Rayon Fabric: Essentials You Need to Know

Rayon fabric, often known as artificial silk, is a versatile material used in a variety of clothing due to its softness, comfort, and absorbency.

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Rayon Fabric: Essentials You Need to Know

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Key takeaways

  • Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric made from pure cellulose, a natural substance in wood pulp.
  • Rayon fabric is prized for its softness, smooth texture, and shiny look, often likened to natural silk, making it ideal for elegant and comfortable clothing.
  • Rayon's sustainability varies depending on the production methods. While certain types of rayon are produced sustainably, others aren't.

Shopping for fashion fabrics? Then, you'll be spoilt for choice. There are numerous fabrics available, each with distinct characteristics and uses. However, while most fashion fabrics fall into two main categories — natural fabrics (like cotton and wool) and synthetic fabrics (like nylon and polyester) — a few fabrics straddle the line between both categories.

Rayon is a popular fabric that falls somewhere in the middle. Commonly known as ''artificial silk'' because of its silk-like properties, rayon can mimic other natural fibers like cotton, linen, and wool.

But what exactly is rayon, and should you add clothes made from the fabric to your wardrobe? In this guide, we'll explore all the essentials you need to know about the fabric, such as how it's made, what it's used for, how to care for it, its sustainability, and more.

What Is Rayon Fabric?

Rayon is a fabric that's made from cellulose, a natural substance derived from wood pulp. However, while rayon is made from natural materials, it also undergoes intensive chemical processing. This is why rayon is considered a semi-synthetic fabric. 

What Is Rayon's History?

Rayon's history dates back to the late 19th century when it was developed as an alternative to natural silk. At the time, silk was expensive and scarce globally due to a disease that had ravaged silkworm populations. This drove scientists to work towards finding an alternative to the natural fabric.

Eventually, in the 1880s, French scientist and industrialist Hilaire de Chardonnet made a breakthrough when he produced the earliest form of rayon known as ''Chardonnet silk.''

Unfortunately, despite his breakthrough, Chardonnet's silk wasn't viable for commercial production because it was highly flammable. As a result, the commercial production of rayon didn't take off until the early 20th century, when scientists and textile manufacturers refined the production process.

What Are the Common Rayon Fabrics?

With its shape-shifting ability, rayon comes in different types, each with unique properties and purposes. Some of the common types of rayon include:

Viscose Rayon

Viscose rayon or viscose is the most popular type of rayon fabric. It's made from wood pulp that undergoes chemical treatment to form a viscous solution. The solution is then forced through a spinneret to form fibers.

Viscose fabric is prized for its silky texture, lightness, and exceptional draping qualities. These characteristics make it great for various lightweight garments such as dresses, skirts, and blouses.

It's worth noting that while textile manufacturers often use the term viscose and rayon interchangeably, viscose is just one of the various types of rayon fabric.

Modal Rayon

Modal is made from beechwood pulp. It's known for its softness, breathability, and shrink resistance. These qualities make it ideal for t-shirts, underwear, and sportswear.

Lyocell Rayon

Lyocell, commonly known by its trade name Tencel, is an eco-friendly type of rayon. It's produced using a closed-loop process, so fewer chemicals are used during its production, and they're recycled and reused. 

Lyocell is prized for its soft feel, breathability, and exceptional moisture-wicking properties, making it a perfect fabric for bedding and underwear.

Cupro Rayon

Cupro or cupra rayon is a unique type of rayon made from cotton waste rather than wood pulp. It's known for its silk-like feel and excellent draping qualities, making it a popular choice for free-flowing clothes.

What Are the Steps Involved in Rayon Production?

Rayon is produced through a multi-step manufacturing process that transforms natural cellulose from wood into fine, continuous filaments suitable for weaving into fabric. While the manufacturing process varies depending on the type of rayon being produced, here's a general overview of the process:

Wood pulp extraction 

Wood pulp is extracted from trees (typically beech, pine, bamboo, or eucalyptus).

Dissolving wood pulp 

Textile manufacturers dissolve wood pulp in sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, to turn it to alkali cellulose.


The alkali cellulose is then chemically treated with carbon disulfide to form cellulose xanthate. Afterward, the cellulose xanthate is dissolved in caustic soda to convert it into a viscous solution.

Filament formation 

Textile manufacturers then force the viscous solution through small openings, commonly known as spinnerets, to convert it into long, continuous filaments.


The filaments are then passed through a sulfuric acid bath to solidify them into fibers.

Drawing and drying

Once solidified, the filaments are drawn, washed, dried, and spun into yarn.


Finally, the rayon yarn is woven or knitted into various textiles, which may undergo further finishing to achieve certain qualities.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Rayon?

Rayon fabric has various great qualities that make it a popular fabric option among designers, consumers, and textile manufacturers. As a semi-synthetic fiber, rayon combines the best of both worlds — offering the softness and comfort of natural fibers and the versatility of synthetic ones. Here are some of its great qualities:

  • Soft, silky texture: Rayon has a smooth, comfortable feel that's often likened to natural silk.
  • Drape and flow: Rayon drapes well, making it perfect for free-flowing, lightweight garments like dresses, skirts, and blouses.
  • Shiny: Rayon has a lustrous appearance, similar to natural silk, making it a favored option for elegant clothes.
  • Absorbency: Rayon is an absorbent fabric that's nearly twice as absorbent as cotton (Gupta, 2013). This quality makes it a great summer fabric as it absorbs sweat and keeps the skin dry.
  • Inexpensive: While it's often compared to silk, rayon costs less than its natural counterpart. This quality makes it a great choice for budget-conscious shoppers.
  • Versatility: Rayon can imitate the appearance of various fabrics, such as cotton, wool, or linen. This characteristic makes it ideal for diverse applications.
  • Rich color absorption: Rayon absorbs and holds dye well, making it a great material for vibrant textiles.
  • Blendability: Rayon combines well with other natural and synthetic fibers like cotton, polyester, or spandex. This quality enhances its performance and expands its range of applications.
  • Breathability: Rayon doesn't retain heat. It's a cool, breathable fabric that's ideal for summer clothing.
  • Sustainable: Some types of rayon, such as Lyocell, are produced using sustainable methods. This quality makes Lyocell a great option for eco-conscious consumers.
  • Biodegradability: Rayon decomposes over time, reducing its environmental impact compared to synthetic fibers. In fact, some studies show that viscose rayon can break down faster than cotton (Warnock, 2010).

However, despite its attractive qualities, rayon isn't a flawless semi-synthetic fabric. Here are some of its downsides:

  • Low tensile strength: Rayon isn't as strong as other fabrics like cotton, polyester, and natural silk. It's susceptible to tearing or snagging.
  • Wrinkles easily: Rayon may wrinkle if not cared for properly.
  • Prone to shrinking: Rayon may shrink if not cared for properly.
  • Fades easily: While rayon absorbs and holds dye well, this quality makes it susceptible to fading quickly.
  • Durability: Rayon is more susceptible to wear and tear compared to natural fibers like cotton.
  • May cause allergies: Clothes made from rayon may cause clothing dermatitis (Newman, 2018). Clothing dermatitis may cause the skin to itch due to the chemicals used to treat rayon fabrics.
  • Environmental impact: Rayon production involves the use of various chemicals. These chemicals can harm the environment if they're disposed of inappropriately.

What Is Rayon Fabric Used For?

Rayon's versatility, silky texture, and luxurious appearance have made it a popular fabric in the textile industry. Additionally, its ability to imitate the appearance of other fabrics makes it great for a wide range of applications. Some of the common uses of rayon fabric include:

  • Drapey apparel: Rayon’s exceptional drape makes it an excellent choice for flowy garments like dresses, skirts, and blouses. Its drapey nature also makes it ideal for curtains.
  • Silky garments: Rayon’s smoothness and silk-like appearance make it a great choice for luxurious and comfortable lingerie sets.
  • Sportswear: Rayon blends offer great absorbency and breathability, making them a favored choice for sportswear.
  • Smooth textiles: Rayon’s smoothness makes it a great choice for bed sheets because it provides a comfortable sleeping surface. 
  • Accessories: Rayon’s ability to mimic silk makes it suitable for silk ties and pocket squares.
  • Industrial products: Rayon blends are also used in various industrial products, such as ropes and tires. 

How to Care for Rayon Clothing

Caring for rayon clothing can be tricky because it’s a delicate fabric. Bearing that in mind, follow these tips to ensure your rayon garments stay in tip-top shape:

Read the Care Label

Always check the care label attached to your rayon clothing for manufacturer-specific instructions. Different types of rayon may have varying care requirements.

Hand Wash or Gentle Machine Wash

Hand washing is often the safest method for rayon garments. If machine washing is necessary, use a gentle cycle and place the garment in a mesh laundry bag to reduce friction.

Nonetheless, while hand washing may be the safest bet, always check the care tag as some rayon garments may state ''dry clean only.''

Use Cold Water

Hot water can damage rayon fiber and make it shrink. Wash rayon clothing in cold water to prevent shrinkage, color fading and extend the longevity of your clothing.

Use Mild Detergent

Harsh detergent, bleach, and fabric softeners can weaken rayon fibers. Opt for mild detergent specifically made for delicate fabrics.

Avoid Soaking

Don't soak rayon clothes for long periods, as this can cause stretching or damage to the rayon fibers.

Wash Separately

Wash rayon clothes separately from other items to prevent color bleeding and potential damage to other garments.

Avoid Wringing or Twisting

Don't wring or twist wet rayon garments, as this can lead to damage and deformed clothing.

Steam or Iron Carefully

Since rayon garments wrinkle when washed, they often require ironing. If you need to iron rayon clothes, use a steamer or iron on the lowest heat setting and iron them when slightly damp. Also, iron your garments inside out to protect the fabric.

Store Properly

Fold rayon garments and store them in a cool, dry place. Avoid using sharp or abrasive clips or pins that can leave marks. Also, avoid using metal hangers, as they can leave rust spots.

Spot Clean Stains

Stains on rayon clothes are pretty conspicuous. Fortunately, they come off relatively easily. Remove stubborn stains on your rayon garments promptly using a gentle spot-cleaning solution of equal parts vinegar and water. 

However, take the garment to a professional cleaner if it persists or you're unsure how to get rid of it.

Is Rayon Fabric Sustainable?

Rayon is somewhat of a double-edged sword when it comes to sustainability. While some types of rayon, like Lyocell, are made using sustainable methods, other types, like viscose rayon, are made using less sustainable methods. 

Here are some key factors that contribute to the sustainability of rayon:

Sourcing of Raw Materials

The sustainability of rayon starts with the sourcing of its primary raw material — wood pulp. Rayon, made from wood pulp derived from sustainably managed forests or rapidly renewable sources like bamboo, can have a lower environmental impact. 

However, if the wood pulp is sourced from endangered or illegally logged forests, it can contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Manufacturing Process

The production process of rayon involves using chemicals, including carbon disulfide and caustic soda, which can harm the environment and workers if not handled properly. In traditional viscose rayon production, these toxic chemicals can cause pollution and health risks. 

However, some textile manufacturers have refined their production processes. For instance, manufacturers that use closed-loop production methods, such as the lyocell (Tencel) process, recycle and reuse chemicals, minimizing waste and environmental impact.

Water and Energy Consumption

Traditional rayon production methods consume a lot of water and energy. However, closed-loop production methods reduce water usage and energy consumption during production, contributing to a more eco-friendly process.

In a nutshell, rayon has some sustainable attributes. However, when purchasing rayon, here are some key factors to keep in mind to determine whether you're buying sustainable rayon:

  • Look for the lyocell (Tencel) label: Check for the lyocell label on the garments you want to purchase, as lyocell rayon is produced using more sustainable methods than viscose rayon.
  • Purchase from brands committed to sustainability: Some fashion brands adopt sustainable and eco-friendly production practices. To determine whether a fashion brand is committed to sustainability, check whether it has sustainable fashion certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fairtrade, or Certified B Corp certifications.


Is rayon a good fabric?

Rayon is a good fabric with various desirable properties. It's smooth, absorbent, inexpensive, biodegradable, versatile, and drapes well. However, despite these great qualities, rayon also has some downsides. It's vulnerable to wrinkling, shrinking, and stretching over time. Also, rayon isn't as strong as other fabrics like cotton or polyester.

Is cotton or rayon better?

The best fabric between cotton and rayon depends primarily on your needs and preferences. Cotton may be a better option if you want a soft, comfortable, and durable material. On the other hand, if you want a smooth, lustrous, and elegant fabric that drapes well, you might prefer rayon.

Also, if you're concerned about the environmental impact of your clothing, you should look for cotton grown using sustainable methods, such as organic cotton or sustainably produced rayon like lyocell.

Is rayon more like cotton or polyester?

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric with properties similar to cotton and polyester. Like cotton, rayon is soft, absorbent, and breathable. Rayon is also similar to polyester because it drapes well and wrinkles easily.  

What is rayon like as a fabric?

Rayon is a soft fabric often likened to artificial silk because of its lustrous look. It also drapes remarkably well, making it a suitable option for free-flowing clothes.


However, like any fabric, rayon has some downsides. One particularly huge downside is its environmental impact. While some types of rayon are manufactured using sustainable techniques, others are manufactured using unsustainable methods. So, to minimize the environmental impact of your fashion choices, look for rayon garments made from sustainable materials like Lyocell (Tencel).


Gupta, B. S. (2013). Manufacture, types and properties of biotextiles for medical applications. In Elsevier eBooks (pp. 3–47). 


Warnock, M. (2010). Biodegradation of three cellulosic fabrics in soil. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Biodegradation-of-Three-Cellulosic-Fabrics-in-Soil-Warnock-Davis/4fe5ebfdb75bcbe84202b8fd5fab95b384f827f0

Newman, D. (2018, July 23). Am I allergic to my clothes? WebMD. 


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Alyciah Beavers

Committed to promoting sustainability and am pleased to have the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with you.

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