Bamboo based fabric, is it really Bamboo?

There have been some posts in the past and currently that refer to Bamboo being in the fabric, in the mix of materials in the Fabric, or indeed question this. Is it really Bamboo or is it a material that has been derived from Bamboo. We have moved these posts to this section of the site as we look for the best answers. BS Buster Badges will be awarded to those posters who provide good and supported answers.

The previous posts have been moved to this topic to keep them together.

Looking forward to the answers.

I’m sick of the bamboo ‘fabric’ greenwashing going on. There are companies making outright false claims about fabrics they claim are ‘100%’ bamboo.

The majority of bamboo fabric is a synthetic rayon or similar. The bamboo is just the raw product (cellulose) used in creating the rayon fibre.

While it may be better to use bamboo rather than old-growth forests to make fabric, the resultant fabric is not ‘natural’, can still shed plastic microfibers and is not compostable.

a good summary here:
https://www.biome.com.au/blog/bamboo-sheets-bamboo-socks-eco-friendly/

One company making ‘bamboo’ microfibre cloths claims this:

“Made from 100% Natural Bamboo Microfibre. Unlike conventional micro-fibre cloths, it saves our ocean from micro-plastic pollution.”

Where do we go to report stuff like this?

Your average consumer is being completely hoodwinked

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Yes, some could be in the snake oil category. ABC Catalyst did a story a while ago…and some of the facts and claims associated with bamboo fabrics is questionable…many are in fact viscose which is a man made material (or semi-synthetic)…potentially with some component sourced from the bamboo plant.

https://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/bamboo-clothing/11013074

When we had our child we were given ‘flushable’ bamboo nappy liners and we were told and initially thought that the bamboo liners were safer and better than synthetic ones. From a bit of research (realised they were viscose from bamboo), we doubted the claims and instead made out own out of terri-towelling (100% cotton). We only used a few ‘bamboo’ ones and binned the rest.

The bamboo claims is a bit like saying a product is organic because a very small component of the product is sourced and certified organic…such would not stack up and action would be taken against such claims.

The ACCC or potentially Choice could investigate claims further and make a complaint with the ACCC if the information available dismissing the claims in fact is correct. If it is, the information would be misleading and false advertising…something the ACCC may take a dim view to.

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Does anyone know good sources of the real stuff?

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The real stuff doesn’t exist might be the best response.

Like any product unless the origins of the product, processing and finishing are all quality controlled and traceable through accredited suppliers there is no way of knowing for sure.

As @njwch2 asks or points out there is no clear position on how the products are described and marketed in Australia. Thanks @njwch2 for pointing this out.

A search of the internet left me with the impression that at least 99% of what is sold as made from bamboo fabric is simply synthetic (plastic fibre) made from bamboo, instead of petroleum products or more traditionally chemically dissolved trees? Please excuse the avoidance of chemistry and technical jargon.

P.S. (if you don’t have time to read the original source article for this topic, there are two very different products)

There are two ways to turn bamboo to into a fabric.

  1. Mechanically by crushing bamboo, and over much time allowing natural enzymes it break it down. The fibres are combed out and spun into yarn. Similar to making linen, which we also love to wear close to our intimate parts? It’s also labour intensive and expensive. How close is the genuine bamboo product to linen which is a tough and durable product?

  2. Chemically where the bamboo is dissolved and treated to produce cellulose. Not such a nice process environmentally. Think wood pulp and paper production on steroids. This is used to produce a rayon like yarn. It’s debatable whether the yarn produced from bamboo by this process is significantly different or better than any other similar synthetic when used to manufacture fabrics? Physical it may not differ at all, but in marketing it opens a whole new avenue for misleading consumers.

I could suggest plastics when they were first produced could truthfully lay claim to being 100% natural sustainable products. They were derived from trees, although as a slight difference bamboo rayon comes from a grass.

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Going to Wikipedia, searching the terms Rayon, Viscose, Bamboo and Bamboo textile explains it all. In USA and Canada it seems these products must be labelled as “Rayon” or “Rayon made from bamboo”. Why hasn’t Australia done the same yet?

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Do bamboo sheets feel cooler when you are sleeping? Any other concerns re bamboo sheets?

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Hi @debbieirwin1958, welcome to the community.

In relation to your question, which bamboi based material is the bamboo sheets made from?

  • bamboo viscose (also known as bamboo rayon)
  • bamboo modal,
  • bamboo lyocell, or
  • raw bamboo linen fibre.

Each of the above are marketed as bamboo sheets but have very different characteristics…some are man made materials (first three) based on bamboo fibres, the last one is a natural material compared to the others.

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I am new to this fabric. Would you recommend any particular type. I want the sheets that are most cooling.

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Is the goal sheets made from a breathable fabric?
The thread count and tightness of weave may also need to be considered.

One overview on fabrics and their usefulness for bedding.

Raw bamboo linen fibre requires a long and expensive process to extract, compared to products such as natural linen from flax.

As @phb pointed out the majority of woven materials sold as ‘made from bamboo’ are not really the natural fibres found in the bamboo. They are reconstituted cellulose polymers. The bamboo or indeed any cellulose based plant can be chemically dissolved to release raw cellulose. Threads such as rayon etc are produced from the extracted plant cellulose. Rayon could equally have been man made from a gum tree, a pine tree or even a rose bush.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayon

Cellulose is also the principle polymer used in the manufacture of paper.

If I had the inclination I could process rose bush cuttings to produce rose rayon. The product could be sold as rose tee shirts and rose bed sheets for that perfect nights comfort, soft as a rose petal. 100% natural in the same way all cellulose based synthetic fibres are.

Notes:
There are natural fibres that are readily available and directly processed. EG wool, silk, cotton, coir (coconut fibre).

Other natural fibres are obtained by physically (mechanically) breaking down the plant. This extracts the natural fibres hidden within the plant without substantial alteration of their form in the plant. EG flax and hemp.

The use of living plants with fibrous structures to make other products has long been established. Papyrus for paper, jungle vines for ropes and canes for weaving, paper from mulberry tree bark.

Raw Bamboo can also be mechanically broken down and processed to release the fibre content within the plant walls. It’s not as simple as other plants which is why early paper making in China used silk, mulberry bark, hemp etc for creating writing materials. The bamboo process is expensive and time consuming. It produces a glass like fibre which is very strong.

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The first three on the above list I personally avoid as I find viscose/rayon (and modal/lyccell which are similar) are hot material to wear or against the skin. They might be okay in cool climates if one likes their feel.

I haven’t tried raw bamboo linen, but if it is a soft fabric and durable, it may be worth trying.

I have slept on a variety of bed sheet materials over the years in warm to hot and humid climates (viscose, silk, satin, cotton polyester blends, polyester, cotton, Egyptian cotton etc), and the one we always go back to time and time again is plain cotton.

Cotton sheets we use ourselves (and for our business) have a range of thread counts. We don’t get hung up on thread counts as it is the mareial feel which is more important. Some like hard crisp sheets (I do), while others like soft light sheets (my other half). It is a personal choice how a sheet feels and it is best to do a touch test before buying.

Some like silk as well for being light and cool…but its slippery feel isn’t something I prefer. I do have a silk sleeping bag liner which is great as it weighs next to nothing, dries quickly and takes up little room…properties needed when bush walking and backpacking.

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According to one source it is as it’s name suggests. Rather coarse, stiffer than cotton and prone to creasing, just as natural linen is.

IMO we need to stay away from the idea that the properties of natural bamboo grass magically reappear in most so called “bamboo fabrics”. In fact the chemical processes used to produce rayon or tencel/lyocell from bamboo cellulose destroy any anti-bacterial or other properties found in the raw bamboo plant.

Shonky as. Incredibly powerful marketing, based mostly on misrepresenting how the product is produced.

Tencel synthetic rayon can also be produced from eucalyptus trees as well as beech trees or bamboo as noted previously. Eucalyptus sheets. Possibly the best nights sleep given how cute cuddly and laid back koalas who live in gum trees can be. It may just be what Australia needs to ween itself off the bamboo addiction.

P.S.
Great question @debbieirwin1958
I find a light weight cotton sheet works great. The best summer nights rest is down to the mattress, and room temperature. Long before air conditioning in north Qld a quality ceiling fan, no sheet and breathable night wear worked well for all of us.

I’d give eucalyptus sheets a try. Has anyone seen the product?

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Thanks for this info. I have a lot to think about. My thoughts are that in the actual growing process of cotton v bamboo, the bamboo would come out far ahead environmentally. I wonder if this is balanced in the processing? Cotton farming also used way more water. Getting very confused.

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That’s a different sort of question. It may be a factor for some.

Aside from the growing of cotton vs bamboo both also have processing impacts on the environment.

From what has been commented on so far the production of bamboo fabric using the traditional cellulose process to produce rayon type yarn is a poor environmental outcome. Improved recycling of the processing chemicals in the similar process used to produce Tencel seems to be a better choice. Although that process can just as easily produce the same quality of product from more than just bamboo.

Environmentally it might be useful to consider whether eucalyptus trees are a preferable source of Tencel yarn compared to bamboo rayon or Tencel. Eucalypts can be very water efficient and grow in a wide range of environments without the need for irrigation.

While I’m not against using textiles made from bamboo, it’s far from clear how individual products have been produced. There is scant concise detail on many of the on line suppliers web sites to clarify. Few reveal all of the details concerning the sources and processing of their products. I simply assume that 98% of all products promoted as bamboo textiles are actually manmade synthetic fibres produced from bamboo cellulose. And perhaps some other fibre sources. Note cotton waste can also be used to produce rayon.

I’m assuming from what I have read, a product attributed to being made from unaltered natural bamboo fibre will readily crease and hold creases. Otherwise it is a manmade synthetic based product, possibly priced at a premium to the true wholesale value.

Unravelling the confusion may be a challenge. There is power in branding and the appealing attributes of real bamboo. It would appear the benefits of bamboo textiles are the same as similarly produced cellulose based synthetic yarns.

Some more on Tencel, no need for bamboo either.

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I find a thicker base sheet and a light top sheet are the best for comfort and 100% cotton or if you can afford the expense linen. If I could easily source hemp sheets I might be inclined to go that way rather than cotton or linen.

Why the thicker base sheet? Because it adsorbs more moisture during sleep so doesn’t feel sticky or damp during the night (this creates discomfort for us). The lighter top sheet allows the heat to move off easily. This means we don’t buy sets, we buy individual pieces to suit our needs, my wife prefers a thicker pillowcase as she sweats a lot from her head during the night, I prefer a lighter feel under my head.

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The production of Rayon is incredibly toxic. That’s why it is not made in any first world country any more.
the label Bamboo is most often a con. It really should be banned. I recently looked at a “Bamboo” coffee cup. It was made of melamine with bamboo fibre as a filler.

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That is true, and the US Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning about ‘bamboo’ material…and that the claims that it is bamboo could be misleading.

What is also concerning looking at some of the Bamboo sheets available online from Australian retailers, is they claim they are made with 100% organic bamboo…when the fabric is Lyocell, very similar to rayon with a slightly different chemical/manufacturing process. These are some examples, but everyone I looked at is the same…

This is definitely shonky and possibly one for Choice to expose.

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Not the only time bamboo textiles have rated a mention.

Or this one from Jen. The supplier has claimed that paper made from bamboo is more eco friendly than pine trees. Yes, they have left out the dyes and prints. The basic process of manufacture will be the same?
Softness might be more a consequence of processing than the raw fibre properties?

Australia produces loo paper from local wood chip, native forests or weed species of pine trees natural in the USA and Carribean. Bamboo is also very weedy, more so when introduced to Australia. Both are sustainable forest products. Although in practice exploitation has replaced natural diversity with mono cultures.

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I like bamboo I have a bamboo pillow and it is excellent , my only reservation is how long it takes to dry after washing , mr reason for saying this is my husband has bamboo socks , and they never finish drying as cotton does even in a clothes dryer , they take many hours longer eg at least overnight ,so I would be cautious about sheets

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I see many things like socks made from bamboo as I don’t like traditional cotton as I sweat to much. I find the bamboo combination with other materials to be effective at reducing the sweat. Sometimes they don’t last as long but are comfortable to wear. I cannot comment on bamboo for sheeting. I notice that it is either marketed as being eco friendly and sustainable. Not sure what you think about those terms.

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