Cotton vs Rayon: 12 Differences Between Rayon and Cotton

Even natural fabrics are not all made the same or have the same characteristics. Wool comes from animals, silk from an insect, and cotton comes from a plant as linen does. Because of these different origins, these fabrics are not the same thing and need to be treated differently.

One of the major differences between rayon and cotton is that they come from different plant life. Rayon is made from wood chips while cotton is grown on a plant. Plus, the processing is different so that the two materials are not the same and have different qualities.

To learn all of the differences, or almost all, just continue to read our article. It has those differences and more. Cotton is a great fabric and has a wide range of uses but rayon may be a bit limited in application. All you need to do is read more to find out.

The Difference Between Rayon And Cotton

It is possible that your busy schedule doesn't allow you the time to read what is written below. That is why we created this quick comparison chart to meet your schedule and provide you with valuable information about these two fabrics.

Item Cotton Rayon
Origin The cotton plant Wood chips from different trees
Existence Thousands of years Since about the 1880s
Fiber All natural Part natural part synthetic
Strength Stronger than rayon and stays strong when wet Not as strong as cotton and loses its strength when wet
Medicine Used for medical products Not used for medical applications
Washing Can be washed in the washer, even using hot water Needs to be hand washed in cold or dry cleaned
Ironing Can be ironed using direct heat and on high Cannot be ironed except on very low heat settings
Flammable Cotton is not as vulnerable to fire as rayon is Very flammable
Durability A very sturdy fabric Not sturdy at all
Manufacture Needs lots of water and pesticides Needs lots of water , energy and other chemicals
Application Cotton has more applications than rayon Has a limited number of applications, better in blends
Colorfastness Does fade but not as fast as rayon Fades faster than cotton

Is Rayon Like Cotton?


Not really. The closest the two get to being the same is that they both originate from natural products. But even those two products are different as rayon is made from different trees and one grass-bamboo.

Cotton comes from the cotton plant which has the bol weevil as its deadliest enemy which is why pesticides are used in the creation of the cotton fabric. Then rayon is said to absorb better than cotton but the latter material beats out rayon in most categories except for being flammable.

Despite the natural ingredients in rayon, it is a very vulnerable material. It can not stand high heat, nor can it get wet. In either case, it loses its shape, form, and strength where as cotton gains strength when wet and can handle high heat if it has been pre-shrunk.

Rayon was also designed to mimic silk, something that even the best of cotton fails to live up to. When you want a fine evening on the town in a grand dress, rayon is the material to purchase.

Does Rayon Feel Like Cotton?

No, rayon doesn't feel like cotton, it is more silk-like in feel and texture. That was the natural fiber that rayon was made to be like but only at half or less than the cost of silk. If cotton had a synthetic double like silk, it would be viscose and not rayon.

Rayon also has a wonderful drape to it and probably keeps you cooler than cotton will. With the rayon fabric further from your body, the heat has more chance to escape than if you wore cotton materials.

The difference in processing makes rayon feel differently than cotton. That material goes through a caustic soda bath as well as time in sulfuric acid to produce the fibers needed to make rayon fabric.

Cotton does neither of those activities and as soon as the cotton is separated from the seeds it is spun into cloth. The processing will provide both fabrics with different feels although both materials can be manipulated to provide different levels of softness.

Does Rayon Shrink More Than Cotton?

It is hard to say as cotton will only shrink once on you and when that is done, it remains the size it shrank to until its lifespan is over. All-natural fibers will shrink somewhat but there is no real set rate as it depends on the type of fabric, the thickness, and the quality of the material.

Rayon will shrink but with its vulnerability to hot water and being wet, it may shrink a little bit more than cotton will. You would need about 30% or less rayon in a fabric blend to keep the material from shrinking.

When you read the tag, it may not say prone to shrinking on it but it should say hand wash only or dry clean only. When you see those words, you know that you should not machine wash rayon outfits.

Cotton, on the other hand, will handle hot temperatures as well as cold. They can be machined washed or dry cleaned and even hand washed if you are so inclined. Cotton has a lot of flexibility when it comes to being cleaned. Rayon doesn't have that same flexibility.

Rayon Cotton Blend Fabric

If you want to make rayon better, you blend it with another fabric. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of blend on rayon’s part as just a little bit will help bring our that fabric’s positive characteristics.

The other fabric in that blend will lend rayon its positive characteristics and keep it from shrinking, being ruined by heat, and when the clothing item gets wet. Keeping rayon on the minority end of the blend is the best way to go.

Blending that material with cotton provides lots of softness as well as strength. The material should not be damaged if you happen to get it nice and wet. Cotton will lend its wet strength to make sure your rayon cotton outfit retains its good look and shape.

The one thing you should be worried about in this blend is the toxic chemicals used to create the rayon fabric. You do not want to have a large amount of rayon next to your body as those toxic chemicals can be absorbed by your skin very easily.

Anything static resistant, stain-resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof, or moth repellent you should reconsider wearing. They are treated usually with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and one example of those chemicals is Teflon.

Rayon Sheets vs Cotton

They say that rayon made from bamboo is a better bed sheet to have on your bed than cotton. This type of bed sheet is said to be very breathable helping to regulate your body temperature as you sleep. There are different kinds of bamboo rayons and you should check those out before you but. They all have different qualities.

With that said, cotton also comes in different styles and qualities and the higher the thread count the better the softness. Cotton breathes naturally and it too will provide a comfortable sleep although some cotton varieties may cause you to overheat a little.

A lot will depend on the type and quality of either fabric when they are turned into bedsheets. If you want to shave a few pennies off of your bill then do not expect to get top quality production or results. The lower qualities just do not have it in them to produce as top quality sheets will.

Many benefits come with choosing bamboo over cotton and one of those benefits is that it is a fast-growing plant and can be restored faster than cotton plants can.

Is Rayon Cooler Than Cotton?

The principle we have told you about before will apply here as well. If the fabric is further from your body, the cooler the fabric. Since cotton is a harder fabric than rayon it stands to reason that while it is breathable, it is not as cool as rayon.

Rayon drapes better than cotton does and remains further from your body giving your body heat more chances to escape than cotton provides. This is why rayon is a good material to wear in the summer. You stay cooler and you look better for your formal evening event.

Rayon has that silk-like look and feel making it better for formal events requiring formal or evening gowns. Then on those humid days and lights, rayon is the better of the two fabrics as it lets that humidity escape faster than cotton will.

Even though cotton absorbs a lot of moisture, it does not do as good a job of cooling you down as rayon does. When you are facing hot days and hot situations at the office, it is better to go with rayon as long as the weather forecast doe snot call for rain that day.

Is Cotton or Rayon Better?


While rayon does keep you cooler than cotton and the fact that it drapes well, those characteristics are not enough to make the fabric better than cotton. It may look and feel like silk but rayon is not silk. Nor does it have the properties that silk has.

Cotton is a superior fabric compared to rayon. It beats that material out in almost every category it is placed in when rayon is the competitor. It is stronger than rayon, has more applications, been around longer, and is all-natural.

Plus, cotton has more colors and designs that make it a more attractive material to wear. Then cotton is easier to clean, handle, and iron. The only other place that cotton loses to rayon is being able to catch fire quickly. That category is won by rayon hands down.

Also, cotton does not lose its strength when wet. That is a major vulnerability that rayon has not overcome yet. Get cotton wet and it may shrink a little if it has not been pre-shrunk but get rayon wet and you may lose the shape of the outfit

Cotton vs Rayon Socks

If you want to stay cooler and have your feet sweat or overheat less, go with rayon socks. The positive properties of that fabric should still exist when it is made into footwear. But then so will the negative properties and you have to be careful about getting them wet.

If the rayon was part of a bend then you may have a better time and more strength as well as silk-like comfort. But overall, cotton should be the more durable fabric for socks and you do not have to worry about them when they get wet.

Cotton is one of the best ways to protect your feet from the ills that plague them. It is also softer material that will keep your feet nice and comfortable. Then when it gets cold outside, your feet will stay warmer with cotton socks rather than a rayon pair

Cotton vs Rayon Stretch

The cotton shirt you are wearing will stretch as you wear it. That is one of the pluses that come with wearing cotton. You can get it to fit just right and be comfortable all day long in an old pair of cotton shorts, etc.

Rayon doesn’t do that and needs to be blended with a stretchable fabric to provide you with room to reach out and touch someone. Then rayon needs a little water to help it stretch as the light moisture will relax the fibers and allow you to move them back to their original shape.

The key here is the term ‘little’. Do not expect rayon to stretch like spandex or rubber or elastic. In contrast to cotton, rayon is made specifically to hold its shape. That means it won't stretch when you wear it.

Humidity may be the only element that will make rayon stretch when you wear it. When the humidity leaves so will the stretch

Cotton vs Rayon Thread


There are some very good reasons why some fashion, fabric, or sewing accessory stores do not sell rayon thread even though it is a popular style of thread and used extensively throughout the fashion world.

Those reasons are that the rayon thread may fade soon after it is washed and it is a weak thread much like the fabric is weak. It is not good for quilting or other heavy use fashion items.

The good point that comes with rayon thread is that it comes with a nice sheen and it is usually very cheap to buy. Cheaper than cotton. The rayon threads are made the same way the fabric is made thus it is part natural and part synthetic. That means it also has the vulnerable spots that the fabric has including losing its strength when wet.

We haven’t said much about the cotton thread and that is because you already know everything about it and it has the same qualities s cotton fabric does.

Rayon vs Cotton Durability

This category is also one that cotton wins quite handily. The mere fact that rayon loses its strength when wet makes cotton the winner by far. Even when rayon is made into upholstery fabric, it is not as strong as cotton and if left out in the sun rayon is very vulnerable and fades fast.

Then rayon has many other weaknesses than water. The acid will harm as will mildew and the iron. With that many weaknesses, do not expect rayon to be a durable fabric to wear. But then you are wearing rayon for its feel, looks, and softness.

Cotton is worn for its durability, comfortable fit, and its attractiveness. This material handles rougher wear and tear than rayon is able to do making it very durable as well as lasting a long time.

In some regards, rayon may be cheaper than cotton but cotton is overall the better fabric to have next to your skin. We are talking feel not chemicals here.

Bamboo Rayon vs Organic Cotton

If you are talking about bed sheets then you may want to go with the bamboo as that grass has many qualities that cotton doe snot have. First, bamboo is thermo regulating so you can use it all year round if you want.

On top of that bamboo is more moisture-wicking, naturally deodorizing, and more durable than cotton even though organic cotton may hold a close second here. Next, the high thread count of cotton doesn’t match up with the same thread count in bamboo sheets. The latter will be softer than the former.

While cotton is cheaper than bamboo sheets, the organic variety may be close to the price of bamboo. Organic always carries a high price tag. Bamboo uses less water than cotton does to be made into a fabric so that is good for the environment.

Then best of all. Bamboo is naturally pest-resistant making the need for pesticides almost non-existent. Cotton still needs some type of bug protection even if it is organic. Finally bamboo is not picky about the soil it grows in.

Polyester Cotton vs Polyester Rayon


The polyester in both these blends should help both fabrics resist wrinkles, shrinkage, and fading. Plus, the polyester adds durability to both fabrics. So it is hard to compare the two except that the cotton element in the one blend will be stronger and better than the rayon portion of the latter blend.

By that, we mean that rayon and polyester really can’t stand the heat whereas the cotton and polyester blend should be able to withstand higher laundry temperatures. That is unless the polyester material is the dominant fabric in the blend.

Both cotton and rayon can tear very easily so adding the tear-resistant polyester helps both fabrics be more durable and last you a lot longer. One of the negatives that polyester brings to two blends is that it has a rougher feel to it.

That material needs the smoothness of cotton and rayon to feel good when you touch it. In the overall comparison, the latter blend will lose out as it is more flammable than the former blend. Cotton cuts the ability of polyester to burn quickly.

That makes the poly-cotton blend better than the poly rayon blend. Oh and the fewer chemicals needed to make the cotton-poly blend also help out to make it the winner in this comparison.

Rayon vs Cotton Pants

The winner here will depend on where you live in the country. Rayon is better for humid climates while cotton is better for warm ones. If you happen to sweat a lot no matter how warm it is, rayon will absorb that moisture better than cotton will.

But cotton is tops when it comes to cooler climates. It is a better insulator than rayon and helps you stay a lot warmer. Plus, it is stronger material when the rain is coming down. Avoid wearing rayon when you know you are going to get wet.

In the looks department, we are kind of partial to the cotton pants over the rayon option. We just like cotton better as it is made with fewer chemicals than rayon is and it has a better feel to it.

Some Final Words

If you are going to ask us to decide as to which is better rayon or cotton, we will always go with the natural fabrics over synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics. Natural is always better despite their weaknesses and synthetic just does not compare, even if it is part natural.

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