Ann Robinson Textiles | Tencel and Bamboo: Natural Fibers or Not?
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Tencel and Bamboo: Natural Fibers or Not?

Rayon, viscose (another name for rayon), tencel, and bamboo are among the more well-known fibers made from cellulose. Cellulose is the primary component of the cell walls in plants, including wood, cotton, and hemp.

Rayon has long been considered a semi-synthetic fiber. It is made from cellulose (from plants = natural), but then it is treated with caustic soda and carbon disulfide (a clear, colorless or faintly yellow, poisonous, flammable liquid used chiefly in the manufacture of cellophane, viscose rayon, and pesticides). This solution – often referred to as viscose – is then passed through spinnerets (like shower heads) to create fiber strings.

When tencel was introduced in 1992 and mass produced by 1995, it was hailed as the green fiber of the 21st century. Later, in 2003, bamboo appeared on the market in the form yarn and clothing. So then we had two new “natural” fibers.

But, there’s never only one side to the story. Both tencel (from trees) and bamboo (botanically categorized as a grass) are biodegradable and as such are considered natural. Moreover, the plants grow quickly, can be planted in areas unsuitable for other crops, and rarely need any pesticides or herbicides. But issues arise with the way the cellulose is processed.

The tencel process involves dissolving wood pulp with a solvent which – unlike the process for rayon – is a relatively non-toxic solution. Once the process it completed, the solution is evaporated removing the water, and the remainder is reused in the next cycle.

Bamboo is manufactured in a similar way to tencel but with one important difference. The bamboo process utilizes carbon disulfide, the clear, colorless or faintly yellow liquid described above.

One can argue the pros and cons of getting the cellulose from tree farms (tencel) or natural colonies (bamboo), and one can hope that the bamboo industry takes a few cues from tencel’s “closed-loop” processing method. Either way, these new fibers are eco-friendly to grow, and ever so much nicer than any of the synthetics!

Question:  Tencel and Bamboo: Natural Fibers or Not?
Answer: Both are biodegradable and so are considered natural.

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