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Rayon vs Polyester Fabric: Guide & Comparison Table

Rayon, a semi-synthetic fiber, and Polyester, a synthetic fiber, are both popular for apparel and furnishings, and have similar heat retention, moisture wicking, and breathability. Rayon fabric tends to be softer than polyester and has a better drape, but polyester is a much more durable fabric. Both rayon and polyester fabric are cheap to produce at volume and both are considered unsustainable (except recycled polyester).

Check out the table below then read on for more information about which fabric is best:

Rayon vs Polyester Fabric Comparison Table

Property Rayon Polyester
Other names Viscose, Modal, Lyocell PET (polyethylene terephthalate)
Made from Chemically-treated wood and bamboo cellulose Polyester is a synthetic fabric made using petroleum products, although it is increasingly made from recycled plastic bottles.
Uses Rayon is used for clothing, bed sheets, curtains, and carpets. As a fabric, polyester is used widely in apparel and furnishings. Other uses include bottles and LCD displays.
Natural or Synthetic Semi-Synthetic Synthetic
Woven or Knitted Either Either
Thread Count 300-600 200-1000
Washing Dry clean or gentle hand wash in cold water (always check the label first) Typically fine in the washing machine, but watch out for blends that need to be hand washed or washed in cooler water (always check the label first)
Drying Air dry only, do not tumble dry as shrinkage is likely Normally fine in a tumble dryer with a low heat setting (check the label first)
Ironing Iron inside-out while damp with low heat Can be ironed, typically on warm settings. Turn it inside out and use a covering cloth and steam to reduce direct heat. Too much heat can melt the garment.
Wrinkle Resistance Wrinkles easily, especially when damp. Don't tend to wrinkle
Heat Retention Medium Medium
Moisture Wicking Good Good
Breathability Very Good Very Good
Stretchability Medium
Flammability (untreated) Very High High (tend to melt rather than burn)
Water-Resistance (untreated) Poor Medium
Color-Fastness Poor Good
Strength Medium when dry, but weaker when wet Very Good
Durability Low Excellent
Drape Fluid Stiff
Softness Good Medium
Advantages Rayon is cheap to produce and provides a substantially higher yield per acre than most other fabrics Very high durability, with good breathability and moisture wicking makes polyester a very practical fabric. Can be mass produced at low cost.
Disadvantages Rayon shrinks in hot water, and the more environmentally-friendly methods of creating it increase costs. Some forms of rayon require dry cleaning. Rayon may absorb body oils leading to staining. Significant environmental concern.
Environmental Impact Score (A is best, E is worst) Generic Viscose Rayon = E, Modal = D, TENCEL = B Virgin Polyester = D, Chemically Recylced Polyester = B, Mechanically Recycled Polyester = A
Sustainability Issues The Rayon industry contributes to deforestation and pollution. Rayon production is chemically-intensive. Polyester is a plastic. It does not degrade and requires significant energy, chemicals, and waste to create. We recommend only using recycled polyester products.
Vegan Yes Yes

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