History & How to Clean Viscose Rugs

The other day I gave my readers a warning about viscose rugs. I provide rug cleaning in Portland and woke up this morning thinking that I should maybe tell you a little more about the history of viscose and how it impacts you as a consumer. For textile manufacturers the viscose story was a regular Rumpelstiltskin tale of turning straw into gold. Except in this tale they turned straw into silk. An English chemist by the name of Charles Cross figured out a way to change plant fibers (cellulose) into a silk-like thread. The textile world rejoiced.

Silk production depends on the lowly silkworm for its success—a process where in the end the worm dies. As you might imagine it takes many a silkworm working around the clock to produce a shirt. This labor intensive process relying on thousands of living insects producing a protein excretion in their march toward death is a risky and expensive process. Manufacturers welcomed a less expensive, more reliable way to make fabric.

Charles Cross called the new miracle “viscose” because of the viscose texture of the cellulose fibers after their bath in carbon disulfide. In England it has gone by the viscose name ever since. American retailers didn’t like the idea of calling a fabric viscose or sticky and renamed it rayon in 1924. Rayon replaced silk in bedding, clothes, diapers, towels, and even yarn. Rayon (viscose) has many desirable qualities. With a little tweaking it can imitate the properties of silk, wool, linen, and cotton. It has largely replaced not only silk but cotton—another bug-produced textile. Cool, comfortable, and easily dyed it became the major material of Hawaiian shirts in the 50’s.

Of course, nothing is perfect. Viscose has some undesirable qualities too. As a plant fiber it easily breaks down in the presence of water. In fact, it breaks down in the presence of feet too. Viscose doesn’t have the tensile strength to handle flexing, bending, or people walking on it. When used in a blend with other more durable fabrics, viscose has worked well for the clothing industry. In a blend the other fabrics make up for the inherent weakness of the rayon.

The problem comes when you try to use viscose alone. It has the shiny appearance of silk and in appearance can easily pass as silk, but that’s where the comparison ends. It looks shiny like silk but doesn’t act like silk. It turns out that the silkworm knows its business and produces a thread thousands of times more durable than viscose. Making a rug out of viscose is asking for disaster. About all you can say for them is that they are cheap in every sense of the word.

With so much negativity in the world I really try to keep my posts positive. I try to emphasize solutions to problems not the problems themselves. So what do you do if you happen to have a viscose rug?

  • Understand that you need to keep the rug dry as possible even when cleaning.
  • If your viscose rug has sentimental value, dry clean it.
  • Otherwise, take it outside and shake it or vacuum it with a canister vacuum.
  • Keep the rug in an area without traffic or use it as a wall hanging.
  • Don’t put it over an expensive carpet. Viscose rugs tends to bleed colors easily. Learn Why Rugs Bleed

Here’s a link to an article that you might want to bookmark for future viscose reference How to Clean a Viscose Rug.

Hope this information is helpful. Until next time…Sean.

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