Rayon Fabric Characteristics & Care

Rayon is extremely popular among interior designers around the world. We often see lustrous rayon rugs as the focal point of rooms in the most beautiful homes. Rayon found its origins in the late-1800s, when the price of silk rose to all-time highs. It became the first man-made fiber after the work of French industrial chemist Hilaire Bernigaud, often referred to as “the father of the rayon industry.” Fast forward to the present, and the rayon fibers market is forecast to reach $28 billion by 2025.

It is easy to understand why rayon remains a popular choice for home furnishings. Its natural appearance is one of bright luster, though it can be manufactured to mimic silk, cotton, and other fibers to create various degrees of shine. Rayon is also known to be very soft to the touch. With all of this being said, by no means is rayon a perfect fiber—with its beauty come plenty of potential problems.

fabric protection, fabric care
The Many Rayon Names

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that the terms rayon and viscose can be used interchangeably. What the FTC does not allow is fanciful names that do not include either rayon or viscose in the description. A rayon product that is labeled “100% Bamboo Silk” is almost always 100% rayon, and 100% in violation of federal labeling laws. In fact, the FTC has sued several major retailers for this type of infraction, resulting in fines totaling millions of dollars. Other misleading names given to rayon or viscose include banana silk, art silk, man-made silk, and more.

Why would a retailer or manufacturer use one of these terms instead of rayon? Natural fibers align with today’s focus on sustainability, and silk is both natural and a luxury fiber. Additionally, some retailers may market rayon or viscose as silk to justify charging higher prices for rugs and other products.

viscose rug
Rayon Fabric: Pros and Cons

In our industry, we think of rayon as cotton’s underperforming relative. Being a cellulosic fiber, it does share some of cotton’s better qualities, such as being soft to the touch and resistance to static. However, rayon is a man-made cellulosic, so some if its properties greatly differ from cotton.

Weaker When Wet

Cotton gets stronger when wet, while rayon loses 50-80% of its tensile strength when it gets wet. This leaves rayon products prone to shading, crushing, and shedding when exposed to moisture.

Fabric Shading

Perhaps the best feature of rayon is its lustrous appearance. Because of this, though, any shifts in the pile direction can mean different areas of a rug appear lighter or darker than others. This occurrence is referred to as pile distortion. Wet feet, a small spill, or a pet accident can all result in this type of problem.

This is an example of a wetted thumb pressed on a rayon chenille fabric.  From one direction it looks like there is color loss while looking from the opposite direction it looks like a dark spot. This simple nap distortion could take hours to correct.

Poor Resiliency

Rayon is one of the least resilient of all fibers. Crushing and matting in high-traffic areas is common. To avoid pulls/sprouts coming out of your viscose rug, do not use a beater bar when you vacuum.

Viscose Rug

Yellowing

Many rayon rugs have cotton foundation yarns or backings that can cause yellowing or browning discoloration when water or any water-based liquids are spilled.  Often, the discolorations are larger than the original spill. Normally, we would recommend blotting out the liquids as soon as possible, but with rayon, blotting can cause big problems by crushing the pile fibers. If just plain water is spilled, try drying the area with fans or a hair dryer.

Poor Cleaning Results

Generally speaking, rayon fabrics, rugs, and carpet are more difficult to clean than most fibers, and many professional cleaners will even decline to do so. As with any fabric or floorcovering, dry cleaning is not nearly as effective as wet cleaning. Normal wet cleaning procedures will typically cause flattening of pile fabrics or floorcoverings. This can be somewhat corrected by gently grooming the pile upright as it dries, but the overall look of the pile will oftentimes never be the same. Yellowing and/or browning is always a concern with any wet cleaning of rayon.

Environmental Issues

Performance issues are not the only concern with rayon. The production process for viscose rayon requires the use of chemicals that are potentially toxic to both the manufacturing workers and the environment. Air emissions can include sulfur, nitrous oxides, carbon disulfide, and hydrogen sulfide. The rayon production process also uses copious amounts of water and energy, and has a track record of polluting water sources.

Some manufacturers are using enclosed systems to minimize the harmful effects on the environment, however, rayon’s inability to hold up over time leads to it quickly finding its way to already crowded landfills. 

How Fiber-Seal Can Help

Rayon is a gorgeous fabric that is used in luxurious homes across the country. However, it is important to know the pros and cons of the fabric before committing to rayon furnishings. With the increased difficulty of rayon maintenance, we believe it to be imperative that you get your rayon/viscose products protected in order to increase their useful life, as well as take advantage of the complimentary spot cleaning that our trained technicians provide on protected items!

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