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How is Rayon Made?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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Rayon is a fiber made of cellulosic material, or plant life, that is made to resemble silk. In fact, it used to be known as artificial silk before the term was changed in the early 1920s. The process to manufacture rayon begins with the plants that make it possible, such as wood. Once the materials have been harvested, it can then be manipulated and changed into the common rayon material with which most people are familiar.

The wood fibers used in the makeup of rayon come from one of three major species of trees. Pine, spruce and hemlock are the most popular choices, but these are not the only ones that can be used. However, the ease of cultivation of these trees, along with their abundance, make them some of the most economical to use. Cotton can also be used. The fact these natural products are used means rayon is not a synthetic product, even though its purpose is to imitate another natural product.

Once the material has been collected, the wood is ready for processing. The wood pulp is ground up and treated with sodium hydroxide. This is then dried over a period of several days. The resulting product is then mixed with liquid carbon disulfide. This becomes a very thick liquid with the approximate consistency of honey.

Once this is done, the liquid is then stored a few more days for aging. Then, the liquid is forced through a device with many holes to make individual strands. These strands are fed into acid, where they solidify. This helps create the basis for the solid material. Without this step, there would be no solid and, thus, no fabric.

After the filaments have been created, the rest of the process is very similar to the manufacturing process of any other clothing material. It must be spun into yarn. The equipment to do this is the same as those used for many other different types of fibers. The most common spinning methods for rayon include spool, pot and continuous spinning.

Once the fibers have been spun, the finishing touches can be added. These include treating the rayon fabric for fire resistance, shrinking and resistance to water. The smoothness of the fabric can also be affected, depending on the type of treatment given. These treatments help make the fabrics unique from one another. While these are the basic steps to manufacturing rayon, there are other steps that can be added depending on the type of rayon fabric being created.

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Discussion Comments
By anon966406 — On Aug 19, 2014

Rayon is a really handy material.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 20, 2011

I have a pair of linen rayon pants, and they can withstand washing and ironing. I think that the durability of the linen strengthens the rayon.

The pants are soft with a hint of toughness. The linen gives them the texture of a bed sheet, but the rayon keeps them from feeling stiff.

I set my iron on the lowest possible setting for these pants. They always have to be ironed after I wash them, because linen wrinkles so easily.

Just to be safe, I don’t put these pants in the dryer. I hang them up in an area with plenty of open space so that they can dry naturally before I iron them.

By StarJo — On Aug 19, 2011

@cloudel - I know what you mean. I lost one of my favorite garments because I didn’t read the label.

I had a cool dress made of rayon once. It had a dark blue background, and tiny yellow and red pin stripes ran vertically down the length of the dress. The hem fell just below my knees, and a sash tied in the back to define the waistline.

I absolutely destroyed it by washing it. The label said “dry clean only,” but I tossed it in the washer without reading it. I thought it would be safe in cold water on the delicate cycle, but I was so wrong.

It shrank so much that it lost about seven inches of its length. It looked somewhat warped, like one side was slightly longer than the other. So, I turned it into a kitchen apron.

By cloudel — On Aug 19, 2011

@seag47 - Your dresses must be made of the type of rayon that is machine washable. Some rayon garments are labeled “dry clean only.”

I have a few of both types. The label on the type that can be washed says to use only cold water and to lay flat to dry. It also says to never twist or wring it.

I made the mistake of washing one of my dry clean only rayon shirts on the gentle cycle. It lost its shape, and it shrank so much that I could no longer wear it. This kind of rayon loses strength when it gets wet.

By seag47 — On Aug 18, 2011

I had no idea that rayon was made from wood! I have several rayon dresses, and they feel so silky. I never would have guessed that their fabric came from a tree!

Because the texture is so smooth, I wash these dresses on the delicate cycle with a gentle laundry detergent. Rayon may be tough enough to handle the regular cycle, but I don’t want to risk roughing up the texture by throwing them in to be rubbed against tough jeans.

I never put them in the dryer. After they go through the spin cycle, they can dry pretty quickly when hung up in an area where the air flow can reach them.

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