wall plant

Understanding Rayon, Modal, and Viscose

Time to walk away from the wheel for a while.  Starting to get achy.  So it means it’s a perfect opportunity to finish up the synthetics with rayon, modal, and viscose.  Modal and viscose are both specific types of rayon, so I’ll just be going with the info on rayon as it covers all three of them.

Rayon is made of cellulose. In order to understand that, you need to know what cellulose is. Cellulose is is an organic compound with the formula (C6H10O5), a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to many thousands of β(1→4) linked D-glucose units.Cellulose is an important structural component of the primary cell wall of green plants, many forms of algae and the oomycetes. Some species of bacteria secrete it to form biofilms.Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer on Earth.

The majority of rayons are made of wood pulp which is purified and then chemically converted to a soluble compound.  It’s then dissolved and put through a spinneret (think of that colander thing I keep mentioning) and chemicals are applied to make it solidify.  Because of the combination of chemicals and naturally occurring cellulose, rayon is considered a semi-synthetic.  It’s got some of both worlds.

Rayon has been around a long time.  The first “artificial silk” was considered a rayon and was created by Georges Audemars in about 1855.  So it’s a long term player in the game of fiber.  Like all other fibers out there, it’s got it’s pluses and minuses.  While it is more biodegradable than a straight acrylic, that’s not saying much.  A recent ocean survey found that rayon contributed to 56.9% of the total fibers found in deep ocean areas. 

It’s also had it’s other controversies.  Taking this next chunk straight from wikipedia…

In early 2010, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission warned several retailers that six major manufacturers were falsely labeling rayon products as “bamboo”, in order to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. While rayon may be produced from bamboo as a raw material, and both rayon and bamboo may be used for similar fabrics, rayon is so far removed from bamboo by chemical processing that the two are entirely separate.

In December 2015, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced complaints and proposed court orders barring four national retailers from mislabeling and advertising rayon textiles as made of “bamboo,” and requiring them to pay civil penalties totaling $1.3 million. “It’s misleading to call bamboo that has been chemically processed into rayon simply ‘bamboo,’” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “With consumers in the midst of their holiday shopping, it’s important for them to know that textiles marketed as environmentally friendly alternatives may not be as ‘green’ as they were led to believe.”

Now a real quick additional note to that…. The US Federal Trade Commission only were able to bar the national retailers from this practice.  The other ones based in other nations….. Yeah, so I’m saying some healthy skepticism is in order.

And lastly, on to the properties of how it preforms.

Rayon is a versatile fiber and is widely claimed to have the same comfort properties as natural fibers, although the drape and slipperiness of rayon textiles are often more like nylon. It can imitate the feel and texture of silk, wool, cotton and linen. The fibers are easily dyed in a wide range of colors. Rayon fabrics are soft, smooth, cool, comfortable, and highly absorbent, but they do not insulate body heat, making them ideal for use in hot and humid climates, although also making their “hand” (feel) cool and sometimes almost slimy to the touch.

The durability and appearance retention of regular viscose rayon are low, especially when wet; also, rayon has the lowest elastic recovery of any fiber. However, HWM rayon (high-wet-modulus rayon) is much stronger and exhibits higher durability and appearance retention. Recommended care for regular viscose rayon is dry-cleaning only. HWM rayon can be machine washed.

Hooray!  I can move on to the natural fibers next!