What is Bamboo Fabric? - A Complete Guide to Bamboo Fabrics

When you think of bamboo, you probably think of stalks of bamboo comprising island huts or gardens in various countries such as Japan, not cuddly baby clothes made out of bamboo fabrics. This does not comprise all of the uses of bamboo. The common plant also produces fiber used in making fabric. Bamboo fabric started as a product of a few countries in East Asia thousands of years ago. Today the largest exporter of this fabric is China.

You probably have a lot of questions about bamboo and how it is used like:

  • How is bamboo made into fabric?
  • What is bamboo fabric made out of?
  • Where does bamboo fabric come from?
  • What is bamboo fabric like?
  • What type of bamboo is used for clothing?

Let's answer those questions now, in this deep-dive into bamboo material.

What Is Bamboo Fabric?

Bamboo fabric provides a very breathable fabric with moisture-wicking abilities and heat retention abilities. This stretchable fabric provides an ideal fabric for clothing, shopping bags, backpacks, curtains, tablecloths, baby stroller blankets and much more. Its heat retention abilities make it a popular sweater fabric. Also referred to as bamboo linen, bamboo yarn, bamboo rayon and retting.

Its use does not always consist of pure bamboo. Sometimes its fabric composition also includes semi-synthetic viscose. The cellulose extracted from bamboo forms yarn. These fabrics made from bamboo fibers offer many possible thread count variations ranging from 300 to 600. The higher the thread count, the softer the fabric. Bamboo provides an easy-care fabric since you can machine wash it in warm water.

Many varieties of this fabric exist, but not all are made using environmentally sustainable practices. Some are harmful to the environment, so you should investigate the company before purchasing their products. Some are produced ethically with respect for the company’s workers.

How Bamboo Fabric Is Made

You can make many different types of bamboo fabric and each type has its own process. That adds complexity to the question “How is bamboo fabric made?” The most common type, bamboo viscose, costs little to manufacture, but can harm the environment and may create workplace hazards without taking the appropriate precautions. The term viscose refers to a type of cloth crafted by the viscose method of the early 20th century. It creates a version of rayon, a semi-synthetic fabric imbued with the same qualities of silk. This complex process creates a lot of waste though and that makes it one of the less sustainable methods. It uses tree cellulose which can be used as a sustainable raw material under the right conditions. The viscose manner produces a contaminated by-product called carbon disulfide. This toxic chemical can cause health issues.

First, the manufacturer extracts cellulose from the wood pulp. To do this, the bamboo gets chopped into tiny chunks which get exposed to chemical solvents to mine the cellulose. The other processes also use harmful chemicals such as caustic soda to make this viscose fabric.

The manufacturer compresses the cellulose sheets, exposes them to carbon disulfide, then filters the sheets. Fed through a spinneret, the divides the sheets into strands. The strands soak in vats of sulfuric acid which transforms them into filaments. The filaments get woven into fabric.

An alternate method, the closed-loop production process uses methods that produce an organic fabric. It does use solvents, but they’re recaptured, reused, and impact the environment little because of this reuse. The bamboo still gets crushed into small chunks, but a natural enzyme separates the cellulose. Once washed, these fibers get spun into yarn. The resulting fabric goes by the name bamboo linen.

The highest quality bamboo fabric uses the mechanical process of closed-loop production. It produces the strongest, longest-lasting fabric.

What is the use case of bamboo fabrics?

Bamboo provides a viable substitute for cotton making it a popular substitute in areas that cannot grow cotton, but bamboo abounds. It beats cotton for breathability and stretch. Easily woven, it can be used to create fabrics of various thread counts. The resulting fabrics exhibit a higher tensility, but a thinner cloth. This makes this fabric ideal for clothing marketed in areas of hot temperatures and humid conditions.

Its use cases abound. You can find bamboo fabric used for making baby clothes, blankets, sheets, towels, household textiles, children’s and baby pajamas (PJs), underwear, socks, T-shirts and much more. The soft, durable nature of the bamboo cloth makes it ideal for baby clothes and business shirts. One of its more recent applications is in intimate apparel garments and baby pajamas. Manufacturers can dye the cloth bright colors that won’t fade. Bamboo fabric uses also include as a fabric for bathing suits and cover-ups, nightgowns and nighties.

Bamboo also gets used as a textile in non-woven fabric products. It appears in many everyday use items such as sanitary napkins or pads, bandages, gauze, industrial and medical face masks, surgical scrubs, doctor’s coats, mattresses and food packaging similar to cellophane. The bamboo kun used in these industrial applications provides an economical and environmentally-friendly choice.

It appears in many decorating products. Bed sheets provide the most common product in which it gets used followed by pillow shams and cases, pillows, comforters and duvet covers, mattress pads, drapes and blinds, bed skirts, television covers, sofa slipcovers and tablecloths. Essentially, for any product which uses a cloth of any type, you can find a bamboo fabric version. In the bathroom, you can find bamboo washcloths, hand towels, body towels, bath rugs, tub mats, bath sheets, shower curtains and cloth toilet lid covers. You'll find that the many benefits of bamboo fabrics outweigh their slight extra cost or how hard it might be to locate.

Is bamboo fabric cooler than cotton?

It does provide a cooler and more breathable material. This makes it a good fabric for athleticwear and fancy baby clothes.

Is bamboo fabric safe?

Bamboo provides a safe cloth for making everyday items. It has a reputation for providing antibacterial properties, but that only occurs in the raw material.
The diversity of bamboo textiles shows when you see them in
Free Birdees baby blankets and toddler blankets, baby pajamas and baby stroller blankets. You can also find adult and children's pajamas among the clothes made of bamboo, so you could buy family matching pajamas.

Why Bamboo Fabrics are Popular

As a crop, the benefits of bamboo fabrics range from their raw materials' use as an annual crop to their pervasive nature. A farmer would seldom have a problem growing bamboo. This invasive plant might take over the farmer's yard and other fields but would never require coaxing to grow up tall and grow upright. Despite concerns about the environmental sustainability of one of the processes of converting the plant to a textile, on the farmers' part, no such concerns exist. Pandas do not munch farm crops and the Chinese government placed protections on the plant.

It grows so readily throughout the world that it has become a popular crop throughout the world. It can crop up in a variety of climates, which makes it useful in areas that otherwise could not grow a money-making crop.

It also provides a cultural connection for China and Japan since bamboo is a native plant to both countries. Its use in manufacturing has transitioned a traditional, cultural product into a mass-produced one, providing an outlet for those who want to combine tradition with modernism. Few such products exist throughout the world since most culturally traditional items must inherently remain handmade to continue their significance. The invention of rayon in the late 1800s allowed bamboo as a clothing and housewares material to avoid that limitation. It can be sustainably and organically grown and the two latter methods of creating bamboo fabric have provided a way to mass-produce the cloth once only available in the country of China.

The flexibility of natural bamboo fabric and China's ease in growing it, as well as, its lax environmental standards made it a popular location for corporations to site their textile plants in the 1970s. Since that time, China has embraced tougher standards, but the companies have remained in the country. This has allowed the country to grow its industry and has provided many jobs.

Other countries have experienced a similar situation. Indonesia, India and Pakistan comprise the three other major exporters of bamboo cloth. The US also produces bamboo as a significant crop but uses it domestically.

Why Bamboo Fabrics are Best for Baby Clothing

Babies have sensitive skin. The softness of bamboo cloth provides a fabric that can lay against their skin without irritating it. These fabrics also provide a tough and long-lasting cloth that stands up to rough wear. Once babies start crawling, they can quickly wear out the knees of many pairs of pants, but the tensility of bamboo keeps that from happening. baby clothes made out of bamboo fabrics, baby blankets, children’s PJs and other baby items prove to be some of the softest, yet most durable fabrics available. Similar to cotton, you can use this fabric to make thin summer wear that helps you stay cool or make heavy sweaters that keep you warm in winter.

What are the different types of bamboo fabrics available?

Three major types of bamboo cloth exist. The variations depend on their manufacturing technique. You could purchase bamboo viscose, lyocell-type bamboo fabric, or mechanically-produced fine bamboo fiber. Bamboo viscose results in reduced manufacturing costs, but lyocell-type bamboo fabric produces a similar fabric using a safer, closed-loop production method with no chemical structure alterations. Mechanically-produced fine bamboo fiber costs the most and requires the largest time investment, but results in the softest, strongest, most durable cloth.

Bamboo vs. Cotton Bamboo vs. Cotton

When shopping, you might wonder how bamboo fabrics vs. cotton fabric bamboo fabrics vs. cotton fabric compares. Bamboo provides a cheaper alternative than cotton as well as a softer one. The rayon bamboo results in less softness, but an organic bamboo fabric results in a softer material. Some designers craft fabric blends of cotton and bamboo to leverage the properties of both. These bamboo-cotton blends typically get used for bath towels and bedsheets. The towels absorb water better than cotton alone and pick up or produce little lint. They exhibit a hearty weight with unrivaled softness only matched by bamboo cotton.

Is bamboo fabric environment friendly?

It can be depending on how it gets produced. The process of making bamboo fabric requires a way to separate the cellulose in the bamboo from the bamboo grass and stalks. The non-eco manner of doing this requires solvents dangerous to human health. The other two methods provide more ecological ways to produce this cloth.

Is Bamboo Fabric Sustainable?

Bamboo grows naturally in the countries that produce the most of this product. Growing bamboo as grass or a tree provides a sustainable plant that works well with the natural environment. It can grow in places not suitable for other crops. It matures quickly and can be cultivated with little environmental impact. The process depends on the grower though.

Because one of the three processes used to make this fabric uses neurotoxin carbon disulfide and which also causes organ damage. Workers who are exposed to this chemical can develop psychosis, liver damage, coma, and blindness, and this chemical can also cause heart attacks. While some factories may protect their workers from carbon disulfide, the legal limits of this substance that have been determined by the Chinese government are far above the safety threshold indicated by medical scientists.

Although pandas dine on bamboo as a major food source, its use for fabric does not endanger their food source. The plant grows quickly and gets harvested from the ground up. Its root system never gets touched and branches out underground. This highly invasive plant can become hard to contain making it simple for farmers to enjoy a bumper crop.

9. How are bamboo trees grown?

Today, they are planted using sustainable methods required by law. Initially, the plant grew naturally in the areas in which it was used to make the fabric originally. When bamboo gained popularity though, Chinese growers began to clear-cut existing forests to make room for larger bamboo fields. Recognizing the environmental dangers of this though, the Chinese Communist Party instituted regulations in the late 1990s to quell the process. Since that time, Chinese growers use sustainable planting methods. The bamboo plant requires no pesticide or herbicide to thrive, nor does it need complex irrigation. It can be re-planted annually making it an ideal farm crop.

10. Why is bamboo fabric better than cotton?

Cotton, wool and hemp can irritate people with sensitive skin or who exhibit an allergy to the material. Bamboo cloth produces the fewest allergic reactions of natural fiber cloths. Its fibers exhibit natural smoothness and a round shape that requires no chemical treatment. This ensures there are no spurs that might irritate the skin.

The viscose form of this fabric costs less than cotton. This can make bamboo clothing cost less. Mechanically formed bamboo fabric costs more, but it provides a luxury fabric that remains more affordable than Pima cotton, Supima cotton and Egyptian cotton.

Although both bamboo and cotton are natural fabrics, cotton requires fertilizer to grow, and it removes soil nutrients. Bamboo grows like a weed without fertilizer and goes easy on the soil.

Bamboo fabrics are breathable.

One of the reasons you will find bamboo cloth used in everything from family matching pajamas to bamboo baby clothes is its breathability. One of the most well-liked bamboo fabric characteristics, its breathable fabric provides one of the most comfortable fabrics for creating clothing and housewares. Bamboo fiber material works well as a lightweight fabric for nightgowns or a heavier bamboo material used in blankets. As thick as the clothing or houseware becomes though, it remains breathable. This makes it ideal for sheets or athleticwear or Free Birdees fancy baby clothes/quality baby clothes.

Does bamboo fabric dry quickly?

Bamboo and its’ fabric byproduct effectively absorb water. The fabric can absorb three times its weight in water. Bamboo fabric provides an unrivaled wicking ability that pulls moisture away from the skin, allowing it to evaporate. (This makes it an ideal cloth for reusable/washable baby diapers.

While this eco silk as it gets called does dry quickly, you have to follow the care instructions carefully. Although it competes with terry cloth and terry cloth velour as a bathrobe and towel material, you cannot wash these in hot water. Manufacturers recommend using cold water wash or warm water if you need to remove stains. You also should not bleach your bamboo clothes or linens. Dry them as directed so they do not shrink.

What type of bamboo is used for clothing?

The tall bamboo grass that you see growing wild in Japan and China provides the pulp for the fibers that form the bamboo fabric. This ubiquitous plant can grow almost anywhere, so you could also grow it in the southern or midwestern US. It is the same bamboo pandas love to eat.

History of Bamboo Fabric

The history of bamboo fabric is a long one, intermingled with a synthetic fabric called rayon. Although bamboo has been transformed into fabric for thousands of years, its crafting occurred on a small scale. Production occurred locally by artisans who specialized. In 1891, chemists in France achieved the first commercial production of rayon, a synthetic fabric touted as artificial silk. This discovery by English chemist Charles Frederick Cross and his French colleagues, Edward John Bevan and Clayton Beadle, required involving a highly viscous solution, hence its name, viscose.

In the 1900s, companies cropped up in the United Kingdom and the US to produce rayon. Production grew so that by the mid-1920s, rayon cost half what raw silk did and became a preferred fabric by many designers. Two decades later, scientists introduced a high tenacity rayon and a high-wet-modulus (HWM) rayon during the 1950s.

The Lyocell format that some bamboo fabric manufacturers also favor, developed in the 1970s. This form of rayon underwent another innovation in the 1980s in the UK. The updated fabric, Tencel, used an altered process commercialized during the 1990s. These later forms of rayon provided a tougher fabric that still retained the properties of silk. Bamboo became a frequently used cellulose source for the original method of producing viscose rayon. Today, you can find this as the fabric for quality baby clothes and

While some varieties of bamboo are endangered, scientists and botanists are working on ways to save them. These are not the quick-growing crop varieties of bamboo used for making bamboo fabric clothing or bamboo fiber material for medical supplies.

In Conclusion: Clothes Made from Bamboo

The bamboo fabric characteristics that made it popular in traditional China continue to make it popular today as a ready source for clothes, housewares and many textile products. Clothes made from bamboo range from bamboo baby clothes to adult T-shirts. The qualities of bamboo fabric such as softness, durability and its organic nature make it a favorite fabric for baby clothes, toddler blankets and bamboo textiles. These qualities of bamboo fabric make them ideal although the process of making bamboo fabric can put some people off. That is only the case when using the cheapest method though.

Two high-quality methods exist and these produce even softer fabric perfect for bamboo baby clothes. As bamboo fabric uses grow, the growth of bamboo increases as does the production of natural bamboo fabric. This crop can provide a source of financial independence for farmers in many locations. They can sell their crops to production facilities of bamboo cotton and bamboo fabric clothing.