How to Clean and Care for Rayon Clothes

rayon garment

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Rayon 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. Fabrics can be labeled as viscose, lyocell, modal, or rayon and by any name, they are some of the most popular fabrics used today for clothing and home accessories due to their 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 washable rayon clothing should be treated as delicates. If the garment's label states dry clean only, follow that advice or risk losing the garment because it may not have a protective finish and could shrink, fade, or bleed. Viscose rayon is especially fragile, so always follow the label's instructions.

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 to never wring or twist the wet fabric.

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

  • Working time: 25 minutes
  • Total time: Up to 24 hours, including drying time
  • Skill level: Intermediate

What You'll Need

materials for washing rayon clothing

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Supplies

  • Gentle detergent

Tools

  • Sink or large bucket
  • Thick cotton towel
  • Washing machine

Instructions

  1. Pre-Treat Stains

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

    Rayon fibers can be weakened by chlorine bleach, even if it's diluted. 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).

    pretreating the stain on a rayon garment

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  2. Double-Check the Care Label

    Knowing how to care for rayon can be tricky. Always read and heed the care tag labels for your specific garment or accessory.

    double checking the care tag

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  3. 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.

    submerging the garment

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  4. Gently Agitate

    Gently agitate the item in the sudsy water to completely saturate and loosen the soil. Allow the item soak for at least 15 minutes.

    agitating the garment

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  5. Rinse in Cool Water

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

    rinsing the garment in cool water

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  6. Gently Remove 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.

    rolling the damp garment in a thick towel

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

  7. Allow to Air-Dry

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

    allowing the garment to air dry

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

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.

Ironing

Many rayon fabrics wrinkle excessively when washed and will require ironing. Rayon irons best when the fabric is slightly damp. 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. Ironing could cause a shiny spot on rayon if the iron directly touches. If possible steam out wrinkles rather than pressing the fabric directly with an iron.

Ironing at a high temperature 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.

Storing Rayon Clothes

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

Repairs

Rayon may easily rip when the fabric is wet. Use polyester thread and a sharp needle when mending tears. Some rayon blends may snag. Fix a snag by coaxing it from the front of the fabric to the wrong side with just a needle. A stubborn snag requires a needle and thread. Take the needle up from the back of the fabric through the snag. Stab the snag with the needle and thread and pull it back to the wrong side of the fabric.

Though rayon tends to stretch out, it also can shrink if not carefully dried. Repairing shrunken rayon clothing is almost the same process as unshrinking wool. Fill a large sink or tub with lukewarm water, add a capful of hair conditioner, mix, then submerge the garment and massage it to saturate the fibers. Rinse in cold water, press excess water, the put the rayon on a clean, dry towel. Gently stretch the fabric, continuing to do so as it dries.

Treating Stains on Rayon Clothes

Stains are often quite visible on rayon but often come out when washed. Remove a stubborn stain on rayon by applying an equal parts solution of white vinegar and water to the area. Let the solution sit for 10 minutes. Gently blot the stain with a clean, wet towel, then finish blotting with a dry towel. Repeat if necessary.

Tips for Washing Rayon Clothes

  • 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.
  • If you must machine-wash a rayon item, turn it inside out and put it in a mesh washing 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 bag and dry it on the lowest heat cycle possible.
  • Treat rayon gently when handling because aggressive agitation breaks fibers and causes the fabric to pill or take on a fuzzy appearance.