Rayon Fabric Description

Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Whether you're preparing to make a new dress or blouse or want to know more about the materials in some of your favorite clothing, rayon is a material with which you should become familiar. The soft, silk-like texture is often one of the features of rayon, a man-made fiber. Rayon is a popular choice in clothing manufacturing due to the material's affordability and comfortable feel.

History of Rayon

Factories began producing rayon in the 19th century and it is one of the world's oldest man-made fabrics. Dupont Chemicals made rayon popular in the 1920s, when the fabric was primarily used to make curtains. During this time, rayon was also mixed with other affordable fabrics to make visually appealing, cheap clothing.

How Is Rayon Made?

The yarn that makes up rayon is made from cellulose, extracted from wood pulp. The cellulose is mixed with caustic soda, which makes soda cellulose. When the soda cellulose is pressed, the cellulose is shredded and forms a mixture known as white crumb. When the white crumb is oxidized, it's mixed with carbon disulfide, and becomes yellow. The mixture is aged to make the fibers stronger, the cellulose structures are broken down, and the rayon is stretched to form the finished fabric.

Properties of Rayon

Rayon has a feel and look that is similar to silk; the fabric is also able to hold color well. Rayon is a particularly breathable fabric, and has more of an ability to absorb moisture than cotton. It's unlikely that lightly colored rayon will be damaged by bleach, as it has a healthy resistance to acidic and alkali substances. Rayon does have the tendency to burn since it's made of cellulose, but fire-resistant finishes can be applied to the fabric before it is sold.

Caring for Rayon

Once you purchase a clothing item made of rayon, it's important to know how to care for the fabric to keep your clothes looking their best. The Dharma Trading Company website suggests hand-washing rayon, since the fabric is particularly fragile and may unravel in the washing machine or dryer, particularly when rayon clothing is in the same load with sturdier fabrics like cotton. Washing rayon clothes by themselves in the washing machine, preferably in a net bag, is safer. Of course, the ideal method for washing is by hand or per the garment's care label instructions, and line drying the garment. Don't wring the garment dry, as this may change the shape of the garment, and iron the clothing inside out to prevent a shiny finish on the rayon.