What is Rayon?
To decide on whether rayon is an eco-friendly material or a good material, first, we need to take a closer look at the question “what is rayon?”
Rayon can best be described as an umbrella term, which covers semi-synthetic fibers. These are man-made fibers made from cellulose. Examples of these semi-synthetic materials could be viscose, Tencel, and lyocell, which are all seen as different types of rayon.
Maybe you have heard about rayon before – and if you have you’ve probably heard about them because a company was using it as there “sustainable material”. But is rayon sustainable? or is rayon synthetic? And what about rayon vs. viscose – isn’t it the same thing?
You might have a bunch of other questions, but I guarantee you will get those questions answered in down below – also if you are just looking for the answer in whether or not rayon will shrink.
What is Rayon made of?
Rayon is a natural-based material, made from cellulose fibers obtained from wood pulp, bamboo, or even cotton waste. But that doesn’t mean that rayon is a completely natural material. Even though rayon is based on natural resources, the process of converting rayon into a usable material requires the use of harsh chemicals. Therefore rayon isn’t considered a natural material but a semi-synthetic fabric.
So to answer your question, rayon is made of natural-based materials, such as wood pulp or bamboo, but the process of making rayon requires certain chemicals and the fabric then goes from natural material to a man-made fabric.
How is Rayon made?
Now that we know rayon actually isn’t an all-natural material, but actually a man-made one, another question arises. How is Rayon then made? Of course, this answer includes a man-made manufacturing process.
Rayon is made by pulping the given plant cellulose and then by the use of toxic chemicals liquifying the pulp. This toxic pulp is then extruded to create fibers, which can be used in clothes. These fibers are then spun into the yarns which then are woven or knit into the clothes you see in the stores.
Is rayon a good material?
Rayon is a man-made fabric and consists of a blend from cotton, wood pulp, and other natural or synthetic fibers. Rayon was first made to be a more economical solution to silk. Rayon is a thin fabric that makes it breathable in hot weather and gives it a light feel so that it is comfortable to wear. This fabric is so light and breathable that it is a perfect fabric for sportswear and summer-clothing.
But rayon also has a downside. The man-made fabric has to go through a highly chemical process to become a useable material. This process is dangerous to the workers who produce the clothes, and therefore rayon isn’t exactly an ethical material.
Some types of rayon (and if produced really poorly) might also emit toxins when worn, which can cause headaches, vomiting, and muscle pain. This is of course rare, but if you though that rayon was a super material, you might want to reconsider that. Rayon can be seen as a good material on some levels, but it is worth remembering, that the process of creating rayon is dangerous and in most cases not exactly eco-friendly or ethical.
Rayon vs. viscose
If you’ve made it this far in the post to find out what rayon is, you may be a bit confused when you reached this headline. Because (as the largest part of population) you might have thought that Rayon and Viscose were the same things.
But despite what most people think rayon and viscose aren’t two sides of the same coin. The reason why viscose by many is seen to be identical to rayon is that viscose is often considered as being a type of rayon. This however doesn’t mean they are completely similar.
The difference between rayon and viscose can be found in the manufacturing process. While rayon as mentioned above derives from bamboo cellulose or wood cellulose viscose is derived from wood cellulose and plant fibers, which are made into a viscose liquid, which then undergoes a chemical process to end up as the viscose material you see in clothes and household textiles.
To point to the best one of the two fabrics would be difficult since they are highly similar in both feel, look, and manufacturing process. Both rayon and viscose undergo a highly chemical process, to end up as the fabric we see in the shops. So to point out which one is better depends on manufacturing, ethical conditions at the factory where it’s produced and so on.
Rayon vs. Cotton
Know that we have answered the question; what is rayon, it is time to compare it with a well known natural fiber – cotton.
When you compare rayon and cotton you there are two things you can look at, and your choice will likely depend on which one of the two you find most important.
We often hear how cotton needs lots of water to grow and isn’t the best eco-friendly alternative. But since rayon actually can be made out of cotton (and then have to undergo a highly chemical manufacturing process), I would argue that cotton is more eco-friendly than rayon. Cotton can be organic and is a natural fiber, so if you want to know which of the two is best for the environment my answer would be cotton.
If you are looking for the most delicate one of the two, rayon might be your preferred choice. It drapes really well, has a silky texture and an expensive and soft look. Rayon is often less expensive than cotton. On the other hand, rayon is more difficult to clean and it is weaker than cotton – especially when it is wet.
Is Rayon a natural fiber?
No, rayon is a man-made fabric and is therefore not a natural fiber. In it’s purest form rayon consists of natural fibers before it undergoes the chemical manufacturing process needed to turn rayon into a solid material that can be used in clothes. But the rayon you see in the stores is man-made and can’t be considered a natural fiber.
The many types of rayon can easily imitate the texture and feel of natural fibers such as cotton, wool, or silk, but that doesn’t mean rayon is a natural fiber. Never the less rayon is often mistaken for a natural fiber because it derives from natural fibers. But if you want to know the answer to the question “what is rayon” a natural fiber, unfortunately, isn’t the correct answer.
Is Rayon synthetic?
Now that we have established that rayon isn’t a natural fiber it must be a synthetic one right? Actually that is not the case either. The fabric is something in between. So what is rayon? Well, we know that rayon isn’t an all-natural fiber, but unlike other man-made fibers, we also know, that rayon derives from natural resources such as wood pulp and natural cellulose-based materials.
To be considered a synthetic fabric, the material must be made from synthetic polymer, and we know that isn’t the case with rayon. This means rayon is neither a natural fiber nor a synthetic one. it is something in between.
Can Rayon be washed?
Rayon is one of those materials, which is best to dry clean. This is due to the fact that rayon weakens when it gets wet and might lose its shape. You can wash rayon, but you have to take your precautions. To make sure you don’t break the delicate fibers, always wash your clothes made from rayon in cold water on a low temperature – no more than 30 degrees. Also, make sure to use a mild detergent so you don’t ruin the color of the clothes.
Hand-wash is more preferable and what I would recommend you doing if you want to be completely sure you don’t ruin your clothes. But it is possible to machine wash rayon, just remember to use cold water, a delicate washing program, and mild detergent.
Will Rayon shrink?
It depends. Rayon will shrink when exposed to too much heat. Actually rayon is extremely sensitive to all kinds of heat, so if you throw your favorite rayon shirt on the dryer, there is no doubt what will happen, when you open up the dryer again – your shirt will be at least a size smaller. Rayon can actually also shrink when worn! Especially if exposed to water since the material isn’t water-resistant.
But you can avoid ruining your favorite rayon shirt by taking it to the dry cleaner instead of doing the washing yourself. If you decide to di the washing yourself always follow the washing label and never twist a rayon garment! So will rayon shrink? When exposed to heat then yes, but when washed in cold water the answer is no.
Want to know more about eco-friendly textiles?
If you are sitting behind your screen wondering what other materials you might have thought was more sustainable than they actually take a look at our eco-textile guides. These will help you get to the bottom of some of the most common “sustainable” materials used in the fashion industry. You can find our eco-textiles guides here.