Bamboo Fabric: All You Need To Know

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Sustainability is here to stay, and every industry, including the textile industry, is trying to adopt a greener approach. Different technologies have been introduced to make bamboo fiber suitable for use in a wider range of products including clothes, towels, bed linens, and more. 

What is bamboo fabric? 

Bamboo fabric is made from fiber derived from the pulp of a bamboo plant. These fibers are produced by pulping bamboo grass into thin and strong threads, then spun and knitted into eco-friendly textiles. 

When grown ethically, bamboo can be very sustainable as they are capable of self-regenerating from its roots without replanting them. They also require minimal resources to harvest and do not require pesticides and chemicals to cultivate. 

Therefore, these fabrics are an excellent alternative to cotton in terms of their eco-friendly properties.

Photo by Ethan Bodnar from Unsplash

How is bamboo fabric made?

Bamboo fabric is made from bamboo fiber that is extracted from natural bamboo. Although known to be environmentally friendly, not all of them are made in that way. These fibers can be processed either chemically or mechanically depending on the manufacturer. 

Chemical processing involves using strong chemicals and thereby creating chemical waste which may result in pollution if not treated prior to discharge. While the mechanical process has a higher cost, it does not require chemicals and is more environmentally friendly.

There are two types of chemical processes:  

  • The viscose process is used to produce rayon. In this process, bamboo fiber is broken down with intensive chemicals and extruded through mechanical spinnerets. 
  • The closed-loop method is used to produce Lyocell fibers. 

For fiber extraction through the mechanical method, the stalks from bamboo grass are cut into smaller bamboo chips and then soaked in a liquid enzyme before being made into pulps. Individual fibers are then combed out and spun into yarn. 

Types of bamboo fabric

The majority of bamboo fabric found in the market is known as bamboo viscous, also known as bamboo rayon. Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber made from regenerated cellulose, such as wood and bamboo. 

The other types of bamboo textiles are the lyocell-type bamboo fabric made using the closed-loop method. The processing steps are similar to viscose but it is more eco-friendly as 99.5% of the chemicals used during the process are reused and no waste is created. 

Hence, this method is considered one of the leading methods of producing environmentally friendly regenerated fibers for textiles.

The last type of bamboo fabric is mechanically-produced bamboo fiber which is also referred to as natural bamboo. Although they are good for the environment, their manufacturing process is often labor-intensive and costly. 

Bamboo Viscose

Bamboo viscose is the most popular type of bamboo textile among the others. However, their claim as an eco-friendly fabric is questionable as the chemicals like carbon disulfide which is very toxic and harmful to the environment and human health is used in the manufacturing process. 

The viscose process is labor-intensive and lengthy. Production begins by dipping bamboo pulp into chemicals to extract cellulose. After removing the cellulose, they are compressed into sheets, exposed to carbon disulfide, and filtered. The pulp is then pushed through a spinneret and spun into fibers to be made into threads and fabric. Although they are relatively cheaper, the strong chemicals used will generate high wastage that is toxic to the environment. 

Textiles derived from this process are usually softer than cotton and can be used in a wide range of products like towels, bedsheets, and clothing.

Mechanically produced fine bamboo fiber

Mechanically produced bamboo fabric, also known as natural bamboo is organic because no chemicals are used during the manufacturing process.

After harvesting the bamboo, its cellulose is extracted by crushing the leaves and soft inner pith from the trunks. Next, crushed bamboo fibers are soaked in a natural enzyme solution,  washed and spun into threads, and then woven into fabrics. 

Though this material is eco-friendly, it is a slightly coarse fabric and thus, not suitable for softer products like intimate garments. 

Lyocell bamboo fabric

Lyocell bamboo fabric is made with the closed-loop method. Unlike bamboo viscose, solvents discharged from this process can be reused, resulting in less wastage. Additionally, the process does not chemically alter the cellulose structure, resulting in chemical-free textiles. 

Due to their lightweight, non-creasing and smooth properties, lyocell is very comfortable to wear and is often used to produce clothing and accessories, for example, knitwear, dresses, formal shirts, sportswear, and more. 

Where is bamboo fabric produced? 

Bamboo has been made into fabric in East Asia for thousands of years. China dominates this industry because of their large bamboo plantation yield. They are the biggest producers and exporters of a wide range of finest and cheapest bamboo fabric in the world. However, most Chinese companies do not produce them in an ethical method, causing high wastage and pollution to the environment.

Besides China, some other countries that also export bamboo textiles are India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Due to the increased popularity of bamboo, more countries are starting to export bamboo.  

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP from Unsplash

Bamboo fabric benefits

Bamboo fabric is an exceptional natural resource and offers plenty of benefits including high sweat-absorbent, antibacterial properties, and durability. 

However, due to different manufacturing processes, some benefits only apply to mechanically processed bamboo textiles. For chemically processed bamboo fabric, the strong chemicals may deteriorate existing natural properties in the bamboo plant like their antibacterial properties. Therefore, not all types of bamboo fabrics are equal.

Antibacterial properties

As mentioned, bamboo does not require pesticides for optimal growth thanks to its natural antibacterial attributes. Bamboo fabric retains this quality, keeping garments fresh and hygienic for a longer time. 

High sweat-absorbance 

Textiles made from bamboo are highly sweat-absorbent. They absorb sweat or moisture into their fiber from your skin or evaporate them onto the surface quickly. Thus, they dry quickly, preventing discomfort caused by damp clothes. 

Disadvantages of bamboo fabric

Like any other fabric, bamboo fabric has its drawbacks. Some notable disadvantage includes the potential for hazardous emissions, being prone to shrinkage, and high cost. 

Hazardous emissions

As mentioned, some bamboo fabric manufacturing processes need intensive chemicals that pollute the environment if discharged without treatment. They are also harmful to human health. 

Workers exposed to strong chemicals like carbon disulfide may develop respiratory problems or other serious health consequences. Therefore, it is important to ensure producers adopt safe and sustainable manufacturing processes. 

Prone to shrinkage

Bamboo-made fabric may shrink faster than other textiles like cotton because of its high water-holding capacity. Thus, it is recommended to use cool water and a gentle drying method to wash your bamboo fabric garments to avoid shrinkage. 

Expensive

Manufacturing bamboo textiles is a lengthy and labor-intensive process. This results in a higher market price, especially for a natural bamboo fiber fabric that has a limited supply in the market. 

Bamboo fabric vs cotton

Many may be wondering, is bamboo fabric a better option than cotton? 

In terms of sustainability, bamboo has the advantage as a faster-growing plant, capable of regenerating itself from the roots without much care. Conversely, cotton is not as environmentally friendly because it must be replanted after each harvest and requires pesticides and fertilizers for optimal growth. 

Bamboo fabric is generally more breathable and softer than cotton due to the micro-gaps in its structure. However, this only applies to chemically processed bamboo fabrics.

Textiles that go through intensive chemicals may lose the original properties provided by bamboo. Thus, the quality is very dependent on the manufacturing process. 

So, to answer your question, there is no perfect fabric. The better option may be the ones produced ethically with certifications and transparency on their sourcing and manufacturing.    

Photo by Berkin Üregen from Unsplash

Is bamboo fabric breathable? 

Yes, bamboo fabric is breathable because its fiber has various micro-gaps that allow better ventilation and increase its moisture absorption. 

Just like how bamboo is capable of cooling itself in the heat, one will not feel as hot in bamboo-made clothes compared to other materials. 

Is bamboo fabric sustainable?

Yes, bamboo is a highly renewable and sustainable resource. However, certain bamboo fabrics may involve strong chemicals during the processing and impact the environment negatively. Nonetheless, if the waste is properly managed, it can be categorized as a sustainable material when compared with conventional cotton or wool.  

Bamboo fabric products

Some commonly found bamboo fabric products are clothes, beddings, underwear, towels, and more. Additionally, due to their antibacterial nature, they can also be made into masks, bandages, and sanitary napkins.    

Bamboo fabric price

Generally, bamboo fabric is more affordable than luxury cotton like Egyptian cotton. Although natural bamboo fabric may cost more than average cotton, one may still opt for chemically processed bamboo viscose which is less expensive. 

Conclusion

Due to their sustainability, bamboo fabrics are used widely in the textile industry and are comparable to cotton. The three major bamboo fabrics are mechanically processed natural bamboo fabric, bamboo viscose, and lyocell bamboo fabric. 

Each type has its pros and cons due to different manufacturing processes. Chemically processed fabric results in softer fabric but will create waste that causes environmental pollution if not treated properly. Mechanically processed ones are organic but result in a slightly coarse textile with a higher price. 

So, make sure you know your bamboo fabric products before purchasing them. Buy from reliable, trustworthy suppliers or manufacturers. 

Read more on bamboo products at Bamboo Products: The Eco-Friendly Choice For Sustainability

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