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Rayon vs Silk Fabric: Guide & Comparison Table

Rayon and silk are two popular fabrics, but what’s the difference – and which should you choose?

Rayon fabric, sometimes called ‘artificial silk,’ is a semi-synthetic fiber that mimics silk, which is made from natural fibers. Rayon has better heat retention and breathability than silk, but isn’t as soft or luxurious. However, it does cost less and is easier to care for. Unfortunately, rayon, particularly viscose rayon, is very bad for the environment. Rayon fiber is also not as durable as silk.

Check out the comparison table below then read on for a full guide to the differences between rayon and silk:

Rayon vs Silk Comparison Table

Property Rayon Silk
Other names Viscose, Modal, Lyocell -
Made from Chemically-treated wood and bamboo cellulose Silk is a soft and shiny fiber harvested from silkworm cocoons.
Uses Rayon is used for clothing, bed sheets, curtains, and carpets. Fashion, particulary luxury items, as well as lining for mens suits, ties, and pocket squares. Other uses include curtains, sheets, pillows, and upholstery.
Natural or Synthetic Semi-Synthetic Natural
Woven or Knitted Either Either, typically woven
Thread Count 300-600 Up to 600
Washing Dry clean or gentle hand wash in cold water (always check the label first) Safest to dry clean only. Hand washing may leave to fading. Do not put in the washing machine.
Drying Air dry only, do not tumble dry as shrinkage is likely Air dry only
Ironing Iron inside-out while damp with low heat Do not iron. Silk should be steamed.
Wrinkle Resistance Wrinkles easily, especially when damp. Don't tend to wrinkle
Heat Retention Medium Poor
Moisture Wicking Good Good
Breathability Very Good Good
Stretchability Low
Flammability (untreated) Very High Very High
Water-Resistance (untreated) Poor Poor
Color-Fastness Poor Poor
Strength Medium when dry, but weaker when wet Good, but weaker when wet
Durability Low Medium
Drape Fluid Fluid
Softness Good Very Good
Advantages Rayon is cheap to produce and provides a substantially higher yield per acre than most other fabrics Smooth, soft and luxurious. Looks and feels fantastic.
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. Less practical than many other fabrics. Heat retention, water-resistance and color-fastness are all poor, and overall less durable than many other fabrics.
Environmental Impact Score (A is best, E is worst) Generic Viscose Rayon = E, Modal = D, TENCEL = B Normal Silk = C, Organic Silk = B
Sustainability Issues The Rayon industry contributes to deforestation and pollution. Rayon production is chemically-intensive. Silk production is relatively low impact, and does not require too many fertilizers or pesticides. Organic silk is best, and readers may also want to look for humane silk which harvests after the moths have left (instead of with the pupae inside).
Vegan Yes No

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