Chances are, something in your closet is made of the semi-synthetic fiber called rayon. Also called viscose, rayon feels soft against the skin, readily takes on dyes and patterns, is highly absorbent and drapes well -- making it almost a perfect fabric. Rayon does have its downsides, though, especially in terms of washability, wear and tear, and staining.
Rayon comes in both dry clean only and washable versions, so carefully read the label before washing your favorite dress. Washing dry clean only rayon can lead to fading and shrinkage by as much as three sizes. In addition, patterned rayon may bleed if it's improperly washed. The once flowy, drapeable garment you loved may also turn stiff and rough. Even washable rayon must be carefully cared for. Follow instructions to hand wash, using cool water and drying it flat. Rayon has only 30 to 70 percent of its usual strength when it's wet, making it vulnerable to tearing as its agitated in the washer and tumbled in the dryer.
Staining and Fading
Rayon, especially the dry clean only type, is vulnerable to permanent stains. Alcohol, perfume, hairspray and urine may all lead to unsightly splotches that do not wash away. Even sweat can damage the fabric's appearance. Be wary when using a spot cleaner on rayon. Those containing mineral acids, alcohol and bleach may permanently damage the fabric. Test any cleaner -- even water -- on an inconspicuous part of the fabric and blot with a white towel to note any color bleeding. Alternatively, bring the garment to a trusted dry cleaner. Prolonged exposure to sunlight may also discolor rayon, especially in drapes and upholstery.
Because rayon isn't as as durable as wool or silk, it wrinkles easily. Certain types of rayon are manufactured to resist wrinkling, however. When you're shopping for a rayon garment, crumple the fabric in your hand to see how it reacts. You can iron most rayon, but first turn it inside out to avoid damage to the surface of the fabric.
Dry Cleaning Complications
Even if you follow the label's recommendations and dry clean your rayon clothing, it may not come back in the same condition. Reputable dry cleaners are aware that their presses can flatten out the ridges in the fabric and give it a shiny appearance. Dry-cleaning heat, spotting and pressing can be especially damaging to red and pink rayon, which may take on a permanent black or blue discoloration. Rayon clothing, especially anything cut on a bias, can come back with a distorted shape because of the fabric's tendency to change shape and shrink when cleaned. Point out your rayon garments to your dry cleaner so they take extra care with them. Your dry cleaner should take measures to test your garment's resiliency before cleaning and let you know the potential risks.
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Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.