Do you know what kind of material your favorite summer dress is made of? These days, many clothes that look like silk, satin, or cotton actually contain synthetic fibers that look similar but have their own unique properties. For example, does rayon stretch?
Rayon fabric does not stretch unless exposed to heat or moisture, which can cause the material to expand or shrink. This semi-synthetic fabric made out of chemically processed cellulose has a light, airy drape and good breathability. It is very popular in clothing such as dresses, blouses, sarees, and lightweight sweaters.
In this article, you’ll learn where rayon fabric comes from and what it feels like. You’ll also find out seven easy ways to stretch this material. Finally, you will discover a quick comparison of rayon and other popular kinds of fabric.
What is Rayon?Rayon comes from cellulose leftover after cotton production or in the wood pulp of pine, spruce, and hemlock trees. A chemical process turns the all-natural cellulose into semi-synthetic, plastic-like fibers.
Most rayon fabric has a lightweight, silky weave. Individual rayon fibers can absorb moisture, and this allows the fabric to stretch when it is wet. Under normal circumstances, though, rayon is not stretchy.
A rayon dress will drape elegantly around you, but it won’t stretch to fit your curves like spandex. For this reason, manufacturers often either make a knit rayon or infuse a regular rayon with some spandex to create more elastic material.
Though the process that creates rayon involves many chemicals, giant machines, and a period of several days, it costs far less than producing an all-natural fabric such as silk. For this reason, rayon fabrics serve as a popular substitute for silk in many everyday fashions.
You can find three main types of rayon commonly used in clothing today:
- Viscose rayon replicates the sheen and drape of silk. It has many uses in dresses, blouses, and silky cords. Though it is the most popular type of rayon, it does stretch or shrink more easily than any other type of rayon.
- Lyocell typically uses cellulose from beech trees but undergoes a more environmentally chemical treatment. It often looks and feels like cotton. It absorbs moisture more easily than any other type of rayon.
- Modal costs more than any other kind of rayon but has a unique softness that makes it popular for clothing and underwear. It usually comes from chemically treated beechwood pulp. Manufacturers often blend modal with spandex or cotton to create a fabric that is more stretchy or more sturdy than modal on its own.
Rayon fabrics often have a tightly woven, slightly puckered S-and-Z-twist weave resembling chiffon. You can also find it in a smooth, satin weave that gives it a sleek surface. Sometimes it uses a plain weave, which simply crisscrosses threads over each other.
You may also occasionally find a rayon knit. This type of rayon has more innate stretch because it contains interlocking loops of thread instead of crisscrossing threads. Rayon cardigans or fancy sweaters typically use this kind of weave.
Is Rayon Stretchy?Rayon is not stretchy because it does not have any elasticity in its fibers. This means that rayon threads don’t stretch and most woven rayon fabric does not stretch vertically or horizontally.
That said, rayon material can become stretchy when it contains spandex. Like most knits, knit rayon also has more flexibility and will more easily stretch to fit you.
You should also know that rayon has extreme sensitivity to heat and moisture. Unlike many synthetic fibers, rayon fibers can absorb moisture. This causes them to expand when wet.
This also means that you can easily stretch rayon while it is damp because its fibers will expand in this state.
Unfortunately, it also causes rayon to easily shrink when exposed to heat. For this reason, you should never put rayon clothing in the dryer!
Does 100% Rayon Stretch?
One-hundred-percent rayon does not stretch. Rayon comes from wood pulp and does not have a natural ability to expand and then recoil, like spandex.
Rayon has less stretch than almost all-natural fibers. It even has less innate stretch than polyester or other fully synthetic materials!
It is an odd side effect of rayon’s bio-natural, or partially man-made, nature. Technically, rayon consists of manufactured, regenerated cellulose fiber. The chemicals used take the cells inside wood pulp and give them a second life as altered, synthesized fibers.
Despite its lack of elasticity, this material often works well for clingy, form-fitting clothing. You could wear a loose, flowing rayon dress and it would still cling to your body! This happens because rayon drapes well.
Does Rayon Stretch With Wear?Rayon does not stretch with wear. If you buy clothes made of rayon that don’t quite fit you, don’t count on them expanding to fit your shape!
Some fabrics, like cotton, will soften and stretch out over time. With rayon, what you see is what you get! The good news is that your clothes will not wear out, fade, or get loose and baggy over time.
The only exception to this rule is exposure to moisture and heat. If you don’t follow proper care procedures, your rayon garments may quickly shrink or warp in the wash.
How To Stretch Rayon: 7 Ways
If you accidentally shrink your favorite rayon blouse in the wash, chances are pretty good that you can stretch it back out! The upside of rayon’s absorbent properties is that you can often stretch it out while wet.
Before trying a stretching process, you should make sure you read the manufacturer’s care label inside your garment. Some manufacturers recommend only drycleaning rayon, for example.
You should always follow the guidelines on the care tag unless you have reached a point of no return. If you have a damaged garment on your hands, and trying out a stretching procedure is your last-ditch effort, then go for it! You can’t make matters worse, after all.
Soak and Wear
One easy way to stretch your rayon clothing back into shape is to soak it and wear it! This method also works well on fabric shoes that pinch your feet just a bit.
- Fill up a bucket with warm water.
- Place the garment in the water and let it soak for five minutes.
- Shake out some of the water, and then roll up the wet clothing in a towel to gently squeeze out more water.
- Carefully put on the clothing, tugging gently but firmly till it fits you correctly.
- Wear the clothing until it dries completely.
Baby ShampooRayon reacts dramatically to both heat and moisture. This means that you can often apply a simple warm-water soak to make your rayon clothing more pliable, and stretch it back into shape! Just follow these steps to try this simple process.
- Pour one to two quarts of warm water into a basin or bucket. You will need enough water to easily cover your clothing, so measure accordingly!
- Measure in one tablespoon of baby shampoo for every quart of water. Swish the soap around till the water looks sudsy.
- Gently submerge your rayon clothing into the soapy water. Allow it to soak in the bucket for about five minutes.
- Lift the bucket into a tub or over a sink, so you don’t drip soap everywhere! Then remove the garment and rinse it under cool running water for a moment.
- Smooth your damp garment over a towel and then roll up the towel with the garment inside like icing in a jelly roll. This will gently squeeze water from the clothing without wringing it out and damaging the fabric.
- Remove the towel and spread out your shirt or dress to its full length and width on a flat surface.
- Finally, gently pull on opposite sides of the garment. For example, hold the collar and hem of a shirt and pull gently with each hand. Repeat this process until the clothing expands a tiny bit.
- You may need to continue the gentle tugging until the garment dries to ensure it remains stretched out for good!
Hair ConditionerYou can also unshrink or stretch rayon using a hair conditioner instead of baby shampoo.
Hair conditioner contains special oils and humectants to relax hair and make it straight and smooth. It also relaxes the fibers in many kinds of fabric, allowing them to return to their pre-shrunken shape!
For this method, you have to spend a bit more time working the conditioner into the cloth.
- Fill up a bucket or basin with lukewarm water.
- Measure in a scant capful (about one tablespoon) of hair conditioner. Any kind should work!
- Gently submerge your garment into the water, and then swish it around repeatedly, allowing the water and conditioner to fully work into the fabric.
- Rinse the conditioner out under running water.
- Roll up your garment inside a clean, dry towel and gently press on the towel roll to remove most of the water.
- Spread out your damp garment as smoothly as possible on a flat surface.
- Take hold of opposite sides of the shirt or dress, and pull gently in both directions. Repeat until the garment dries.
SteamerUsing a steamer on rayon is a risky business because heat can cause the fabric to shrink even further. However, the moisture produced by a steamer also makes the rayon fibers pliable, making it possible for you to manually stretch the garment back into shape. Just approach this method with caution!
- Follow the steps described in either the “baby shampoo” or “hair conditioner” methods above and allow the garment to partially air dry.
- Hang up your mostly dry garment on a clothes hanger. A shower curtain rod works great for this! You will need a nearby electrical outlet for your steamer.
- Plugin your steamer and let it heat up. Once you see steam emerging from the nozzle, run it up and down the front and back of your garment.
- Then set down the steamer and use your hands to tug and shape the clothing, easing it into the size and shape you want while it remains warm and damp from the steam.
Steam IronYou can also use a steam iron to make rayon more stretchable, though this method works less effectively than soaking rayon. The advantage to this process is that it makes less mess!
Also, you will notice that the care tag inside your rayon garment probably says “no iron!” This is because most of the time, you should not iron rayon, even on the lowest heat setting!
- Fill a spray bottle with warm, clean water and thoroughly spray the whole garment.
- Turn your iron on, but use the lowest possible heat setting.
- As you iron over the surface of the garment, use the steam feature to exude continuous steam into the fabric. This will keep the fibers damp and pliable.
- Then unplug your iron, move it out of the way, and use your hands to stretch the garment into the desired shape.
ClothespinsThe clothespin method offers a hands-off approach to the stretching process. You will want to find plastic clothespins that won’t snag on the delicate rayon fabric before you begin. Alternatively, you can use smooth weights to hold the fabric instead of pins.
- Go through the steps in the “baby shampoo” method. You need your rayon garment damp for the clothespin method!
- Smooth out your garment on top of an ironing board.
- Use clothespins to hold one side of the garment to the edge of the ironing board cover.
- Then pull the garment taut but not too tight, and pin the other edges–stretched tight–to the other side of the ironing board cover.
- Let the garment air dry completely before unpinning.
Most rayon sweaters use knit fabric instead of woven fabric. The knitted threads loop together, giving the material more flexibility and stretch.
This means that a rayon sweater may pretty easily stretch a tiny bit without any additional measures. That said, if you accidentally shrink your favorite rayon sweater in the wash, try a few of these tips to rescue it!
- The baby shampoo or hair conditioner methods often work well on sweaters. You will need to make sure you don’t stretch them out too much, though!
- Soaking a rayon sweater in warm water and then letting it drip dry on a sturdy hanger will often cause the sweater to stretch out longer (though not wider). The water pulls on the knit fabric as it drips down, stretching things out!
- Most of the time, rayon sweaters require dry cleaning.
- If you need to wash them at home, place the state in a mesh laundry bag first and use the gentle cycle on your washing machine. Always allow rayon to air dry.
Is Rayon Stretchy in Jeans?
Jeans that contain rayon usually stretch very well. That said, “rayon” jeans typically also contain cotton and spandex. Almost all skinny jeans have at least a small percentage of spandex!
The invention of elastic fibers such as spandex and Lycra led to the popularity of skinny jeans. The elastic fibers make it possible for the fabric to mold to your figure.
The benefit of adding rayon into the blend is that it makes your jeans sturdy and keeps them from stretching out too much over time. Cotton does expand and get saggy with lots of wear, and rayon’s tough, durable properties slow this down!
Is Rayon and Spandex Stretchy?
Rayon and spandex make a stretchy, silky fabric when blended. Typically, a rayon-spandex blend contains about 95% rayon and 5% spandex. This creates a lightweight, silky-smooth, wrinkle-resistant fabric.
Rayon-spandex blends usually have a 4-way stretch, meaning you can stretch the material both vertically and horizontally. They also often come in lots of fun prints and designs!
Rayon spandex feels lighter and silkier than cotton, so it works well for very airy dresses, blouses, and skirts. You may also find this material in some very delicate printed leggings.
Rayon vs. Cotton vs. Nylon vs. Polyester: Which is Most Stretchy?
Made from natural fiber, cotton stretches more than nylon, polyester, or rayon. That said, nylon has a tiny bit of absorbency and can stretch more than polyester. Polyester and rayon do not easily stretch on their own, though outside forces such as the application of heat can allow them to stretch in the right circumstances.
Most of the time, manufacturers blend a small percentage of spandex with any synthetic fabric such as rayon or polyester to make it stretchy.
The key takeaway here is that rayon has less elasticity than most natural and synthetic fabrics. It makes up for this with its silky, flowy qualities, though!
In general, regular rayon garments do not run big or small. You should try them on and buy garments that fit you as-is, as they will not expand over time.
Rayon fabric does not stretch because its fibers do not have innate elasticity. This fabric is made from chemically altered wood pulp and is considered a bio natural material.
If you need to stretch out a shrunken rayon garment, you can usually apply heat, moisture, or a combination of the two to unshrink the material. Methods like a baby shampoo soak or using a handheld steamer also work well to stretch out a shrunken piece of rayon clothing.
Have you ever tried to stretch a rayon garment? Did it work for you? Leave a comment below to let us know!