How is Viscose Made?

A close up of bronze or gold viscose material

Want the look and feel of the finest silks without the gargantuan price tag? Viscose will be right up your alley. This material is well-known for its lightweight and soft feel but also for its low production costs. As a result, the reality of viscose can be a little muddier than you might be led to believe. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Viscose?

Viscose is a semi-synthetic form of rayon created using man-made cellulosic fibers (MMCF) from trees. It was created as a cheaper, more durable alternative to silk. Today, viscose is one of the most common fabrics on the market; you’ll find it in everything from bedding to clothing to carpets. 

Despite the fact that it’s a plant-based fiber, viscose has fallen under scrutiny for its potential environmental impact. There are a few reasons for this, chief of which is its manufacturing process. 

Viscose does come from trees, but spinning its fibers into a soft material requires high concentrations of sometimes toxic chemicals. While there are more sustainable and ethical ways to produce viscose, much of what’s on the market is manufactured cheaply and with chemical-intensive practices that can have serious consequences.

Is viscose the same as rayon?

Viscose is indeed a type of rayon, but not all rayon is viscose. Other subtypes of rayon include modal and lyocell, which are similar but have distinct properties. Different types of rayon are also manufactured differently, so they’re not necessarily interchangeable.

How is Viscose Made?

The first step of viscose production is acquiring cellulose (wood pulp). In most cases, this cellulose is derived from fast-growing trees that regenerate easily, including eucalyptus, pine, and beech. 

Once collected, the cellulose is dissolved in a chemical solution that breaks it down into a malleable, viscous substance. Next, the substance gets spun into fibers that can then be used to create threads. Voila – a batch of viscose material is completed!

On paper, this process isn’t inherently harmful. But in practice, viscose production isn’t always as sustainable as we might think. Most viscose is made in factories located in China, Indonesia, and India. In these factories, wood pulp is processed with highly polluting chemical treatments. These treatments often include toxic chemicals that can pose serious health risks for workers. 

Deforestation is also another major concern. Since many manufacturers are looking for cheap, quick materials above all else, they don’t invest time or resources into replenishing forests affected by cellulose sourcing. Habitat destruction, damage to local communities, and an increased carbon footprint are just a few consequences of this issue. 

Nonprofit organization Canopy Planet estimates that 300 million people live in and directly depend on forests, including those impacted by viscose production. Ancient and Endangered forests in regions like China are particularly devastated by deforestation and its impacts on local ecosystems. 

So, is viscose sustainable? The answer isn’t as simple as it may seem. It very much depends on the manufacturer, their practices, and whether they follow through.

What is viscose from bamboo?

Viscose from bamboo is made using the same method as any other kind of viscose. Instead of using cellulose from just any tree, though, this fabric comes from bamboo plants. 

How does viscose feel?

Most people describe viscose as a lightweight, airy material that’s soft like cotton but more fluid (or “drapey”). Viscose maintains its shape better than cotton, and it’s also denser to the touch. Its light texture and breathable weight make it a popular choice for loose, elegant garments or upholstery.

How to Care for Viscose

Since it’s a fairly delicate fabric, viscose is usually tagged “dry clean only.” However, smaller garments or items can typically be hand-washed without issue. In general, you’ll want to steer clear of the machines and get ready to put some TLC into your viscose!

How to Wash Viscose

Rule number one of washing viscose: never put it in a washing machine. The fabric stretches and becomes much weaker when wet, so gentle is the name of the game here.

Here’s how to hand wash viscose step-by-step:

  1. Fill your sink or a small tub with cold water (warm water can cause dye bleeds)
  2. Add some mild detergent and gently massage it into the fabric
  3. Rinse and shake water out of the fabric; don’t wring or squeeze to avoid stretching it
  4. Hang the item or lay it out to dry

How to Iron Viscose

You can iron viscose using a medium heat setting (or silk setting) and a pressing cloth between your iron and the material. However, steam is really all you need to work out those wrinkles. A clothing steamer or even just the steam from your iron is the safest option.

Can you put viscose in the dryer?

Long story short: no, you should never put viscose in a dryer. You should keep the fabric away from high heat whenever possible, as it’s prone to shrinking. Plus, dryers can be too rough for wet viscose.

Our Take on Viscose

We can’t argue with viscose’s popularity; it’s easy to see why so many brands and consumers love this soft, airy material for everything from organic pajamas to non toxic pillows. Overall, we can’t say we disagree. Viscose is a cheaper alternative to other fabrics and looks amazing. 

However, we’d be remiss not to mention the downsides of viscose, too, at least most of the viscose we see on the market. 

We’d advise only purchasing viscose that you know is sustainably-sourced or that comes from brands you trust. Offsetting the impact of viscose production, avoiding unnecessary chemical use, and only sourcing from responsibly managed forests make a huge difference. 

Some manufacturers are working hard to clear the dark clouds over the industry, too. Take Lenzing, for instance, one of the biggest viscose producers in the world. Lenzing has trademarked its classic TENCEL fabric, which is made using closed-loop processes that don’t leave a continuous impact on the planet. 

At the end of the day, viscose isn’t the worst material out there, but it’s definitely not the absolute best. Don’t be afraid of it, but remember that there may be more to the viscose items you see from fast-fashion or cheap retailers than meets the eye. 

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