Does Rayon Shrink When Washed Or Tumble Dried?

As a semi-synthetic fabric, you should take certain precautions when washing and drying any rayon garments or fabrics.

From blouses and flowing dresses to blankets and curtains, the fabric is versatile enough for all sorts of applications yet may prove tricky to clean. One issue is how easily you can shrink it when exposing it to high temperatures. 

You can even shrink rayon on purpose if you want to, by handwashing in hot water or in the washing machine and tumble dryer on a hot cycle.

This could be handy for a blouse that you want to reduce in size yet you need to pay attention to the care label to ensure you can control the shrinking and not damage the fabric either.

In this guide, we will look at why rayon can shrink and how you can purposefully shrink it if you need to. 

Does Rayon Shrink In the Dryer or When Washed (1)

What Is Rayon?

Rayon can be considered a semi-synthetic fabric as it is made from natural fibers yet is versatile enough to be changed when manufactured.

This versatility can mean that the fabric can acquire certain characteristics though its natural fibers do mean that the rayon is vulnerable to shrinking when exposed to high temperatures. 

The fabric is mainly used for clothing like activewear and garments that are worn in summer including blouses, shirts, kurtas, and dresses that flow.

The fabric is known for how absorbent it yet also remains strong and soft. To that extent, you can expect to find it in various homeware so you can expect to find it in sheets, blankets, and curtains. 

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How Is Rayon Created?

The process of creating rayon fabric begins by obtaining plant cellulose which is effectively mechanically pumped and processed.

The pulp is then chemically liquified with toxic chemicals which are pushed through a spinneret then extruded to create the natural fibers. As with most fabrics, the fibers can be spun into yarns then knitted or woven into the fabric itself. 

Does Rayon Shrink When Washed?

Unfortunately, rayon can shrink almost instantly when subjected to high temperatures such as those you can expect on a hot wash in the washing machine. 

However, when washed in cold water then air-dried, you can expect the rayon to retain its original size and shape. The process of cool washing, or even handwashing gently, then air drying is easily known as the best way to look after rayon fabric.

Does Rayon Shrink When Tumble Dried?

Rayon can also shrink when put into the tumble dryer, especially at a hot temperature. Arguably, you can expect more shrinking when tumble drying your rayon as opposed to simply washing it in the washing machine.

The shrinking is due to the natural fibers which are highly sensitive to the application of heat. The higher the heat, the more chance there is of shrinking. 

How Much Rayon Shrinks By

There are no real set guidelines for how much rayon can shrink by. While you can expect fabrics such as cotton and linen, which are cellulose fibers, to shrink by up to 5%, rayon can be more temperamental.

A lot can depend on the method you choose to wash it in and you should be careful with the temperature you expose the fabric too. 

There are also care labels on rayon garments and fabrics that you should read before attempting to wash or purposefully shrink them. These labels are created by the manufacturer who will know the best way to maintain the product.

While you can buy other materials, such as cotton and denim pre-shrunk, this is unlikely with rayon due to the fibers.

You could even shrink a rayon item repeatedly, even every time you wash it if you decide to do so in hot temperatures. This can happen when you tumble dry it too so you should be careful if you want to keep the rayon item the same size.

Give it time to air dry when possible and if you can spare the time and effort then you should try handwashing the item. 

Does Rayon Shrink In the Dryer or When Washed (1)

How To Wash Rayon

To look after your rayon fabric, you should handwash it as you can exert more control on the temperature and how much detergent the item gets exposed to.

This can be a time-consuming exercise, especially if you only have several items to wash, and may seem like a waste of time for just one item. Most clothes are washed in the washing machine and that can be the case for rayon though you should be careful at the temperature you expose your fabric to.

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As rayon is classed as a delicate fabric, you should treat it delicately and with care. First, fill your bucket, washbasin, or sink with cool water then add a gentle detergent/soap that is dedicated to treating delicate fabrics. 

Only one or two capfuls should be enough considering how much rayon fabric you are cleaning. Place each piece of rayon fabric into the container carefully as you do not want to mix or bunch them up. 

Fuss the water with your hands so the detergent/soap is evenly mixed then leave the rayon fabric submerged for around half an hour. Once that time has passed, you can remove the soap by rinsing the rayon fabric in cold water.

Just like any delicate washing, do not be tempted to wring your fabric as you could end up damaging it. You can then lay your fabric on a dry towel then press the water out and allow it to air dry. 

To Prevent Shrinking

Should you decide to wash rayon in a washing machine then you should take care of it. That means only washing a single rayon item or only rayon items, you do not want to mix rayon with other materials or wash it in a crowded wash.

Insist on a gentle detergent and use the delicate setting on your washing machine. You should only wash your rayon on a cool or cold water setting. 

When the rayon fabric is wet or damp, you should not wring or twist it as this could inadvertently shrink and damage the delicate fabric. Further shrinking can also occur if you rinse out your rayon fabric with hot water then iron it which can also damage the natural fibers.

To prevent shrinking, you should wash rayon fabric on its own and separate it from other similar colors as there may be stains that you have to deal with.

Can Rayon Shrink In Hot Water?

It is certainly more likely that an item made of rayon fabric will shrink in hot water than lukewarm or cool water. The application of heat causes the rayon fibers to condense which will result in a shrunken fabric as a whole. 

For a guideline, you can expect rayon to shrink when exposed to water that is hotter than 85°C though this may occur even at a temperature considered to be warm at a reduced temperature from that.

If you do want to wash your rayon item in the washing machine then opt for a cool or cold water setting to be extra careful.

Why 100% Rayon Is More Likely To Shrink

On a molecular level, the fibers that create rayon are made from wood pulp and are primarily cellulose in nature. If an entire fabric is made of one fiber type, it is more susceptible to shrinking as the fibers react together.

This is similar for cotton and denim whereby if you blend the material with other types of fibers, you reduce the chances of it shrinking.

If you want to know if your rayon fabric is indeed completely made out of rayon then you should check the care label. Should other materials be used in the fabric then this should be indicated and the percentage of the materials set out in numbered values.

That care label should also recommend how you should wash it, whether you should avoid hot water, and if it will shrink when you put it in the tumble dryer.

Without a care label, you should want to treat your rayon fabric with care, as if it was wholly made from rayon even if you are not sure. With that treatment in mind, the fabric should be treated as delicate so air dry cleaning is a good way of taking care of it, especially when it gets wet. 

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How To Purposefully Shrink Rayon

If you do want to purposefully shrink your rayon item then you can try hand washing in hot water though you may not want to get it too hot as you would be using your hands.

However, if you want an easier job and to use the application of heat then opt for the washing machine then the tumble dryer. You should be careful with either method as items with less than 100% rayon may take more effort in shrinking.


The gentlest way to treat any garment is to handwash it as you can have better control over the temperature. You can also spot the signs of damage quicker and remove the garment easier.

Just try handwashing by submerging some garment in a bucket or wash basin full of warm water. If that does not work then you can go for higher temperatures and more mechanical means. 

With A Washing Machine And Tumble Dryer

If it is just a single item of rayon material that you wish to shrink then simply wash that by itself in the washing machine. The heat setting on a washing machine is easy to control and you can set it to cold, warm, or hot.

More shrinking should be achieved on a hot setting though you may want to check the effects after a warm wash first. You may even get the right amount of shrinking with a warm wash.

If you do achieve the desired level of shrinking that you were after then lay it on a dry towel then roll it up to absorb any excess water. Then you can leave it to air dry.

For even more shrinking, you can dry the item in the tumble dryer though be careful with the heat setting as you can set it too high and experience too much shrinking. Try it on a low heat setting first and a gentle cycle and if it has not shrunk enough then rack up the heat setting and allow it to air dry once finished.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is A Blend Of Rayon And Spandex Less Likely To Shrink Than 100% Rayon?

Combining rayon and spandex can result in a stretchy yet strong and durable fabric. One that is ideal for pajamas, dresses, and shirts as you have some leeway created by the spandex.

The majority of the fabric will still be made of rayon and the ratio tends to be 95-5 with the spandex. Due to the fact that spandex does not shrink but rayon does, you can expect some shrinkage but not as much as you would expect from an item made totally of rayon. 

What Is Rayon Used For?

Rayon was originally developed as a material to replace silk, it was even known as artificial silk. You can tell why as the fabric has a feel that is similar to silk.

However, as rayon is created from plant cellulose, it reacts more like cotton on a molecular level which can be seen with how it shrinks when exposed to high temperatures. 

Rayon fabric is typically used for that flowing look in clothes such as dresses and blouses. The type of clothes that you can expect to flutter while you walk makes it highly popular in female fashion. That soft flow also makes it ideal to be used in the creation of curtains and blankets. 

How Do You Unshrink Rayon?

It is possible to unshrink rayon, as long as it was shrunk unintentionally and it has not shrunk too much. You will need to soak then stretch it by hand which can be quite a laborious process and a bucket, a towel, and a gentle detergent such as baby shampoo will be required.

Pour in just a capful of your gentle detergent into a bucket full of lukewarm water then submerge your rayon garment or fabric. Fuss the water so the detergent is massaged into the rayon fibers and ensure that the whole garment/fabric is penetrated by the mixture.

This should make the fibers relax and it should be quite easy to stretch them out. Remove your garment/fabric and rinse out the gentle detergent with some cold water.

Look after the fibers so gently press on the garment/fabric to remove any excess water but do not be tempted to wring the water out. Once only a bit wet, place the item on a clean and dry towel then roll it in the towel.

Put some effort into pressing on the towel so that the last of the water is gone and the item is only damp. Stretch out the item until it resembles its original size and allow it to air-dry. 

What Is The Best Way Of Washing Rayon Clothes In A Washing Machine?

When you do want to wash your rayon clothes in the washing machine then certain tips must be followed. These include turning your clothes inside-out then putting them into a mesh washing bag that you use to separate certain clothes and materials from others. 

You should opt for a cold water temperature and a delicate cycle which includes a low spin cycle. However, handwashing your rayon clothes is the ideal way of washing them as you can control the water temperature and how much detergent the clothes are exposed to. 

Are There Any Disadvantages To Rayon As A Fabric?

There are certain considerations to be made when choosing rayon as a fabric. These include the fact that carbon disulfide is used in its production which can be considered highly toxic.

The fabric can also be slow to decompose the more water-repellent the rayon is. The material is also known to be particularly weak when wet. 

Recommended cleaning for rayon clothes is to be dry cleaned or hand-washed. The fabric can also wrinkle quite easily as it has a low resilience which can also be factored into its low wet strength which is a concern when wearing the clothes in rain. Rayon fabric can also be damaged easily when even just a bit damp. 

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Final Thoughts

Rayon is a semi-synthetic material and is created with natural fibers. If your fabric or garment is wholly made from rayon then chances are that when exposed to high temperatures, those fibers will contract and you will see shrinking occur.

This can prove stressful for a garment that you wear quite often yet it is possible to revert it to its original shape and size. The best way to avoid this from occurring is to take care of the garment, read the care label and try not to expose it to high temperatures in the washing machine, tumble dryer, or from ironing. 

If you did want to shrink the rayon, or even if you did not, the most effective way of doing so is to wash it in the washing machine then tumble dry it with both on a hot setting. No matter what proportion of rayon your item is, allowing the machines to do the hard work is the best way. 

You can exert more control when handwashing an item in hot water and you can even shrink rayon by too much in the washing machine and dryer so try the method in cooler settings first as you could damage the fabric.

Learning how much a piece of fabric can shrink by in the cool settings of your washing machine and tumble dryer should give you more control if you do want to purposefully shrink it by various degrees.

Amanda Brown
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