Rayon is a versatile semi-synthetic fabric made from cellulose fiber that is commonly used in clothing and other textiles. Many people wonder if rayon will shrink when laundered or dried, which can affect how the garment fits and wears over time. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine does rayon shrink when exposed to water, washing machines, and dryer heat and provide tips on how to wash rayon to avoid excessive shrinkage.
An Overview of Rayon Fabric
Before diving into rayon shrinkage, let’s first understand what rayon is and how it is made.
What is Rayon?
Rayon is a regenerated cellulose fiber that is made from natural sources like wood pulp or cotton lint. To produce rayon, the cellulose source is dissolved, then forced through spinnerets to form strands of fiber that are chemically solidified. This material is then spun into yarns and woven or knitted into fabric.
The fiber itself is neither synthetic nor natural, but rather falls into a category known as semi-synthetic. Rayon has characteristics similar to natural fibers like cotton or silk as well as synthetics like polyester or nylon.
How is Rayon Made?
There are a few different manufacturing methods used to produce rayon, but the most common is the viscose process. Here are the basic steps:
- Cellulose source (wood pulp or cotton) is treated with caustic soda to form alkali cellulose
- The alkali cellulose reacts with carbon disulfide to produce yellow crumbs known as “sodium cellulose xanthate”
- The crumbs are dissolved in a solution and forced through spinnerets to form filaments
- The filaments pass through an “acid spin bath” to solidify the cellulose and form rayon fibers
- The rayon fibers are washed, bleached, dried, and processed into yarn
This results in a regenerated fiber that can be spun into yarn and made into fabric. The entire process uses cellulose as the base material, which is what gives rayon its natural fiber-like properties.
Characteristics of Rayon Fabric
Rayon has the following traits:
- Semisynthetic fiber – not truly natural or synthetic
- Breathable and absorbent – absorbs moisture well
- Soft and lightweight – feels similar to cotton or silk
- Drapable – flows and drapes nicely
- Easy to dye – accepts dye colors readily
- Affordable – lower cost than natural silk
- Wrinkles easily – prone to wrinkling unless treated
- Weak when wet – loses strength when wet
These qualities make rayon a popular choice for clothing, home furnishings, and industrial use. However, the characteristics also mean special care must be taken when laundering rayon.
Does Rayon Shrink When Washed or Dried?
Now that we have covered the basics of rayon as a fabric, we can dive into the details of rayon shrinkage. Here’s a quick overview:
- Rayon is prone to shrinking when washed in hot water or dried using high heat
- The degree of shrinkage depends on the type of rayon
- Proper washing and drying methods can help minimize rayon shrinkage
Below we will unpack why rayon shrinks, the different types of rayon, and how they respond to washing and drying.
Why Does Rayon Shrink?
Rayon is a regenerated cellulosic fiber derived from natural cellulose. The chemical processing used to produce rayon alters the molecular structure of the fiber. When introduced to moisture, heat, and agitation, rayon fibers try to revert back to their original cellulose form. This results in the fibers contracting and the fabric shrinking.
More specifically, here is what happens when rayon shrinks:
- The hydrogen bonds within the rayon fibers break apart when exposed to water
- This allows the molecules in the fiber to move more freely
- When dried or heated, the fibers form new bonds in a more contracted state
- The fibers shrink as they reform bonds in this smaller configuration
The amount the fabric shrinks depends on the type of rayon, the amount of heat applied, and the length of exposure. We will now look at how different varieties of rayon respond to laundering.
Shrinkage by Rayon Type
Not all rayon fabrics shrink to the same degree. The manufacturing method used to produce the rayon impacts the amount of shrinkage that occurs. Here is an overview of common rayon types and their shrinkage behavior:
- Made using the viscose process
- Most widely used type of rayon
- Shrinks significantly when washed in hot water or dried using high heat
- Up to 15% shrinkage is possible if improper washing and drying
- Variant of viscose rayon using modified manufacturing techniques
- Fibers are stronger and more stable
- Low wet shrinkage – about 5% when washed properly
- Minimal heat shrinkage when tumble dried on low setting
- Produced using solvent spinning rather than wet spinning
- Fibers have a highly crystalline structure
- Excellent stability and strength when wet
- Very minimal shrinkage – less than 3%
- Can be washed in hot water and tumble dried
- Modified rayon made to improve dimensional stability
- Exhibits low shrinkage with washing and drying
- Up to 5% shrinkage possible if exposed to high heat
As you can see, the type of rayon is a major determinant of how much the fabric will shrink during laundering and drying.
How to Wash Rayon: Shrinkage Prevention Tips
Now that we understand why rayon shrinks and how much it can vary, let’s go over proper washing techniques to minimize rayon shrinkage for different fabric types.
General Washing Tips for Rayon
Here are some overarching tips for washing rayon clothing and fabrics:
- Check the care label – Follow any special instructions to avoid damaging the garment
- Wash in cold water – Use the cold or cool setting on your washing machine
- Avoid hot water – Hot water can cause excessive shrinkage
- Use a gentle cycle – Opt for the delicate or gentle cycle to reduce agitation
- Skip the dryer – Lay flat or hang to dry instead to prevent heat shrinkage
- Iron carefully – Use a medium heat setting and don’t iron directly on any decorations
Taking these precautions can help keep any rayon fabric from shrinking too much during laundering. But different types of rayon require some additional considerations.
Washing Viscose and Modal Rayon
For viscose rayon and modal rayon:
- Check if dry clean only – some should not be washed at home
- Don’t use fabric softener – can cause pilling and damage
- Dry flat – skip the dryer to prevent heat shrinkage
- Use a spray starch – helps the fibers resist shrinking
These steps are important for minimizing shrinkage, especially with viscose which is prone to high shrinkage.
Washing Lyocell and Polynosic Rayon
Lyocell rayon and polynosic rayon are lower shrinkage varieties. For these fabrics:
- Wash in cool or warm water
- Tumble drying is OK on low heat
- Medium heat ironing generally won’t cause shrinking
- Can wash and dry as you would cotton or other natural fabrics
So you can launder these rayon types a bit more aggressively than viscose or modal without worrying as much about shrinkage.
Does Rayon Shrink When Dry? Tips for Drying
We’ve covered washing, so now let’s discuss how to dry rayon fabrics without causing excessive shrinkage.
Air Drying Rayon
The safest way to dry rayon clothing or fabrics is to simply air dry. Here are some air drying tips:
- Lay flat to dry if possible – this prevents stretching
- Hang drying also works well for garments – hang on rust-proof hangers
- Ensure the item is fully dry before wearing or storing
- Reshape garments while still slightly damp if needed
Air drying avoids heat exposure so the rayon won’t shrink. This is the recommended method for washing viscose, modal, and other high-shrinkage rayon varieties.
Machine Drying Rayon
You can use a clothes dryer for some types of rayon, but care should be taken:
- Only machine dry rayon if the tag says tumble dry is OK
- Use the lowest heat setting possible
- Remove garments promptly when finished to prevent over-drying
- Use fabric softener sheets to reduce static cling
- Lay flat after drying to allow fibers to relax and reshape
With these precautions, tumble drying should be fine for low-shrink rayons like lyocell and polynosic. But avoid machine drying high-shrinkage viscose and modal rayon fabrics.
It’s best to iron rayon fabrics while still slightly damp from washing. If ironing dry rayon, use a medium heat setting and avoid pressing down too long in one spot:
- Set iron to wool/silk setting or medium heat
- Iron damp fabric for best results
- Avoid ironing over buttons, zippers, or decorations
- Don’t let iron sit too long in one area
- Use spray starch or fabric finish if needed
Proper ironing technique will allow you to touch up rayon garments without causing shrinkage.
How Much Does Rayon Shrink? Expected Shrinkage Percentages
To summarize the information provided above, here are the typical shrinkage rates you can expect with different types of rayon fabric:
|Rayon Type||Shrinkage (Wash/Dry)|
|Viscose||Up to 15%|
These percentages assume proper washing and drying methods are not used. Exposing viscose rayon to hot water wash and high heat drying could potentially cause up to 15% shrinkage.
The other rayon varieties are specially engineered for stability, so they will shrink much less. But extreme heat or agitation can still cause 5% or more shrinkage if care instructions are not followed.
Taking steps like washing in cold water, air drying, and ironing while damp will keep rayon shrinkage to a minimum.
Can You Un-Shrink Rayon? Tips to Stretch It Back
Rayon that has shrunk can sometimes be gently stretched back to its original size. Here are a few methods you can try:
- Fill a sink or tub with cool water and add hair conditioner. Immerse the rayon and soak for at least 30 minutes, moving it around gently. This will relax the fibers.
- Roll up the rayon in a towel to remove excess moisture. Don’t wring or twist it.
- Lay flat and gently pull to original dimensions. Use rust-proof pins to hold in place.
- When nearly dry, use a steamer or iron on low heat to lightly steam over the surface. Avoid pressing down.
- Repeat the wetting/stretching process if needed to maximize size regain.
This re-wetting and stretching technique can potentially restore a substantial portion of lost size to shrunken rayon items. It works best if done soon after shrinkage occurs.
Rayon Shrinkage FAQs
Does rayon shrink when wet?
Yes, rayon can shrink when wet, especially if exposed to hot water or agitation. The fibers swell and move more freely, then form new bonds in a shrunken state as the fabric dries. Viscose rayon in particular shrinks a lot when wet.
Can you put rayon in the dryer?
Some types of rayon like lyocell and polynosic can go in the dryer on low heat. But viscose, modal, and other high-shrinkage rayons should always be air dried to prevent heat shrinkage. Check garment tags before drying rayon fabrics.
Does rayon stretch like cotton?
No, rayon does not tend to bounce back when stretched out like cotton does. The fibers lack elasticity, so rayon fabric will remain stretched out. This is why shrinking requires re-wetting and carefully stretching back to the original size.
Should rayon be dry cleaned?
Some rayon fabrics specifically say “Dry Clean Only” on their tags. But others can be hand washed or machine washed on delicate, then laid flat to dry. Check care instructions for each garment. When in doubt, take rayon items to a professional dry cleaner.
Can you shrink rayon back to normal?
It is possible to partly un-shrink rayon by re-wetting, gently stretching, and steaming/ironing. But results vary depending on the fabric and how much it initially shrank. In some cases the sizing is permanently lost if the fibers bonded in the shrunken state.
To summarize, rayon is a versatile semi-synthetic fabric that is prone to shrinking when washed in hot water or dried using excessive heat. The specific rayon type impacts the expected amount of shrinkage – viscose rayon is most susceptible while lyocell and polynosic rayon are more dimensionally stable.
Following the proper care instructions, washing in cold water, air drying, and avoiding hot ironing are the best ways to prevent rayon shrinkage. If rayon does shrink unexpectedly, you can try re-wetting and carefully stretching the material to regain some of the lost size.
With a bit of care when laundering, rayon clothing and other items can maintain their shape and size wash after wash. Just be sure to handle rayon fabrics gently and avoid exposing them to high temperatures.
Frequently Asked Questions About Rayon Shrinkage
Does rayon shrink in the wash?
Yes, rayon can shrink in the wash, especially if washed in hot water. The amount of shrinkage depends on the type of rayon. Viscose rayon is most prone to wash shrinkage, while lyocell and polynosic rayon shrink much less. Always wash rayon in cold water and avoid fabric softeners to prevent excessive shrinkage.
How much will rayon shrink?
The amount rayon shrinks varies based on the fabric type. Viscose rayon can shrink up to 15% if improperly washed and dried. Modal rayon shrinks 3-5% typically. Lyocell and polynosic rayon shrink less than 3% when laundered with care.
Should you dry clean rayon?
Some rayon fabrics specifically recommend dry cleaning. But others can be hand washed cold or washed on delicate and laid flat to dry. Avoid machine drying rayon unless the care tag specifies tumble dry is OK. When in doubt, take rayon garments to a professional cleaner for best results.
Can you put viscose rayon in the dryer?
No, viscose rayon should always be air dried and not machine dried. The heat from a clothes dryer can significantly shrink viscose rayon fabrics. Even on the lowest setting, dryer heat relaxes the fibers so they take on a smaller, shrunken configuration.
How do you stop rayon from shrinking?
To prevent rayon shrinkage:
- Wash in cold water only
- Hang dry or lay flat to dry instead of machine drying
- Avoid fabric softeners in the wash
- Iron while slightly damp on medium heat
- Skip the dryer for modal, viscose, and other high-shrink rayons
- Follow all garment care instructions
What happens if rayon shrinks?
If rayon shrinks, the fabric loses length and width to some degree. Clothing may become tighter and less comfortable to wear. There are ways to stretch shrunken rayon back close to the original size by rewetting and gently tugging back to shape. But results vary depending on the fabric and amount of initial shrinkage.