Hard to clean. √. Bad for the environment.√. Toxic to workers. √. Greenwashed. √. Manufacturing banned in the USA.√.
Viscose rayon is sold under many names: bamboo silk, banana silk, art silk (as in 'artificial'), Silkette, and Luxcelle, just to name a few. So what is it, and why is it so bad?
Rayon was the first manufactured fiber, developed in the late 19th century and commercially produced in the US starting in 1910. It was originally marketed as artificial silk due to its softness, nice drape, and luster. It quickly rose in popularity because its price point was significantly lower than natural silk and cotton. Rayon is a semi-synthetic material manufactured from cellulose (plant fibers) derived from natural sources like eucalyptus, spruce, and pine trees, but can also be made from cotton or bamboo. 'Viscose rayon" is a type of rayon, and the terms are often used interchangeably.
The term 'viscose rayon' is used because the manufacturing process of this type of rayon involves a highly viscous chemical stew to break down the plant fibers composed of a strong base such as sodium hydroxide (better known as lye), and a highly toxic chemical called carbon disulfide. You can read more about the toxicity of carbon disulfide in this document from the EPA.
Viscose rayon is used in making sponges, tampons and pads, rugs, clothing, furniture, tapestries, bed linens, and more. In the case of furnishings and rugs, it's often marketed as a 'luxury fiber', because the look, feel, and texture of the fabric closely resembles that of far more expensive natural silk.
So why is it so bad?
1. The Manufacturing Processes is Deadly for Workers Exposed to it - and it's Deadly for Everyone Else, too.
2. It's Hard to Clean, Stains Easily, and Falls Apart
3. Manufactures Mislead and Hoodwink Consumers About Viscous Rayon
4. Viscous Rayon is Bad for the Environment
What Can Be Done? What are the Alternatives to Viscous Rayon?
Lyocell and Tencel are rayon clothing fabrics that are less toxic and more green than viscose rayon, but with similar performance. Tencel is a trademarked brand name of the generic Lyocell, sort of like how BandAid is a trademark name for a brand of bandage. These fibers are made from eucalyptus in a closed loop system that captures and recycles the chemical solvents and water used in production so there is no release to the environment. Compared to cotton in particular, these fabrics have a significantly smaller environmental impact, requiring much 10 to 20 times less water and no pesticides whatsoever.
As for household goods, avoid purchasing viscose fabric rugs and upholstered furniture entirely. If you cannot afford to purchase high-quality pieces new, considering second hand markets like resale shops or online marketplaces.