Can Bamboo really be made into a Soft, Sustainable Fabric?

bamboo drying

When I first learned about bamboo fabric, I couldn’t help but go back to the two years when I lived in Costa Rica where bamboo plants grew abundantly along the river beds in almost every small town and major city throughout the country. I never once thought of bamboo being converted into organic bamboo apparel or bamboo sheets. It was simply a hard, woody plant that grew in dense jungles and was a favorite snack for panda bears. That’s it. Nothing more. Clearly, I was wrong. When I first slept on bamboo sheets, I couldn’t believe how silky soft they felt. They were so smooth and light that I thought they would rip, but I was wrong again. They’ve actually been more durable and longer lasting than any other set of sheets that I’ve owned.

Why is bamboo fabric so soft?
Bamboo fabric is soft because it contains two different types of fibers. One of these fibers is mechanical and the other is chemical. The chemical fibers are used to make bamboo bedding, and they’re one of the reasons that bamboo bedding is so soft. These chemical fibers in bamboo are called viscose, which you can obtain by treating the chemical fibers in bamboo with sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, two natural compounds. It’s the same process used to produce transparent cellulose film, which gives you an idea of just how soft bamboo bedding is (because cellulose film is quite soft itself). Hence, bamboo fabrics, which are generally made of this viscose, are some of the softest fabrics you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Bamboo textiles are cloth, yarn, and clothing made out of bamboo fibers. While historically used only for structural elements, such as bustles and the ribs of corsets, in recent years a range of technologies have been developed allowing bamboo fiber to be used in a wide range of textile and fashion applications. Modern bamboo clothing is clothing made from either 100% bamboo yarn or a blend of bamboo and cotton yarn. The bamboo yarn can also be blended with other textile fibers such as hemp or even spandex.

There are several reasons why bamboo fabrics are highly sustainable, and the fact that a chemical compound is used to achieve the ultimate softness possible is not cause for the fabric to be considered a hazard to the environment. Here are just a few reasons bamboo fabrics should definitely be considered ‘green’ products:
• FACT: Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, so it is easy to replenish after you’ve harvested bamboo stalks.
• FACT: Bamboo requires no pesticides or fertilizers to grow efficiently, unlike the majority of other crops, such as cotton.
• FACT: Bamboo keeps soil from eroding, which keeps the earth where it grows fertile and lush.
• FACT: Bamboo forests produce more than 30% more oxygen that forests of trees of the same size.

Why does the viscose have to be treated with chemicals?
This treatment is all part of the process of turning the hard bamboo plant into a fabric that’s soft enough for your baby to sleep on. Sodium hydroxide, which is more commonly known as caustic soda, is used in a wide range of processes worldwide. Some of these include the production of soaps, paper, foods, and all manner of fabrics, including all cotton fabrics.

Is caustic soda dangerous?
Caustic soda is not dangerous to human health, as long as it is disposed of properly after it has been used in manufacturing processes. It only helps bamboo bedding to become as soft as it possibly can. It’s quite easy to recycle the caustic soda during the manufacturing process, so that it can be reused several different times.

Also, in more recent news, manufacturers and retailers are using [closed-loop] mechanical processes with the aid of bio-enzymes and less harmful chemicals, with less water and less energy, to get bamboo fibers. Many manufacturers are looking forward to getting natural bamboo fabric 100 percent sustainable and 100 percent green, with all the unique properties of bamboo present in it, into the market.

The Miracle of Bamboo
Bamboo can be made into the world’s most comfortable fabric. Organic bamboo clothing is twice as soft as the softest cotton. Don’t take my word for it, though. You can actually visit bamboo clothing retailers, like Cariloha, to feel the bamboo-soft difference for yourself.

For those days when it’s too cold or too hot for comfort, bamboo fibers are a natural insulator solution that keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Bamboo is 3 degrees cooler than cotton, and it wicks moisture away from your body. It’s also naturally odor resistant and hypoallergenic. On top of it all, bamboo is an sustainable alternative to almost anything out there, making it one of the most sustainable, renewable resources known on the planet.

Bamboo’s porous fibers make a cloth that breathes. Organic bamboo clothing can dry in half the time of cotton, and can be worn year round, providing additional warmth in winter and cooling in summer.

Bamboo is a renewable resource. It is one of the fastest growing woody plants and regenerates naturally. Trees are typically harvested every 40 – 200 years. Bamboo (a grass) can be planted, grown to maturity and harvested all in a period of less than 10 years.

Bamboo forests clean the air. Bamboo can sequester four times more CO2 than trees, making it very effective at scrubbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Bamboo removes CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis by using carbon as an energy source and converting it into plant tissue, which releases oxygen (O2) as a by-product.

Bamboo requires very little water to grow. There is sound evidence that the water-use efficiency of bamboo is twice that of trees. Compare bamboo to cotton, which is a thirsty crop and can take up to 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton. Some estimates indicate that cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities.

Bamboo grows organically without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. Cotton uses one third of a pound of pesticides to grow enough cotton to make just one T-shirt. Only 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, yet cotton accounts for nearly 25 percent of the world’s insecticide market and 11 percent of the sale of global pesticides. Many of these pesticides are hazardous and toxic.

Get your feel for bamboo fabrics at a Cariloha store near you or visit their website.

Tell us your experiences with bamboo in the comments. Is it truly as soft and comfortable as it’s made out to be? Would you switch out all your cotton sheets for bamboo sheets?