If you were buying a car, you wouldn’t just go to the dealer and believe every single word they say without first checking with an independent source.
But when it comes to products made from bamboo, that’s pretty much all we can do. There’s little (good) information about bamboo fabric available outside of the companies that sell it, making it very difficult to verify claims and find out if the hype is real or not.
Thankfully, this is beginning to change. As the industries of bamboo fabric and bamboo products are becoming more and more popular, more independent tests are done, more regulations are introduced, and brands are less and less able to get away with the crazy claims they once used to.
Here we put 10 of the main bamboo fabric benefits to the test. Starting with the biggest and most controversial: the claim that bamboo fabric is environmentally-friendly.
Table of Contents
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #1
Bamboo Fabric is Eco-Friendlier Than Other Fabrics
A few years after the method for bamboo viscose, the main ingredient in most bamboo fabrics, was developed in 2001 at Beijing University, it shot to fame for its potential as an eco-friendly fabric.
Since then, however, bamboo viscose and bamboo fabric have been knocked down a notch or two due to increasing awareness about the chemicals used in their processing.
Bamboo viscose is the end product of taking bamboo through a chemical manufacturing process to turn it into soft, usable fabric, typically for clothing. As it involves the use of several artificial chemicals, this process is typically not 100% sustainable and can have an impact on the environment.
But when all is said and done, the fact remains: bamboo fabric has many environmentally-friendly benefits over conventional fabrics like cotton, polyester, and nylon.
Let’s take cotton, the world’s most used fabric that’s found in about 75% of all clothes. Despite its popularity as a clothing fabric, cotton is a difficult crop to grow as it requires an immense amount of water and is particularly vulnerable to pest attacks.
According to Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN), cotton covers just 2.4% of the world’s cultivated land but uses 4.7% of the world’s pesticides and 10% of insecticides.
This makes cotton one of the world’s most water- and pesticide-intensive crops on the planet.
In comparison, bamboo is more than easy to grow, it grows tall, fast, and in many conditions—to the point that in some parts of the world it has become an invasive species.
Bamboo is a woody member of the grass family. Some of the largest bamboo can grow over 40m (130ft) tall, 25–30cm (10–12in) in diameter, and at a rate of up to 3ft per day.
Bamboo requires just 90 liters of water to produce 1kg of fabric (12 gallons to the pound), whereas cotton requires over 200 times more water to produce the same amount.
Bamboo also requires little to no need for pesticides or fertilizers due to the plant’s natural antibacterial bio-agent called ‘bamboo kun’ and the fact it has few natural pests.
On top of this, thanks to bamboo’s natural ability to grow big and fast, a large amount of bamboo can be grown in a small space and in a short amount of time.
Organic cotton may be able to compete with bamboo as an eco-fabric, but conventional cotton and bamboo fabric are not in the same worlds.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #2
Bamboo Fabric is One of The Softest Fabrics on The Planet
Many products made from bamboo fabric claim that they’re as ultra-soft and silky-smooth as a hug from a recently-bathed baby panda.
The good news is bamboo fabric is soft, and, in terms of value for money, it is among the softest you can buy without breaking the bank (or getting a good deal) on the likes of silk or cashmere.
So the question is, how soft is bamboo fabric, and is it worth spending more on premium, organic bamboo fabric to get an even greater softer baby panda feel?
One of the measures of the softness of a fabric is the thread count.
Thread count refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the fabric and the more likely it will wear well and even soften over time.
However, this does not always mean a higher thread count always means higher quality and added softness.
Good Housekeeping conducted a series of independent tests that involved blind-testing sheets for softness.
The 33 testers, who were blindfolded and didn’t know the price or thread count of sheets they were feeling, rated the bed sheets with thread counts between 300 and 500 as the highest in quality and softness.
The sheets with a higher thread count than 500 weren’t automatically better. And even sheets that fell between that range of 300 to 500 thread count weren’t always rated top.
This is because the researchers found that, as opposed to thread count, what mattered more in terms of the level of quality and softness of the sheets was the fiber content and their construction.
The tests didn’t specify the material of the sheets, but the conclusion was made that softness is determined more by the fabric and how it was made, rather than a super high 1800 thread count.
When it comes to finding super soft bamboo sheets and other bamboo products, your best bet is those made from 100% organic bamboo fabric and that are OEKO-TEX certified (explained in benefit number 4).
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #3
Bamboo Fabric is Effective at Regulating Heat
One of the most promoted benefits of bamboo products is that they’re thermal regulating, meaning they’re breathable and keep you cool in the summer and warm in winter.
In comparison to cotton and bamboo/cotton mixtures, 100% bamboo fabric has been proven to not trap heat and to wick, or move, moisture away from your body to the outer surface of the bamboo fabric where it can then evaporate.
This ability also means bamboo fiber is faster drying than cotton and it doesn’t stick to your skin in warm, humid weather, helping to keep you cool and fresh.
In cooler weather, the ability of bamboo fabric to thermoregulate means it acts as an insulator that adjusts to your body’s temperature, ensuring you don’t get too cold, but without creating a stuffy, sweaty sleeping environment.
This all sounds good in theory, but in practice, the exact properties of bamboo fabric depend on the blend of fibers (100% or mixed), the manufacturing process (for example, chemical or mechanical), and the type of weave.
For example, as explained by The Sleep Foundation, most bamboo sheets use a percale, sateen, or twill weave. These weaves affect the feel and performance of sheets in different conditions:
- Percale: This weave uses a one thread over, one thread under pattern, creating a crisp, lightweight fabric with a matte finish. Their breathability makes percale bamboo sheets incredibly popular with hot sleepers, but they’re also more prone to wrinkling.
- Sateen: The sateen weave is one thread under and three to four threads over. Sateen typically has a silky feel and a lustrous sheen. It naturally resists wrinkles, lending to a smooth look that drapes nicely over the bed. Sateen sheets are more prone to retaining heat and pilling and/or snagging.
- Twill: The twill weave has diagonal parallel ribs. This is the weave used in denim, so it may look familiar. Because the ribbing adds texture, twill sheets may not be the smoothest option, but they tend to be very durable.
(Thanks to the Sleep Foundation for the above explanation)
The result is that, in general, bamboo fabric is breathable and has great thermoregulating properties. But to find the right bamboo fabric with the properties you need for your body and the specific activity or conditions, it’s recommended to analyze the product details, ask the brand questions about how the product is made, and thoroughly check reviews.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #4
Bamboo Fabric is Great For Sensitive Skin
Due to the antibacterial properties of the bamboo plant and the ultra-softness of bamboo viscose, many brands claim their products are also great for sensitive skin.
However, this claim is most of the time a big fat lie (at least, it’s a misunderstood claim). Bamboo viscose or viscose bamboo does not retain the plant’s antibacterial properties and the fabric is made with various harsh chemicals.
The only time when bamboo fabric is recommended for sensitive skin (but it still doesn’t mean it’s antibacterial, see next point) is when a product is OEKO-TEX certified. Based in Switzerland, OEKO-TEX is an international network of research and test institutes that have created a globally recognized standard to ensure textiles are safe to use.
OEKO’s certification process involves checking every single component of a product, from button to thread, for known harmful and prohibited substances including formaldehyde, asbestos, lead, cadmium, chlorinated phenols, and lindane.
The OEKO-Tex 100 is the most comprehensive certificate as it means the fabric has been tested by independent labs to ensure it’s either free from or contains harmless levels of various harmful compounds and elements.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #5
Bamboo Fabric is 100% Biodegradable & Recyclable
All bamboo fabrics are made from regenerated cellulose fiber. As such, they’re often considered to be biodegradable. However, the reality is the biodegradability and recyclability of bamboo fabric isn’t 100% clear.
In terms of biodegradability, the chemicals used in the production of bamboo viscose fabric—carbon disulfide and sodium hydroxide—are synthetic. So while bamboo viscose is bio-based, it’s still made with potentially harmful chemicals that may not be great for the Earth.
Bamboo viscose is said to take up to a year to fully decompose. This may not be as quick as some materials, but it’s much quicker than traditional textiles, which can take around 200 years, and petroleum-based synthetic fabrics, which can take around 500 years to decompose.
In terms of recyclability, the industries of bamboo fabric and bamboo clothing are relatively new, and so manufacturers like BAM Clothing are still working out the processes needed to make their bamboo clothing recyclable.
Two types of bamboo fabric that are 100% biodegradable and recyclable are bamboo lyocell and bamboo linen. As explained by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, bamboo linen is created in the same way as hemp or flax linen: the fibers are picked, combed out, and formed into a fabric mechanically without any added chemicals, so they’re truer to the original source.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #6
Bamboo Fabric is Antibacterial & Antifungal
With so many brands making false claims, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published an article debunking the claim that bamboo products are antibacterial.
The problem stems from companies claiming the properties of the bamboo plant remain as benefits of the final product.
As the FTC explains, a bamboo plant can resist the growth of bacteria, but there is no evidence that bamboo viscose fabric (or bamboo rayon) made from processed bamboo is antibacterial.
Bamboo fabric that may retain the antibacterial properties of the plant is made through a chemical-free mechanical process and is often rough or scratchy—this is bamboo linen. Albeit antibacterial, this is often not the best choice for fabric you touch like clothing or bedding.
So if you see a brand claiming that their bamboo underwear is 100% antibacterial and odor-resistant, it could be true, but if it is, they’ll probably be the most uncomfortable undies in the world.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #7
Bamboo Fabric is Made Without The Use of Pesticides
In the same Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mentioned above, one of the things they confirm as a fact is that bamboo thrives in many locations and grows quickly using little, to no, pesticides.
The key in this sentence is ‘little’. As long as there are no regulations, manufacturers may still use artificial pesticides and fertilizers to try cut corners and gain more from their crops.
But the fact is, the bamboo plant needs little help from pesticides thanks to its natural antibacterial properties, as well as little help from fertilizers thanks to being a super fast-growing plant of the evergreen grass family.
In fact, in many areas of the world, such as in parts of Mexico, bamboo is an invasive species that is thriving and out-competing native species.
Bamboo also doesn’t need massive of amounts of water and so does not require constant irrigation and is not threatened by droughts.
The way to ensure a bamboo product did not involve the use of pesticides or fertilizers in its production is to only buy from brands that source 100% organic bamboo.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #8
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #8: Bamboo Fabric is UV Resistant
The claim that bamboo fabric is UV resistant is everywhere.
It’s not unusual to see a manufacturer or brand claim that because the bamboo plant has natural ultraviolet (UV) resistant properties, its product can block up to 99% of the sun’s harmful rays from your skin.
This is downright wrong in many cases and can be incredibly harmful—especially for those with sensitive skin (who often use bamboo products).
The bamboo plant has been proven to have the ability to naturally absorb ultraviolet light thanks to containing lignin—one of the most abundant biopolymers on the planet (Whether or not all types of bamboo in every part of the world have this ability is another question).
Stuides have shown that it’s rare for lignin to make it to the final product. Conventional methods to process bamboo fibers, such as viscose methods (the most popular), involve the removal of lignin and, therefore, do not retain any of the unique UV absorption properties of the bamboo plant in the fibers.
The result: bamboo viscose is not UV resistant to any degree, no matter what the product descriptions say, unless the product has added UV protection from another source.
The good news is that it is possible for bamboo fabric to retain lignin and its UV absorption properties if it’s not chemically, but mechanically, processed, such as is the case with the less popular and typically more expensive bamboo lyocell and bamboo linen.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #9
Bamboo Fabric is Stretchier Than Other Fabrics
Bamboo fabric does have the natural ability to stretch and expand much more effectively than many other fibers—this is why you often see products like bamboo baby clothes, bamboo leggings, and bamboo sportswear.
The reason behind bamboo’s stretchability is that it’s much easy to weave bamboo fabric, over other fabrics, into textiles with high thread counts. Therefore, it’s possible to make bamboo clothing and fabrics that are often thinner than their cotton counterpart while still retaining a similar or greater level of ‘tensility’ or stretchability.
This ability to stretch increases when Lycra or some other stretchy fabric is blended with bamboo fabric.
Thankfully, though, not all bamboo fabrics are as stretchy as others—for instance, the weave of bamboo sheets and bamboo bed covers is made to be very tight and difficult to stretch.
This is good as a downside of bamboo’s stretchiness is that some fabrics can be prone to shrinkage and wrinkling, depending on their production process.
Bamboo Fabric Benefit #10
Bamboo Fabric Can Benefit The Environment
If grown organically and in a sustainable manner—i.e. on a small scale and without chopping down huge forests—cultivating bamboo to make into fabric can actually be beneficial for the environment.
Perhaps the biggest benefit for the environment of the bamboo plant is that it naturally sequesters carbon (more than slower-growing trees and many other heavily farmed plants like cotton) and releases large amounts of oxygen.
Studies have shown that a mature grove of bamboo can generate 30%-35% more oxygen than an equal area of forest.
Scientific American also reported that due to its very deep root systems and the fact that it is a grass that merely needs to be cut, as opposed to being uprooted and replanted, bamboo plants do not degrade or disturb the soil or require the use of heavy machinery during harvesting.
The result: when grown organically and sustainably, bamboo is a highly efficient renewable resource that has the potential to act as a carbon sink and protect the land from soil erosion.
The Final Verdict on Bamboo Fabric Benefits
There is no denying that bamboo is a miracle plant. But this doesn’t mean that bamboo fabric is a miracle product—at least not in the current day.
The market for bamboo fabric is still very young—a little over 10 years—and the industry has a long way to go in terms of transparency, regulations, sustainable manufacturing methods, and general awareness of bamboo as an alternative material.
For now, bamboo fabric has many benefits to offer those looking for a super soft, heat-regulating, eco-friendly alternative to conventional fabrics.
The key is to do your research and not allow brands to fool you with their false claims about their bamboo products being antibacterial, UV resistant, and completely good for the environment.
We’re here to help with that—our Panda-Approved and Softest Footprint ratings are only given to the products we believe are of the high-quality and to the brands that take sustainability seriously.
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