Rayon is one of those mysterious fabrics when it comes to care instructions. Made partially from wood pulp and fibers, this semi-synthetic material takes on some of the visual traits of natural fibers such as cotton, silk and wool, yet it isn't as durable as many types of natural or synthetic fibers. Much like clothing made from cotton, silk or wool, most rayon items are not meant to go into the dryer. The care tag is the ultimate clue, however, as some rayon wearables can be machine dried.
Rayon Fabric Care
Look for a care tag sewn into the rayon item. Most apparel and home goods products feature such tags, which come in handy when determining whether to wash and dry the item yourself or take it to a dry cleaner. Do not attempt to machine wash any rayon that says "dry clean only" on its tag, as the fabric may shrink, bleed or even stretch in places. Even hand washing such an item could cause its dye to bleed, and the item may lose its shape.
If the tag on the rayon or rayon-blend item notes that the piece can be machine washed, select the most delicate setting on the machine and choose cool water. If the rayon good seems somewhat fragile, and you choose to machine wash it anyway, place it in a mesh bag. This helps protect it from snagging or rubbing against other items in the same wash load. Wash the item with similar lightweight fabrics or by itself.
How to Wash Rayon
If your rayon item can be hand washed, fill a sink or plastic tub with cool water. Add a capful or so of a hand-washing detergent meant for delicates. Read the product label for a specific amount of detergent to use, as this may vary from one product to the next. Swish the water around and then submerge the rayon item. Gently work the soapy solution through the rayon with your hands. Empty the water and then rinse the rayon in fresh, cool water.
Gently shake the rayon out over the sink or tub to get rid of excess water. Do not wring it or it will develop wrinkles. It may even stretch in some areas. Another option is lying the item flat atop a lint-free, absorbent towel and then pressing gently to transfer the water from the rayon to the towel.
Will Rayon Shrink?
Most rayon apparel is not meant to go into the dryer. Putting rayon in the dryer is risky because the item may shrink, just as some cotton and wool goods would.
There's another good reason not to put rayon in the dryer. This material is much weaker when wet than when dry. It's fairly delicate even when dry compared to materials such as cotton. The tumbling action of a dryer could cause snags and tears, especially if the dryer contains heavier items such as denim.
Drying Rayon the Safe Way
Rayon should be air dried for best results. This helps it keep its shape while also preventing snags and tears. Smooth the item out on a drying rack, spreading the rayon into its full dry shape as much as possible. Hanging rayon apparel from a nonmetal hanger is another option. Choose a hanger with thick shoulder areas for best results. Thin wire hangers, for instance, can cause rust spots and hanger "stretch" marks that remain in the fabric once the rayon dries.
Removing Wrinkles From Rayon
Rayon is one of those materials that can be difficult to iron without causing damage. Like some silks, rayon may become shiny if smoothed with a hot iron. The best way to remove wrinkles is to hang the item from a hanger or clothesline and use a clothing steamer to steam out the wrinkles.
If you don't have a steamer, place the rayon item inside out on the ironing board. Set the iron to the rayon/polyester setting or the lowest heat setting without steam. Set a thin, lint-free cotton cloth atop the item, such as a white tea towel. Iron the cotton cloth instead of ironing the rayon directly. This helps ensure the rayon doesn't develop shiny spots.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.