Bamboo Fabrics: Is it Really Sustainable?

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During the beginning of the 21st century, consumers began to demand information on how and where the products were being made. Until that point, catalyzed by the industrial revolution, manufacturers didn’t follow the necessary guidelines to protect the environment in any way to reduce the impact they had on the earth while producing these items. Fabric manufacturing is one such industry. This push from the consumers has led brands to look for alternate sources for sustainable manufacturing. Bamboo fabrics are such an alternate product. In this article, we will try to understand whether Bamboo fabrics can be really considered sustainable fabric or not.


A brief history in Bamboo fabrics

Bamboo products have been a part of many East Asian countries for thousands of years. It is recorded that in China and India, people relied heavily on bamboo for making a wide range of products like household items, textiles, etc. People have been extracting the fibers since the early ages.

In India, West Bengal is famous for its Bamboo products. Hundreds of artisans still follow the traditional method of making products there. In China, people used to make papers using bamboo fibers. But they quickly came to understand that the soft fibers could also be used for making fabrics.

A significant event in history related to bamboo occurred in 1881 when a patent was issued for a unique yarn where bamboo and wool were combined. Then in the early 2000s, Beijing University developed the first Bamboo making process. The process involved the usage of modern solvents that removed glues and modern bleaching chemicals that gave the fibers a whiter look. Thus, bamboo fibers began to get popularity in the developed countries.


What is Bamboo Fabric?

Bamboo fabric, as the name indicates, is a fabric that is made from Bamboo fibers. It is considered to be one of the best sustainable fabrics available now. The reason is that bamboo fibers are highly breathable, protect the skin against UV light, and have anti-bacterial properties.

Besides, the bamboo grows exponentially without much energy. To put this into perspective, it grows up to 3.5 feet per day. This is 1000 times as fast as an oak tree. Since it is a type of grass, it is highly resilient to damage. It does not require any pesticides or chemicals for growth. Furthermore, it has an extensive rooting system that grows on average four to six shoots a year, naturally replenishing itself. It is also 100% bio-degradable.

Across Central America, South America, Africa, India, East Asia, Japan, and some parts of Australia, more than 1000s of species of bamboo are grown in the wild. It is approximately 49 million acres of the world’s surface. Today, China is the largest bamboo yarn/fabric producer in the world.


How Bamboo Fabric is made?

Bamboo can be turned into fabric in several ways. We will discuss the popular two methods.

  1. Combing raw bamboo

The fibers present in the bamboo shoots are combed out and spun into yarn to form ‘Bamboo linen’. This is slightly a coarse thread that has a rough edge. This is not an ideal source for making soft bamboo fabrics. This process is a labor-intensive task making this item expensive in the market.

  1. Cellulose Extraction

This method is the most common way of extracting yarns from bamboo shoots. The end result of this process is a silky smooth bamboo fabric that is commonly used for making sheets, underwear, and other commercial products. It is a highly intensive chemical process.

  • The bamboo is cut and dissolved using a chemical solution to produce a pulpy viscous material.
  • This pulpy material is passed through a spinneret and spun into fibers.
  • Fibers are further processed to make yarns and fabrics.

The final product is always a soft fabric that has qualities everyone loves in a fabric. It is also called ‘Bamboo Rayon’. Because the process is similar to that of rayon.

Read more about viscose fabrics


What are the properties of Bamboo fabrics?

  1. Breathable
  2. Elastic than cotton
  3. UV protection
  4. Thin material
  5. Controls the temperature
  6. Hypoallergenic
  7. Moisture absorbent
  8. Quick-dry
  9. Silky smooth and texture
  10. Odorless


Is Bamboo fabrics sustainable?

Now you may be thinking that Bamboo is surely one of the best sustainable products available in the market. But wait. Before we jump to this conclusion, let consider some facts.

The majority of today’s bamboo fabric production is done in China. As we all know, the Chinese government is not transparent about its procedures. The common extraction process involves hazardous chemicals like caustic soda and carbon disulfide. Both as toxic to humans and the environment. If these items are not handled well during the production process, it will create more harm to the earth.

It is estimated that about 50% of the hazardous waste from ‘Bamboo rayon’ cannot be recaptured. But this does not mean that waste is dumped into the environment. With modern technology, it is possible to reuse the entire chemical using a closed-loop system. In the past few years, manufacturers have really advanced in the way they manage waste from production.

So, Is bamboo fabric sustainable? We can say that if you are buying bamboo fabrics from reliable and certified manufacturers, then chances are that it is sustainable. Otherwise, the chances are very less. There have been incidents where farmlands were used for growing bamboo and people losing their sight and good health due to the exposure to hazardous material used in manufacturing.

“Buying from responsible and transparent brands can help to mitigate the risk of sourcing unethical and unsustainable bamboo fabrics”


Which certification can be used for identifying sustainability?

OEKO-TEX certification is one of the best certifications available in the market to verify that a product is sustainable. According to their guidelines, the manufacturing process and chemical involved also follows the sustainability instructions. Read more about sustainability certificates.


Share this article among your colleagues and comment your thought below. Do you think Bamboo fabric manufacturing will be more sustainable in the future?

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