Viscose, a type of rayon, is a common fabric for breezy summer dresses, billowy tops, and other warm-weather staples. With a soft drape and excellent color properties, it’s no surprise that it’s a favorite for the season. But is viscose breathable enough to be comfortable in the heat?
Viscose is a breathable fabric because it is made with a wood pulp solution that is knit or woven into a lightweight fabric. It absorbs moisture which helps cool your skin and tiny spaces in the fiber let air and water pass through. Viscose blends can improve breathability for other fabrics, too.
This versatile, affordable fabric was originally an alternative to silk, meant to feel like a luxury fabric. Now it’s used in a wide variety of garments, but its moisture retention and fragility mean it isn’t always the best choice. This guide will identify and explain the best uses for viscose fabric.
What Is Viscose Fabric?
Viscose is a type of rayon. Rayon refers to any cloth made from cellulose, most commonly viscose, modal, or lyocell. Cellulose is a plant fiber that helps plants stand up tall and stiff. It’s found in the cell walls of all plants, but there’s much more cellulose in woody plants than any other kind.
The difference between the three rayon materials is what chemicals the cellulose is treated with before spinning. Viscose is the most common of the three. It usually comes from trees or bamboo, as these are high-cellulose plants.
Rayon fabrics, including viscose, are semi-synthetic. They come from natural materials, however, it takes a significant amount of processing to turn those materials into a usable fabric. That blend of natural and manufactured gives it the function of natural fiber with the price of synthetics.
Viscose was invented to mimic the look and feel of silk. Three Englishmen patented it in the United Kingdom in 1894, and it was common in the United States by 1910. It rose to popularity because it does such a good job of imitating the feeling and properties of more expensive natural fibers.
How Is Viscose Made?
Viscose is so affordable because the cellulose base can come from a wide variety of woody plants. Because the fibers have to go through a significant amount of processing, manufacturers can use agricultural castoffs and other very cheap wood scraps or chips.Regardless of where it comes from, the cellulose needs to be cleaned and bleached before processing. The cleaning removes impurities, and the bleaching prepares the fiber for dyeing or printing. After these two processes, the pure cellulose moves into the liquid process.
The process involves causing a chemical reaction in the cellulose, which forms a sticky liquid (hence the name viscose, from viscous). That sticky liquid is pressed through a machine that spins it into yarn. While the material is in the spinning machine, chemicals are added to solidify it. Then the yarn is either woven or knitted into cloth.
The end result, when done right, is a pure cellulose fabric. By the time the wood pulp becomes fabric, all of the added solutions and chemicals are gone. The whole process serves to transform the wood pulp from bits of ground-up wood chips into usable threads.
Technically, at the end of the process, the remaining viscose is an entirely plant-based substance. However, it isn’t classified as a natural fiber because to get to that point, it has to undergo this series of chemical reactions.
There is some concern about the amount of chemical pollution created as a by-product of viscose manufacturing. However, it is possible to make it sustainably. As long as the cellulose is sourced from sustainable forests or collected from woody material that would have otherwise been wasted, the raw material is sustainable.
In the processing side of the supply chain, manufacturers can keep it safe by disposing of chemicals properly. Using closed systems to keep the chemicals out of the environment around the factories will also help make viscose more eco-friendly.
Is Viscose Breathable Fabric?The reason viscose fabric is so breathable is twofold: first, it is absorbent, so it pulls sweat off your skin and second, it has tiny spaces in the fibers that let air in and out of each strand. The tiny spaces, called nanopores, are a common trait for natural fibers.
While viscose will absorb moisture from your skin, it takes the fabric a lot longer to dry than most other fabrics. It will cool you down, but it may begin to feel clammy if it gets too wet while you’re wearing it.
Due to these two properties, manufacturers often mix it with other fibers to make fabric blends. The blend helps lower the cost of a garment or fabric without sacrificing the look, feel, or properties of the second fiber.
Are Viscose Blends Breathable?
Viscose blends are not only breathable but also useful for taking the best properties of multiple fibers and combining them in a single fabric. There are four common fabric blends that include viscose. In blends with natural fibers, the viscose helps preserve the fabric’s breathability. On the flip side, viscose adds significant breathability to blends with high synthetic fiber content.
The two most common viscose blends with natural fibers are viscose/cotton and viscose/linen. Adding viscose to these fibers makes the fabric more affordable, as well as softening the feel against your skin. The most common blends with synthetic fibers are viscose/spandex and viscose/polyester. Viscose improves the breathability of these fabrics, and the spandex and polyester help with them to wick moisture so the fabrics feel dry.
Is Viscose Good for Summer?
While viscose lets plenty of air move through it, it tends to trap water. This will help your skin feel cooler as your sweat evaporates into the material. That makes the fabric an appealing choice for lighter garments.
Viscose is good for summer because it is lightweight and feels cool against your skin. However, be mindful of the humidity when you’re wearing viscose. Too much moisture in the fabric can weigh it down and turn the pleasant coolness into a clingy clammy feeling.
Most garments made with viscose need to be dry cleaned to keep them in good condition. If you tend to sweat heavily, a viscose summer wardrobe might not be a good fit for you. The more you sweat in a viscose garment, the more likely it is to stretch out. On the other hand, if you live in a dry climate and don’t tend to sweat excessively, viscose can be a perfect summer fabric.
What Garments Does Viscose Work Well For?Like the silk it was manufactured to mimic, viscose has an excellent drape. This makes it perfect for flowy, breezy pieces. Billowy summer dresses and tops are great options for viscose. Viscose by itself isn’t the best choice for more structured pieces like trousers. However, it can add a little stretch and air to these pieces as part of a fabric blend.
Pajamas are another great garment for viscose. They need to be soft, comfortable, and cool, which viscose offers. You can dye and print viscose easily, so it’s available in a large variety of designs and colors. Viscose gives you plenty of options from rich, deep hues, to flirty brightly colored patterns.
Viscose doesn’t insulate well or trap body heat, so it isn’t common in cold-weather clothes. However, it makes a good lining for heavier items like wool coats. It’s softer than wool, so for items that you’ll wear against your skin, it can be a barrier against the rougher, warm fabric.
While viscose gets high marks for being soft and breathable, it isn’t an easy-care fabric. Excessive moisture can stretch it out of shape permanently, so it’s often recommended that you dry clean garments that are 100 percent viscose. If dry cleaning your pajamas seems unreasonable -don’t worry!
Blends are easier to care for and many of them are machine-washable. When you’re considering viscose for garments, it’s important to remember the way the clothes will be used. While a summer dress for date nights could do nicely in viscose, that same dress might be a disaster on a picnic where you’re likely to get grass stains that will be difficult to wash out.
One of viscose fabric’s best properties is its breathability. This affordable silk substitute gets high marks for capturing the airflow of natural fibers and pairing it with the affordability of synthetics. This versatile fabric is a great addition to fabric blends that need more softness or breathability.
If this guide helped you better understand the benefits and drawbacks of viscose fabric, let us know in the comments below or share the article to help your friends! The more you know about the properties of viscose, the easier it will be for you to choose the right fabric for your next project.