A heterogeneous cellulose reaction was studied by reacting cotton fiber in pyridine medium with propionyl chloride at different initial molar concentrations and at different temperatures. It has been observed that the kinetics of reaction does not follow Sakurada's diffusion equation closely, and the deviation is more noticeable at lower initial concentrations of the reagent and at lower temperatures. A non-uniform reaction rate is also evident from the time–substitution curve. The rate of substitution changes twice during the reaction, the latter change being associated with the loss of cellulose I crystal structure. In an attempt to treat the data according to simple chemical kinetics, the order has been found to decrease continuously from the beginning, suggesting thereby an autocatalytic type of behavior. However, at the finàl stages of the reaction, when the cellulose I structure was completely lost, the reaction behaved as a pseudo first-order type. The x-ray diffractograms of the reacted samples indicate that cellulose I crystallinity decreases from the beginning of the reaction and that a new crystalline lattice develops gradually. The formation of this new crystal lattice is hindered in the cellulose crystalline region due to the lack of freedom of the chains. The diffusion equation has been modified by substituting a crystallinity index for the rate of diffusion of solvent in a solvent–gel system and thus extending Sakurada's equation. A new mechanism has been proposed considering the simultaneous reactions in the amorphous and crystalline regions. This mechanism can explain the deviation of Sakurada's equation. The kinetics expressions are derived, based on the proposed mechanism. The kinetics of decrystallization of cellulose I is also presented. A satisfactory theoretical explanation is given for the fact that the fall of reaction rate occurs at the conclusion of decrystallization of the cellulose I structure.