Rayon is a fabric that’s derived from natural wood mash. It is also known as artificial silk as it mimics the sheen and features of silk. The fibers used for rayon can come from pine wood, beech, spruce, soy, bamboo, hemlock, or cane. The cellulose from the wood mash is regenerated into fibers and manufactured into rayon through chemical processes.
It is made to mimic the characteristics of cotton, linen, silk, or wool. Rayon was first made in the 60s when Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, and Count Hilaire Chardonnet, a French engineer and industrialist, wanted to create an alternative fabric for silk, as a way to save the silk industry. It is used as an inexpensive alternative to silk and other fabrics in modern times due to its characteristics.
Some of these characteristics include breathability, softness, lightweight, luxurious hand, drapes beautifully, and dyes easily.
Rayon is an interesting material that revolutionized fashion in the mid-century. This synthetic material is a big part of clothing and other fabric items because of its feel and durability. However, there are some concerns about the effect machine washing and drying methods have on rayon clothing. So, does rayon shrink and, if so, what are the best precautions to take to prolong the life of your garments?
Does rayon shrink?
Yes, a lot, and there are lots of precautions. While some fabrics carry some risk, but are still suitable for machine washing and drying under the right conditions, rayon is different. It is best not to go near a machine to wash or dry these items, especially when 100% rayon, as there is a significant risk of damage. Handwashing or dry cleaning are the better options.
Can you wash rayon in the washing machine?
Any garment made from rayon has the chance of shrinking and getting damaged in a washing machine. Rayon can take in a lot of water and is prone to structural changes when wet. Aggravation in a fast spin could be a problem here. A bigger issue is the temperature of the water. A high heat could lead to extreme shrinkage. While some people will put rayon clothing in a colder delicate wash, assuming that this cycle is safe, you are still trusting the machine not to have any negative effect. It might not be worth the risk.
Can you handwash rayon?
Handwashing rayon is a better idea for the preservation of this material, even if it is more of a hassle as a household chore. Handwashing lets you create a cooler temperature and a more controlled washing environment. You can soak the piece in water and gently wash it in a little detergent without risk of damage. You can also take it out quickly, rather than leaving it in warm water for too long.
How should you dry rayon clothing?
The risks of rayon shrinking aren’t limited to the heat and aggravation from the washing process. You could be as careful as possible washing the garment and then ruin everything drying it. The high heat from a dryer could be enough to shrink the material quite significantly. Instead, the best approach is to let it air dry naturally at a more suitable temperature. It is best to make sure that it doesn’t dry in direct sunlight and to hang the item so it drapes naturally.
What about rayon blends?
Don’t assume that there is no risk of a garment shrinking just because it is a blend, rather than 100% rayon. 100% rayon items do have a higher risk because of their make-up. But, there is still enough rayon in something like a 60% cotton and 40% rayon item to cause a problem. Besides, cotton can also shrink without due care, as can polyester and a range of other materials blended with rayon. So, it is best to treat any item with rayon in it as though it were 100% rayon. Better to be safe than sorry!
Whatever the material, you should also look to see what the instructions say on the care label. These should give a good indication of how hot the water should be on a machine wash and whether or not to put it in a dryer or to iron it. For hand-made clothes, play it safe and avoid the machine.
Can you unshrink rayon?
If you are ever unlucky enough to deal with shrinkage of rayon clothing – whether a significant change in structure or minimal – you might try and find a way to unshrink them. A common approach with a range of fabrics is to soak them in warm water with some conditioner and then manipulate them back into shape. You do need to be careful with rayon because of the risk of further damage. But, you might find that you regain a little shape. Just don’t expect miracles and be sure to give the item time to dry properly. You might have a better chance of unshrinking a piece of rayon if it is a blend. It all depends on the composition and stretch of the fabric. Essentially, the process has to be worth a shot because it will either get results or you will be left with the same shape.
Can rayon shrink more than once?
Yes. This is something that people forget when working with and wearing rayon. You might have an item that shrank a tiny bit in the first wash, and so you assume that the damage is done. This could lead to complacency over the garment where you are careless with the washing instructions because you believe things can’t get worse. However, you could find that the item shrinks even further on that next wash especially, if there is a high temperature or you dry it in a machine. Also, be careful with any item that you have stretched back out because it is still vulnerable to further damage.
Is it just safer to dry clean rayon?
If you have a piece of clothing made from rayon that you adore and want to protect for years to come, you might want to consider taking it to the dry cleaners. This way you can hand it over to professionals and not have to worry about doing anything that might harm the fabric. That isn’t to say that this option is 100% safe, as accidents still happen, but it could be worth paying for this service.
Does Rayon Wrinkle?
Yes, rayon wrinkles quite easily and it’s one of the disadvantages of this fabric. Though it mimics cotton and silk and is inexpensive, it can be hard to remove the wrinkles on rayon because it is sensitive to heat. When it is ironed, the fabric expands and that means it needs time to return to its original shape and size once it does.
When washing rayon, make sure not to wring the fabric as it can be almost impossible to smoothen out the creases. Hang and air dry are the best ways to dry rayon.
Rayon is a versatile, inexpensive, and lightweight fabric that’s soft, comfortable to wear, breathable, and absorbent. It is used on garments, soft furnishings, and even in industrial applications. It is not stretchy but when it is blended with other elastic fibers, it does stretch, and when it does, the fabric is most often used on sports and activewear.
If you do end up with wrinkles in your rayon article you may want to check out my guide on how to get wrinkles out of polyester. I know it’s not the same material but, when your in a pinch it’s worth a shot.
Is Rayon Biodegradable?
Yes, rayon is highly biodegradable. Studies have shown that rayon decomposes at an accelerated rate as compared to cotton. It is compostable in soil, and water bodies, making it a sustainable and eco-friendly fabric.
Is Rayon a Synthetic Fabric?
Rayon is not a synthetic fabric since it’s made from wood mash. The synthetic part of rayon is the manufacturing process because it involves chemicals to turn the wood mash into fibers that can be made into fabric. There is also a common misconception about rayon being similar to polyester, but rayon is not polyester.
Rayn is semi-synthetic because it makes use of chemicals in its production process. Polyester, on the other hand, is 100% synthetic, since it’s made of 100% plastic or polymer.
Scientifically, rayon is tagged as regenerated cellulose fiber, and other people also like to refer to it as semi-synthetic or man-made natural fiber.
Is Rayon Stretchy?
Rayon fibers and even rayon fabric do not stretch. Knit rayon, on the other hand, does. However, because rayon is inexpensive, plenty of rayon blend fabrics have spandex or other elastic fibers that make it stretchy.
When wet, rayon does stretch but returns to its original form when it dries. When thrown in the washer, rayon definitely stretches and if you want to prevent it from happening, set the machine to delicate, or better yet, hand wash your fabric. You will also need to air dry your rayon to recent damage.
How is Rayon Used?
Rayon is used in a wide variety of applications but, mostly in garments. Because it is breathable and absorbent like cotton, it is often used in clothing for use in warmer climates, or during the spring and summer seasons. It is comfortable to wear and holds shape well, which means it’s easy to sew and work with.
Aside from clothing, rayon is also used in soft furnishings such as curtains, bedspreads, upholstery, and cushion slipcovers. Rayon is also used in commercial sports and activewear, especially when other fibers are blended into the fabric, such as nylon or spandex.
Industrially, rayon is used in bandages and dressings for medical use. It is also used in cellulose sausage casings and cellophane for food packaging.
Is rayon too much hassle to work with?
You might come away from this wondering why you would ever want to work with rayon. There is a lot to consider when it comes to taking care of any items made with rayon, including any blends. However, there are similar risks to a lot of other synthetic materials. If you plan to use rayon in dress-making make sure that you and the recipient are clear on how to take care of it.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and fond memory for all of us.