Learn the Basics

What Is Viscose: Understanding Your Fabrics

what is viscose

Fabric comes in all shapes, sizes, weights, and constructions. It can be natural, synthetic, or manufactured. Some fabrics have more stigma than others. In this blog post, we will be asking the question; what is viscose? A textile, which might be a little misunderstood. 

What is viscose and where did it come from?

Perhaps you have heard of viscose, or maybe you know it better as Rayon. This is the term for viscose in the United States. But what actually is it?

viscose yarn
What is viscose?

Viscose is a type of rayon. Originally known as artificial silk, in the late 19th century, the term “rayon” came into effect in 1924. The name “viscose” derived from the way this fibre is manufactured; a viscous organic liquid used to make both rayon and cellophane. What this means in English? Viscose is the generalised term for a regenerated manufactured fibre, made from cellulose, obtained by the viscose process.

As a manufactured regenerated cellulose fibre, it is neither truly natural (like cotton, wool or silk) nor truly synthetic (like nylon or polyester) – it falls somewhere in between.

Viscose is a low-cost fabric, which is popular thanks to its myriad of qualities. It can be found in cotton end uses, as well as luxurious velvet’s and taffeta’s. Viscose can also be found in feminine hygiene products, as well as tire cords.

Chemically, viscose resembles cotton, but it can also take on many different qualities depending on how it is manufactured.

So, what is this fibre of many faces? To really understand what viscose is, we need to understand how it is made and what it is made from.

What is cellulose?

cellulose fibre made into viscose
Cellulose fibre which is turned into viscose fabric

If a fibre is manufactured, then it is made from cellulose or protein. Cellulose is a carbohydrate and the chief component in the walls of plants. There is a difference between synthetic and manufactured fibres, which makes a difference in their sustainability. Viscose is made from wood pulp, making it a cellulosic fibre, like cotton or linen. It is often regarded as only partially manmade.

Manufactured fibres derive from naturally occurring cellulose, or protein, while synthetic fibres do not – they are completely manmade. So, if they come from a natural source, then why don’t they fall under the “natural fibre” category? Because they require extensive processing to get to the finished result. Therefore, the category of manufactured fibres is often referred to as “regenerated cellulose.”

Is viscose a sustainable fabric?

Because viscose is made from renewable plants, it is frequently cited as being environmentally friendly, and sustainable. But is this actually the case?

Viscose is the oldest manufactured fibre, first being produced in 1883 as a cheap alternative to silk. Viscose production generally begins with wood pulp, and there are several chemical and manufacturing techniques to make it.

This is where some controversy comes into play.

To create viscose, and make it stand up to regular wearing and washing, it must be chemically treated. The recycled wood pulp is treated with chemicals such as caustic soda, ammonia, acetone, and sulphuric acid. We therefore have a fabric, which comes from a natural and sustainable source, but that is made with chemicals.

Because viscose is made from cellulose, there is an argument to say that it is a more sustainable fibre then other synthetic fibres, such as polyester. Viscose is increasingly being manufactured using the Lyocell process. This uses N-Methlymorpholine N-oxide as the solvent. This method produces little waste product, making it far more eco-friendly.

What are some characteristics of viscose?

what is viscose fabric
Viscose fabric, also known as Rayon

Viscose has a myriad of brilliant qualities, which makes it a popular fibre to work with. Thanks to its characteristics, several industries use it, to create a wide range of products. Some of the most beneficial characteristics of viscose include:

  • Versatile – it blends very well with other fibres
  • Breathable
  • Drapes well
  • Excellent colour retention
  • Highly absorbent
  • Very smooth
  • Does not trap body heat
  • Relatively light
  • Strong and robust
  • Soft and comfortable
  • Inexpensive
  • No static build up

These all sound great, but there are some slightly less positive traits to viscose. However, none of these are particularly negative. A little care during wearing and washing, will make these traits obsolete. 

  • It can shrink when washed
  • Can wrinkle easily
  • Deteriorates with exposure to light
  • Susceptible to mildew
  • Fibres can weaken when wet

Viscose: a misunderstood fabric?

When a fabric is not labelled as “natural” then consumers can judge it harshly, without any true understanding of the fabric. Viscose is probably the most misunderstood of all fibres, manmade or natural. It is not a natural fibre, but nor is it synthetic.

In regards to the use of chemicals in the production of viscose, as fabric technology advances, many manufacturers are making considerable and positive efforts to ensure clean production. As we continue to strive for a green-friendly world, increasing work is being put into the sustainability of fibres such as viscose.

Viscose has many desirable qualities, which makes it a wonderful fibre to work with in many ways. Because of its unique versatility, many industries use viscose, from fashion, to the medical profession, to everyday items in the home.

What do you think?

We would love to know your thoughts on viscose. Do you love it, or are you wary of it? Let us know in the comments below.


  • I love viscose, both to wear and to sew with. It is comfortable, cool, drapes well and looks great. It is my “go to ” fabric every time.

    • Hi Catherine, thanks so much for your comment. Hope you’re enjoying the blog!

  • Clare thank you for this blog. Increasingly buying clothing that will be breathable comfortable non static and not likely to cause rashes, cotton was my go to fabric, but clearly designers see the benefits of viscoses other qualities as its increasingly used often with cotton.
    Thankfully this combination on the comfort front, means that even the closest fitting underwear is problem free. So yes some heavy chemicals used in manufacture but if I see it on a fabric label along with cotton and wool, it will be tried. Not so for acryllic, nylon and other synthetic fabrics.
    It’s not about being fussy, I really can’t wear the synthetics, static isn’t the word for it I get electric shocks when I touch metal!

  • This blog was incredibly informative. I own a wool shop and have always been somewhat confused about rayon/viscose……..I always thought they were two different entities. Thank you so much for clarifying in plain English.
    Linda’s Craftique

    • Our pleasure Linda, and glad we could be of assistance 🙂

  • Do you know if viscose is biodegradable?

    • Hi Rob, thanks for your question. Generally speaking, because viscose is not a synthetic fibre, but rather a “regenerated cellulosic fiber” made from cellulose, it is biodegradable.

  • Funnily enough I have just written a short letter to White Stuff, (clothing company) who are appearing to make more use of viscose! I hate viscose, mainly because it does not like me! I know it is regenerated, and ostensibly “natural” but something in it’s manufacture does not like my skin and makes me perspire and sore under the armpits!
    As for dressmaking, I have yet to find a good viscose fabric with any “body” to it that is of good quality. If I want cheap fabric, viscose would be a choice, but I’ve reached the stage in life where I realise that quality is more important. After years of teaching textiles, I feel qualified enough to understand where manufacturers are coming from( cheaper fabric production costs etc) but I will always really, really value true natural fibres for their multifaceted, sustainability and quality.
    I won’t even go into discussing synthetics!!

    • Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your views on viscose Janet. It’s fantastic hearing from such a qualified reader. It is interesting how a fabric can cause so much divide in opinions, where the pros and cons can stack in either way depending on the person. Which natural fibre do you find you wear and use the most? Is there a fibre or fabric that you would like to see discussed on the Contrado blog? Thanks again very much for your comment 🙂

    • I completely agree, although not synthetic, the chemicals used to process this fabric are environmentally harmful! As to what links some may take, to make this fabric more environmentally friendly is a play on words. Wonderful blog!

  • I love viscose to wear just bought a new dress and now I know better how it’s made . Thanks

  • Today I bought a pyjama 60% cotton, 40% viscose. Telling my partner about it he said: “ I wonder that you were viscose it is man made and not natural!” I was in shock. I thought viscose is natural. Thanks to your blog this is clarified now. Still not sure if I do not harm to my skin sleeping in the pyjama. But as it is breathable it should be ok, or?
    Since sometime I am not wearing anything synthetic direct on my skin and I do not miss it…

  • I have returned to dressmaking as I have to wear natural fabrics. I long to wear the draping and more fashionable fabrics than many cottons. Some patterns need to have draping fabric. I am surprised that you say viscose is breathable and takes body heat away from the body as I have not found this. Is there a great variety of qualities of viscose out there please. What should I look for and avoid when buying viscose Please?

  • I have just used Eucalyptus leaves to dye print on viscose shirt ,wonderful result

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