What is Rayon?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Rayon is one of the most peculiar fabrics in commercial use today. Strictly speaking, it is not an artificial fiber, because it is derived from naturally occurring cellulose. It is not, however, a natural fabric, because cellulose requires extensive processing to become rayon. Rayon is usually classified as a manufactured fiber and considered to be “regenerated cellulose”.

Thread used for making satin.
Thread used for making satin.

Rayon is the oldest manufactured fiber, having been in production since the 1880s in France, where it was originally developed as a cheap alternative to silk. Dupont Chemicals acquired the rights to the process in the 1920s and quickly turned rayon into a household word, churning out yards of the cheap, versatile fabric. Rayon drapes well, is easy to dye, and is highly absorbent, although it tends to age poorly. Many rayon products yellow with age and pill or form small balls and areas of roughness where the fabric is most heavily worn.

A closeup of rayon yarn.
A closeup of rayon yarn.

Rayon is used in a variety of textile applications, including shirts and skirts, and appears in both woven and knitted forms. The fabric has gained an unfair reputation because it is frequently used in cheaply constructed garments that do not stand up to heavy wear. However, rayon is an excellent, nicely draping alternative to silk and is frequently used in evening gowns and other flowing garments.

Silk cocoons. Rayon was invented as an alternative to silk.
Silk cocoons. Rayon was invented as an alternative to silk.

The manufacture of rayon begins with cellulose, frequently extracted from wood pulp, although any plant material with long molecular chains is suitable. The cellulose is steeped in caustic soda, which concentrates some of the cellulose into soda cellulose, which is then rolled or pressed to remove excess soda solution. After pressing, the cellulose is shredded into a substance called white crumb.

Rayon drapes nicely, so is often used to make flowing garments.
Rayon drapes nicely, so is often used to make flowing garments.

The white crumb is allowed to oxidize, forming shorter molecular chains, and treated with carbon disulfide. The soda cellulose reacts with this substance, forming yellow crumb due to inorganic compounds that emerge during the chemical process. This yellow crumb is dissolved in a caustic solution, which relaxes the hydrogen bonds in the cellulose, producing a highly viscous substance. This substance gives its name to the manufacturing process, called the viscose process.

This viscous fluid is allowed to age, breaking down the cellulose structures further to produce an even slurry, and then filtered to remove impurities. Small air pockets are forced out to ensure a strong, even fiber, and the mixture is forced through a spinner, which forms many even strands of fine thread that enter a setting solution to form cellulose filaments: also called rayon. The rayon is stretched to form a strong, even bond, washed, and then formed into rayon fabric.

This complex process results in a great deal of environmental pollution, inspiring a drive to clean up the industry. The rayon industry has also suffered from the development of cheaper artificial fabrics with a much shorter manufacturing process, such as nylon. Rayon is frequently blended with true synthetic fabrics for various applications, and it is advisable to follow individual care labels on rayon garments, as these blends have specific handling needs.

Rayon is used in a variety of textile manufacturing applications, including shirts and skirts, and appears in both woven and knitted forms.
Rayon is used in a variety of textile manufacturing applications, including shirts and skirts, and appears in both woven and knitted forms.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have a school project on this subject. I would like to know the advantages and disadvantages of rayon.


What is the difference between silk and rayon?


I love rayon, especially when my wife wears it. I love having body contact with her; it's so soft and smooth.


A lot of people are making claims on here that were either true at the time and have since changed or they are being completely irresponsible in speaking when they should not be.

Here is some information about Rayon for those who are concerned. Since they don't allow links to be inserted, you'll have to go to biotech articles and look for the toxicology report and look for toxic fibers and fabrics. I, for one, do not eat nor try not to ingest nor wear any product made via a chemical process, or in this case many chemicals, as I do not believe it to be good for people. But what do I know?


This article (and the comments) were very helpful in my school related search.


I would like to order a wedding aisle runner that is made of Rayon. The wedding is outside, so is the rayon fabric going to be okay to be walked on and whatnot?


I have a pair of pants made of 50 percent cotton, 48 percent Rayon and 2 percent spandex. The label says to dry clean only. Why can these pants not be hand washed? Can they be ironed?


I recently purchased a couple of shirts with a blend containing rayon in error. I failed to check the label. I broke out in a horrible rash. And yes I cannot wear tampons either. I also broke out with rashes with wool blends that contain rayon when I was a child.


I have dermatitis. Is rayon harmful to me?


I just picked up a rayon sweater (white) from the dry cleaners. It's a dingy gray and appears to have shrunk. And they charged me $10.50 because they needed to use special chemicals for rayon! After reading the previous posts, I'm going to wash it next time. Thanks for the advice.


I have a dress made of potato bags. Is it biodegradable, carcinogenic, or what?


To whoever said Rayon is a carcinogen:

Rayon is not a carcinogen. It is a regenerated cellulose material, whereas radon is a carcinogen.

I have a lot of rayon clothing, and my prom dresses have all been rayon. I love it. It's very comfortable, and allows you to breathe.


Rayon vs polyester? Rayon every time. I have used rayon clothing without incident, have abused it by washing and drying it (if you remove it quickly from the dryer and hang it no wrinkles! yeah!)

Polyester, on the other hand, feels greasy on my skin. As I have aged, polyester and even predominantly polyester/cotton blends feel slick slightly greasy on my skin. Therefore I have tried to stop using it at all.

Rayon, however, has so far been kind to me. The rayon clothes I have purchased generally wear well and in the heat leave me cool.

For stains: I have had a very expensive silk top get a grease stain. Took it to the cleaners and the stain returned triumphant, almost smirky in attitude.

At that point I realized I had nothing to lose as the top was unwearable except for cleaning. So, put the simplest least expensive color free hair shampoo on said spot (dampened), rubbed it in, rinsed well and allowed to dry. Stain gone! Now whenever I have a stained garment I use hair shampoo like Suave on it and nine times out of 10, stain gone!

Generally I spot treat stains and throw them into washer. It even has worked on years old stains!

As for the environment and the toll rayon production places on it, well, it is a matter of perspective.


At least it is biodegradable. But the landfills generally do not allow nature do its job. Before anything goes to a landfill it should be sorted to remove anything recyclable, that is hazardous, and to really burn the rest to generate energy. No landfills should not exist but we do not want to change the system.

Cotton is also a material that has a high cost in terms of humans. Unless we Fair Trade it, much cotton comes from the labor of those who survive from day to day on subsistence wages. It is also expensive in water consumption and fertilizer. Some areas have been devastated environmentally by the profit lust of cotton.

As for allergic reactions, not everything is hypoallergenic. Just because something is natural or organic does not mean it is good or safe for you. Many manufacturing processes can turn something innocuous into something causing allergic reactions simply because the process uses something to which you are sensitive. So rather than the rayon it could have been the dye, the process which left allergens in the fabric or simply a reaction with your body chemistry.

We are made up of chemicals. Some chemicals form naturally in nature; others are manufactured and have no difference in composition. Some chemicals are the result of research, and are synthesized. Some of these are non-toxic some are toxic.

Chew on a frost bitten wild cherry leaf or brew a tea from the frost kissed bark, and you will probably die of cyanide poisoning. The kernels of peach and cherry seeds are rich in cyanide producing matter. Please do not test this as we had a horse die after gnawing on the bark of a wild cherry tree! Look it up, instead!


I wore a new rayon sweater set and broke out with a rash and then hives. I won't buy anything rayon again! Wish I didn't have to wear anything made in China!


For those of you who said you will not wear rayon, take a look at the ingredients in the tampons you're using. Rayon is the main ingredient for most tampons on the market.


Rayon is a carcinogen. I will not wear any clothes that contain Rayon or a derivative of it.


pupuce-if the stains don't come out with washing gently at home, try dying a different color. Rayon does dye well. And next time, if you find yourself with stains, go for it and have some red wine too. Oops!


I can only wear rayon undergarments. Can anyone tell me where to find white t-shirts in the seattle, wa area?


Sew dirt cheap: potato bags are made from jute which is a natural fiber. Jute is referred to commonly as hemp.


Rayon and viscose need chemicals to create them through acid baths and to dissolve the natural fibers. These fabrics cause much pollution when created. Stop buying things that kill us.

The woman who has skin sensitivity must not have used a tight weave cotton before. Weaving through the use of electricity is also killing us. There is a better way.


I wash rayon in the washing machine all the time, cold water only, permanent press cycle, any soap is fine. I also dry it in the dryer on delicate, never on high heat. Once in a while one will shrink, most of the time it does not. You can always just hang it to dry if you are afraid of the dryer.

I have never had any problem with rayon pilling or not wearing well. Never bleach rayon.

Pupuse, at this point the dress is ruined, and your cleaner won't clean it. Treat it with spray and wash and wash it on the gentle cycle in the washer. What do you have to lose? You can't wear it now.

Hang it to dry instead of machine drying, iron it with a med. hot iron. It's worth a shot; you can't wear it the way it is.


is rayon ever blended with latex?


Does anyone know if I can spot clean rayon with water, or will it leave a water spot?


Is rayon biodegradable?


i have to write explain rayon under the following headings:




Please email me with this information. Thanks.


don't wear it! you will break out in hives!


Modal, viscose, and rayon are the same thing. Rayon is used in many tampons. Rayon dyes easily... nothing special is needed Rayon does not wick, but it does absorb sweat. Rayon can definitely be used in the microwave since it will not melt. Rayon does biodegrade like cotton and wool. It's not a synthetic fiber like polyester. Dry cleaning is totally unnecessary for rayon. Use a regular detergent and scrub by hand. Rayon is great for sensitive skin! Rayon is *not* used for umbrellas. you need a fiber that doesn't absorb water like nylon or PVC.


are umbrellas made with rayon?


yeah its used in the process of making them because its absorbent :)


How cool is rayon, compared to loose-weave linen and cotton? My skin is very sensitive...Thanks!


I have a new (blue) rayon dress with two stains -chocolate and grease. It has to be dry-cleaned but my dry cleaner refuses to do so because she had bad surprises with rayon in the past.

Does anybody have any advice how to take care of rayon besides dry cleaning?


what thread is used for potato bags?


Does rayon biodegrade in landfills rapidly & naturally like cotton and wool?


Microwave potato bags are very popular amongst machine embroiderers. These bags are made with all cotton materials. Can rayon threads be used for machine embroidered designs that will be used in the microwave?



does rayon wick?


I have a dress made of rayon. How can I dye it?


Does rayon make tampons? I swear to god it does...


What is the difference between modal-viscose-rayon?

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