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Rayon vs Cotton: Which Fabric is Right for You?

Imagine yourself shopping for bedding, and you come across two options: one made of rayon and the other of cotton. Confused about which fabric to choose? Don’t worry. This blog aims to give you a thorough understanding of rayon vs cotton. By the end of this read, you’ll be equipped with all the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision. 

The Difference Between Rayon and Cotton

An Overview: The Difference Between Rayon and Cotton

Rayon Cotton
Origin Semi-synthetic, derived from cellulose Natural fiber from cotton plant
Production Process  Chemically processed from wood cellulose and synthetic substances Mechanically processed from cotton bolls
Feel Smooth, silky, soft Soft, breathable, comfortable
Absorbency Highly absorbent Highly absorbent
Breathability Good Excellent, weaker when wet
Stretch Limited natural stretch a bit of natural stretch
Durability Less durable, weaker when wet Very durable, especially when wet
Applications Clothing, home textiles, industrial uses Clothing, home textiles, medical supplies
Environmental Impact Biodegradable, but production can be intensive Biodegradable, but high water and pesticide use
Care and Maintenance Requires gentle care, dry cleaning is the best Easy to care for, machine washable

Origin and Processing

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made from cellulose derived from wood pulp or other plants. The cellulose is converted into fiber through the viscose process, cuprammonium process, or lyocell process. These methods involve several chemical treatments, making rayon a versatile and adaptable fabric.

Cotton originates from the fibers of cotton plants. The processing involves ginning to remove seeds, cleaning to eliminate impurities, and spinning the fibers into yarn. This yarn is then woven or knitted to create soft and breathable fabrics.

Key Characteristics

  • Feel and Appearance

Rayon is known for its silky texture and smooth feel, with a beautiful drape and luxurious sheen that mimic natural silk. This makes it ideal for high-end garments and elegant dresses for special occasions. 

When comparing rayon vs cotton, rayon offers a silk-like quality, while cotton is celebrated for its natural softness and skin-friendly properties. Cotton’s surface can vary from smooth to slightly textured depending on the weave, providing a wide range of applications.

  • Absorbency and Moisture-wicking Properties

Rayon is known for its high absorbency and excellent moisture-wicking properties, keeping the body cool and dry. This makes it perfect for outdoor sports where quick drying is needed.

When comparing rayon vs cotton, rayon has a moisture retention of 12-13%, while cotton has a moisture retention of 6-9%. Though less absorbent than rayon, cotton is also highly absorbent, making it a favorite for towels and summer wear. However, cotton can stick to your skin and slow to dry when there’s heavy sweating, resulting in a damp, uncomfortable feeling.

  • Breathability

When it comes to breathability, rayon is breathable due to its fine fibers and lightweight, thin weave, helping maintain a comfortable body temperature in summer’s heat and humidity. 

Generally, cotton is more breathable than rayon. However, it does not perform as well as rayon in hot and humid conditions. The reason is cotton fibers expand after absorbing moisture, restricting air circulation and making the fabric less breathable.

  • Stretch

100% rayon fabric has limited stretch but can be blended with fibers like spandex to increase elasticity. The stretchiness of spandex paired with rayon’s breathability, makes the blend ideal for athletic wear. 

Similarly, 100% cotton fabrics have minimal stretch and usually require blending with elastane fibers to become more flexible. For example, a popular blend of 95% cotton and 5% spandex maintains the advantages of cotton while enhancing stretch and comfort.

  • Durability

When it comes to durability, rayon falls short compared to cotton. Exposing rayon to water significantly decreases its strength, with the fabric absorbing a large amount of water during the wash, resulting in a 30% to 50% reduction in strength. Additionally, rayon is prone to shrinking and losing its original shape, and can easily tear. 

In contrast, cotton is much more durable. Cotton fabric is able to withstand heat and alkali, making it easier to maintain its high quality. Thus, cotton is suitable for regular daily use and ensures a longer lifespan.

  • Biodegradability and Sustainability

Rayon is biodegradable, even more so than cotton. However, it does come with an environmental drawback. When rayon naturally breaks down, it releases residual chemicals from its production process into the soil, damaging the ecosystem. Luckily, there is a rayon variant called lyocell that offers a more sustainable option. Lyocell employs a production process that utilizes fewer chemicals and reuses solvents, making it a more environmentally friendly choice.

Cotton is also biodegradable. Yet, its production requires an immense amount of water, putting a strain on this precious resource. For those seeking a greener cotton option, organic cotton is more sustainable. Produced without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, organic cotton minimizes harm to the environment.


Rayon is often used as a more affordable alternative to silk, offering a smooth, lustrous finish that is perfect for stylish yet comfortable clothing. It is also commonly found in home textiles like curtains and bedding, as well as in industrial applications due to its strong tensile strength. 

On the other hand, cotton is suitable for all skin types due to its natural skin-friendliness and softness, thus used in a wide range of apparel and home textile products, including towels and bedding. Besides, cotton can be used in medical and personal care items such as bandages, cosmetic wipes, pads, and diapers.

Care and Maintenance

When it comes to care and maintenance, rayon requires gentle care as it is not very durable and can easily shrink or get damaged in the wash. It is best to opt for dry cleaning or hand washing. Additionally, rayon tends to wrinkle easily and can’t withstand heat, so when ironing, be sure to use a press cloth and keep the temperature below 190 degrees Celsius. 

On the other hand, cotton is easier to care for as it is more durable and robust. You can wash your cotton items in the washing machine or simply wash them by hand. Besides, tumble dry is also acceptable for cotton items.


  • What are the disadvantages of rayon?

Rayon’s production involves chemicals that may damage the environment. Besides, rayon should be washed with caution due to its tendency to shrink and its fragility when wet.

  • Is rayon or cotton better for summer?

Both rayon and cotton are suitable for summer. Rayon dries quickly while cotton is favored for its great breathability.

  • Does Cotton shrink more than Rayon?

Rayon tends to shrink more than cotton due to its significantly higher absorbency, nearly twice that of cotton. However, cotton also shrinks if not pre-shrunk or washed in hot water.

  • Is rayon good for the skin?

While rayon may seem like a comfortable and luxurious fabric to wear, it can be harmful to the skin. This is due to the chemicals used in its manufacturing process, which may cause skin irritation. For a more skin-friendly option, consider choosing natural fabrics like cotton instead. 


Now that you’ve gained deeper insights into rayon and cotton, are you better equipped to make informed choices? Continue to visit our website, Sinosilk, for more information on a wide array of fabrics and products. With a commitment to excellence, Sinosilk ensures that every purchase is a worthwhile decision.

More Resources

Rayon vs Silk

Tencel vs Cotton

Bamboo Fabric vs Cotton

Polyester vs Cotton

Silk vs Cotton

Organic Cotton vs Cotton

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