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Material Guide: What is Viscose Fabric?

Some individuals may draw comparisons between viscose and silk, given the rising popularity of viscose in the textile industry owing to its softness and lustrous qualities. If you are uncertain about the suitability of viscose fabric, this blog post is designed to offer answers and provide clarity. It will help you gain a comprehensive understanding of what viscose fabric is and its sustainability aspects.

What is Viscose Fabric?

Viscose is a semi-synthetic fiber fabric derived from cellulose found in various plants such as trees, bamboo, or soybeans. This long filament fiber undergoes chemical processing and other treatments to create a material that possesses a silk-like smoothness. Its luxurious texture and versatile nature have made a lasting impact.

The invention of the viscose manufacturing process can be credited to British scientist Charles Frederick Cross, along with his collaborators Edward John Bevan, Clayton Beadle, and French scientist Hilaire de Chardonnet. They successfully patented this process in 1891.

Commercial production of viscose fabric commenced in the late 19th century when Samuel Courtauld founded the Courtaulds Company. It played a pivotal role in the advancement and commercialization of viscose. In 1905, they established the first viscose factory in Britain, later expanding production globally.

Viscose serves as an alternative to silk, offering comparable drape and luster. Its applications extend beyond clothing and find utility in home and industrial settings as well. With ongoing technological advancements, the performance of viscose continues to improve, ensuring its applications will expand further.

What is Viscose Fabric Made of and the Production Process?

The journey of viscose from tree to textile is a fascinating one. Despite its natural origins, transforming wood pulp into viscose fabric is a complex process involving several stages of chemical treatment.

  • Step 1: Harvesting and Soaking

The journey begins in the forest where trees like pine, spruce, or bamboo – rich in cellulose – are harvested. The wood is then chipped into small pieces and soaked in a chemical solution to remove impurities and non-cellulose components.

  • Step 2: Cellulose Extraction

The treated wood chips are then subjected to a process called ‘pulping,’ where they are broken down into a mushy substance. This pulp is further bleached to extract pure cellulose.

  • Step 3: Xanthation

The purified cellulose is now ready for “xanthation,” a process where it is steeped in carbon disulfide, transforming it into a yellow substance known as “xanthate.”

  • Step 4: Dissolving and Ripening

The xanthate is dissolved in a solution of sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, resulting in a viscous liquid or ‘viscose’. This mixture is left to ripen, allowing it to become even more viscous.

  • Step 5: Spinning

The ripened viscose is then forced through a spinneret (similar to a showerhead) into a sulfuric acid bath. This process, known as ‘wet spinning’, solidifies the viscose into filaments or fibers.

  • Step 6: Drawing and Cutting

The newly formed viscose threads are stretched (or drawn) to align the cellulose molecules, increasing their strength. Depending on the desired end product, these threads are then cut into staple fibers or left as filament yarns.

  • Step 7: Washing and Finishing

Finally, the viscose fibers are thoroughly washed to remove any lingering chemicals. They are then dried, bundled, and shipped off to textile manufacturers to be woven or knitted into fabric.

What Fabric is Viscose?

Viscose fabrics offer a broad range of variations, with some common types of viscose and modifications including the following:

  • Regular Viscose

The most fundamental form of viscose fabric, which boasts a silk-like texture, excellent drape, and a glossy finish. Its versatility makes it suitable for everyday clothing, cozy bedding, and enhancing home interiors.

  • High-wet-modulus Viscose

It is an enhanced version of regular viscose. High-wet-modulus viscose has undergone manufacturing improvements to provide enhanced strength, durability, and stability. It is well-suited for higher-performance applications, including industrial use, interior decoration, or technical textiles.

  • Viscose Blends
    Viscose blended fabrics are crafted by combining viscose fibers with other fiber types, resulting in materials that possess a combination of properties. 

The inclusion of viscose fibers greatly enhances the fabric’s overall functionality, texture, and durability. Popular viscose blends include viscose-silk, viscose-linen, viscose-cotton, and viscose-polyester. When making a purchase, you can select the appropriate viscose blend fabric that best suits your specific needs and desired performance.

Viscose-Related Fabrics

There are fabrics closely related to viscose fibers that are quite similar to viscose. These are also semi-synthetic fabrics and are sometimes created using the viscose process. It’s common for people to refer to this group of fabrics collectively as viscose. More information about them can be found below:

  • Lyocell: Also known as Tencel, lyocell fiber is primarily sourced from eucalyptus trees and represents a sustainable, cellulose-based viscose fabric. It is an eco-friendly option, often utilizing non-toxic solvents and closed-loop production, which minimizes environmental impact. With a silk-like texture, lyocell provides superior moisture absorption and breathability, making it ideal for apparel, bedding, and more.
  • Modal: Typically made from beechwood, the modal is prized for its softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking capabilities. The fabric feels pleasant to the touch and drapes beautifully. It’s a popular choice for clothing such as underwear and loungewear and is also used in bed linens and other items.

Pros and Cons of Viscose Fabric

Advantages:

  1. Cost-Effectiveness: Viscose offers the luxury feel of high-end fabrics like silk at a fraction of the cost, making it an attractive option for manufacturers aiming to balance quality and affordability.
  2. Versatility: The adaptability of viscose allows it to be used in a broad spectrum of products, from clothing to home furnishings, providing manufacturers with a wide range of options.
  3. Color Retention: Thanks to its high absorbency, viscose holds dye well, resulting in vibrant, long-lasting colors. This is a desirable trait in mass-produced goods that need to maintain their appeal over time.
  4. Breathability: With its excellent airflow, viscose is ideal for summer clothing or products designed for hot climates, expanding the variety of goods that manufacturers can produce.

Disadvantages:

  1. Durability Concerns: While viscose feels luxurious, it doesn’t match up to the durability of natural fibers like cotton or silk, especially when wet. This could result in lower longevity of the products and potential customer dissatisfaction.
  2. Careful Handling: Viscose often requires dry cleaning or hand washing, which may not be convenient for all consumers. Manufacturers need to communicate these care requirements to avoid damage to the product and customer dissatisfaction.
  3. Shrinkage: Viscose fabric is prone to shrinkage if not properly cared for, which can affect the quality of the finished product and lead to returns or complaints.
  4. Environmental Impact: The chemically-intensive manufacturing process of viscose can contribute to environmental pollution. Manufacturers need to ensure they follow best practices and regulations to minimize this impact, which can add to the production costs.

What is Viscose Fabric Used for?

Viscose possesses a beautiful texture similar to silk and exhibits high dye absorption, making it ideal for creating fashionable garments. Its exceptional softness and draping qualities provide comfort and a flattering fit for your clothing. Additionally, it is perfect for crafting accessories such as scarves and ties.

The versatility of viscose extends beyond the realm of fashion. It can add a touch of luxury and aesthetic appeal to furniture and interior decor. Decorative items like curtains and carpets not only enhance the beauty of spaces but also serve a functional purpose. Furthermore, when used in bedding, viscose offers a delightful user experience.

Moreover, viscose finds applications in various other areas. It is utilized in the production of sanitary products like disposable wet wipes and sanitary pads. Additionally, it is employed in medical settings and industrial products, showcasing its wide range of uses.

Is Viscose Fabric Sustainable?

Viscose is a semi-synthetic fabric derived from wood pulp, making it a sustainable material from that perspective. However, concerns arise regarding its environmental impact throughout the entire production process.

The primary source of raw materials for viscose is trees, and large-scale deforestation for this purpose can have adverse effects on the environment, potentially endangering conservation efforts for threatened tree species.

Traditional viscose production involves chemicals like carbon disulfide. If not properly managed, it can harm ecosystems. Additionally, the significant water consumption and discharge of wastewater associated with viscose production pose challenges to sustainable development. It is harmful to water resources and land.

Nevertheless, efforts have been made to enhance the sustainability of viscose production. Closed-loop production systems, the use of non-toxic solvents, efficient water management, and proper handling of chemicals and wastewater can all help mitigate the environmental impact.

In today’s era of increased emphasis on sustainable development, you have the option to choose certified and standardized viscose products to ensure sustainable practices. Examples include Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and the Higg Index of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

How to Care for Viscose?

It is advisable to dry-clean viscose fabrics to maintain their quality. However, if the care label indicates that your viscose fabric is machine washable, make sure to use a laundry bag and select a gentle cycle. It’s important to use cold water and a mild detergent.

After washing, gently press out the water from the fabric without wringing it, and then hang it up to air dry. Should ironing be necessary, set the iron to a low temperature and press the garment inside out to avoid any potential damage to the fabric.

If a viscose fabric becomes stained, promptly dab the stain with a soft cloth, taking care not to rub the area to prevent spreading the stain and damaging the fabric. For stubborn stains, it is advisable to take the item to a professional laundry service for treatment.

Viscose vs Rayon

Characteristics Viscose Rayon
Origin Cellulose-based Cellulose-based
Texture Silky, shiny Soft, comfortable
Drape Excellent Good
Absorbency Higher High
Manufacturing process More rigorous chemical treatment Less rigorous chemical treatment

Is Viscose Better Than Cotton?

Viscose fabric differs from cotton, which is a natural fiber fabric, yet both have environmental impacts during their production processes. Viscose boasts a shinier luster and a smoother texture. Regarding softness and drape, the two fabrics are quite comparable. The better choice depends on your specific needs and intended use.

Is Viscose Like Polyester?

While both viscose and polyester are synthetic fabrics produced through technological processes, they differ in their raw materials. Viscose is typically derived from plant sources, whereas polyester comes from petroleum and other chemicals. Consequently, viscose is biodegradable. 

Conclusion

Viscose fabric is a result of technological advancements. Despite the challenges involved in its production, it has become a catalyst for ongoing progress. Its versatility opens up endless possibilities for diverse applications.

If you have a keen interest in viscose and would like to explore it further, Sino Silk offers premium viscose scarves and silk viscose fabric customized services to meet your needs.

More Resources:

What is Rayon Fabric – Source: Sinosilk

What is Polyester – Source: Sinosilk

Polyester vs Cotton – Source: Sinosilk

Viscose vs Silk – Source: Sinosilk

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