What is Rayon?
Rayon, initially called "Artificial Silk", was the first manufactured fiber but it is not synthetic. However, wood pulp requires extensive chemical processing to produce rayon. It was first commercially manufactured in England in 1905 and in the United States in 1910.
Rayon has similar characteristics as cotton and linen. Producing rayon is relatively inexpensive, but use of large amounts of water and energy does not make it environmentally friendly. Manufacturers are working on new production methods to reduce the amount of chemical emissions.
Rayon is soft and has a nice drape. It does not build up static electricity. Rayon is the most absorbent cellulose based fiber. It absorbs perspiration and cools off the body, making it a wonderful choice for summer wear. Because of this characteristic, it absorbs dyes very well, allowing the production of deep, rich colored yarn.
There are two types of rayon, Viscose rayon and Polynosic rayon. Viscose rayon becomes weak when wet, and may shrink. That is why dry cleaning is recommended. However, Polynosic rayon, which is chemically treated, is much stronger and can be washed and tumble-dried. Unfortunately, it is hard to distinguish the two, so always read the label to know exactly what type of rayon you are using.
Like cotton, rayon burns easily. When burnt, it leaves an odor like burned paper. For this reason, fire-retardant chemicals are added during production. Although it is similar to cotton, it has the look and feel of silk, hence the name "Artificial Silk". Rayon may lose its luster over time, and considering it is not resilient, it may not be a good choice for knitted garments.
For more information about rayon, check http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5538.html
Nazanin S. Fard