Rayon Fabric: Complete Facts and Environmental Issues

Feature image - rayon fabric

Are you someone who enjoys wearing trendy clothes but can’t tell the difference between fabric types? If yes, don’t be embarrassed because you are not the only one here.

Although wearing a range of outfits, many people are clueless about the fabric used in their garments. However, it is never too late to learn, so why not start right away?

As Rayon fabric is loved by most people these days, let’s know about this specific fabric and take a look at it from an environmental point of view.

What is Rayon Fabric?

Even if you do not recognize fabrics, you must have heard of Rayon frequently while buying clothes or talking about it. You must also have at least one, perhaps more, clothes or items made from Rayon fabric.

So, now let’s clarify the term as well. Rayon is a fiber made from wood pulp that is regenerated from plant cellulose. These fibers are a must in the fashion industry because the clothes and other items made from them are both soft, durable, and rich in appearance. 

As per research, the history of Rayon fabric goes back to 1846. The material began its production in 1911 in the United States.

It was known by various names, including artificial silk, scientific silk, produced silk, and others, until 1924, when the term Rayon was coined. Likewise, Rayon is also the first semi-artificial fabric in history.

Types of Rayon Fabric

Now that we know what Rayon is, it is also essential for you to understand its types. Rayon fiber is classified into three different styles; Viscose Rayon, Modal Rayon, and Lyocell Rayon. Let’s have a deeper look at the unique properties of each of them. 

Viscose Rayon

Viscose - Rayon Fabric
Telio Miro Viscose Rayon. Purchase Link

One of the main fabrics discovered during the early 80s was Viscose Rayon. They are made from wood pulp and are semi-synthetic.

This type of Rayon is most common and is used to create a variety of clothing items. As the main ingredient for its manufacturer is wood pulp, a large amount of wood is used for its manufacturing process.

This type of Rayon was even sued for neglecting the environment and causing pollution. Not only that, but according to ABC, the staff working in Viscose Rayon factories also suffered from serious health issues, including heart and brain problems from the exposure to carbon disulfide.

Lyocell Rayon

Lyocell - rayon fabric
Linenwalas 100% Tencel Lyocell. Purchase Link

After many concerns about the environmental and health impact of Viscose Rayon, the Lyocell Rayon was discovered in the 1970s. These types of rayons are less harmful to the environment.

It is made up of beechwood pulp and other items like cotton. Likewise, Lyocell Rayon’s manufacturing process requires comparatively fewer chemicals and toxins and is considered environment-friendly.

Similarly, this Rayon is said to be the most absorbent and is best to make summer apparel. However, this Rayon is not used widely despite having all these benefits as the manufacturing process is relatively more expensive than the others.

Modal Rayon

Modal - rayon fabric
Mocha Rayon Modal Spandex Jersey Stretch. Purchase Link

The Modal Rayon was developed during the 1950s. They are manufactured using the ingredients like synthetic fiber spandex or cotton and wood pulp.

This rayon fabric is more robust, durable, and eco-friendly than viscose rayon but less environmentally friendly than the lyocell Rayon.

So, from this, we got to know the three different types of Rayon fabric, viscous is the cheapest option, lyocell is the most eco-friendly option, whereas the model is the strongest.

Characteristics of Rayon Fabric

1. Shiny

Rayon fabrics are lustrous by nature, giving them a rich appearance. The material comes in various sheens, allowing you to pick between a low-shine or a high-shine texture.

2. Absorbent

Rayon’s absorbent capacity is one of its highly distinct characteristics. It absorbs more water or moisture quickly than any other fabric; it is ideal for making clothes for humid and hot climatic conditions.

Moreover, because of these characteristics, the fiber can be easily colored or dyed. Likewise, the fabric also may shrink when wet in many cases.

3. Breathable

Though Rayon highly absorbs water and moisture, it barely absorbs any heat or provides warmth. The fabric is so airy that it is considered best for making fitness and summer apparel. 

4. Soft and Smooth

Rayon is incredibly soft and smooth to the touch, making it quite pleasant to wear. It is so weak that it was initially known as fake silk.

Likewise, because of its smooth nature, the cloth does not remain inflexible and does not hold wrinkles, giving your attire a pleasing rich appearance.

5. Versatile

One must understand that a cloth cannot be made of 100% of rayon fiber. If the rayon fiber is not mixed with others, your fabric will be too delicate to use.

So, to avoid that, different threads are often combined to make a blend of fibers. And, rayon fiber is so versatile that it blends well with various other fibers: cotton, polyester, wool, or silk.

6. Flammable:

Did you know rayon fabric is highly volatile? The fiber caught massive fire in 1950, and the U.S. Department of Commerce created a Flammable Fabrics Act right after.

Since then, rayon fibers have been made flame-resistant using various chemicals. So, now they are comparatively safer to use.

How is Rayon Made: Man-made or Natural?

Well, a lot of us often wonder if Rayon is a natural or artificial fiber. So, to be clear, Rayon is a manufactured fiber; however, it is not 100% synthetic. Still not clear? Don’t worry, because you will be clear after finding how these rayon fibers are made.

Simply Rayon is made from the cellulose of wood pulp of various plants. But, let’s have a look at how these fabrics are made stepwise, 

  1. Dissolve Wood Pulp: The rayon fiber manufacturers or companies extract wood pulp from bamboo, pine, or beech plants. These wood pulps are then dissolved using sodium hydroxide, commonly known as caustic soda. By this process, the wood pulp is converted to alkali cellulose.
  2. Making Xanthate: After that, the alkali cellulose is treated chemically with carbon disulfide to form cellulose xanthate.
  3. Changing into filaments: Thus formed cellulose xanthate is forced through a spinneret ( a holed device), which turns the solution into filaments.
  4. Making the shape: Then, the filaments are placed in an acid bath of sulfuric acid to harden into fibers.
  5. Spinning fiber into cloth: Finally, at the end of the production process, the fibers are spun into tiny filaments of Rayon.

Uses of Rayon Fabric

  1. Primarily, Rayon is widely used for making clothing items like jackets, sportswear, or dresses because of its versatile characteristics. 
  2. Likewise, Rayon can also be used in furnishing our homes, such as making bed sheets, curtains, blankets, etc. 
  3. Moreover, you might be surprised, but some of the carpets also use Rayon.
  4. In addition, it is used in the type industry for making tire cod.
  5. The fabric is also used for stuffing toys or cushions.
  6. Similarly, as this fabric is highly absorbent, they are used in adult diapers.

Is Rayon Fabric Eco-friendly?

Eco Fibre - Rayon fabric
Baby Washcloths from Rayon of Bamboo. Purchase Link

As we now know many things about the rayon fabric, why not explore it from an environmental point of view. As the global concern about climate increases, the demand and use of eco-friendly products have also increased rapidly.

People are trying to find an eco-friendly alternative to almost everything. So, in that case, how sustainable and eco-friendly is the rayon fabric? 

Well, honestly, it is not as eco-friendly as we think. The manufacturing process of Rayon, especially the viscose rayon, releases a massive amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.

study reported that each gram of viscose rayon uses about 30 grams of carbon disulfide and releases it into the atmosphere. It is even said that Rayon is responsible for most of the carbon disulfide in the environment.

Because wood pulp, an essential ingredient for this fabric, Rayon is not considered an eco-friendly innovation. This extraction process of wood pulp has caused deforestation in many forests, including harming some endangered tree species and habitat destruction.

Is the rayon fabric biodegradable? 

Biodegradable - rayon fabric
100% Rayon Matte Raffia Biodegradable Ribbon. Purchase Link

Well, yes. Though the rayon fabric has been causing many negative impacts on the environment, one of the significant positive aspects of Rayon is that it decomposes.

As the material is made from cellulose and wood pulp, they decompose completely without trace into nature. According to a journal paper, Rayon is said to be the most biodegradable fabric available. It is more eco-friendly than cotton.

How to maintain the lifespan of Rayon?

So, after knowing that Rayon has a more adverse impact on the environment, what we can do to lessen this negative environmental effect is to extend the lifespan of Rayon, hence reducing the carbon footprint of its production process. How can we do that? Read below; 

  • As Rayon is a delicate material, it is weak, especially when in contact with water. So the rayons are not recommended for machine wash and are suggested to hand wash gently. 
  • Do not forget to use only cold water for rayons because heat is considered the enemy of this particular fabric. The fabric may also shrink or may lose its natural shape when heated. So, avoid ironing (or iron on low heat) or using hot steams. Avoid heat as a whole. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Rayon Fabric

Rayon is one of the very flexible textiles on the market. Yet, it’s still a bit of a mystery to most people partly due to its extraordinary shape-shifting ability—both physically and in terms of replicating other materials.

Rayon has been found to mimic the characteristics of silk, cotton, wool, and other materials, and it may be utilized to make almost any sort of garment.

It determines what it is, how to wash it, and what kind of weather is best suited for difficulty. Everything comes with its advantages and disadvantages, and so does rayon fabric. Let’s have a brief look at them;

Advantages

  • Rayon is a very peculiar synthetic that is very versatile and is mostly liked by many users,
  • It is very cost-effective and feels premium simultaneously, and maybe because of that, the demand for rayon fiber has boomed in the market.
  • The Rayon has a lovely drape and slipperiness about it, which makes it quite alluring and comfy.
  • Rayon textiles are incredibly silky, pleasant, and absorbent that is the main feature of this material.
  • Rayon is a robust, machine-washable, and long-lasting fabric that is inherently bright and does not pile.
  • It is breathable and can be dyed easily, resulting in attractive color options and reducing production costs.

Disadvantages

  • In the manufacture of Rayon, very hazardous carbon disulfide is utilized, which is not favorable for the environment,
  • The slower a rayon-based fabric decomposes, the more water-repellent it is; as a result, it is weaker when it’s wet and gets stretched very quickly.
  • When exposed to light or moisture, it is not a very strong fabric material that brings lots of problems. Tumble dry at a warm temperature and remove quickly, or while still slightly moist, to avoid damaging the fabric.
  • It has a poor resilience power and wrinkles rapidly unless treated. It may be harmed during ironing.

Final Words

The potential of rayon fabric is quite promising. We must admit that Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric that is of versatile use.

Not only is there an increasing need for Rayon throughout the world, but there are also many innovative technologies on the horizon that promise to make Rayon even better and more affordable. 

The use of mixed textiles is becoming increasingly popular. Blends are a great way to get the best of both worlds. The popularity of this fabric has grown with time, owing to its particular qualities and cheap pricing.

Yes, as demand grows, the environmental impact is being closely monitored. As a result, steps are being made to reduce this risk.

And, as individuals, we can decrease Rayon’s negative environmental impact by practicing the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Reduce the number of times you buy this fabric, reuse it as often as possible, and eventually recycle it.