RAYON CHENILLE... All the Rage, But Readily Ruined

Note: Though this article refers to rayon chenille, the information is also applicable to rayon velvet and other rayon pile fabrics.

Chenille fabrics are incredibly popular in today’s home fashions. With interesting textures and a soft hand, they are available in a vast array of styles and qualities. Design possibilities are broadened by the use of different fibers, the most common of which are cotton, rayon, acrylic and polypropylene (olefin).

Rayon chenilles, in particular, are often chosen for their clean colors and subtle luster. These fabrics are beautiful when they are first installed… but, what happens as they are exposed to the rigors of daily use?

Rayon Chenille

Resiliency Issues

The ability of a fiber to recover its original shape after being deformed is called its “resiliency.” When a fiber is used in a typical woven fabric (with no pile surface), resiliency is rarely an issue. But, it is a key issue in the case of pile fabrics, especially chenille.

Rayon’s resiliency is extremely poor. When it crushes from its original configuration, it tends to stay crushed. This problem is even more pronounced when the fabric is exposed to water-based spills, cleaning agents or even dampness from perspiration. Any form of moisture can cause irreversible nap distortion.

The pile lays flat when it gets wet or damp and, though it can be coaxed upright by gentle brushing, it is difficult to get it to stay upright and even more difficult to make it look new again. All of this would not be quite as problematic if it weren’t for one more unique characteristic of rayon: luster.

Problems Accentuated

Luster (also called brightness) is the ability of a fiber to reflect light. Luster levels are generally described as varying between dull (very low luster) to bright (high luster).

Fibers that are spun from a molten liquid, of which rayon is one, are typically bright-luster unless modified (delustered) by the addition of a pigment before spinning. In the case of rayon used for upholstery fabrics, much of what we see is the bright variety.

All fibers tend to reflect light differently when viewed from different angles. This creates variations in shade that are fairly subtle in low-luster pile fabric such as mohair, but much more pronounced in high-luster fabrics like rayon chenille. Any deformation of the fabric causes significant “spots” which are nothing more than nap distortion. In fact, these spots will look lighter than the surrounding fabric when viewed from one direction and darker when viewed from the opposite direction.

Keep in mind that spots caused by light reflectance/nap distortion can be caused by anything that changes the orientation of the pile, even routine use. The fabric does not have to get wet to develop nap problems, though moisture is certainly the quickest and most severe route to damage.

"That's Not Covered"

Unfortunately, upholstery fabrics are not created using anti-static fibers. Natural fibers do not typically exhibit the problem. However, polyester and other synthetic “microfibers” and “microsuedes”—very popular for both home and automobile upholstery—can contribute to static issues.


To make matters worse, ALL types of rayon are manufactured using chemicals that are potentially damaging to the environment. We have written previously about how even plants such as bamboo are processed with caustic chemicals in transforming this eco-friendly plant into rayon. This process is so toxic that rayon is no longer produced in the US.

Don't Be Fooled

Rayon is but one name for this fiber made from regenerated cellulose. It is also called “viscose,” the term that describes the primary process by which rayon is manufactured. “Cupro” is another name we have seen, again referring to a manufacturing method (the cuprammonium process). “Bemberg” is a cuprammonium rayon produced in Italy.

Can Fabric Protection Help?

Fiber-Seal Brand protective treatments are the very best in the industry. Our treatments can help slow the penetration of liquids and make oily soils easier to remove.

However, our treatments do not cause, nor can they ultimately prevent, the nap problems discussed here.

On the Bright Side

As always, the experts of your local Fiber-Seal Service Center are just a phone call away when you need assistance with the care of fine interior textiles. As you can see from this article, we answer questions that are not even related to Fiber- Seal. If we don’t already have the answer, we’ll help find it for you!