Bamboo has been used for millennia in the East due to its impressive structural capabilities. This stems from the high concentration of cellulose and lignin in the plant, allowing it to grow to impressive heights while maintaining rigidity. In the modern age, cellulose can be extracted from the plant and used for textiles through viscose/rayon production. The same qualities that give the plant its structure give textiles the same.
Today, nearly all bamboo fabric is produced as “viscose from bamboo”. In this article, we will address how bamboo fabric is made, if bamboo is a good fabric, and if bamboo fabric is better than cotton. Along with the advantages and disadvantages of bamboo fabric.
How is Bamboo Fabric Made?
Bamboo fabric is made using largely the same process as rayon. The dense, hard bamboo stalks are steeped in an enzyme solution to begin breaking down the tough cellulose and lignin fibers. Mechanical crushing releases these into a sort of “soup” which undergoes further chemical breakdown. Once fully broken down, a final step realigns the cellulose molecules into what can then be spun into a thread. This viscose process is generally the same for any plant-based textile.
What Is Special About Bamboo Fabric?
First and foremost, bamboo fabric is exceptionally soft. By blending viscose bamboo yarn with cotton, the resulting fabric has comfort and durability from cotton, while adding stretch, softness, and breathability from the bamboo.
What makes bamboo fabric special, is that these properties usually come from blending polyester into the fabric. Polyester, an inorganic plastic material, is in essence a microplastic thread that sheds with wear and washing, ending up in our water systems, air, and bodies. Viscose bamboo is chemically the same as cellulose, and is therefore biodegradable.
Of all the plants often used to make viscose: pine trees, sugarcane, hemp, and more, bamboo is the:
- Fastest growing
- Easiest to grow
- Least damaging to the environment
- Legal, cheap, and available
Bamboo can be grown on otherwise unsuitable land for farming, can be grown very rapidly, and takes less resources to grow than the traditional tree-based rayon production.
In the chemical process, bamboo also lends itself for use in a closed-loop system meaning the chemicals are recycled with each new batch.
Is Bamboo A Good Fabric?
Bamboo is a good quality fabric, namely for its luxuriously soft feel and subtle stretch. It also works very well in products like bedsheets and sleepwear due to the breathability and moisture wicking properties. Bamboo has become very popular in the sleepwear industry for these very reasons. If you have never worn bamboo pajamas, it really is a life changer for sleep. Especially on hot and humid nights!
Is Bamboo Fabric Better Than Cotton?
Is a truck better than a boat? Hard to say, but it’s safe to say a truck is a lot more useful. Cotton is the workhorse truck that gets everything done and never lets you down. The versatility of cotton fabric is unmatched, and cotton is the number one fabric in the world for a reason. A sort of Goldilocks textile.
But on that hot summer day you want to be on the water? A boat sure does the job. Bamboo is that - great for the applications when it can really perform. When softness and breathability are the goal, bamboo viscose is truly hard to beat. That’s why we use it in our Goodnite Shirt Collection, and why it has become a staple in the sleepwear industry.
How Long Does Bamboo Fabric Last?
Like most clothing, how you take care of the piece will directly relate to how long it lasts. We always recommend drying on low, but hanging to dry is an even better option. Because bamboo has great moisture wicking properties, it may take longer to dry on the line. Stopping the urge to throw it in the dryer on high for an hour will add years to the life of the shirt.
What Are The Disadvantages of Bamboo Fabric?
Bamboo fabric can’t take the abuse a heavyweight cotton fabric can, and will require more care in handling. Drying on low, or hanging to dry can drastically improve the lifetime of the shirt, but inevitably, bamboo is prone to pilling in the same way polyester is. Good news is, this pilling results in the shedding of biodegradable cellulose, not microplastics like polyester.
Bamboo fabric is great in places where you want extra stretch, breathability, and a soft feel. Again, we use it in our Sleepwear, and we are not alone. Over the last decade as the fight against plastics and fast fashion has grown, bamboo surged in popularity. For something lightweight and breezy to throw on around the house, anything made from bamboo fabric is a great choice.
Click the photo below to see our bamboo sleepwear.