Rayon Part II - Your questions answered!

Posted by Grace Brian on

After publishing my first blog article about rayon, Rayon: Years of Manipulation and the Facts the Industry Doesn't Want You to Know, I started getting emails. As I was responding to these emails, I realized that these are great questions, and my answers were often times in depth enough to be a blog post themselves. I have collected some of the most interesting, and frequently asked questions and put them here for you to read. If you have any questions of your own, please contact me at grace@lineandtow.com.

I just read the article on Rayon and bamboo.  It's terrible, I had no idea.  I assumed bamboo was natural and safe and never looked into it further.  I use t******** bamboo nappies.  Are these safe to be using against my babies skin?

The good news is that rayon is COMPLETELY safe for your baby. Part of the reason why Rayon manufacturing has continued, is because the end product is completely safe for the consumer. As long as something is profitable and the consumer likes it, it will continue, no matter how toxic it is for the manufacturers. 

If you want to continue to purchase “bamboo” products, it is completely fine for you and your baby, just know that it is NOT a “natural”, good-for-the-planet manufacturing process. 
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so I just read your article on rayon, and I'm super interested to know what you think of [the fabric from the company **********]!?
   
First I will say that any fabric that says it is “bamboo” is viscose Rayon. In the USA it is a violation of the FTC to label fabric as bamboo (unless you say rayon FROM bamboo) and any company that claims they have “bamboo” fabric is either uninformed about the products they are selling, or they are knowingly misleading their customers. 
In regards to this specific company, I will first say that any properties that bamboo has in its plant form DO NOT carry over once it has been through the viscose process. The end result is not bamboo but simply cellulose. Additionally, when explaining why you should choose their fabric this company states facts only pertaining to the sustainability of bamboo as a renewable resource (which is true) however they do not mention the anything about the manufacturing process. Bamboo is a very renewable resource which is fantastic, however  companies should present the FULL picture to their customers. It is worrying to me anytime I see a company say that their fabric is bamboo because as I said above it implies either 1. Lack of knowledge or 2. Direct misleading of the customer. 
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Ok, so now I'm really curious because the company says they chose "bamboo" (but actually viscose rayon) because it helped with her daughter's eczema. So does that mean that regardless of how it's made, any rayon fabric is less irritating than cotton on the skin of someone with eczema?? that just doesn't make sense to me because you would think that something more natural such as cotton (untreated with pesticides etc) would be good for irritated skin. not something that's treated with chemicals? 
 
I have never heard of rayon helping with eczema but it very well could. That is something that will require more research. My best guess is that because rayon is a continuous fiber it could be less irritating. What I mean is this: cotton is a staple fiber meaning that all of the individual fibers are - at their longest - 3-4 inches but mostly much, much, shorter. This means that if you unraveled a cotton t-shirt and put the yarn under a magnifying glass you would see lots of fibers sticking off of the yarn. This happens - as you can imagine - because all of the tiny ends don't stay wound so they stick out. Any time a staple fiber is used in a fabric blend (cotton/poly etc.), the other continuous fibers (meaning they are extruded and can be miles ling) are chopped up so they resemble cotton and then mixed in. If you had a 100% rayon garment that was made without chopping any of the fibers you may get a fabric with less teeny tiny hairs on the surface. This is very hard to describe but does that make sense? As someone with eczema myself I can imagine that that would be less agitating. This is just a guess. I have no research to back this up.
HOWEVER, there are lots of variables here. Rayon is a fiber, NOT a fabric, and not even a yarn. Rayon can be mixed with other things, it can be treated with other chemicals such as flame retardants, and it can be spun into a thin yarn or a thick yarn. So, for a company to make a blanket statement about RAYON is rather suspect. They also do not say where their fibers come from which is also concerning. The only factory I am aware of that has met the "safety standards" is Lenzing. I would only trust companies that source yarn from Lenzing. Additionally, it doesn't matter where the fabric was woven. I have seen rayon that was "woven in the USA" but they do not disclose where the rayon yarns are manufactured. I generally think that if a company is meeting standards, they are proud of it and will advertise it. If they aren't, that is a red flag to me. 
The other thing that is worth noting is that any chemicals used in manufacturing processes (such as solvents used for rayon and pesticides used on cotton) are washed out of the yarn by the time you buy it. Part of the problem is that rayon is completely safe for the consumer so not much fuss has been made. Similarly with organic cotton - the benefit to buying organic cotton is for the planet - not your baby's skin.
I would not buy this company's products simply because of eczema concerns. This company is so small that any false claims they make will likely never be called out. If there is any benefit to their fabric over cotton then it is very minimal and probably practically insignificant. There are many other things such as dyes, finishes, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, etc that will have much more effect on your baby's skin than the base fiber. 
 
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I just stumbled upon your blog post "Rayon: Years of Manipulation and the Facts the Industry Doesn't Want You to Know" as I have recently started an attempt at making more eco-conscious decisions when shopping for consumer products. I find your post quite illuminating and very informative about Rayon. The fact that chemicals that have been known for decades to be toxic to human (and environmental) health are still in wide-use is incredibly frustrating and really needs to be talked about more. This is not just exclusively about rayon, but most synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic etc. I do have some questions: Do you have a source on your statement: "All of these products are safe for human use, and free from any dangerous chemicals by the time they reach the consumer." ? Do you include rayon clothing? I have read posts in the internet about chemical residues remaining in the fibers and so the toxicity from manufacturing processes remains to be exposed to the consumer. I really just want to know if this is indeed true, because I am really thinking about burning all my articles of clothing that have "rayon/acrylic/100%plolyester" etc. on the label.
 
Thank you so much for reaching out, and I am so glad that you read my article. 
I agree, it is very concerning that the toxic manufacturing process of viscose rayon is not more widely talked about. I've been looking into this topic for about 5-6 years now, and so far, one of the only real sources I have found is the book Fake Silk: The Lethal History of Viscose Rayon by Paul Blanc. In this book Dr. Blanc writes about the fact that the problem has never been addressed because there is no toxicity to the consumer. Dr. Blanc lists his sources and I am happy to send them to you, however I am currently out of town. If you would like, I can get you the information when I return home. 
What I will say, is that from my knowledge of the textile manufacturing process I believe that viscose rayon IS completely safe for the consumer. The process of making rayon basically takes the cellulose, "melts" it, and then chemically restores the cellulose structure after the shape has been changed into a fiber. Cellulose of course, is not toxic, and actually the most harmful part of the viscose process is the carbon disulfide that is released into the air during the last stage of production. Because all of the rayon garments we see in the stores are dyed and then either knit, or woven, the fibers have also been trough many other baths since manufacturing. An average viscose garment could have had the following chemicals applied:
-starches applied to the yarn to make it strong enough to withstand the the mechanical process of knitting or weaving
-a bath to remove these starches so that dyes can penetrate the fibers
-dyeing
-washing the excess dye out
-any finishing chemicals such as flame retardant coatings or shirting (chemicals used to repel dirt while the garments are in the store. This washes off after the first wash), and any other type of special coating you may see advertised.
-Some garments are also bleached to achieve a "stone washed" effect.
As you can see, there are many opportunities for any lingering chemicals from the viscose process to be washed off. Additionally, as I said before, most of the toxicity is in the air that is being inhaled by the workers. Any of the above chemicals are more of a concern to me than anything left behind from the viscose process, and the above list is in no way specific to viscose, the same is true for almost all natural fibers (and of course there are many chemicals in synthetic fibers as well, but the list is different).
I feel confident that synthetic fibers will not bring you any physical harm. Right now the current understanding is that the act of owning and wearing (not considering manufacturing and end of life) synthetic fibers is toxic only to the planet and this is manly because of the microfibers that are shed during washing.
I personally will purchase viscose second hand if it is a garment I think I need and will wear. If it really bothers you to own these fibers I would caution against burning them as that will release far more toxic chemicals into the air (and likely your body) than wearing them will. If you want to get these garments out of your life I understand, but please consider donating them instead.
HOWEVER before you get rid of (likely) a large portion of your closet, I would say this: ALL garments (unless you are growing the cotton and shearing the sheep yourself) have some negative effect on the planet. What I personally believe is that there is no magic answer to this problem. I see so many consumers looking for a fiber that will answer all of the world's problems, but the truth is that the answer lies in us as consumers. Anything is bad when it is produced in excess, even the most natural products. What this means is that the only way to really make a difference is to consume less. Certain manufactured fibers such as polyester DO have some benefits that are unmatched in natural fibers - think swimsuits and performance wear. Writing something out of our lives is not always the best answer especially if we over-consume in another area to make up for it. Here are a few questions I would ask myself if I were in your shoes:
If you get rid of these items will you have to consume new items to make up for them? 
Despite their fiber content do these items bring you joy/are comfortable/ do you like them?
Do you have a realistic plan for avoiding consumption of these same items again in the future (this has happened to me many times)?
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The MAIN takeaways that I would like you to get from this post are: 
-Every garment that you buy in a store is going to have passed through many different chemicals. It doesn't matter if it is organic cotton or polyester - every garment goes through chemicals. There is really no way to avoid this unless you create a garment from scratch yourself. Don't worry though, IF there is any residual chemicals on your clothes they wont last longer than the first few washes. Also - keep in mind that you're applying many of the same chemicals if you use traditional detergent, fabric softener, bleaches, dryer sheets, etc. 
-I am not saying that you shouldn't buy rayon because it is more toxic than other fibers - this is not necessarily true. The MAIN point I want to make is that if a company labels their fabric "bamboo" it is a red flag because bamboo fabric doesn't exist and the company is either not informed on their products, or they are lying to you. These are both unacceptable in my opinion. I personally choose not to buy rayon but that is a personal decision that I equate to being a vegetarian - I do not expect my friends to stop buying rayon. I just want people to be educated about it.
-There is no magic fiber that will take away our problems. Everything is toxic when produced in excess. The only way to be truly sustainable it to buy only what you need. If we all did that, we would be producing less textiles overall - in limits that the planet could handle.
I love talking about this - please let me know if you have any questions at grace@lineandtow.com.
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