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Viscose Fabric Guide: Characteristics, Uses, Types & More

Zilingo Editorial Team
Viscose fabric has a wide range of applications in the fashion industry. Its versatility makes it one of the most ideal textiles for clothing, home furnishings, and footwear. Viscose is a semi-synthetic fiber that has been around for over a hundred years. But what makes it so special? Is it eco-friendly? Is it a good material for clothing? Let’s find out… In this article, we take a closer look at what is viscose fabric, how viscose fabric is made, its uses, properties, and more.

What is Viscose Fabric?

Commonly used as a substitute for silk, viscose (also called rayon) is a semi-synthetic fiber made from renewable, natural materials. It is one of the three regenerated cellulose textile fibers – modal, lyocell, and viscose.

Viscose is a type of rayon and was first produced in 1883 as an affordable alternative to silk as it is smooth to touch and has a similar drape. It was originally known as artificial silk and the term ‘rayon’ was coined in 1924. Due to its properties such as softness, luster, and breathability, viscose is used in a range of textile and clothing applications.

Viscose is made from cellulose, a plant-based material. Cellulose is treated with different chemicals to make a fiber that has the qualities of natural fibers, such as silk and cotton. The term ‘viscose’ is derived from the viscous organic liquid which is regenerated into fibers to make fabric.

Viscose is not completely synthetic, as it is made from cellulose. It is not considered completely natural as its production involves the use of harsh chemicals.

Characteristics of Viscose Fabric

Viscose is versatile, cheaper compared to silk, and blends well with other fibers such as cotton and polyester. The following are the properties of viscose fabric:

  • Lightweight
  • Soft
  • Durable
  • Silky and lustrous
  • Absorbent
  • Abrasion resistance
  • Drapes well
  • Easy to dye
  • Good color retention
  • Drapes well
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Does not build up static electricity
  • Blend easily with many fibers
  • Affordable alternative to silk

Disadvantages of Viscose Fabric

  • May shrink with every wash
  • Wrinkles easily
  • Easily damaged in water
  • Does not have any elasticity, it can be blended with spandex for some extra stretch
  • Deteriorates in prolonged exposure to sunlight
  • Chemically reactive – gets damaged easily even by weak acids as it is made of cellulose

What is Viscose Made of?

Viscose fabric is typically made from cellulose extracted from the bark, wood, or leaves of plants. It is often derived from bamboo, beech, spruce, pine, or eucalyptus trees. It can also be obtained from other plant products, such as corn husks, citrus, and sugar cane. This part of the viscose production process is green.

In the latter part, it through the chemical-intensive and polluting viscose process. The viscose production process involves the use of chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. The use of chemicals to create yarns makes it a semi-synthetic material.

Viscose Manufacturing Process – How Is Viscose Made?

The following steps describe the viscose manufacturing process:

  • The plant is chipped into wood pulp and the wood chips are dissolved in chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, making a brown wood pulp solution.
  • The brownish wood pulp containing the cellulose is then dissolved in caustic soda, forming an alkali cellulose solution. This step removes impurities from the solution.
  • In the next step, the alkali solution is introduced between rollers. This step makes pressed sheets while eliminating excess liquid.
  • The sheets obtained are shredded into fluffy particles called ‘crumbs’. The crumbs are reacted with carbon disulfide.
  • The crumbs are further dissolved in chemicals such as sulfuric acid to create a viscous solution referred to as ‘viscose’.
  • Undissolved elements and bubbles of air are removed in the next step.
  • The viscose solution is introduced into a spinneret to make filaments of regenerated cellulose.
  • The regenerated cellulose is spun into yarn and further woven or knit into viscose rayon fabric.

In a nutshell, the manufacturing process of viscose involves several steps. First, the wood is dissolved into a pulp solution. It is followed by washing, cleaning, and bleaching. The solution is then treated again to create fibers. The fibers are treated again to form regenerated cellulose that is spun into yarns for textile making.

Where is Viscose Fabric Produced?

According to Research and Markets, rayon used to be made
in developed countries such as the United States, Japan, and EU members. However, due to the environmental impact, these countries have withdrawn from the viscose fiber industry.

Now, viscose production has moved to the Asian regions, particularly in China. In 2018, the global output of viscose fiber reached approximately 5.8 million tons, of which China’s contribution was nearly 65%.

Where is Viscose Fabric Used?

Viscose is a versatile fabric that has a variety of uses. It is widely used to create t-shirts, activewear, jackets, and dresses. Due to its breathable and airy properties, it is used in summer collections. Its silky and lustrous texture is excellent for making maxi dresses. Viscose is also used for making casual wear, formal wear, leggings, and sports tops.

The silk-like appearance of viscose makes it an ideal material for curtains or window drapes. Viscose is good at absorbing water, so it is blended with polyester and cotton to make mattress protectors. It also finds uses in the automotive industry for making belts and tire components.

What are the Different Types of Viscose?

Viscose rayon is produced in different ways. Depending on the manufacturing method, the following types of viscose fabric are obtained:

1. Nitrocellulose

Nitrocellulose was the first form of viscose created in 1855 as ‘artificial silk’. Compared to cuprammonium viscose, nitrocellulose was more flammable and costly to manufacture. Its production was stopped in the early 1900s.

2. Acetate

Cellulose acetate was discovered in 1865 by French chemist Paul Schützenberger. It was produced by reacting cellulose with an acetic acid anhydride. The production of acetate fiber was stopped a few decades ago as rayon was found to be stronger than acetate.

3. Cuprammonium rayon

Cuprammonium rayon was produced by making cellulose a soluble compound by reacting it with copper and ammonia. It was widely used for textiles but its production was stopped after the discovery of new rayon production methods.

4. Lyocell

Lyocell is made of cellulose fiber. It is created by dissolving pulp and then reconstituting it by dry jet-wet spinning. Lyocell fiber is commonly used to make textiles for clothing.

5. Modal

Modal viscose is produced by spinning reconstituted cellulose derived from trees. It is more tensile than regular rayon and is often combined with cotton and spandex to produce a variety of products such as clothing and home furnishings.

Viscose Fabric Environmental Impact

Viscose is biodegradable and is produced from natural resources. Despite this, viscose has several environmental concerns associated with it.

1. Excessive use of harsh chemicals

Producing viscose is a chemical-intensive process, which contributes to air and water pollution and is not accepted as sustainable compared to natural fibers. It involves toxic chemical compounds like carbon disulfide in its manufacturing, which can be very harmful.

Nitrous oxides, sulfur, and carbon, disulfide are found in air emissions around viscose production sites. Inhaling their small doses can cause irritability and headaches and more prolonged exposure can result in bigger health issues. While the chemicals can be reused in viscose manufacturing, it is a more polluting process compared to other types of rayon, such as modal and lyocell.

2. Deforestation

The trees used to produce the raw pulp for viscose are sourced from forests globally. While the trees can be harvested, they are often not obtained from sustainably-grown forests. This results in deforestation, wiping out natural forests and harming ecosystems.

According to Canopy Planet, over 200 million trees are logged
each year to be turned into cellulosic fabrics like viscose and rayon. If these trees were placed end-to-end, they would circle the Earth seven times.

3. Excessive use of water

The production of water uses a huge amount of water, both in watering the trees and in the process of turning those trees into fabric.

Lyocell Fabric – Is it a sustainable and greener alternative to Viscose?

As consumers become aware of sustainable fashion, fabrics
like Lyocell are becoming increasingly popular. Lyocell is in high demand because it is completely biodegradable and compostable if it is not blended with other synthetic fibers.

Lyocell is smooth, soft, durable, wrinkle-resistant, moisture absorbent, breathable, and drapes well. It is widely used to make towels, denim, bedding, and lyocell sheets.

Lyocell fiber was first developed by the American Enka fibers facility in 1972 as an improvement on rayon, especially in terms of environmental concerns. Lyocell manufacturing does not use toxic carbon disulfide like the viscose process to make rayon.

Lyocell is typically obtained from eucalyptus trees, which have no adverse environmental impact. They grow fast, consume less water for irrigation, don’t cause degradation, don’t need pesticides to grow, don’t hamper soil fertility, and can be grown in areas otherwise unsuitable for agriculture. Its wood pulp can be transformed into lyocell viscose without the use of harmful chemicals.

How is Lyocell Made?

Like viscose, lyocell is produced from hardwood trees. Typically, eucalyptus trees are used but oak, bamboo, and birch are also good options. The trees are harvested, the wood is cut into small pieces or chips and ground into a pulp, and then treated with amine oxide. This process produces a sticky and viscous liquid called raw cellulose.

The mixture goes through spinnerets to produce white lyocell fibers. The fibers are washed, dried, spun into yarn, and woven into fabric. Lyocell production follows a sustainable closed-loop process, in which the dissolvent chemicals involved are not toxic, are not released into the environment, and can be reused over and over. Lyocell production is more environmentally friendly, economical, and efficient compared to viscose manufacturing.

Wrapping Up

Viscose is a durable and affordable material for making clothing. It feels soft and lustrous and is perfect for everyday use. While it is derived from trees, it does not necessarily mean that it is eco-friendly. The production process of viscose has a negative environmental impact. However, brands can shift to eco-friendly, closed-loop lyocell manufacturing processes to avoid harming the environment.

Want to source viscose fabric or yarn, viscose blended fabric, or
viscose garments? Share your sourcing needs with us today
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Zilingo Editorial Team
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