Here is everything you have to know about what is viscose fabric. Silk fabric has long been preferred for the way it accentuates the body and shimmers in the light. However, its high demand and intensive production methods mean it is very expensive. In an attempt to overcome this, manufacturers have developed a semi-synthetic fabric as a silk alternative - viscose fabric.
Viscose fabric was developed in the late 1800s, and since then, this lightweight and soft fabric has been used for home decor and in apparel. It is a less expensive yet versatile fabric initially made to be used as an alternative for silk. This fabric has been used for various purposes, such as the production of clothing like dresses and blouses and materials for the home like upholstery and carpets.
Viscose is neither purely synthetic nor natural. It is mainly made out of cellulose, which is a component of trees. They are then made to undergo various chemical transformations to produce viscose fabric. Cellulose is what was used to create plastics in the early times. The name ‘viscose’ was derived from the wood pulp solution that was turned to the said type of semi-synthetic rayon fabric.
What is Viscose Fabric - Characteristics
Because viscose fabric is made as a silk alternative, silk has similar characteristics to viscose fabric. Both provide an elegant fabric drape and finish and are soft to the skin. However, unlike silk, viscose fabric is relatively inexpensive and is best paired with polyester, cotton, and spandex.
Here are the advantages of viscose fabric:
- Lightweight - Viscose fabric is lightweight and drapes over the body nicely, making it great for clothing.
- Soft - Viscose fabric is made to look like silk. However, it feels more like cotton on the skin rather than silk.
- Breathable - It is a light fabric that drapes over the skin rather than fitting tight on the body. This makes it easy to breathe in and suitable for warm weather or climates.
- Highly absorbent - Rather than trap heat, viscose fabric absorbs water and sweat effectively. Hence, making it a great material for sportswear as well.
- Easy to dye - Viscose fabric is easy to dye, and its color does not fade even after multiple washes and years of use.
Just like any other fabric, viscose fabric has its own set of disadvantages, including:
- Non-elastic - Viscose fabric maintains its shape and is non-elastic. However, to add stretch, it may be blended with spandex or other similar textiles.
- Shrinks and wrinkles easily - Unfortunately, after several washes, products made with viscose fabric eventually shrink. It also wrinkles easily if not carefully used and maintained.
- Deteriorates under the heat of the sun - The quality of viscose fabric also deters after long exposures to sunlight. Hence, it is best to be used in close off areas away from the sun.
- Dissolves with dry cleaning fluid - You cannot use dry cleaning fluid with viscose fabric. Otherwise, it will end up completely destroying the fabric.
Viscose fabric was created after the first artificial silk was taken off the market for being highly flammable. The first was called Chardonnet silk and was invented by Hilaire de Chardonnet. It was made out of celluloid.
In 1892, Charles Cross and Edward Bevan were able to develop viscose. They treated cellulose with carbon bisulfite and caustic soda, resulting in a thick liquid with high viscosity, hence its name ‘viscose.’ However, they failed to make a fiber out of it.
Charles Topham took a massive interest in this. So in 1899, he bought the rights to be the one to make fibers from viscose. He struggled as expected, and so he decided to invent the machine specifically for the job – the Topham Box. This machine spun at 3000 RPM and was able to create 12000 pounds of perfect fibers of viscose per day. The Topham Box was able to give way to what is viscose fabric today.
In the early years, the sources of cellulose – which is the main element for viscose – were vast. It can be derived from bamboo, seaweed, and wood pulp like beech, eucalyptus, and pine. Because the process involves many chemicals, viscose is considered semi-synthetic.
What is the viscose fabric production process? Here are the steps:
- The plant source is chipped into wood pulp before dissolved using caustic soda or sodium hydroxide, resulting in a brown solution. This brown solution is then washed and bleached.
- After bleaching, manufacturers treat it with carbon disulfide and more caustic soda, resulting in a highly viscous solution that is known as viscose.
- Viscose is then spun into a spinneret under a solution of diluted sodium sulfate, sulfuric acid, and zinc sulfate. This process produces almost pure cellulose fibers, which are referred to as regenerated cellulose.
- The regenerated cellulose is then made into yarn which can be used for knitting or weaving viscose rayon fabric.
What is viscose fabric as compared to polyester? Now a lot of people say that polyester and viscose fabric are highly similar. Hence, if you’re considering either one for a certain project, then it would be good to know what sets the two apart:
In terms of production, what makes the two similar is that both are made with long fibers. However, unlike synthetic fiber polyester, viscose fabric is semi-synthetic, which means that it uses natural fibers that undergo extensive chemical processes. Furthermore, viscose fabric is made out of plants, unlike polyester, which is made from oil.
As a fabric, viscose fabric is more absorbent and is better suited for athletic wear. However, in terms of durability, polyester outweighs viscose fabric as it is stronger, dries faster, does not shrink, resists abrasion, and does not wrinkle as easily as viscose fabric does. However, in terms of luxury and appeal, viscose fabric is better as it drapes around the body nicely and is specifically made to look like silk.
Now, suppose you’re an environmentally sensitive person and are looking for a sustainable fabric to use. In that case, unfortunately, viscose fabric is not for you. This is because the production process for this type of fabric causes a series of negative retributions to the environment. Although viscose is still biodegradable and made with renewable sources, it still has a threatening impact on the environment.
What is viscose fabric production processes' effects on the environment? Here are some:
- Air and Water Pollution - Because the production process of viscose fabric includes high amounts of toxic chemicals such as nitrous oxides, sulfur, carbon, hydrogen sulfide, and disulfide, the process heavily pollutes the air and water surrounding the area.
- Deforestation - As you are now aware, viscose fabric is made out of wood pulp, and although this can be sustainably harvested. Oftentimes, these woods are not collected from sustainably grown forests. This results in large-scale deforestation in many areas, causing the loss of natural forests and animal habitats.
- Water Waste - The whole process requires a lot of water, especially in the watering of trees. Hence, it also causes large amounts of water waste along the way.
What is viscose fabric care methods? In order to properly care for viscose fabric, it is necessary to dry clean it as its quality may deteriorate and stretch if washed. In addition, spot treatments can cause permanent stains on the fabric. However, this does not mean you cannot wash viscose. You can, but it should be done with great precaution.
Viscose fabric should be hand washed in cold water to prevent its dye from bleeding and staining other fabrics. Be gentle during the process and use a mild detergent. Avoid squeezing and wringing them, as this causes the material to stretch. Instead, simply rinse and shake the water off and either hang or lay it flat to dry.
Overall, what is viscose fabric? Viscose fabric was developed for the purpose of creating a silk alternative that was not highly inflammable, unlike the Chardonnet silk. It is made using wood pulp from plants. It is semi-synthetic due to the extensive chemical processes that are involved during its production process. Fortunately, it resulted in a fabric that looked like silk but with a texture similar to cotton.
Viscose has its own share of advantages and disadvantages. On the positive end, it is great for apparel to be used at home, for warm seasons, and for athletic wear because of its absorbent, lightweight, and strong nature. However, on the negative side, it also wrinkles and shrinks easily, is non-elastic, and is not as environmentally sustainable as rayon, lyocell, and modal fabric. In the end, whether or not you use this type of fabric solely depends on your preference and purpose.