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An In-depth Comparison Between Rayon and Cotton Fabric

Comparison Between Rayon and Cotton Fabric
Rayon is very similar to cotton when it comes to feel and comfort; so, what makes these two fabrics made from cellulose different? Know all about them, as rayon and cotton, two very popular fabrics, battle it out in this Fashionhance article.
Buzzle Staff
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2018
People with sensitive skin should always opt for cotton, as it is hypoallergenic. Rayon goes through a lot of chemical processing; thus, it may have traces of formaldehyde, which is an allergen.
Today, we have so many options in fabrics, so much so that choosing the right one can be quite confusing. Right from natural fabrics like cotton, silk, or wool, to synthetic ones like polyester and nylon, there's no dearth of options.
Plus, there are numerous blends as well, which give you the best of more than one fabric at a cheaper cost. It is important to understand the various aspects of a fabric before buying anything. Some may require too much care, while others may be extremely convenient.
We compare two very popular fabrics in the upcoming sections: cotton and rayon.
Rayon Fabric Characteristics
Rayon is the first man-made fabric, and was initially invented as a cheaper alternative to silk. It is neither a completely natural nor artificial fabric. Although it is made from plant cellulose, the process of production of rayon is very extensive; thus, it is called a semisynthetic fiber. With its silk-like appearance, and beautiful drape, rayon is perfect for evening gowns, dresses, shirts, skirts, etc. It is also used in surgical products, diapers, tires, and many other industrial products.
How is rayon fabric made?
The process begins with steeping of cellulose in caustic soda. After the excess solution is removed, the resulting sheets are shredded. The white crumbs are then dissolved in caustic soda. After filtering and degassing, they are passed through a spinneret into sulfuric acid. Finally, they are stretched to form fibers.
Cotton Fabric Characteristics
Cotton needs no introduction. It has been used as a clothing fabric since prehistoric times. Even today, it is the most used natural fabric. It is made from cellulose. The strength and durability of cotton make it a preferred choice for towels, T-shirts, socks, underwear, bed sheets, etc. Different types of cotton are used for different purposes; terrycloth for absorbent towels, and denim for jeans. The use of cotton is not restricted to just clothing or upholstery; it is also used to make coffee filters, tents, and fishing nets.
How is cotton fabric made?
First, the wool and seeds of the cotton are separated. Then, the cotton is spun to make threads. The threads are then woven into fabric.
► Since they are made from the same material, they have a very similar feel. Both are very soft and breathable fabrics.
► They hold colors very well, and take on bright colors brilliantly.
► As both, cotton and rayon wrinkle a lot, they need to be ironed. They also shrink a lot.
► Both fabrics are biodegradable.
Although both fabrics are made from cellulose, there are many differences between rayon and cotton. Let's check them out
Rayon vs. Cotton
  • Cotton does not lose its strength when wet. In fact, it gets stronger.
  • Cotton can be washed in a washing machine. It does not require much washing care.
  • Cotton can be washed with hot water. The fibers don't weaken due to heat.
  • Cotton can be ironed on a high heat setting as well.
  • Cotton is not as flammable as rayon.
  • Rayon is not a sturdy fabric, and loses a lot of strength when wet.
  • Most rayon clothes need to be dry-cleaned, while some have to be hand-washed.
  • Rayon can be washed only in lukewarm or cold water; hot water will damage it immediately.
  • Rayon needs to be ironed on a minimal heat setting.
  • Rayon is highly flammable.

Environmental Impact
  • Although both fabrics are produced from cellulose, their production methods are very different.
  • Cotton requires a lot of water and pesticides. Rayon is processed, so it requires a lot of water and energy. Thus, both fabrics contribute to pollution.
  • As both fabrics are made from natural sources, they are biodegradable.
Which to Choose?
  • Other than some basic differences, both these fabrics are pretty similar. Depending on your needs, you can choose any fabric, but the optimal way would be to go in for a blend.
  • Fabrics with different blends are easily available in the market today. These combine the advantages of different fabrics, to give you the best option.
  • Do read the label, and the wash and care instructions properly, before buying any fabric.
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