If you’ve shopped for rugs, upholstery or even carpet recently, you may have seen names for the fibers found in those item which include “viscose,” “antique silk,” “faux silk,” “art silk,” “bamboo silk,” “soy silk,” “vegetable silk” and other similar names. When used for clothing the terms used are Lyocell, Model and Tencel. No matter what the term, the fiber is actually “rayon.”

Viscose rayon is a synthetic fiber developed in the late 19th century as a substitute for silk. Viscouse was the first man-made fiber. It is a highly absorbent regenerated cellulose fiber made by treating cellulose fiber with alkalinity. Like cotton, rayon is made of almost pure cellulose, but rather than being grown, rayon is produced by first chemically dissolving cellulose (obtained from cotton or wood pulp) to produce a thick yellow liquid called viscose. The viscose is extruded through tiny holes into a chemical bath that produces long filaments to simulate silk which can be spun into thread and yarn.

Many machine woven rugs that are labeled “faux silk” are made of the rayon. Rayon is also used in hand-knotted rugs in place of silk and now even broadloom carpet is manufactured with rayon. When purchasing furnishings, rugs or even carpet, there are some characteristics of viscose fiber you should understand before you buy.

Compared to silk, viscose rayon yarns are made of staple fibers which may become loose. Regular foot traffic and use, vacuuming and cleaning will cause the fibers to shed. This isn’t a defect but a characteristic of all staple fibers (including wool).

Unlike silk, rayon loses fiber “strength” when wet. You should avoid scrubbing when spot cleaning to keep from permanently damaging the item. Viscose can also become stiff and matted after spot cleaning. This makes the fibers look blotchy and matted and may be difficult or impossible to correct.

Rayon does not readily hold dye. The item may fade when exposed to sunlight and bleed from spills or pet accidents. Viscose fibers also “brown” easily (like cotton) if not dried quickly because they are regenerated cellulosic fibers. As trained professional cleaners, we maintain and clean these exotic fibers on a daily basis. Unfortunately the cleaning results we achieve may be limited by the characteristics of the fiber.