Sustainable Fashion

Rayon vs Silk Fabric: Guide & Comparison Table

Learn about the differences between rayon and silk.

Fabric Comparison Featured

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

Other NamesViscose, Modal, Lyocell
Made FromChemically-treated wood and bamboo celluloseSilk is a soft and shiny fiber harvested from silkworm cocoons.
AdvantagesRayon is cheap to produce and provides a substantially higher yield per acre than most other fabricsSmooth, soft and luxurious. Looks and feels fantastic.
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.
UsesRayon is used for clothing, bed sheets, curtains, and carpets.Fashion, particularly luxury items, as well as lining for men’s suits, ties, and pocket squares. Other uses include curtains, sheets, pillows, and upholstery.
Natural or SyntheticSemi-SyntheticNatural
Woven or KnittedEitherEither, typically woven
Thread Count300-600Up to 600
WashingDry 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.
DryingAir dry only, do not tumble dry as shrinkage is likelyAir dry only
IroningIron inside-out while damp with low heatDo not iron. Silk should be steamed.
Wrinkle ResistanceWrinkles easily, especially when damp.Don’t tend to wrinkle
Heat RetentionMediumPoor
Moisture WickingGoodGood
BreathabilityVery GoodGood
Flammability (untreated)Very HighVery High
Water-Resistance (untreated)PoorPoor
StrengthMedium when dry, but weaker when wetGood, but weaker when wet
SoftnessGoodVery Good
Environmental Impact Score (A is best, E is worst)Generic Viscose Rayon = E, Modal = D, TENCEL = BNormal Silk = C, Organic Silk = B
Sustainability IssuesThe 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).