Viscose is a type of rayon fabric, made from wood pulp, making it a semi-synthetic fabric. The term ‘viscose’ was invented, as it refers to the solution that comes from this pulp to then be used for both rayon items and cellophane.
It has been described as a ‘glutinous’ and ‘viscous’ organic liquid – hence the name ‘viscose’. The reason that it is referred to as a ‘semi-synthetic’ fabric, is because as a manufactured, regenerated cellulose fibre, the fabric is neither absolutely natural (such as cotton, wool or silk) nor indeed truly synthetic (such as nylon or polyester) but confusingly somewhere in between!
This starts with the cellulose extraction. Cellulose is the creation of wood pulp, and to be a good quality fabric, the cellulose must be at least 90% pure. This cellulose is then dissolved in caustic soda, which produces a chemical reaction that converts cellulose to alkali cellulose. This removes impurities from the cellulose, ready for the next process. The mixture is then set between two rollers that press out any excess liquid. The pressed sheets are shredded and crumbled into something called ‘white crumb’.
The next steps of the process
The ‘white crumb’ is then aged via exposure to oxygen, and exposed to carbon disulphide where it becomes ‘yellow crumb’. The yellow crumb is then dissolved and allowed to ‘ripen’ for a while. After it has ripened, the yellow crumb is filtered so that no gas bubbles remain. It is then put through a ‘spinneret’, which look like a showerhead with many holes. The last part of the process involves immersing the substance in a bath of sulphuric acid, resulting in rayon filaments. These filaments are then spun, drawn and washed to then produce a fabric that can then be cut for clothing production.
Viscose has many different qualities, is very versatile and can be used in many different ways due to is manufacturing process. Because of this, it is used widely in the fashion industry for many items that we can use in everyday wear. In fact, it is so versatile, that you may be surprised that you thought your garment was cotton, but is in fact viscose!
As well as being used for clothing worldwide, other industries have many uses for viscose including the medical profession, vehicle accessories and feminine hygiene products.
Viscose is often used as a silk substitute, as it has a similar look and feel – and ‘drapes’ well – like the luxurious material. Viscose material, and viscose clothing, was first produced in the late 1880s as a cheaper, artificial silk.
In the chemical sense, viscose resembles cotton but it can also take on many different qualities, depending on how it is manufactured. It is soft, smooth and can be very shiny to look at. Viscose can be manufactured very easily and hassle-free, which make it a very popular fabric as it can ‘mimic’ others, such as luxury fabrics velvet and taffeta.
Washing and caring for viscose, and any rayon, takes a lot of care and a little extra consideration. It is often mixed with other fabrics such as polyester and cotton, so washing instructions for different viscose clothing items and garments can vary significantly!
Because of the construction of the fibres, viscose isn’t a durable fabric, and attempting to wash your garments as you may do with similar cotton clothing may cause it to stretch or shrink – it can also cause the other colours to bleed onto other articles of clothing.
Always check the label before attempting to wash your viscose clothing at home. Some are mixed with other fabrics and can therefore be washed, but if not – DO NOT put in the washing machine! Hand washing is the BEST and only way to attempt washing viscose clothing at home. Put two capfuls of very delicate hand washing-specific detergent in a washbasin or clean bathroom sink filled with COOL water. Evenly distribute the soap, and submerge the item in the water. Soak for up to 30 minutes, then rinse well with cool water.
Many people have complained that their beautiful items of viscose clothing have shrunk when washing them; mainly due to them mistaking them for cotton (or other fabric) pieces, which are very hardy and can be washed in high temperatures. Viscose can feel very much like cotton; therefore it is very important to check the labels before embarking on washing them!
Shrinking viscose can happen in warm/hot water. This is because viscose is a manmade material, and the fibres that are constructed are not prepared for being in contact with an excessive amount of warm water (or any warm moisture). It is generally described as a fabric with ‘low-strength fibres’.
For some reason, viscose does not shrink in cold water. When reading instructions for recommendations to hand wash this fabric, the details are always to make sure that the water that you use does not get too warm or even hot. Stick to cold!
Read more about how to wash viscose without shrinking your clothes...
Looking after this very delicate fabric doesn’t stop after washing your viscose clothing items. There are many different ways that it is possible to undo your delicate washing! After washing, do NOT wring as this can break the fibres. Always hang-dry them to make sure that they do not shrink due to any extra heat. Viscose doesn’t take that long to dry. You CAN dry your viscose in the sun, but for a short time. When your items are dry, store them in a cool place to avoid any shrinkage.
Yes, it is possible to iron viscose, but very carefully. Viscose clothing (and other types of rayon) is very delicate, and direct heat from an iron can cause shrinkage and pilling. It is therefore very important to prepare your viscose clothing before attempting to iron successfully at home. You must, at first, ensure that the item that you would like to iron is dry clean, but it also doesn’t matter if the fabric is a tiny bit damp as you can sometimes iron damp viscose.
It’s very important to select the heat setting on the iron. Some irons have a useful setting called ‘rayon’ – which is perfect! If your particular iron doesn’t have the rayon setting, you can select ‘silk’ or ‘low’. Just make sure that you turn off the steam setting before continuing on.
It’s also good to ensure that the clothing is turned inside out before ironing. It’s essential to remember that the rayon can be damaged if you were to iron it on the outside – it can become (unnecessarily) shiny and cannot be undone, unless you use a press clot. A press cloth should be a piece of unbleached cloth (and one that the colours don’t run) or a piece of cotton muslin in between the iron and the item of clothing.
Take it slowly, and keep your iron moving at all times. Gently press onto the fabric a move across the garment in a smooth, steady motion. Make sure that you iron your viscose clothing in small sections. Rayon (and viscose) can be easily stretched and ruined, especially when warm or hot. Stick to small sections, keep your iron light and steady across the fabric and in a steady way. This will help to avoid stretching and other damage while ironing.
Find out more about how to iron viscose...
After ironing, leave your viscose garment to cool. Do not move your garment until it is fully cool, as the rayon can be easily stretched while it is hot. Leave the item of clothing to cool for a few minutes while it completely cools down, then hang up or store away. If you do want to hang up your garments, choose a hanger that isn’t metal, as they can leave rust spots on the fabric over a period of time.
Viscose is also so smooth that it can slip off a metal hanger, so best to hang your clothing neatly on a non-metal hanger with good grip for extra smoothness! Wooden hangers are the best choice, and choosing a certain type of wood can leave a wonderful scent in your wardrobe.
If you’re planning on not wearing your viscose clothing pieces for a period of time, it’s a good idea to store them carefully when not in use. Viscose tends to attract insects that love to nibble on it! If you have decided that you won’t be wearing your viscose garment for a while, make sure that is cleaned and pressed, then store it in a sealed plastic tub in a cool place with lavender sachets to keep the fabric smooth and smelling fresh.