What is bamboo fabric?

This plant, having rapid growth, has become one of the favorites in organic farming. Its uses range from construction to household items and fabrics. But it is true that some claims are questioned, such as if it really is sustainable, its UV protection and if it has antibacterial properties, is it really such a miraculous crop? Is bamboo fabric sustainable?

Growing the bamboo

It looks like it is. Bamboo can be a very sustainable crop, as it is a fast-growing plant that does not require fertilizers and self-regenerates from its own roots, so it does not need to be replanted as if that were not enough. When compared to growing cotton, which requires large amounts of water, pesticides and labor, the advantages are quite clear.

But we also have a few things to consider. The first thing is that, although bamboo grows quickly and does not require pesticides, it does not mean that its cultivation is sustainable. Most of the bamboo is grown in China and, being a non-transparent country, there is no information on how intensively the bamboo is harvested, or what lands they are choosing and preparing for planting the bamboo. Also, although bamboo does not need pesticides, they may be being used to maximize results.

Creating the fabric

Well, you might think that bamboo may have some problems, but even then, it still uses fewer chemicals and is more environmentally friendly than cotton, right? So, if this is almost certainly true for the growth phase, the same cannot be said for the manufacturing process.

Various methods are used to convert bamboo into fabric. The first process consists of combing the bamboo fibers and turning them into yarn, resulting in a thick cloth that is often called "bamboo linen". Combining the fibers requires a lot of labor, making the result expensive, and it is not suitable for the soft and intimate products for which bamboo is more in demand.

The second method is much more widely used, and is a process used to make the silky-smooth bamboo fabric found in sheets, underwear, and other intimate items. This "bamboo rayon" is produced by a very intensive chemical process, similar to the process used to convert wood chips to rayon. This process causes the sustainability of the bamboo to be lost. The end product of this process is categorized between natural and synthetic products. Therefore, the soft bamboo fabric we like is processed in the same way as semi-natural rayon.

Bamboo rayon is made by dissolving cellulose material (in this case, bamboo) in a chemical solution to create a viscous substance. It is then "spun" into fibers that can be turned into yarns and fabrics. The problem is that the chemicals used are highly toxic and pose a risk to human health. Approximately 50% of the waste from rayon production cannot be recovered or reused, and goes directly to the environment.

It is not as ecological as we think!

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to indicate that many of the qualities of bamboo are real, such as its antibacterial properties or resistance to UV rays, since it is not known if they remain present in the fiber after it has been subjected to such an intensive process.

So, is bamboo fabric sustainable or not?

Bamboo itself can be a very sustainable crop, if grown under the right conditions. But the problem is that most of the bamboo fabrics on the market consist of a form of rayon, whose manufacturing process is very intensive and involves many chemicals that cause harm to humans and the environment.

Lyocell is a more sustainable alternative because its manufacturing process has a much lower impact. Although it is also more difficult to find good lyocell products made from bamboo. If you want sustainable clothing, in some types, you can find eco-friendly fabrics like organic grown hemp. In most cases, organic cotton is a better option, as it affects the environment less, especially the fabric dyeing process.

For all the above, we want to make it known that most of the products labeled "bamboo" are actually rayon. This means that they involve intensive chemical emissions and probably do not have the same beneficial properties as the raw bamboo plant. Finally, it is important to understand that bamboo fabric is much less expensive to produce than cotton, since it avoids the extensive use of pesticides, which is used in the production of non-organic cotton, and, in addition, the production does not, it is as chemically intensive as polyester. But what we also need to know is that bamboo fabric is not the perfect answer to all of our ethical clothing. In fact, several NGOs describe bamboo viscose and conventional cotton as products with a fairly toxic manufacture. As the LA Times has said in the past, bamboo "has been widely discredited as an alternative source."