It’s a known fact that bamboo is a sustainable natural resource, and many people today are associating bamboo products to eco-friendliness.
Due to this popular trend, more and more fashion brands and companies are substituting their usual raw materials with bamboo in their manufacturing processes.
And because these businesses are heavily invested in the bamboo trend, they tout that their products made of bamboo fabric are eco-friendly and a greener option for consumers. But is it really true?
To better understand the “eco-friendliness” of bamboo fabrics, we need to take a closer look at each of them and how they are made.
You’d be surprised to know that most bamboo fabrics are not eco-friendly.
Five Different Types of Bamboo Fabrics
The five types of bamboo fabrics in the market are:
- Bamboo Linen
- Bamboo Rayon (Bamboo Viscose)
- Bamboo Lyocell
- Bamboo Modal
- Bamboo Cotton Blend
Bamboo fabrics are mostly produced from fibers of the tallest bamboo species, the “Moso Bamboo” (Phyllostachys edulis).
They are commonly harvested from Asia, Africa, and Central and South American countries where this noble grass is widely found.
After bamboos are harvested, they then undergo different processes to create the different kinds of bamboo fabrics.
It is in the manufacturing process that the eco-friendliness of bamboo fabric is questioned and gets flak from critics.
How Is Bamboo Fabric Manufactured?
There are two methods to manufacturing different bamboo fabrics – the mechanical process and the chemical process
1. Mechanical Process
The mechanical process of producing bamboo fabric is done by crushing the bamboo plant using machines.
Then natural enzymes are added to break the bamboo into a mushy mass, after which, individual fibers are combed out and spun into a yarn and then into a bamboo fabric.
2. Chemical Process
The second and more popular way to produce bamboo fabric is the chemical process.
It involves dissolving bamboo chunks in different chemical solution to produce a pulpy viscous substance. The pulpy substance is then spun into fibers and made into threads, fabrics, and bamboo sheets.
Of the two bamboo fabric manufacturing process, the mechanical process is what’s considered to be eco-friendly because it doesn’t involve using hazardous chemicals.
That being said, not all chemical process to produce bamboo fabric are harmful to the environment.
Now, let’s see how each of the five bamboo fabrics are manufactured.
1. Bamboo Linen
According to the NRDC, Bamboo Linen is the “true green” bamboo fabric because it is made of 100% bamboo fiber with minimum pretreatment.
Bamboo Linen is also the only bamboo fabric produced using the mechanical process.
However, very few products are made using Bamboo Linen because it is rough to the touch and wrinkles quickly.
And when people buy fabric products, they’re used with the concept of it being soft.
Moreover, businesses aren’t too keen on using Bamboo Linen on their products because creating this fabric is expensive and more labor-intensive.
2. Bamboo Rayon (Bamboo Viscose)
Bamboo Rayon (also known as Bamboo Viscose) is a soft material similar to cotton and is widely used for bed sheets, pillow cases, towels, socks, shirts, undergarments, etc.
It is the most commonly used bamboo fabric in the market today. But unfortunately, Bamboo Rayon is not eco-friendly.
Bamboo Rayon underwent an intensive and harsh chemical process involving bleaching and viscose, which dissolves bamboo chunks in a chemical solution using:
- Sodium Hydroxide (caustic soda);
- Sulfuric Acid, and;
- Carbon Disulfide.
The chemicals, combined with bamboo chunks, produces a pulpy viscous substance that is later created into fabrics and sheets.
Producing bamboo rayon uses a huge quantity of water and the toxic chemical waste generated is then released into the rivers and drainage systems.
This process is referred to as open-cycle production which many environmental advocates criticize.
Many companies and huge names in the textile and clothing industry are blamed for pollution worldwide due to the process.
Is Bamboo Rayon a “Natural Bamboo”?
The short answer is, no, it isn’t.
When bamboo undergoes the Viscose Process, it loses all its natural attributes such as anti-bacterial properties and becomes a semi-synthetic fiber.
This is why Bamboo Rayon, unlike Bamboo Linen, is soft.
According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), if it feels super soft, then it’s not natural bamboo and cannot even be legally called “bamboo” at all.
But you might be wondering, what has the FTC had to do with this?
To appeal to the eco-conscious masses, many businesses are mislabeling their products as “natural bamboo.”
When, in fact, it is made of Bamboo Rayon (Bamboo Viscose) and it should be labeled as such.
Some companies such as Nordstrom, Bed Bath & Beyond, Backcountry, and J.C. Penney were fined by FTC for misconduct and violating the Textile Products Identification Act.
3. Bamboo Modal
Bamboo Modal is another bamboo fabric often used in athletic clothing, lingerie, and other garments.
It is also soft, breathable, absorbent, and more durable than Bamboo Rayon.
Bamboo Modal is also produced using the Viscose Process.
The only difference is when creating Bamboo Modal, the bamboo fibers are made longer and are tightly weaved together.
Hence, making it more stronger than the typical Bamboo Rayon.
4. Bamboo Lyocell
Products made of Bamboo Lyocell are soft, moisture absorbent, and cool. It is often used in sleeping apparels, bed sheets, and undergarments.
Bamboo Lyocell is produced by soaking bamboo in an organic compound made of amine oxide instead of toxic chemicals.
Furthermore, Bamboo Lyocell is produced in a closed-loop system where 99% of the solution used to break down bamboo pulp is recovered and recycled during the manufacturing process, minimizing water and energy consumption. (source)
And the leftover waste products that are released into the air and water are minimal and considered harmless to the environment.
Bamboo Lyocell is an eco-friendly bamboo fabric produced with chemical process that uses Amine Oxide, an organic compound.
However, it is hard to find bamboo products made of Bamboo Lyocell because the production of this fiber is more expensive than Bamboo Rayon.
Bamboo Lyocell is made using a non-toxic solution of Amine Oxide instead of the harmful chemicals.
And because the process to produce Bamboo Lyocell is more expensive, only a few brands are making bamboo fabric in this way.
5. Bamboo Blends
Bamboo fibers can blended with cotton, spandex and other materials, creating a more durable fabric. Bamboo Blends are commonly used in personal and household garments.
The most common Bamboo Blend is the Bamboo Cotton Blend, often created with 60% Bamboo Rayon and 40% cotton or, 70% Bamboo Rayon and 30% cotton.
Bamboo Cotton Blends are perhaps the worst kind of bamboo fabric in terms of eco-friendliness.
Firstly, you are using Bamboo Rayon that is made of toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, producing cotton fabric is labor intensive, involves harmful chemicals, and consumes huge amount of natural resources.
So next time you see a product labeled as Bamboo Cotton Blend, you know what to do.
Are all Bamboo Fabrics Biodegradable?
Bamboo fiber used in fabrics, in general, is bio-degradable in soil by micro organisms and sunlight.
However, not all bamboo fabrics are bio-degradable.
|Bamboo Fabric||Is it Biodegradable?|
Only fabrics made of Bamboo Linen and Bamboo Lyocell are truly biodegradable.
Bamboo Rayon for example is not biodegradable because they will not break down in a reasonably short time and will either end up in landfills or being recycled.
So ideally, you want to buy bamboo fabric products that is labeled Bamboo Linen, Bamboo Lyocell (or Lyocell Bamboo), Monocel, or Tencel.
Stay away from products that have 100% Bamboo,” “Rayon of Bamboo”, or simply “Bamboo” on their labels since it’s very likely that there’s no natural bamboo left in it.
How Eco-Friendly Are The Different Bamboo Fabrics?
This table summarizes the eco-friendliness of different bamboo fabrics.
|Bamboo Fabric Production||Free From Toxic Chemicals?||Biodegradable||Cost To Produce|
If you came here wondering how eco-friendly bamboo fabrics are, then we hope this article has already provided you with some clarity.
In reality, only very few bamboo fabric products in the market today can be genuinely considered eco-friendly.
A vast majority of them are made with Bamboo Rayon, which might be soft and comfortable, but has an expensive toll to our environment and to the laborers’ health.
But what are your thoughts? Is bamboo fabric eco-friendly? Would you buy (or continue to buy) a bamboo fabric after knowing the things above?