Perhaps there are times you find yourself at the fabric store staring at aisles filled with enticing fabrics. If you’ve ever had to choose a fabric for a sewing project, you’re no doubt aware of how overwhelming it can be to narrow down all your choices and find exactly the right fabric for the garment you want to make. When you’re wondering if a particular rayon fabric will work well for your next summer sewing project, you might be asking yourself “is rayon breathable fabric?”
Rayon is a breathable fiber. Rayon fabrics intended for use in apparel are typically breathable, but there is no guarantee that every finished rayon fabric will have this characteristic. This is because there are other factors besides the fiber contents that influence the finished fabric’s breathability.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the factors that can transform rayon fiber into a breathable finished fabric. We’ll also discuss some of the things that can reduce the final fabric’s breathability. After you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll have an understanding of how to evaluate rayon fabrics and clothing to determine whether or not they will meet your needs for breathability.
What Does “Breathable” Mean?
In the context of clothing or sewing materials, a breathable fabric is one that allows both air and moisture to escape through it. These characteristics help to ensure the wearer will remain comfortable via evaporative cooling. Sweat passes through the fabric and then evaporates, which can provide a cooling effect.
Textile engineers have standard testing procedures they use for determining a fabric’s air permeability and moisture transfer rate. These tests enable us to understand how various fabrics compare against each other in the breathability department.Some breathable fabrics will readily absorb moisture. Textile engineers can measure this capability, and they express it in percentage form. The technical term for this is “moisture regain”.
Usually, breathable fabric will either absorb moisture or wick it away. Some breathable fabrics can do both to varying degrees, but the fabric doesn’t necessarily have to accomplish both of these things to effectively be breathable.
Wicking capacity is a related subject I’ve covered in the article, “What is the most breathable fabric?”. If you’d like more details on moisture wicking-fabrics, I encourage you to read that article.
Is Rayon Breathable Fabric?
There are many factors that can contribute to making rayon breathable fabric. A few of them are as follows:
The Chemical Composition of Rayon Fiber
Manufacturers take natural raw materials such as bamboo, wood chips, or wood pulp and process them with various chemicals to derive rayon fiber. The resulting rayon fiber is naturally breathable.
Intended Use of the Finished Fabric
At every step in the manufacturing process, the manufacturer makes choices that can either enhance the fiber’s breathability or detract from it. These choices will depend on the intended end use of the finished fabric.
Rayon has many possible industrial applications. Besides apparel fabric, manufacturers use rayon to produce upholstery fabric, tire components, stuffing for furniture, and a broad variety of other products. Breathability isn’t an important consideration in finished rayon that’s destined for use in these other applications.
Rayon Apparel Fabric vs Rayon Upholstery FabricApparel fabric manufacturers tend to prioritize breathability when they make all their design decisions. Upholstery manufacturers do not, because breathability isn’t a top priority characteristic of rayon upholstery fabrics.
When you’re at a fabric store evaluating whether or not a particular rayon fabric is breathable enough to wear in the summertime, you’ll want to take that fabric’s original intended purpose into consideration. If a particular fabric you’re considering has a lightweight construction and is on a shelf with other apparel fabrics, it’s a safe assumption that the fabric will be breathable and wearable. If you found a rayon fabric shelved with upholstery fabrics, you’re better off assuming that the fabric might not be as breathable as you’re hoping.
Rayon Yarn Construction
Manufacturers aren’t using raw rayon fiber to construct apparel fabrics. They’re using rayon that has first been spun into yarn. There are different approaches to constructing rayon yarn, and the yarn’s construction has a direct influence on the breathability of the finished fabric.
Yarn Thickness and Density
To make breathable fabrics, it’s ideal to start with a thin, fine yarn rather than a thick, dense one.
In woven fabrics, the amount of yarn twist can have a dramatic influence on the air permeability of the resulting fabric. The amount of twist in the yarn affects its diameter and also its density.
Tightly twisted yarn is likely to turn out denser than a loosely twisted yarn would. Manufacturers can achieve firm, tightly woven fabric structures with these high-twist yarns. This particular choice would result in a reduced capacity for air permeability and less breathable fabric.
Rayon Fabric Construction
Woven Rayon Fabric Construction
To produce a woven fabric, a textile manufacturer interlaces lengthwise (warp) and widthwise (weft) yarns. Between these yarns are spaces called “voids”. These voids are desirable for creating air permeability, which enhances the breathability of the fabric.
Fabrics made with tightly packed yarns tend to have less void volume and reduced breathability. Fabrics made with loosely packed yarns have greater void volume, and they tend to offer better breathability.
Knitted Rayon Fabric Construction
To produce some types of knitted apparel fabrics, it’s typical for textile manufacturers to use circular knitting machines that build loops of yarn on top of each other. The specific loop structure they use affects the air permeability of the finished fabric. In particular, longer loops in knitted fabric contribute to a looser structure and better breathability.
Fabric Weight and Density
Dense, heavy rayon fabrics are less breathable than their lightweight counterparts.
Is Rayon Good for Summer?Rayon ranks high on the list of breathable fabrics that stay cool in the heat. Apparel fabric manufacturers typically design their rayon fabrics to be comfortable and breathable in the summertime. The majority of lightweight woven rayon fabrics available in fabric stores are suitable for sewing summer clothing.
Does Rayon Make You Sweat?
Rayon fibers do not offer outstanding heat-insulating properties. Because rayon doesn’t insulate well, your rayon clothing isn’t likely to make you sweat when you wear it. When it’s designed with breathability in mind, rayon can be one of the most breathable fabrics for hot weather.
Does Rayon Wick/Absorb Moisture?
Wicking capability and moisture absorption capacity are two different characteristics. Many of the best moisture-wicking fabrics do not absorb moisture at all. Instead, they allow moisture to pass through to the surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate.
Rayon is highly absorbent, and its wicking capacity is moderate. Rayon is more absorbent than cotton, and it wicks moisture better than cotton does. Otherwise, it behaves much like cotton.
Rayon will readily absorb sweat from the skin, as cotton does. Neither rayon nor cotton wicks the moisture away from the skin as well as high-performance synthetic fabrics do. However, rayon can keep you cool more effectively than wicking synthetics do by retaining more moisture; this prolongs the evaporative cooling process.
Is Rayon More Breathable Than Cotton?
Rayon offers 11 percent moisture regain. In comparison, cotton only offers 8.5 percent moisture regain. In plain English, that means rayon fiber absorbs moisture more readily than cotton fiber does. Rayon also releases the absorbed moisture into the air more readily than cotton does.
The end result is that some rayon fabrics can be more breathable than some cotton fabrics are. However, it’s important to understand that the fiber content of a fabric isn’t the only thing influencing its breathability.
The thickness and structure of fabric both have a direct influence on that fabric’s air permeability and drying rate. It’s possible to weave or knit both rayon and cotton into lightweight fabrics that offer high levels of breathability. It’s also possible to weave or knit either fiber into heavy fabrics that are not as breathable. The finishes applied to the fabric after weaving or knitting also have a direct influence on how breathable the finished fabric ends up being.
The thickness of the fabric is the most important factor determining how fast a fabric will dry after it has been exposed to perspiration. A featherweight rayon fabric will generally be more breathable than a hefty, thick cotton fabric will be. Likewise, thin, lightweight cotton fabric is likely to be more breathable than a thick, densely woven rayon fabric.
Apparel fabric manufacturers are producing both rayon and cotton fabrics that are suitable for use in summer clothing. Assuming you choose a rayon fabric that’s intended for summer apparel, it’s likely to give you highly satisfactory levels of breathability.
Can You Wear Rayon in the Winter?
At times when you want your clothing to insulate your body heat, rayon fabrics are not going to be the best choice. When the temperatures are truly frigid, it’s wise to choose a warmer fiber than rayon to keep you warm. Most rayon clothing is unsuitable for wearing in cold climates during the winter months. One example is rayon sundresses, which are obviously not winter-friendly.
There are some situations, however, where it’s appropriate to wear rayon clothing in the winter. Rayon t-shirts and long-sleeved turtlenecks can make great layering pieces to wear under heavy winter sweaters. You might want to choose a wool suit with a rayon lining to wear to work in the wintertime. It’s also possible to find delightfully warm and beautiful sweaters knitted out of rayon yarn. In particular, rayon chenille sweaters are suitable for winter wear in many climates.
Furthermore, some clothing manufacturers choose rayon for making winter outerwear. It’s possible to weave or knit thick, luxurious winter scarves using rayon chenille yarn. Rayon jackets, coats, vests, and capes are also popular winter garments. These pieces are typically intended for wear in locations where winter weather is chilly, but the temperatures don’t dip below freezing.
Is Rayon More Breathable Than Polyester?
If you’re only comparing raw fiber, unfinished rayon fiber is more breathable than unfinished polyester fiber.
With 11-percent moisture regain capacity, rayon offers a much more substantial ability to absorb moisture than polyester does. In comparison, polyester’s natural moisture regain capacity is only 0.4 percent when the fiber is in its unfinished state.
Finished polyester fabrics, though, can also turn out to be highly breathable. This is because it is possible to improve polyester’s moisture regain capacity by using moisture-managing finishing processes. It is also possible for manufacturers to knit or weave a highly air-permeable fabric out of polyester by choosing a fabric structure that encourages airflow.
Finished rayon fabrics do not wick moisture away from the body as well as finished high-performance polyester fabrics do. For additional insights on how rayon compares against polyester, check out our article,“Polyester vs Rayon”.
Primary Uses of Rayon
ActivewearRayon fabric makes wonderful t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, shorts, and tunics. When producing activewear, it’s typical for clothing manufacturers to blend rayon with other fibers like polyester, nylon, elastane, or spandex for maximum stretch and functionality.
Blouses and Sundresses
Rayon’s soft breathability and drapability make it the perfect fabric to use for creating summer blouses and sundresses. It’s possible to use 100 percent rayon or blends for either purpose.
Rayon can make dreamy, soft socks that feel fantastic on your feet. If you want to buy rayon socks, it’s ideal to look for versions that are blended with a bit of nylon and spandex. The nylon will add strength, making your socks more durable. The spandex will add stretch capacity, ensuring the socks will conform to your feet and keep their shape better.
Rayon sheets are silky, soft, and luxurious. They tend to be a surprisingly affordable option considering how fabulous they are. Their moisture-absorbent properties contribute to comfortable sleep at night even during the hottest summer months.
Testing has revealed that rayon jersey fabric offers outstanding air permeability – so if you’re looking for breathable rayon fabric for sewing projects, that’s a great fabric to consider working with. I recommend using a zigzag stitch or a serger to sew stretch jersey fabrics.
Rayon Spandex Stretch Knit Jersey FabricRayon spandex stretch knit jersey is an example of a breathable rayon fabric that’s ideal for sewing t-shirts, pajamas, yoga pants, and lightweight athleisure wear for summertime.
It’s a rayon blend made up of 92% Rayon and 8% Spandex.
Rayon Bamboo Four-Way Stretch Jersey FabricRayon bamboo is a soft, lightweight, breathable rayon blend fabric that offers four-way stretch for optimum comfort.
In summary, rayon does offer excellent levels of breathability. Both knitted and woven rayon fabrics can provide outstanding airflow if they are constructed loosely and finished using methods that enhance breathability. When you want to choose a breathable fabric, you’ll primarily want to look for a lightweight rayon that’s intended for use in apparel rather than upholstery.
Have you stitched or purchased any rayon garments of your own? Let us know if you’re satisfied with their breathability in the comments below.