All About Rayon

Many of us come across labels that are not clear or are very misleading. In most cases, though, we are able to determine how the garment should be handled by using the fiber content as a "guiding light." But how should one proceed when the fiber content is 100 viscose, 100 percent cuprammonium (cupra), or 100 percent lyocell? Despite their name, these are all forms of the fiber known as rayon.

What types of rayon exist?
Rayon is a manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose derived from wood pulp or cotton linters. Discovered in 1846, rayon is the oldest manmade fiber. It is absorbent and comfortable to wear; dyes and prints easily; and is resistant to alkalis and moths.

Viscose, cuprammonium, and lyocell all were derived through manufacturing processes. The viscose process was developed in England in 1891. Production of this fiber began in 1910. Today, viscose rayon is produced in several plants throughout the United States and is the most frequently used process.

The cuprammonium process was introduced in Germany in 1891, and production began in 1901. The process was modified in 1926. This process is not as widely used as viscose, and is mostly produced by companies outside the United States.

A third method of rayon production currently on the market is called tencel or lyocell. This is a recent process developed by Courtauld's Fibers, Inc.

How do you care for rayon?
With the exception of lyocell, rayon is very sensitive to water. Many dyes applied to rayon are not colorfast and will bleed or migrate upon contact with moisture. In addition, manufacturers often add sizing to rayon in order to achieve a desired body or drape. Some sizings are water-soluble, and washing will distort the shape of the garment.

Drycleaning is recommended for most rayon garments because a professional cleaner is able to solve most of these problems. However, some drycleanable garments may contain dyes and sizings that are water-soluble.

Although substantially similar in chemical composition to rayon, which must be drycleaned, lyocell can be either drycleaned or washed. However, when caring for garments made of lyocell, it is important to follow the care instructions carefully. If a garment made of lyocell is washed when it should have been drycleaned, it may result in excessive shrinkage and a wrinkled appearance.

How do you remove stains from rayon?
Never try to remove a stain from rayon without first pretesting the stain removal agent you wish to use. Apply a few drops of the agent onto a small area of the garment on an unexposed seam and allow it to air dry. If no dye or sizing change occurs, a small stain may be removed in this way. However, large stains should always be taken to a professional cleaner because of the extreme sensitivity of this fabric.