With so many different types of fabric out there, it can be hard to tell the difference, especially when those fabrics have very similar characteristics. Two fabrics in particular that have a lot of similarities are polyester and viscose. But, these fabrics are very different, which is why I’m going to share with you the differences between polyester vs. viscose in this article.
Polyester and viscose are breathable, moisture-wicking, and non-stretchy fabrics. But the biggest difference between polyester and viscose is that polyester is a 100% synthetic fabric while viscose is a semi-synthetic fabric similar to rayon. Polyester is a multi-purpose fabric, while viscose is used as a silk substitute.
If you’re trying to decide between these two fabrics, you may be wondering if one of them is better than the other. I’ll cover the key differences between these two fabrics, as well as the pros and cons of each, so that you can decide for yourself.
What is Polyester?
Polyester is a synthetic fabric which means that it hasn’t been around for nearly as long as natural fabrics such as cotton, silk, and wool. The fabric that we now know as polyester has only been around since the mid-1900s, but it became popular in the 1960s and 70s when it was used to make leisure suits.
Since polyester is a synthetic fabric, that means that it is made from petroleum that has to be refined to create the polyester fibers themselves. Petroleum is heavily processed with chemicals to form monomers, which are essentially individual molecules of plastic. The monomers are reacted again with other chemicals, where they combine to form polyester polymers.
Molten polyester then goes through a machine, forming into long strips. After the strips cool and dry, they are broken into smaller pieces, re-melted, and then put through a spinneret machine to create polyester fibers. The fibers then undergo further chemical processing, which gives the fibers certain characteristics before being woven together to create fabric.
Being a synthetic fabric, polyester can take on many different forms depending on what chemical treatments and processing were used. That’s why polyester fabrics can often have different textures and why it is such a versatile and multi-purpose fabric. Polyester is often blended with other materials, such as cotton or spandex, to make fabrics more breathable, durable, or stretchy.
What is Viscose?
Viscose is a semi-synthetic fabric, which means that it is partially natural and partially man-made. That’s because viscose is made from wood pulp, which comes from trees, but it is chemically processed to make it usable for clothing and give it certain characteristics.
Viscose is a version of rayon fabric, but the main difference between viscose and rayon is that viscose is primarily used as a cheaper substitute for silk. Viscose can be made to have a similar texture to that of silk and similar properties, which is what is meant by semi-synthetic.
The fabric is made by extracting cellulose fibers from wood pulp, and the cellulose needs to be 90% pure for the fabric to be high-quality. The cellulose is then dissolved in a chemical called caustic soda, which removes impurities and turns the cellulose into alkali cellulose.
The cellulose is then pressed between rollers to remove liquid and turn it into white sheets. The sheets are crumbled, then exposed to oxygen which “ages” the cellulose and turns it yellow. The yellow substance is dissolved and then “ripened” to get it ready to be turned into fabric. Once ripe, it is filtered and ran through a spinneret, which turns it into fibers that are then woven to create fabric.
Polyester vs Viscose: Key Points
This chart provides a brief overview of some key differences between polyester and viscose. More information about each characteristic will be provided below the chart.
|Very breathable, more breathable than polyester
|One of the most durable fabrics
|Less durable than polyester, more durable than silk
|Smooth, but can range from soft to stiff
|Soft and smooth, texture similar to silk
|Moderate warmth, some versions are warmer than others
|Moderate warmth, may require layering
|Yes, dries quickly
|Yes, but may absorb some water
|No, but can be blended with spandex to make it more stretchy
|Not stretchy and hard to make stretchy
|Ease of Care
|Very easy, avoid high heat in the dryer
|Requires more care, wash in cold water, avoid the dryer
|One of the most inexpensive fabrics
|More expensive than polyester but cheaper than silk
|Casual clothing, sportswear, upholstery
|Blouses, dresses, and skirts as a silk alternative
What’s the Difference Between Polyester and Viscose?
Polyester and viscose aren’t necessarily the most breathable fabrics, but they certainly aren’t the least breathable either. They both have a high level of breathability compared to most fabrics, which is why polyester can be used for clothing such as sportswear and viscose is a good alternative to silk.
The difference in breathability is that viscose is made partially from plant-based fibers, making it slightly more breathable due to the fibers’ nature. Polyester is made from plastic polymers, so it is not as naturally breathable as viscose. Rather, polyester is breathable because it can be processed to make it that way.
Durability is one of the areas in which these two fabrics differ the most. Polyester is one of the most durable fabrics there is, which is why it has so many uses and is often blended with other fibers such as cotton to make it more durable. Polyester is also resistant to shrinking and stains and is more resistant to wrinkles.
Viscose is more durable than silk, which is why it is used as a substitute. But, it is not as durable as polyester. It can shrink a lot due to being made with plant fibers, especially when exposed to heat when it is washed and dried. Viscose also wrinkles very easily. If you’re looking for durability, then polyester is the better choice.
Polyester can be made to have different textures depending on what it’s used for. Most of it is generally soft and smooth, but some versions can be softer than others. For example, polyester can be used to make fleece and velvet, which are two of the softest fabrics. But, some types of polyester can feel stiff as well.
Viscose is a smooth and soft fabric as well, and since it is an alternative to silk, it usually has a texture similar to that of silk. Many viscose fabric is softer than polyester, but there aren’t as many variances in texture as there are with polyester.
Polyester and viscose both have a medium amount of heat retention in general. They aren’t considered to be warm fabrics and they aren’t the most insulating, but they will keep you warmer than fabrics such as linen.
Polyester tends to be a bit warmer than viscose, considering that it can be made to have different textures. For example, fleece is a warm polyester fabric, but the type of polyester used for sportswear isn’t always warm. Viscose has a warmth similar to silk, but you may have to layer it to get the most warmth.
Both polyester and viscose are great at wicking away moisture. Polyester is very water-resistant and dries very quickly if it gets wet, which is why it is a popular fabric to use for sportswear. Viscose is moisture-wicking as well, due mostly to its breathability.
However, polyester is the better choice if you’re trying to decide between the two based on moisture-wicking ability. Like other plant-based fabrics, viscose does absorb some water. It may also take longer to dry than polyester does.
Neither polyester nor viscose is stretchy. They are woven fabrics, which generally aren’t as stretchy as knit fabrics are. Polyester can be made to be more stretchy by blending it with spandex. But, polyester is still a little more stretchy than viscose is, even without blending it with other fibers.
It is harder to make viscose stretch because it isn’t naturally stretchy due to being made from plant fibers. If you think about it, you can’t stretch a plant without it breaking because the fibers are more rigid. Plant fibers become more flexible when exposed to water, but they still don’t stretch. The fact that viscose isn’t stretchy actually makes a lot of sense.
Ease of Care
Polyester is one of the easiest fabrics to care for due to its durability. You don’t have to take special precautions when washing and drying it. You just have to avoid using a high-temperature setting in the dryer. Although polyester doesn’t shrink, heat can cause the fabric to melt or become damaged.
Viscose requires a bit more care because it can shrink more than polyester. Viscose is a type of rayon, and rayon has the potential to shrink every time you wash it. You have to be sure to wash viscose in cold water because even hot water can cause some shrinking due to the fibers relaxing because of the heat. But, heat from the dryer is most likely to cause it to shrink, so avoid putting viscose in the dryer at all and hang it up to dry instead.
Polyester is one of the cheapest fabrics you can buy, mostly because it is essentially made from plastic and it can be made in abundance. Polyester tends to be cheaper than viscose as well.
That doesn’t mean that viscose is expensive, as it is very cheap compared to real silk fabrics. But, viscose usually isn’t cheaper than polyester because it isn’t made as abundantly as polyester is. Plus, viscose is still derived from natural materials, so it has to undergo more processing than polyester, which affects its cost.
As I mentioned before, polyester is one of the most versatile and multi-purpose fabrics. It can be used to make any type of clothing imaginable and for any season. Some common uses for polyester are for casual clothing such as t-shirts and sportswear, in which it may or may not be blended with other fabrics such as cotton or spandex. But, polyester is also used for household textiles and upholstery as well.
The main use of viscose is for clothing, especially as an alternative to silk. Since silk is considered a luxury fabric that isn’t used much for casual clothing, viscose isn’t used much for casual clothing either. It is mainly used for blouses, dresses, and skirts that are cheaper and more durable than silk.
Pros and Cons of Polyester
Overall, there are many positive things about polyester that make it a good choice for clothing. Some of the pros of polyester are that it is incredibly durable and stain, wrinkle, and shrink-resistant. It is also moisture-wicking as well as inexpensive and easy to care for.
But, polyester has its downsides as well. When compared to viscose and natural fabrics, polyester is less breathable. It also isn’t stretchy unless it is blended with spandex or other elastic fibers. Plus, it can become damaged due to high heat. And being a synthetic fabric, some people may not like to use it as it is not as environmentally friendly.
Pros and Cons of Viscose
Viscose has many advantages, especially when compared to silk since that’s what it is used as an alternative to. Viscose is inexpensive, plus it is breathable and moisture-wicking as well. It’s a good choice if you want to make dressy clothing that is more durable and easier to take care of than silk is.
When compared to polyester though, viscose has its disadvantages. It is not as durable since it is prone to shrinking. It also wrinkles very easily. Viscose is also more expensive than polyester, and in general, it is not as stretchy as polyester or other fabrics. An advantage that viscose does have over polyester is that it is not 100% synthetic, so it is more environmentally friendly.
Polyester Fabric by the Yard
As you’ve learned, polyester fabric is one of the cheapest fabrics you can buy. It can cost as little as $3.00 per yard, especially for polyester and cotton blends. But, some can cost more than $10 per yard. It just depends on the type of polyester fabric.
Most polyester fabric is sold in widths of 54 inches. Because polyester is so easy to produce, it is sold in many colors and styles. It’s not difficult to find polyester fabric in various colors, patterns, and prints.
Viscose Fabric by the Yard
Viscose fabric costs more than polyester does per yard, but it is still fairly inexpensive. Viscose can be found for as little as $5 per yard to as much as $15 per yard or more, depending on the type of fabric and its manufacturer.
Most viscose fabric comes in widths of 54 inches as well, although some is sold in larger widths. It mostly comes in solid colors, but you can find some viscose fabric in patterns and prints such as floral.
Which One Is Better?
When it comes to determining which one is better between polyester and viscose, it just depends on what you’re trying to make with the fabric or what the intended purpose of the fabric is. Polyester is more versatile and durable and better for everyday wear. Viscose is better for dressier occasions or specific types of clothing that you may not wear as often.
Whichever one you choose, I hope this guide makes distinguishing between them easier. Thanks for reading!