Viscose fabric is one of the most popular synthetic materials. There are a lot of myths surrounding viscose – some eco-friendly and mindful people avoid it like the plague, others prefer viscose to natural cotton and fur due to ethics. This article will dispel all the viscose myths and give you all the facts about the viscose fabric. Please visit the material guide section for more information on materials.
Is Viscose Natural?
No, viscose is a man-made material, a textile fiber made from plant cellulose. Sources of viscose differ but the main principle remains the same – plants are processed to create fibers.
Here’s an amazing video on viscose fibers production:
What is viscose
Viscose, also known as rayon, viscose is one of the most common textile fabrics in the world.
There are different types of viscose, like bamboo or eucalyptus.
Generally, viscose is a breathable fabric that drapes well and dyes easily.
Viscose is a textile fiber made from plant cellulose. We all want sustainable fashion!
Is viscose the answer we’re looking for or is it bad for the environment?
Why is viscose so popular?
Viscose is a very comfortable fabric, and what matters most is that it absorbs water, unlike many other synthetics.
Viscose has small micropores that let the fabric absorb water into the fibers.
This makes viscose breathable and great for summer clothing.
If you look on your bedsheets label, you’re likely to find viscose as the main fabric.
Viscose is also used for carpets and curtains.
Viscose is popular because it’s a breathable and affordable fabric. There are similar and newer cellulose textile fibers on the market, like Lyocell – those are more durable.
How viscose was invented
Viscose is a relatively new fabric. It was first patented in Europe by Hilaire de Chardonnet, a French industrialist and scientist, in 1884.
While Chardonnet made commercial viscose in, it took years to find a viable way to produce viscose.
Chardonnet’s viscose was highly flammable. Thankfully, viscose has improved a lot since then!
It was originally designed as “artificial silk” but is mostly used as a cotton replacement these days.
Is viscose sustainable?
Viscose is made from wood pulp. Usually that means trees such as beech, pine, and eucalyptus.
Wood and bamboo are the most common sources, but viscose can even be made by using soy or sugar cane. Best part about that – viscose is biodegradable!
While that means there are no animal products in the production process, unfortunately viscose requires trees and plants to be chopped down.
Unfortunately, the process for making viscose usually wastes around 70% of the chopped tree.
Deforestation is a major environmental issue. Moreover, The Global Forest Watch found that forest loss in 2009-2012 was attributed to pulp and paper production. You might expect it to be palm oil, but no. The details of how much damage pulp has done to the environment are difficult to estimate.
How much wood pulp goes into textiles isn’t measured in the report, but it’s worth noting that viscose production could potentially be contributing to deforestation.
If you want to buy sustainable viscose then look for certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Is viscose vegan?
Because it comes from a plant-based source, viscose is referred to as a partially man-made fabric. It’s not completely synthetic like nylon, but not as natural as cotton.
Viscose is made by taking the wood pulp from the plant and dissolving. Then, it is made into threads by spinning the fibers.
Viscose is a plant-based and vegan fabric. If you’re looking for a vegan alternative to silk, viscose could work for you.
However, 30% of pulp for rayon and viscose came from endangered forests.
This causes a risk to endangered species and the environment.
While there are no animal products used to make viscose, it still isn’t the most animal friendly of fabrics.
Isn’t viscose rayon made with chemicals?
Viscose requires chemical treatment in its production process.
Chemical treatments like acetone and sulfuric acid are applied to the wood pulp.
While chemicals are not necessarily bad, viscose has more steps needed in its creation compared to other fabrics.
If those chemicals are poorly managed, viscose production can cause damage to local environments.
The Changing Market Foundation found that factories producing viscose in Asia were damaging aquatic life and agriculture. However, some companies are moving towards tackling these manufacturing issues.
Check to see if the company you’re ordering clothes from reports where they get viscose from. Hopefully, they’ll list a sustainable source.
Stella McCartney is an example of fashion brands taking a stand for sustainable viscose:
Water Usage during viscose production
Some fabrics need more water than others in production. To make a cotton t-shirt, you’d need over 2 thousand gallons of water!
Viscose uses less water than cotton. It can use around the same amount as polyester, but it really depends on the method a factory uses.
While viscose uses less water than cotton, it has similar problems with water contamination.
Some chemicals in viscose production can be environmentally damaging. Carbon disulfide is used in production but is carefully recovered in the process.
While there have been multiple incidents throughout history of carbon disulfide poisonings, carbon disulfide has been more recently attributed to factory workers’ health problems.
Changing Market Foundation’s 2017 report found that viscose production had been linked to health problems for workers and the local population. However, different versions of viscose can be less toxic. Modal, bamboo and Lyocell are all less harmful than traditional viscose.
Viscose is often made in developing countries such as India and China, with 11 companies controlling 75% of global viscose production. Fast fashion can, unfortunately, often come at the price of workers’ safety.
But viscose can be made without using toxic chemicals like sodium hydroxide. Some fashion companies have been improving their supply chains.
Top alternatives to viscose material
Not every fabric is equal.
The Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres ranks over 20 fibers on environmental concerns such as greenhouse gas emissions; human toxicity; eco-toxicity; energy; water; and land.
Bamboo viscose fell short at Rank E, while fibers like recycled cotton and organic hemp took Rank A.
Scientific evidence suggests we should stick to natural fabrics if we want fashion to be as sustainable as possible and reuse the fabrics that we already have.
However, some cellulose textile fibers like Lyocell and TENCEL did make Rank B. While viscose has environmental issues, the fashion industry can learn from viscose production and move toward more sustainable fabrics.
Sustainable fashion is complex, but there are a few easy steps you can take to help the environment.
Avoiding Fast Fashion
What should you do with the viscose clothes in your wardrobe?
If you want to delve into sustainable fashion, then you only need to know three words: reduce, reuse, recycle!
Viscose is an affordable fabric often used in women’s clothing.
One of the biggest steps you can take to reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of clothing you buy.
Keep what you have, look after it well and your bank account will thank you for it. Making a capsule wardrobe is a great way of making sure you’re always on style without fast fashion.
In 2014, scientists studied what textiles were most common in the ocean. They found that rayon was the most common fabric with an overwhelming 56.9%. We should try to use what we already have.
Viscose isn’t a long-lasting fabric.
To make sure you get a long life out of the viscose clothing in your wardrobe, treat the fabric with care and follow the instructions on the label.
Viscose is usually only dry cleaned as machine washing twists the fibers.
Check out your local thrift shops or Depop for great second-hand clothing and good deals.
If you have viscose clothing in your wardrobe you’re not wearing, you can recycle it. You could also donate it to charity.
A great way to get involved in sustainable fashion is to ask your friends if they have any clothes they don’t want as well. Get together or a clothes swap day! You get to hang out and get new items for your wardrobe.
What more could you want?
Viscose fabric facts – resume
Viscose is a decent alternative to mass-produced fast fashion cotton and fur. Production of viscose rayon uses less water than first-time cotton production, however it may contribute to deforestation. If you like wearing viscose, look for sustainable certified brands and manufacturers.