I received an advertisement from a catalog featuring towels made from bamboo-rayon and cotton fibers. The person sending me the ad was confused about the so-called bamboo-rayon and questioned how bamboo plant fibers could be used to create synthetics. Well, the answer to that query is a simple one. Rayon is not a synthetic fiber, although many assume that it is. Like its cousin Acetate, Rayon is manufactured from cellulose. So allow me to tell you a short history of Rayon.
Rayon, known as “artificial silk”, was first produce over 120 years ago, the first patent was granted to a Swiss chemist who dissolved the inner bark of mulberry trees, chemically modifying it and formed threads by dipping needles into the solution. The first commercial production of rayon is credited to Count Hilaire Chardonnet, a French chemist who demonstrated his fabrics at the Paris Exhibition. The first commercial plant to produce rayon was built 2 years later. Chardonnet discovered that nitrocellulose could be dissolved in a mixture of ether and alcohol and the solutions could then be extruded into an acid bath to form a continuous filament. Rayon is a regenerated textile fiber, there is no chemical change in the cellulose and has the same characteristics as cellulose.
In the US the first successful production of Rayon was made by the American Vicose Company in 1910.
Since cotton linters and wood chips of pine, spruce and hemlock have been the source of the cellulose used for Rayon, it is not surprising that fibers of bamboo would produce a profitable ( and sustainable) source of cellulose for Rayon, as well.
Rayon is highly absorbent, soft and comfortable with good drapability. It is also easy to dye. Rayon is often used with other fibers, such as cotton, in textile production.
Acetate, Rayon’s cousin is also a regenerated fiber, first processed in 1894. Acetate, however, is a different chemical compound from the original cellulose. It is created by adding acetic acid to the cellulose, creating cellulose acetate. The solution is forced through a spinneret into warm air which hardens the filaments by evaporation.
In case you were wondering, Nylon was the first synthetic textile fiber, produced by the laboratories of DuPont in 1931.