Why is there so much negative media about bamboo textiles on the internet?
Generally speaking, any bamboo fabric that is actually soft is actually made from rayon, which is made from bamboo fibers using a chemical process. This is the fabric you find in bamboo sheets, bamboo blankets bamboo linen sheets, organic sheets, and organic blankets.
What is rayon?
Rayon is any fabric that is produced using a chemical process with a base of natural fibers. Rayon can be produced from any plant fiber, including and not limited to bamboo. Sometimes rayon can be referred to as rayon viscose, because the process used to produce rayon produces a viscous liquid from the natural fibers used.
Process to produce rayon
The production of rayon begins with cellulose from plant fibers. A very common form of rayon is produced using wood pulp extracts. Bamboo cellulose can be used to produce a very soft rayon as well (and is not damaging to the environment like many forms of rayon since bamboo grows so quickly and without pesticides). Sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as lye, is then used to dissolve the cellulose fibers. The solution that is produced from this process is then run between rollers to remove excess liquid. The pressed sheets that come from this process are then shredded to produce what manufacturers refer to as “white crumb”. The white crumb is then aged, simply by exposing it to oxygen. After the white crumb has been sufficiently aged, it is mixed with the solvent carbon disulfide in order to reform a cellulose-like material. The new product formed from the carbon disulfide exposure is then referred to as “yellow crumb”, because of its change in appearance. With the appearance of yellow crumb comes the ability to form the viscous solution mentioned previously. The yellow crumb is again mixed with a solvent that produces viscose, which viscose is then ripened. The process of the ripening of the viscose is accomplished very simply – that is, by letting the viscose sit for a while. This ripened viscose is then filtered so as to remove any particles that may not have been dissolved by the solvent. The viscose is then pressed to remove any air bubbles that might have remained from any previous part of the process.
The viscose is then streamed through a spinneret, which looks very similar to a shower head, in order to produce fibers (fibers that are much softer than the original cellulose would have allowed for). These viscose fibers land in a bath of sulfuric acid, which produces a chemical reaction allowing the viscose to take the form of filaments, which filaments, by this point in the process, are finally known as rayon. These rayon filaments are stretched, washed, and cut, to produce staple fibers which can be used in the production of extremely soft fabrics.
What about the chemicals used in the process? Aren’t these dangerous to the environment?
Surprisingly, Korean researchers performed a study using sludge from sewage (gross) and fabrics buried in soil to determine the biodegradability of several fabrics. Shockingly, rayon was found to be much more biodegradable than normal cotton fibers, as well as more biodegradable than acetate fibers (produced from wood pulp). It is also interesting to note that rayon can be consumed by silverfish, a wingless insect found in humid areas all over the world that does not transmit disease.
So why is this negative for bamboo textiles?
Great question. We wonder that ourselves. Since it has been proven scientifically that rayon is more biodegradable than cotton, the media really shouldn’t be saying the bamboo fabrics made from rayon are not eco-friendly. Additionally, cotton fabric prices rose drastically in 2010, and with rayon being a more economically viable choice for use in textiles, many designers began using rayon in their designs, including Isaac Mizrahi.
Realistically, rayon made from bamboo really doesn’t damage the environment at all, contrary to what the media and the FTC say. In fact, it is more biodegradable than its cotton cousin, so it is certainly a more eco-friendly choice for those trying to decide which fabric to use based on that. Ultimately, rayon is one of the softest fabrics around, and a great choice for anyone when choosing fabrics, whether they care to be eco-friendly, or not.