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If you’ve ever looked closely at the labels of your clothing, you have probably seen the word viscose. But what is the fabric? It’s a semi-synthetic fiber, sometimes called a regenerated fiber, that was invented as a more affordable alternative to silk. 

Find out more about this versatile fabric in this article, including an answer to the common question: What is viscose made of?

What Is Viscose Fabric?

fabric map showing where viscose fits in
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Viscose material, invented in France in the 1880s, was the first synthetic fiber developed. It’s made out of wood pulp that is processed with various chemicals to make fibers. It was first made to be a more affordable alternative to silk, at a time when silk (and all fabrics) were much more expensive and difficult to produce than they are today. It’s not entirely synthetic, as it’s made from tree pulp, but it’s not entirely natural either because of all the chemicals that are used to make it.

Another thing to know about viscose is that it’s similar to rayon, but not the same. What is rayon, you ask? Viscose is a type of rayon, rather than interchangeable with rayon. Rayon can be made from various plant fibers and pulp, whereas our regenerative fabric is made from wood or bamboo pulp.

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Fabric Qualities of Viscose

green viscose fabric
Source: Unsplash
What is this material? It’s sometimes called artificial silk.

Imitation of Other Fibers

As a semi-synthetic fiber, viscose can be made to resemble other natural fibers, such as silk, cotton, and wool. Unless you’re trained to know what you’re looking at, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish viscose from these natural fibers (when dry, at least). If you’d like to learn all about the different types of fabric and how to tell them apart, Skillshare instructor Magdalena Eriksson teaches a comprehensive class on textiles.

Non-stretchy

Is viscose stretchy? Unless it’s mixed with another stretchy fiber, it’s not stretchy on its own.

Shine

When made to look and feel like artificial silk, it is both smooth and shiny. It drapes in a flowing way, so is often used to make blouses, dresses, and skirts.

Thick When Wet

If you happen to lose the label from a piece of clothing or buy a length of fabric and are unsure what type it is, one easy way to find out is to get it wet. Viscose becomes very stiff and firm when wet, unlike silk, cotton, or wool, even though they seem similar when dry. Does it shrink? As long as you care for it properly (more on that below), then although it may look like it shrinks when it’s wet, it’ll go back to normal once it’s dried.

How Is Viscose Made?

viscose production
How to make viscose fabric.

What’s the fabric made of? Wood pulp. The pulp can be from trees and plants such as pine, beech, eucalyptus, bamboo, or sugar cane. The pulp goes through several processes, including treatment with particular chemicals, to make the fibers that are then woven (generally by machine) into cloth.

Is Viscose Sustainable?

The process of making viscose is not sustainable. Further, because viscose is a cheaper alternative to some natural fibers, the garments it’s used for can fit into the “fast fashion” category, meaning they’re often discarded way too quickly and end up in landfills.

The chemicals used in the production of viscose are highly polluting to both the air and water, and much of the tree or plant is discarded or wasted in the process. Manufacturing regulations in some locations mean that the chemicals used must be recovered as far as possible, rather than released as pollutants, but these regulations aren’t in force everywhere.

Unlike many natural fibers, viscose production doesn’t use an animal byproduct. This makes it vegan friendly, although it should be noted that being vegan friendly and being environmentally friendly are not always synonymous. 

If you want to wear or use viscose but are concerned about its environmental impacts, look out for brands that use viscose made from sustainably planted and harvested forests.

How Do You Wash and Dry Viscose?

flower viscose fabric
Viscose fabric is often colorful or printed with bold designs.

Viscose fibers are weakest when wet (in contrast to cotton, which is the opposite), so take special care washing and drying items made from this fabric. As mentioned above, they become very stiff when wet, so hand washing is preferable. Don’t put viscose garments in the dryer, but if you want to iron them to remove wrinkles, do so on the reverse side, when the fabric is still damp, and select a low or silk heat setting. 

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