What is Bamboo Viscose? Is It Really Eco-Friendly?

If you’re wondering what is bamboo viscose and why it has become so popular, then you’re in the right place.

Bamboo has taken off as an eco-friendly material of choice in recent years thanks to its fast growing and carbon dioxide removing properties.

The raw material, once only widely used for building houses, has grown to have a range of universal uses like bamboo toothbrushes, furniture, home textiles, and even bamboo clothing.

The bamboo fabric market has seen dramatic growth in recent years from 2017 to 2022. When we refer to bamboo fabric, we’re specifically talking about bamboo viscose, which is also sometimes referred to as bamboo rayon or regenerated bamboo.

Let’s jump in.

What is Bamboo Viscose?

Bamboo viscose is a bio-based semi-synthetic material created from the cellulose fibers from bamboo. Cellulose is an organic compound found in plants and trees.

Similar to other semi-synthetic fabrics like Cupro, Modal, and Tencel, bamboo viscose is not considered an entirely natural fiber as it must be chemically treated to form the desired material.

How is Bamboo Viscose Made?

As we’ve mentioned, bamboo viscose is created from the cellulose fibers from the bamboo plant.

Bamboo shoots are cut down to create bamboo viscose

The most common method to create bamboo fabric is the viscose process.

Firstly, the bamboo stalks must be harvested to extract these cellulose fibers. Then, the stalks are cut down, with the farmer leaving a clean cut to encourage new stalks to grow.

Secondly, the cut stalks must be cut into smaller pieces known as bamboo chips. The bamboo chips are then soaked in sodium hydroxide (also known as caustic soda)to extract the cellulose from the bamboo. What’s left after this stage is a cellulose pulp that’s dried into bamboo sheets.

The sheets are then ground up and put through a spinneret – which creates the bamboo yarn. In the same process as creating modal fabric, the cellulose strands are then soaked in sulphuric acid to form a yarn. Once washed, bleached, and dried, the bamboo yarn is ready to be loaded onto spools for fabric production.

As you can see, there are steps in the materials production that require harmful chemicals. Discharging these chemicals can cause the pollution of waterways and the destruction of ecosystems. The chemicals used are also detrimental to human health and can cause burns if not handled correctly.

What is Bamboo Lyocell?

You may have heard brands using a material known as Bamboo lyocell. If you’re wondering if bamboo viscose fabric and bamboo lyocell are the same, the difference lies in their production technique.

In recent years, a closed-loop process has been introduced, also known as the lyocell process to turn cellulose fibres into textiles.

The big difference between the lyocell process and the viscose process is that the chemicals used aren’t dumped in the lyocell process. Instead, solvents are used, which are recycled, regenerated, and used again in the process. The closed-loop process is preferred in terms of the environment, as it doesn’t lead to waste chemicals.

In addition, the lyocell process doesn’t chemically change the bamboo fibres, which leads to the material being considered a more ‘natural’ alternative. Still, however, bamboo lyocell is a semi-synthetic textile.

What is a Bamboo Rayon?

You may have heard the name bamboo rayon and bamboo viscose used interchangeably. The reason is that they’re referring to the exact same material. Bamboo rayon = bamboo viscose.

Properties of Bamboo Viscose

Bamboo viscose fabric is often used in home textiles such as bedding and clothing such as activewear. This is because it has high moisture-wicking ability, which will wick away sweat, keeping you cool.

Along with moisture-wicking properties, the material has the following properties:

  • Soft to touch
  • Breathable
  • Stretchy
  • Durable

Is Bamboo Viscose Sustainable?

While bamboo viscose has grown in popularity as a ‘sustainable textile’, is bamboo viscose actually sustainable?

Environmental Pros

  • Fast growing requires less land clearing compared to a tree or eucalyptus fibers.
  • It requires very little water to grow and can be grown without irrigation – this makes it a good alternative to cotton, which requires large quantities of water.
  • Grown without the use of pesticides, which is better for the environment as pesticides pollute the soil and waterways

Environmental Cons

While bamboo itself is a relatively environmentally friendly material, unfortunately, the viscose method of materials production is now.

  • The viscose process causes negative environmental problems due to the waste products from the process, i.e. the sodium hydroxide and acid, being discharged into the environment. This causes damage to ecosystems and aquatic life.
  • There is also concern about the source of the bamboo. Bamboo sourced from noncertified sources can lead to deforestation and the destruction of habitats and ecosystems.

Is Bamboo Viscose Biodegradable?

We’re currently faced with the global waste textile problem. Many garments are made from un-biodegradable fabrics like polyester, which means they will take thousands of years to degrade.

Bamboo viscose, on the other hand, is biodegradable and offers a biodegradable alternative to conventional polyester.

What is Bamboo Viscose Used For?

Bamboo viscose is commonly used to produce a range of textiles, including:

  • Clothing
  • Underwear
  • Bedding including bamboo sheets and duvets
  • Home Furnishings

Wrapping Up: Is Bamboo Viscose Eco-Friendly?

Overall, while bamboo is a fast-growing eco-friendly crop, the process of creating bamboo viscose has many environmental disadvantages. Therefore bamboo viscose cannot be as eco-friendly as many claim.

On the other hand, a more eco-friendly alternative to bamboo viscose is bamboo lyocell, a fabric that shares similar properties but is created in a closed loop process.

If you’re looking for sustainable clothing or home textiles, check that the bamboo material is produced from the closed loop process, rather than the viscose process.

If you want to discover other fabric guides like this one, check out our guides on organic cotton vs. cotton, or look at our linen and hemp guides.

Bethany
Bethany

Bethany Worthington BSc (Hons) (she/her) is the Sustainable Fashion Editor and Co-founder of Ecothes. She has a passion for the environment, and a long love of all things clothing, and combines those two interests with Ecothes. In her free time she loves dancing, hiking in the countryside, and laughing with friends.

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