How to Wash and Care for Viscose Fabrics

Viscose Fabric
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Seeing the word viscose listed as the fiber content on a shirt label may throw you for a loop, but don't be afraid to buy the garment if it fits and you like it. Viscose is simply a form of rayon. You'll often see the terms used together on a care or fiber content label as viscose rayon. Viscose is also often combined with spandex, silk, and cotton fibers in fabrics.

How to Wash Viscose Rayon

Many garments made of viscose are labeled as dry clean only. This is because viscose fibers can be damaged by excessive wringing and twisting that can occur in a washer with an central agitator. If you are not experienced with doing laundry or the garment is structured or very expensive, follow the label instructions and stick with dry cleaning as the preferred method of cleaning.

For unstructured garments like unlined dresses, tops or scarves, woven viscose fabrics can be hand washed using cool water and a mild detergent. Hand washing is gentle enough to prevent damage but you must always remember to never wring or twist the wet fabric. After hand washing, it is best to gently squeeze out excess water. Then place the wet garment on a thick cotton towel and roll it up to absorb most of the water. Finally, allow the garment to air dry flat or hang to drip dry. If you choose to use a washing machine instead of hand washing, select the gentle cycle and use a low final spin cycle speed.

Be sure to gently pull and shape the garment back to its original shape and size as it begins to dry. Do not leave it in a crumpled mess! Set-in wrinkles can be difficult to remove from viscose later.

How to Remove Stains From Viscose Rayon

To remove stains on viscose clothes, follow suggested stain removal tips depending upon the type of stain. It is important to never scrub or briskly rub the stained area too much. This can cause the viscose yarns to weaken and break leaving them looking worn and no longer glossy.

How to Iron Viscose Fabrics

To remove wrinkles from viscose fabrics, use a medium heat temperature (silk setting) on your iron. Use a pressing cloth between the fabric and the iron to prevent shiny streaks. Steam from the iron can be used to remove the toughest wrinkles or a clothes steamer works well to relax gentle wrinkling.

Characteristics of Viscose Fabric

Viscose fibers or yarns are usually woven or knitted into soft, smooth, almost silk-like fabrics, but the fibers can be twisted during manufacturing to give the final cloth more texture. The weight of the yarns can vary from lightweight for linings to heavy for creating drapery and upholstery fabrics. The viscose fibers are often combined with other types of fibers like Lycra to add stretch.

Viscose fabrics and the garments they become are very breathable and perfect for hot, humid climates. They are not good for insulating from cold. The fibers are easily dyed, and the final fabrics retain color well. The fabrics do not shrink when exposed to heat.

However, viscose does absorb moisture readily including body oils and salts. While it is more absorbent than cotton, viscose is not nearly as strong when wet. That's why wet viscose clothes should be handled more gently. The body oils and salts combined with the moisture of perspiration can cause discoloration and weaken the fabric. Prompt washing after wearing is important to keep the clothes looking their best.

wash viscose fabrics
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018 

How Viscose Fibers Are Manufactured

Both viscose and rayon are made from wood pulp or cellulose. Viscose is made by first treating the cellulose with sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. The treated cellulose solution is then spun into fibers or yarns that are used to produce a soft, smooth fabric that drapes well. The term "viscose" is used throughout Europe and Asia and is an alternative term for the rayon name in the United States.

While cotton, linen, and wool are considered natural fibers, viscose is considered a bio-based textile. It begins with wood cellulose (a natural element) but that natural wood must be treated extensively with chemicals to become a fiber. Other types of bio-based fabrics made from bamboo, plant or tree pulps are modal, lyocell and, of course, rayon.