How to Clean and Care for Rayon Clothing
Prevent Shrinking and Maintain Your Favorite Pieces Long-Term
Rayon fabric is best described as a hybrid natural/synthetic fabric. Like cotton textiles, rayon fabric consists of natural plant fibers, including pulp from beech trees, bamboo, and other plants. But like nylon and polyester, rayon is manufactured using many synthetic chemicals. You'll need to consider these complexities when you wash and care for rayon fabric. Depending on what plant fibers and chemicals are used, many forms of rayon carry labels such as viscose, lyocell, or modal rayon. Regardless of the name, they're some of the most popular fabrics used for clothing and home accessories today due to the low cost of the base materials and the versatility of the fabric. It helps to know that the best way to wash rayon is by hand-washing.
Tips for Washing Rayon
Washing and caring for rayon can be tricky. Here are some important tips:
- Never put rayon clothing in a machine dryer because the heat can destroy the fabric. If you absolutely can't avoid the dryer, keep the item in the mesh bag, and dry it on the lowest heat possible.
- If the garment's label states "dry clean only," follow that advice. Even hand-washing "dry clean only" rayon clothing risks destroying 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.
- Some manufacturing processes produce colorfast, sturdy rayon fabrics that can be machine-washed. But other types 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. Rayon can shrink and become misshapen if you use hot water.
- Treat rayon gently when handling because aggressive agitation breaks fibers and causes the fabric to pill or take on a fuzzy appearance.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Sink or large bucket
- Thick cotton towel
- Gentle laundry detergent
- Oxygen bleach (if needed)
|How to Wash Rayon Fabric|
|Cycle Type||Delicate, if at all|
|Drying Cycle Type||Do not machine-dry|
|Special Treatments||Hand-washing recommended|
|Iron Settings||Medium heat|
Remove stains by following stain removal tips for the specific type of stain. 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 bleach (such as OxiClean, Nellie's All-Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite).
Double-Check the Care Label
Rayon is a unique fabric and needs gentle care. Always read and heed the care tag labels for your specific garment or accessory.
Mix a Washing Solution
Fill a sink or large bucket with cold water, and add gentle detergent, mixing well. Submerge the rayon item.
Gently agitate the item in the sudsy water with your hands to completely saturate and loosen the soil. Allow it to soak for at least 15 minutes.
Rinse in Cool Water
Rinse in cool water until the soap is gone and the water runs clear.
Gently Remove Excess Water
Place the wet garment on a thick cotton towel and roll it up to absorb most of the water. When rayon fibers are wet, they lose nearly half of their strength and can easily 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.
Allow to Air-Dry
Allow the garment to air-dry flat, or hang to drip-dry, ideally using a padded hanger so the shoulders won't stretch or crease.
What Is Rayon?
Rayon is a manufactured fabric made from purified cellulose, usually derived from wood pulp from plants such as beech trees, bamboo, and other plants. Although rayon contains naturally occurring products, it's heavily processed with chemicals, so it's considered a semi-synthetic fiber.
The rayon manufacturing process begins by first mechanically pulping the cellulose fibers from beech trees, bamboo, cotton, or other plants. This liquified pulp is altered with a variety of synthetic chemicals, then the pulp is extruded to form fibers. The dried fibers are then spun into yarns that are finally woven into textile fabrics. Thus, rayon is most accurately described as a semi-natural textile cloth. There are several different types of rayon:
- Viscose rayon is the most common form of rayon fabric, made entirely from treated wood pulp and manufactured to have a silk-like texture and look. It is the least sturdy of the rayon fabrics and the one most likely to shrink. If a garment is described simply as "rayon" or "regular rayon," it is made of viscose rayon.
- Modal rayon uses a blend of beech-tree cellulose fibers with cotton or spandex to make a very strong and durable fabric. It is more expensive than viscose rayon.
- Lyocell rayon is also a blend of beech tree cellulose and other fibers (such as cotton or spandex) but uses fewer synthetic chemicals than modal rayon, and is thus more natural. It is the most absorbent form of rayon, so is often used in sweat-wicking undergarments or towels.
Other types of blended rayon include cuprammonium rayon, which uses uniquely fine fibers to produce a silky fabric popular for draperies; bamboo rayon, which uses bamboo fibers to make a strong, lightweight, tough fabric that is popular for clothing; and polynosic rayon is a type of modal rayon that uses more chemical polymerization in the manufacturing process to make a stronger fabric.
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. However, some rayon fabrics lose stability when wet and can shrink and distort.
Rayon clothing can have its advantages. It is a very tight-knit fabric that feels especially smooth against the skin. It makes a very good, affordable substitute for silk. It has absorbent, moisture-wicking properties that make it a very comfortable fabric for summer wear.
Treating Stains on Rayon Clothing
Stains can be quite visible on rayon but often come out when washed. Remove a stubborn stain on rayon by applying a solution containing equal parts white vinegar and water to the area. Let sit for 10 minutes. Gently blot the stain with a clean wet towel, and then finish blotting with a dry towel. Repeat if necessary.
Rayon Clothing Care and Repairs
Rayon may easily rip when 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 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; 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, submerge the garment, and massage it to saturate the fibers. Rinse in cold water, press out the excess water, and then put the rayon on a clean dry towel. Gently stretch the fabric, continuing to do so as it dries.
Many rayon fabrics wrinkle excessively when washed and will require ironing. It's best to iron rayon when the fabric is slightly damp. Use a medium-hot iron, and always iron on the wrong (opposite) side of the fabric. For extra protection, use a pressing cloth between the iron and the rayon fabric. Ironing could cause shiny spots on the rayon if the iron directly touches it. 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 Clothing
Store rayon items by hanging or folding them and placing them flat on a shelf. However, don't use metal hangers for your rayon clothes because the garments can quickly develop rust spots.
How Often to Wash Rayon Clothing
Even if you wash a rayon garment after every wearing, it'll hold up well over time if you hand-wash the item. Hand-washing is gentle enough to prevent damage but never wring or twist the wet fabric. Unstructured rayon garments like unlined dresses, tops, and scarves can be hand-washed using cool water and a gentle detergent.
What is the difference between rayon, nylon, and polyester?
Nylon and polyester fabrics use fibers that are entirely synthetic, based largely on polymers of petroleum derivatives. Rayon is considered a half-natural fabric, in which cellulose plant fibers are altered with artificial chemicals to create transformed fiber that can be spun into yarns for textile manufacturing.
How many times will rayon shrink?
Rayon may shrink at various rates every time it's washed in a machine, even if you take great care by washing it in cold water. It will especially shrink if you put it in the dryer. The best way to wash 100% rayon without shrinking it too much is to gently hand-wash a garment in cold water and air-dry only. Another way to avoid shrinkage is to follow the cleaning instructions on the garment's label.
Will rayon stretch back out?
Rayon isn't known for its elastic recovery. But you can stretch it back out by softening and relaxing the fabric. Use a clothes steamer or steam from an iron to soften the damp fabric, then lay it flat on a towel or hang it while stretching it back into shape. Keep an eye on the item so you can frequently stretch it back into shape as the garment air-dries. Or, you can take another less comfortable route: Soak the item in water and wear it back into shape.
Is rayon better than cotton?
Because they are both made from natural plant fibers, rayon and cotton are sometimes confused with one another. But they have different properties that give each fabric advantages in certain circumstances. Cotton has better insulating properties that make it a good choice for clothing in cold weather conditions. Rayon has good moisture-absorbing properties that make it a good choice for summer clothing.