How to Clean and Care for Rayon Clothes

A woman putting clothes into the dryer from the machine's perspective
Juana Mari Moya / Getty Images

Rayon and lyocell fabrics are made from cellulose fibers derived from wood pulp. While the fibers are nature-based, the material is manufactured by treating the wood fibers with chemicals. Rayon by any name is one of the most popular fabrics used today for clothing and home accessories due to its low-cost base materials and versatility.

Caring for rayon can be tricky, as it can shrink and become misshapen if the water or dryer is too hot. All other washable rayon clothing should be treated as delicates. You can wear your rayon items several times between washings, especially If they are loose-fitting and not soiled or sweaty.

How to Wash Rayon Fabric
Detergent Mild 
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Gentle
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine dry
Special Treatments Hand washing recommended
Iron Settings Medium heat

Project Metrics

For unstructured garments like unlined dresses, tops, or scarves, rayon fabrics can be hand-washed using cool water and a gentle detergent. Hand-washing is gentle enough to prevent damage but always remember never to wring or twist the wet fabric.

Working time: 25 minutes

Total time: Up to 24 hours, including drying time

Skill level: Intermediate

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Sink or large bucket
  • Washing machine

Washing vs. Dry Cleaning

Originally, all of the rayon fabrics produced had to be dry cleaned. Today, manufacturers can create washable rayon (modal, lyocell) by coating the fabric with specific chemical finishes. These finishes add to the final manufacturing costs, so not all types of rayon fabrics are treated.

Untreated rayon that is washed will shrink a great deal, the color will fade or bleed, and the fabric can lose its softness and comfort. So, if the rayon fabric label states to dry clean only, follow that advice or risk losing the garment. Even some stable, treated rayon clothes will recommend dry cleaning if the design is a structured garment. The rayon may be washable, but the interfacings that give the garment shape and structure may not be.

Washing Tips for Rayon Clothes

  • Pretreat stains before washing.
  • If you must machine-wash a rayon item, turn it inside out and put it in a mesh garment bag. Wash it in cold water on the delicate cycle with a low spin cycle.
  • It's best not to machine dry a rayon item, as it can destroy the fabric. If you can't avoid the dryer, keep the item in the mesh garment bag and dry it on the lowest cycle possible.

Instructions

  1. Double-Check the Care Label

    Knowing how to care for rayon can be tricky. Some manufacturing processes of rayon produce color-fast, sturdy fabrics that can be machine washed. But other processes produce a fabric that must be handled with care to prevent damage to the garment. Always read and heed the care tag labels for your specific garment or accessory.

  2. Mix a Washing Solution

    Fill a sink or large bucket with cold water and add gentle detergent to the water, mixing well. Submerge the rayon item.

  3. Gently Agitate

    Gently agitate the item in the sudsy water to completely saturate and loosen the soil. Allow the item soak for 30 minutes.

  4. Rinse in Cool Water

    Rinse the rayon fabric in cool water until the soap is gone and the water runs clear.

  5. Gently Squeeze Out Excess Water

    Place the wet garment on a thick cotton towel and roll up to absorb most of the water. When rayon fibers are wet, they lose nearly half of their strength and can tear or become misshapen (which is why you should skip the washer and tumble dryer).

    Gently pull and shape the garment back to its original shape and size as it begins drying. Don't leave it in a crumpled mess! Set-in wrinkles can be difficult to remove later.

  6. Allow It to Air-dry

Allow the garment to air dry flat or hang to drip-dry using a padded hanger so that shoulders will not stretch or crease. 

Storing Rayon Fabric

Store rayon items by hanging or folding and lying flat on a shelf. However, don't use metal hangers for your rayon clothes, as they can quickly develop rust spots.

Treating Stains on Rayon Fabric

Rayon fibers can be weakened by chlorine bleach. Undiluted chlorine bleach should never be applied directly to the fibers. Dilute solutions can be used safely on rayon or cellulosic fibers for stain removal and whitening. However, even dilute solutions will weaken fibers causing them to rip and wear out if used too often. A better option for stain removal, whitening, and brightening is to use an oxygen-based bleach (brand names are OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener or OXO Brite).

Remove stains by following the specific stain removal tips for the type of stain on the fabric.

Ironing

Many rayon fabrics wrinkle excessively when washed and will require ironing. Use a medium-hot iron and always iron on the wrong side of the fabric. For extra protection, use a pressing cloth between the iron and the rayon fabric.

Extremely high temperatures when ironing can scorch cellulosic fibers. The scorching or yellowing occurs as the fibers begin to burn. Light scorching can often be removed, but burned rayon fibers cannot be revived.

What Is Rayon?

Rayon is a manufactured fabric made from purified cellulose, usually from wood pulp. Rayon is manufactured from naturally occurring products but it is heavily processed with chemicals, so it's considered a semi-synthetic fiber.

Rayon fabrics are soft, have an excellent drape, and can be easily dyed for brilliant color. A lightweight fabric, rayon is prized for its breathability and moisture absorbency when worn. However, some rayon fabrics lose stability when wet and can shrink and distort.