What You Need to Know About Washing Rayon and Lyocell Clothes

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Rayon, lyocell, viscose, and modal are all fabrics made from cellulose fibers derived from wood pulp. While the fibers are nature-based, the fabric 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.

Wash or Dry Clean Rayon, Viscose, Lyocell, Modal Clothes?

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.

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.

How to Wash Rayon, Viscose, Lyocell or Modal Clothes

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. When rayon fibers are wet, they lose nearly half of their strength and can tear or become misshapen (that's why you should skip the washer and tumble dryer).

After hand washing, it is best to place the wet garment on a thick cotton towel and roll up to absorb most of the water. Then allow the garment to air dry flat or hang to drip dry using a padded hanger so that shoulders will not stretch or crease. If you choose to use a washing machine instead of hand washing, select a gentle cycle and a low spin cycle speed.

Be sure to 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.

How to Remove Stains from Rayon Fabrics

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).

Stain removal should be done following the specific stain removal tips for the type of stain on the fabric.

How to Iron Rayon Clothes

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. Because rayon is manufactured from naturally occurring products but is heavily processed with chemicals, it is 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. 

Rayon was first manufactured over one hundred years ago, and variations have been developed over time. There are three types of rayon-high wet modulus (HWM rayon), high tenacity rayon, and cuprammonium rayon. Some rayon is used in biomedical and industrial fields, but most is offered to consumers for clothing and household uses. 

The rayon used at home and in clothing is HWM rayon. Specific types of HWM rayon include viscose (HWM rayon manufactured with no additives to the wood pulp), modal (HWM rayon manufactured from beech wood pulp), and lyocell (HWM rayon processed with additives to add resilience), each of which differs in manufacturing processes and properties of the finished product.