties of fabrics. It ranges from lightweight voiles and laces to heavy sailcloths and thick-piled velvets, suitable for various wearable articles of clothing, home furnishings, and industrial uses. However, between cotton vs rayon, cotton sheets are the top choice for people prioritizing cool, comfortable, and restful sleep.
Pros and Cons of Cotton
Following are the pros and cons of cotton fabric.
- Fluffy and comfortable: Being resourced from fibrous seed and the extracted quality of cotton staples, it can provide highly soft fabric depending on the thread count.
- Versatile: It is informed that natural fibers such as cotton, silk, and wool take dye much better than synthetics and can be used in making everything from t-shirts and bedsheets to medical bandages.
- Breathable: The porous fibers and loose weaving make the fabric breathable.
- Easy to maintain: Cotton fabrics are easy to care for, which means it does not require extra care like synthetic materials when washing and ironing.
- Durable: Cotton fabrics are durable.
- Wrinkles: The cotton fabric wrinkles easily.
- Harmful to the environment: Although cotton is sustainable when compared to synthetic fabrics, its cultivation causes severe soil erosion and degradation remaining constant for the past 70 years, cotton harvest has depleted and degraded the soil in many areas.
- Less yield: Compared to conventional cotton, organic cotton has less yield, which means modified seeds use chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.
Types of Cotton
There are 4 types of cotton varied by their different characteristics.
Pima cotton is a luxury material that composes extra-long staple (ELS) cotton fibers ( longer than 34 millimeters), which makes it an ultra-soft fabric. They are produced from a specific type of cotton plant called Gossypium barbadense, only found in tropical areas, which is highly susceptible to frost damage. Due to its incredible softness and richness of texture, it is commonly used in high-end clothing and bed sheets. And one highly likable attribute of prima cotton is its pilling resistance due to its long fibers.
Similar to Pima, Egyptian cotton also composes extra-long staple (ELS) cotton fibers, which are produced in Egypt. The Egyptian climate allows the cotton fibers to grow extra long, 30- 50 millimeters. These extra-long staple fibers are handpicked, guaranteeing the highest levels of purity; this makes the fabric high-end and durable. Egyptian cotton is usually used for making bedding and sometimes towels.
Upland cotton is native to America but was first discovered in Mexico about 5,000 years ago. They have relatively short fibers and constitute about 90% of the world's total cotton production. The upland cotton is also cultivated in the Caribbean and southern Florida. Furthermore, due to its soft, strong, and low-maintenance fibers, upland cotton is often used for making denim jeans and flannel clothing.
Cotton that is cultivated in ways that have a low impact on the environment and uses organic production is "organic cotton." This helps replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduces the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and builds biologically diverse agriculture. In addition to using organic cotton for clothing, it can produce organic food products for people and animals.
What Is the Difference Between Rayon and Cotton
Now that a brief description of rayon and cotton is known let's discuss a quick comparison of rayon vs cotton.
The root difference between rayon and cotton is their origin. Where rayon is a semi-synthetic material resourced from wood pulp, cotton is a natural fiber that originated from the fibrous seeds of the cotton plant. Also, the origin of the fibers can make all the difference in their attributes and properties.
Cotton fiber is superior to rayon which also means it is stronger than rayon fiber. However, certain factors are involved while estimating the strength of the fabric. For instance, fiber strength is determined by genetics. Although rayon has a good tensile strength when dry, it has a low strength when wet. Compared to this, cotton strength varies depending on the staple length and quality.
When it comes to durability, the factors of estimation involve the quality, shape, and strength over time. Both rayon and cotton are mediocre in durability.
Cotton has a strong cellular structure that can withstand the heat of iron and the roughness of the washing machine. However, it can still pill, wrinkle, and stretch over time. On the other hand, rayon can hold its shape for a longer time and is resistant to pilling and wrinkling, but if not handled with care, it gets damaged easily under heat or moisture.
Although rayon fiber manufactured from wood pulp feels smooth and silky against the skin, unlike cotton, it lacks softness. Meanwhile, cotton has porous, soft, pliable, and absorbent fibers, adding a higher thread count and longer, finer staples that can add to the softness of cotton.
Cotton fabrics can stretch 3 to 6% of their length. In addition, if the fibers are knitted into fabric, it can add to the elasticity, for example, jersey knit made from cotton. Meanwhile, the rayon fabric has the lowest elasticity; for example, the elasticity of viscose rayon is less than 2-3%. And when blended with a small amount of spandex, it can make them stretchy.
Both rayon and cotton have excellent absorbency. Even so, rayon is slightly better. The porous fibers of cotton allow the fabric to be breathable and wick moisture. Similarly, rayon fabric also has a surprisingly excellent ability to absorb moisture.
When compared with cotton, rayon fabric can withstand pilling over time. The quality and length of the staple also play a major role in the quality of the cotton fabric. An excellent way to keep the fabric in good shape is by carefully handling them: selecting a gentle wash cycle and air drying the fabric.
Rayon fabric is wrinkle-resistant. This means if the fabric is scrunched up in a fist, it can retain its original shape back. However, cotton can wrinkle easily and will require good ironing to smoothen back to its original shape.
Based on the manufacturing technique, rayon can produce more sustainably than other synthetic fabrics. However, manufacturing also requires deforestation and involves harmful chemicals that require careful disposal.
Cotton cultivation is no different. Although it is an all-natural and renewable resource, cotton harms the environment by using a substantial amount of water and utilizing the manufacturing process that usually involves many chemicals for special fabric treatments.
Compared to rayon, cotton fabric is easy to care for. Although it stretches and pills over time, cotton with a higher thread count will hold up much better than cotton with a cheap and loose weave. On the other hand, Rayon gets weak when wet and may get damaged under heat. Therefore it is suggested to dry clean the rayon fabric to retain its shiny and silky surface.
The prices for both rayon and cotton can vary based on the resources used for manufacturing. For example, upland cotton costs far less than premium Egyptian cotton. Similarly, viscose rayon costs a lot less than modal rayon. And though between rayon and cotton, the general rule of thumb is natural fabrics cost more than synthetic materials. The cost of either type of fabric depends on the production process and the quality of the material used in either fabric.
Both rayon and cotton have versatile uses and similar features of being lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics. Cotton is used for making various wearable clothing, home furnishings, and industrial uses, such as bandaging for medical purposes. Rayon is a cheaper substitute for silk and is used for making various clothing articles and homeware, such as blankets, sheets, and curtains. It is also used for making tire cords and surgical products.
Rayon vs cotton possess vast differences, all from their origins to their uses. Therefore, rayon vs cotton fabrics can be debated according to the user's preference. Both the fabrics have good and bad properties, such as cotton is prone to wrinkling, and rayon requires delicate care. So, share your preference based on your experience and the information provided in the article.