Viscose, or Rayon, was the first regenerated fibre to be manufactured for commercial production in the early 1900s. 

As a fabric, it is able to emulate the extremely soft handle and subtle sheen of natural fibres, whilst being more cost effective to produce. Therefore, resulting in the continued popularity of viscose in fashion and soft furnishings.

Although viscose begins as a natural fibre, it is different from products like linen and cotton because it undergoes a manufacturing process. During this process, wood pulp is dissolved in alkali to make the solution called viscose, which is then squeezed through a nozzle or spinneret into an acid bath to create filaments called regenerated cellulose, and finally spun into yarn.

As with all natural fibres, viscose has a unique personality and requires special care. In this article we will discuss the characteristics of this versatile fabric, whether it is the right choice for your next project, and its unexpected enemy – H2O.

Characteristics of Viscose

  • Soft Handle
  • Luxurious appearance and subtle natural lustre.
  • Viscose yarn absorbs and holds dye well. Especially when piece dyed, a viscose product has the ability to reflect vibrant and bold colour.
  • Can be engineered to resemble other natural fibres such as linen cotton and silk, while in most instances, can be more cost effective.
  • Absorbent fibre and less durable when wet. We recommend that fabric qualities with a high percentage of viscose yarn are not washed or spot cleaned with water. Due to the absorbent nature of the yarn, spot cleaning can result in watermarks occurring.
  • Dry Cleanable. In most cases we recommend a professional dry clean for compositions with a high amount of viscose.
  • Low thermal retention. This characteristic mostly applies to the fashion apparel industry. Being a cellulose based fibre, it does not retain heat as well. 
  • As with all natural fibres, viscose can be susceptible to fading in direct sunlight due to the extreme UV conditions in Australasia. We recommend you are mindful of where natural fibres are situated in the home. In a drapery situation we always recommend a quality lining.
  • For interior textiles, a fabric with a component of viscose yarn is extremely versatile and can be used in drapery, upholstery and accessory applications. We don’t typically recommend viscose fabrics to be used for bedding due to the fibre generally being dry clean only.
  • A fabric that contains a viscose component can have the same fabric dye processes, finishes and printing applications as other natural fibres.

What to watch out for with Viscose fabrics

Colour Loss or Bleeding:

Viscose has a potential to fade and bleed in certain circumstances. Spills, particularly alcohol, perfume, hair treatments, as well as urine may permanently discolour viscose fabrics.  Avoid using spotting agents that contain alcohol, mineral acids and bleaches.

Cellulose Browning:

Viscose fibres contain natural cellulose fibres.  If your fabric remains wet for too long after cleaning the fabric may turn brown particularly if alkaline cleaning products are not rinsed thoroughly from the fabric

Water stains:

Treatments applied to viscose and other natural fibres will leave a “ring mark” or water stain” from spills of any sort, even just clear water.  These watermarks from spills may be permanent, and any cleaning must be done by evenly dampening the entire fabric. 

Fabric Weakness:

Viscose may lose up to 70% of its strength when wet resulting in implications such as the fabric ripping during cleaning/dry cleaning.

Texture distortion:

Velvet and chenille fabrics made with viscose face yarns need careful grooming immediately after cleaning to prevent permanent distortion. The larger the nap (fibres that stick upwards) the more tracking (sway marks) will appear.

Carefully considering the strengths and weaknesses of a fabric when commencing your next project will ensure that it is fit for purpose and maintains its aesthetic appeal over time. When utilised in the right circumstances and shown the appropriate care, viscose is a versatile natural fabric that can add value to the texture and longevity of your interior design decoration.

A big thanks to James Dunlop for this article.