Recently updated on April 5th, 2023
What should we do with rayon: is it all the rage, or should it be expelled from our sustainable fashion wardrobes?
Semi-synthetic viscose fabric, also known as viscose, is often hailed as eco-friendly. It is also the world’s third most popular textile fiber, after cotton and polyester. Do you think this is a good thing?
How does rayon fabric compare with hemp fabric, cork fabric, wool, and cashmere? But what about rayon’s eco-friendliness?
Throughout this article, we at SewingWithEase have explored the ins and outs of cellulosic fabrics and how some brands may not be as authentic as they claim.
What Is Rayon Made Of?
Cellulose is the main ingredient in rayon. A variety of plants produce cellulose from their fibers. You can get rayon from one type of plant or from a mixture of plants and other materials. The following plants are used to make rayon:
- Wood pulp
- Agricultural byproducts
- Cotton waste
How is Rayon Made?
Each type of rayon is made using a slightly different process. However, here are some basic guidelines.
The plant fiber is first turned into pulp by rayon manufacturers. In the next step, cellulose solution is formed by treating the pulp with chemicals. This dense material is then extruded into fibers by pushing it through a spinneret. A chemical bath follows the extrusion of the fibers.
Finally, rayon cloth is woven from the fibers spun into thread.
Different Kinds of Rayon
It is possible to find rayon in several different types.
The viscose process is used to manufacture viscose. Wood and bamboo are most commonly used as fibers for viscose rayon. Various products are made from viscose rayon, including clothing, industry, and cosmetics.
Reconstituted cellulose is used in the manufacture of Modal. Fabrics with Spandex or cotton usually contain this material. Clothing is the most common application for Modal.
Dry jet-wet spinning is the process used to make Lyocell. Primarily, it is used in clothing as a replacement for cotton. There are also some types of medical dressings, conveyor belts, and papers that contain them. A large amount of bamboo is used in Lyocell, but it is not the only source.
There are different types of Lyocell, including TENCEL™.
In the production of Cupro (also known as Bemberg), copper is combined with ammonia for a crystalline structure.
Lyocell and modal rayon
Lenzing has led the responsible production of rayon.
A sustainable beech tree is used to make TENCEL™ modal, and eucalyptus trees are used to make TENCEL™ lyocell.
Those names are probably familiar to regular readers of Sustainable Jungle, but you might not be aware that they are technically rayons. The main difference is that lyocell fibers are spun using solvents, which do not undergo significant chemical changes.
Despite not being the only company producing Modal and Lyocell, Lenzing is considered to be the most sustainable.
In contrast to other producers, they employ a closed-loop system that allows them to recycle nearly all water and chemicals instead of dumping them into the environment.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, Lyocell and Modal (especially TENCEL™) are also stronger, absorbent, and durable. Their elasticity and moisture resistance are also superior to regular rayon, but they are generally more expensive.
What material is bamboo rayon?
Our following fabric news is about a common misconception about bamboo rayon: that it is a sustainable fabric. Bamboo is undoubtedly eco-friendly from the start.
In addition to its fast growth, the base grass does not require much water, pesticides, or herbicides to grow. Plants with rapid growth consume more carbon dioxide (and produce more oxygen) than plants with slower growth.
Turning it into rayon also requires a great deal of chemical input. Around 50% of bamboo rayon’s chemicals are released into the atmosphere, as you may recall from our article on bamboo fabric… We don’t want that to happen to our planet.
What material is cotton rayon?
Textiles such as cupro fabric (Cupra rayon) are made by recycling cotton garments or cotton linter byproducts.
Cupra rayon isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for a vegan silk alternative and have found a brand that’s transparent about how they produce it, it might be worth considering (if you promise to wear it forever!).
The Difference Between Rayon And Cotton
In some cases, rayon is used in place of cotton as a cheaper alternative. Even though they may be found in similar products like underwear, activewear, and industrial goods, they have some significant differences to consider.
- Colors may fade more quickly with rayon because of its weak colorfastness.
- The durability of cotton is far more excellent than that of rayon. As well as being stronger, it is also water-resistant (whereas rayon loses some of its strength when wet).
- Cotton is not as flammable as rayon, which is also very flammable.
- Silky peace silk can be mimicked by rayon, but fancy silk dresses are hard to replicate with cotton.
Although rayon is semi-synthetic and cotton is natural, rayon biodegrades more easily than cotton. Rayon is among the best fabrics for beginners.
How eco-friendly is it compared to cotton? Cotton and rayon both play a role in this. Organic cotton still trumps even the most sustainable rayon when compared to TENCEL™ Lyocell rayon (the cleanest crop on the planet).
Is Rayon Fabric Ethical?
What does this mean for rayon textile workers? Those chemicals sound scary, so what does this mean for them?
Caustic soda and sulfuric acid aren’t the gentlest chemicals, as you might remember from high school chemistry class. The corrosive nature of caustic soda can damage your eyes.
In addition to causing skin and eye problems, sulfuric acid (aka battery acid) can also cause reproductive complications, lung damage, and burns.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a mist of it contains human carcinogens. In rayon manufacturing, one other chemical is especially problematic: carbon disulfide.
About 150 years of evidence show that the colorless liquid is harmful to workers while been used in rayon production for as long as it has been around.
A unique and undesirable effect of carbon disulfide is that cellulose must be removed in order to make rayon. Still, it is also necessary for the cellulose to be removed so that it can be further transformed into rayon.
As a result, the nervous system is adversely affected by a toxic degenerative brain disease. In addition to subtle personality changes, dizziness, anxiety, anorexia, vision changes, and Parkinson’s paralysis, this condition may manifest chronically over time.
Acute complications can also occur in the kidneys, blood, nerves, heart, liver, eyes, and skin outside of the nervous system. Long-term exposure (i.e., garment workers) may result in mental deterioration and insanity.
Is Rayon Fabric Sustainable?
There’s another complication with carbon disulfide. The environment is still unprotected from its harmful effects, regardless of whether workers are adequately protected.
Carbon disulfide is released into the environment for every gram of viscose rayon produced. Carbon disulfide is mainly produced by rayon production, so it is no surprise that it is found in the environment.
Indirectly, it enters drinking water, animals, and humans when it enters the environment. Furthermore, rayon must be produced in large factories with chemical storage and heavy manufacturing equipment. These trends affect Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Pakistani countries most.
Because rayon is too toxic for EPA regulations, it isn’t produced in the U.S. due to the chemical-intensive process. Additionally, wood pulp from endangered forests is being sourced from deforested and other areas (e.g., biodiversity loss) due to the extraction of pulp for cellulose.
An estimate is that 30% of the world’s rayon comes from ancient and endangered forests. The look of a rayon jumpsuit does not justify these losses.
What is the biodegradability of rayon?
From an ecological viewpoint, rayon has one significant advantage: it’s biodegradable. A recent study found that rayon not only biodegrades, but it biodegrades more quickly than other fabrics (like cotton). A biodegradable item doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be thrown away in the garden heap.
It is important to consider whether a torn rayon shirt has been processed with toxic chemicals before tossing it into your indoor compost bin. Spread your finished compost over your vegetable beds, keeping this in mind.
There is no doubt that rayon is (in almost all cases) not a sustainable fabric – which is a good thing for us who wear greenwashing-proof spectacles.
In response to all of this conscious commotion, some fabric producers have changed their practices. However, the question still remains, “Can rayon ever be eco-friendly?”
Growing numbers of companies are utilizing this material. Most of the top viscose producers have already complied with the EU BAT (Best Available Techniques) criteria.
It measures many things, such as carbon disulfide requirements, freshwater, energy consumption, caustic soda use, and emissions. As a result, there are two types of rayon fabric that we are comfortable wearing.
What is Rayon Used For?
Many people use this versatile material every day in a variety of household and industrial products:
- Clothing – In the beginning, rayon was used to replace silk. However, it can also be used as a substitute for cotton. As well as standing on its own.
- Silk Substitute – By nitrifying silk, Georges Audemars created the first artificial silk in 1855. As a result, he called the material “rayon.” Through a similar process, Hilaire de Charbonnet, the Comte de Chardonnet, created “Chardonnay silk” almost 30 years later. Ten years later, in 1894, Charles Frederick Cross, Edward John Bevan, and Clayton Beadle patented their version of viscose.
- Cotton Substitute – Some characteristics of rayon are similar to those of cotton. Despite their softness and breathability, they are both comfortable. Furthermore, both hold color well. The fibers of cotton are even used in some rayons. The most crucial benefit of rayon, however, is that it is cheaper than cotton. Clothing manufacturers use rayon as a cotton substitute because of these reasons.
- Yarn and Thread – All rayon yarns and yarns contain a combination of rayon and other materials, such as wool. Viscose, linen viscose, or even vegan silk are all names given to rayon yarn and thread.
- Bedding and Housewares – Sheets, pillowcases, blankets, and bedspreads made of rayon are popular because of their soft texture, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties.
- Upholstery – As a standalone material, rayon isn’t durable enough to be used for upholstery, but when blended with more muscular fibers, it adds a softness to the fabric. Upholstery fabrics made from rayon blends are popular.
- Carpeting – Soft and dye-resistant, viscose rayon holds dye well. Area rugs made from this material are famous for this reason.
- Medical Uses – A cotton ball, wipe, cosmetic swab, and medical dressing can all be made from rayon.
- Tire Cords – Tire cords have been made from rayon since 1935.
What Is Rayon Material Like?
Since rayon is used as a silk substitute, it has a light and soft texture. The following are some of its other characteristics:
Resulting from extrusion, this shine is natural. There is a wide variety of appearances and intensities of this shine. Rayon can appear differently when viewed from different angles or under different lighting.
In addition to being breathable, rayon conducts heat well. In warm, humid climates, it is an ideal material for clothing. Among its many uses, rayon is a natural for cosmetics and medical applications, as well as bedding and home furnishings.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Rayon?
Even though this fabric is revolutionary, it isn’t perfect for every application. Furthermore, it has unique drawbacks due to its unique qualities.
- Regarding industrial and home applications, rayon is an incredibly versatile fabric.
- It has a natural shine and accepts dye well.
- A high level of absorption is characteristic of rayon. The fabric is also moisture-wicking at the same time. Warm weather clothing can be made from this material.
- The natural properties of rayon make it resistant to mildew as well.
- In addition, rayon does not accumulate static electricity.
- It is not very strong since rayon is a natural fiber. Because of its low resilience and lack of abrasion resistance, it’s not as durable as silk or cotton.
- Rayon is weakened by water. Hand-washing is recommended for most rayon items.
- There is a tendency for rayon to shrink, sag, and wrinkle. Additionally, the edges are prone to raveling.
- Heat can easily pass through rayon because it is heat-conducting. It is a good fabric in warm weather, but in cold weather, it is a poor one.
- There is a problem with rayon holding its shape.
How Easy Is It To Sew Rayon?
What is the best way to sew rayon? It can be challenging. There is a possibility that rayon will slip. Shifts and slides can occur. It is also possible for pins and needles to leave their mark.
However, rayon’s difficulty holding its shape is by far the biggest problem with sewing it. It is fortunately possible to simplify things a bit with a few tips and tricks.
Here are a few examples:
- Choosing the Right Rayon – Working with pure rayon can be challenging. You might be able to simplify your job by using rayon blends on the market. It is possible to combine the softness of rayon with the stability of polyester by choosing the right rayon blend.
- Choose the Right Pattern – Flowing, drapey garments are perfect for rayon’s light, silky texture. Those with sharply-shaped, tight-fitting items, however, won’t like it so much. The right type of garment will maximize your chances of success.
- Prewash – Some experts recommend pre-washing rayon fabric in a washing machine before sewing with it, even though the labels of rayon garments recommend handwashing or dry cleaning. As a result, rayon tends to shrink very easily. Before you begin putting your garment together, you need to remove any shrinkage.
- Needles and Pins – Make sure you use needles and pins that are appropriate for the weight of your fabric. Also, make sure that both tools are sharp so you don’t make unnecessary holes in your fabric.
- Rotary Cutter – A rotary cutter can provide greater accuracy when cutting rayon, according to some experts.
- Stitch Curves and Edges – Staystitch curves before assembling your pieces to help them maintain their shape. Keep your raw hem edges from unraveling by stitching them.
- Give it a Rest – Heming your almost-finished garment can be done after it has been hung on a hanger for 24 hours. The reason for this is that rayon tends to sag and bag. You can sew the hem after the fibers have settled into their final configuration by hanging it.
How Durable Is Rayon?
Unfortunately, rayon isn’t very durable. Abrasion and shrinkage are common problems. The shape can be lost over time. As a result of getting wet, the fibres also become weaker.
The durability of some rayon blends, however, varies. There are rayon blends with cotton, rayon blends with wool, and rayon blends with linen.
How to Care for Rayon?
The feel and look of rayon garments are wonderful. If you want them to look their best, how can you do it? How can you fix the worst case scenario if it happens?
What Is The Best Way to Clean Rayon?
First and foremost, you should dry-clean your clothes. However, if you intend to wash the garment yourself, you should treat it delicately. In other words:
- Mild detergent
- Cold water
- Machine wash on gentle cycle or hand wash
- The garment should be turned inside out and washed inside a mesh bag when being machine washed
- The fabric should never be twisted or wrung. Instead, squeeze gently.
- Dry by hand only
- The garment should be air dried flat or hung on a padded hanger.
When rayon is washed, does it shrink? There’s no doubt about it. The color and softness of it can also fade. In addition to having chemical finishes, Modal and Lyocell are better suited to machine washing. It’s still important to handle them delicately and avoid using a dryer.
When you air-dry rayon garments, you might find them stiff and scratchy. There is also the possibility that they will wrinkle. You can reduce wrinkles by ironing. You must, however, be extremely cautious.
How to Iron Rayon?
Almost as tricky as washing delicate fabrics like rayon is ironing them. Getting the fabric scorched is the greatest danger. Rayon can also be left with an unattractive shine after ironing. As a result:
- You should set your iron to medium heat (setting 3)
- Your garment should be placed between the iron and a press cloth
- To be safe, iron the garment on the wrong side
The process of getting wrinkles out of rayon might seem intimidating at first, but it’s quite simple once you know how.
How to Shrink Rayon?
When prewashing rayon before sewing with it, for example, you might want to shrink it. It’s simple. You can do it safely in a few ways.
Method 1: Hand Washing
To begin with, gently hand wash it and soak it for several minutes in water.
Once the fabric has been dried, it can be used. Press out the excess water and air-dry your fabric either flat or hung if you want subtle shrinkage.
Use the gentle setting if you want your fabric to shrink more dramatically.
Method 2: Machine Washing
Due to the possibility of shrinkage, we recommended against machine washing earlier. If you want to shrink your rayon, however, use warm or even hot water and the gentle cycle when washing it. Be sure to wash your garment inside a mesh bag after turning it inside out.
In addition to air drying your fabric, you can also use the gentle cycle in the dryer to maximize shrinkage.
How to Unshrink Rayon?
In order to prevent rayon from shrinking in the first place, the best defense is to prevent it from shrinking in the first place. In any case, once the deed has been done, there is no need to worry. You can take a few steps. Even if you can’t restore your garment precisely to its original state, you may be able to improve it.
Method 1: Relax and Stretch
As if you had tense muscles, imagine your shrunken fibers. It’s time to wrap them in a fuzzy towel and provide them with a bit of warmth and TLC.
- Put warm water (not hot!) in a bucket.
- If you want to add conditioner or baby shampoo, add one capful.
- Relax the fibres of your garment by soaking it in warm water and gently massaging it.
- Cold water should be used to rinse your garment.
- Make sure the excess water is pressed out. Avoid wringing!
- Place your garment on a towel.
- Place your garment inside the towel and gently roll it up. The fibres will be stretched as a result.
- More water can be released by pressing.
- It is time to unroll the towel.
- Resize the garment by gently stretching it with your hands.
- Lay your garment flat to dry.
Method 2: Steam Ironing
Moisture, heat, and warmth. What’s the theme here? Your rayon garment can also be restored to its original shape by steam ironing. The following steps will guide you through the process.
- Prepare a spray bottle by filling it with warm water.
- The lowest setting on your steam iron should be used.
- You should lay your garment flat on the ironing board after turning it inside out.
- You should spritz your garment with water.
- Be gentle when ironing your garment. Don’t let it dry out.
- Regain the garment’s original dimensions by stretching it gently.
- Put your garment on a non-metal hanger or air dry it.
- If you weight down the fabric while it is drying, or if you use clothespins to hold it in place, you can increase its stretch.
Can Rayon Be Considered Eco-Friendly?
It’s a good question. A sustainable crop like bamboo is often used as a source of waste materials for rayon production. That’s great.
While eco-friendly materials are environmentally friendly, processing them involves huge amounts of toxic chemicals. As an exception, modal and lyocell are produced by reusing chemicals rather than releasing them.
Further confusing matters, rayon is biodegradable in some form. The biodegradability of viscose is even faster than that of cotton. What is the eco-friendliness of rayon? Yes, in some ways. The situation is different in other ways.
Are There Alternatives to Rayon?
Natural fabrics like silk and cotton were cheaper before rayon was invented. It’s still worth considering these options even if price isn’t your top concern.
A good alternative to cotton is linen, which is made from flax fibres. Warm weather makes it an excellent choice, and its ease of use makes it a great choice as well.
The feel of hemp fabric is similar to that of cotton and linen. Compared to cotton crops, hemp uses half the amount of water. A woven or knitted fabric can also be used.
Plant fibers are chemically processed to make rayon, a semi-synthetic fabric. Textile manufacturing, medical applications, and industrial uses are all possible with rayon.
It is generally eco-friendly and sustainable to produce rayon from natural materials. In addition, rayon production can lead to high levels of pollution. The biodegradability of rayon varies depending on the type.
The versatility of rayon is unmatched. It can also be delicate at the same time. When cleaning and sewing with it, special care must be taken.
However, rayon remains one of the most affordable alternatives to silk and cotton. The silky texture and drapability of this fabric are unparalleled.
Don’t miss our article and how to add glitter to a dress.