Viscose is a Fool’s Gold Fiber
Viscose fibers are soft and silky, but they are a fool’s gold fiber that should be avoided when buying rugs, upholstery or drapes. Over the last few years viscose rugs have been flooding the market for a few reasons, it’s soft, silky and is inexpensive to produce. The problem with viscose is that it browns when wet and has a very limited life span.
Also known as rayon, artificial silk, art. silk and faux silk, viscose is causing many problems in the cleaning industry because cleaning it as directed can damage the fibers. A more serious problem is seeing people spending thousands of dollars on what they think is a high-end, environmentally friendly rug that is anything but.
Viscose fiber is made from wood pulp. It involves the use of harsh chemicals that reduce it to a paste that is forced through a thread mold similar to a pasta maker to form its shape. Viscose is beautiful, silky and appears elegant, but once it’s wet the wood pulp browns in a process known as cellulose browning. Cellulose browning is difficult to remove, if not impossible.
Viscose is inexpensive to produce and plentiful. We are seeing it blended into wool, cotton, polyester and now even linen fibers. Viscose offers a beautiful iridescent luster that replicates silk, a more expensive, better wearing fiber.
While many rug buyers and interior designers are aware they’re buying this trendy fiber, many are not. We are now seeing viscose in rugs that are labeled 100% wool. We only realize the fibers contain viscose after they’ve been cleaned and the viscose starts to cellulose brown. Explaining this to a customer is very challenging because you have a label that says one thing, but a fiber acting completely different.
The shiny fiber within this rug is viscose. Note that the back label stated 100% wool pile. Viscose has a shiny appearance similar to silk, yet breaks down much faster than silk.
As a rug cleaning company in Nashville, we’re seeing more viscose than ever before. While we can usually spot viscose by its illustrious shine, this inexpensive fiber is now being mixed into other fibers as a type of filler. This means it is much harder to decipher if a rug contains viscose if it was used as a filler. It’s only after we’ve cleaned the rug to wool standard that we realize we’re dealing with viscose blend regardless of what the label, the manufacture or the receipt says. Wool is protein fiber, not plant-based. Only plant-based fibers can cellulose brown.
Recently we had a beautiful wool shag rug purchased at a well-known department store in Green Hills. After cleaning it, it was apparent that it contained viscose yet the label stated 100% wool. I called the designer and they said the label was placed there by the store so I would need to verify it with them. I informed the designer that most of their rugs on their website contain viscose and the one we had cleaned matched up to one of their rugs that stated it contained viscose. She asked me to send her pictures, and I did, but we have not heard back from the designer, which has since parted ways with this popular, franchised department store.
Viscose Fibers Breakdown Easily
While viscose has the shape of a fiber, it is a chemical composite held together with a mix of bonding agents. Viscose is neither synthetic nor organic, though it is sold as environmentally friendly to entice those interested in repurposing. A burn test reveals it has characteristics of both synthetic and organic properties, but before you attempt a burn test, first know that the smoke is toxic.
Because viscose is a composite fiber made of bonding agents, it breaks down much faster than other fibers. Viscose has half the tensile strength of traditional synthetic and organic fibers, so the traffic lanes wear more quickly than most.
Cleaning viscose seems to be mystery in the cleaning industry likely because there are two types of viscose. Known as modal, this viscose type is more durable both when wet and dry, it keeps its shape better and has less of an impact on the environment than regular viscose.
We have had viscose rugs that we clean wet and they dry fine, but these are rare occurrences. Before we started declining rugs labeled viscose, we noticed certain viscose rugs would not cellulose brown. We assume this is modal and not regular viscose.
Cleaning Viscose is Difficult
We at EverClean recommend not buying rugs containing viscose fibers. If you already have a viscose rug, we would recommend moving it away from entry doors, bathrooms, kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms. This reduces the chance of exposing the viscose fiber to water, which can cause browning. We would also recommend placing the rug in a low traffic areas because the fiber is not as durable.
While rug manufactures appear to tout the benefits of viscose, we would recommend you not follow their care instructions if it includes water. Many manufacturers recommend cleaning a viscose rug with a mild detergent and warm water, but from personal experience, this may create more problems than the spot you’re attempting to clean.
If you have a viscose rug and would like further information on how to clean it, please do not hesitate to reach out to call or send us an email. We have been researching non-toxic dry cleaning methods and we are close to formulating a procedure that may greatly reduce the problems associated with cleaning viscose rugs.