When so called bamboo fibre and yarn came out it sounded wonderful. A fibre with claims to properties such as eco-friendly, organically grown, naturally antibacterial, UV ray protection, or biodegradable? Who wouldn’t want to use such stuff. Was it too good to be true?
As it turns out in most cases, the answer is yes. In the last year both Canada and the U.S. labelling laws were being enforced regarding the use of the word “bamboo” as a fibre. It turns out that the majority of the yarn and fabric being sold as 100% Bamboo is in reality Rayon which has been made from the cellulose of bamboo plants. The CCB states that whenever an article is made of man-made rayon fibers derived from bamboo, that the generic fiber name must first make reference to rayon, or the corresponding chemical process outlined in the TLAR, and can then be followed by the words “from bamboo“. I have been informed that all rayon bamboo fibre is manufactured through one company, though there are many distributors expounding the green and antimicrobial nature of this product.
Is the manufacture of rayon “green“? No. Do yarns going the process of rayon manufacture retain the qualities of bamboo, such as antibacterial properties? No. Can most people tell what type of cellulose any rayon yarn is manufactured from? No. Is the uprooting of natural forests to plant bamboo plantations “green”? No.
There are two methods of processing Bamboo fibre. The mechanical way, similar to the way that hemp and flax are processed results in a natural fibre. This involves crushing the stalks and letting natural enzymes break it down into fibers that can be spun and woven into a linen like fabric which is much more expensive than even rayon bamboo. The Canadian Compeititon Bureau notes that it is not aware of any consumer textile articles made of natural bamboo fibre currently being sold in the Canadian marketplace.
The second process involves the use of toxic chemicals resulting in the fabric commonly known as rayon, viscose, modal or tencel (lyocell/tencel is slightly more eco-friendly than rayon as it uses a closed loop system with the same chemicals). Sodium hydroxide (NaOH- also known as caustic soda or lye) is used to ‘cook’ the fiber into a form of regenerated cellulose fiber, carbon disulfide is used for hydrolysis alkalization combined with multi phase
bleaching. None of which are eco-friendly and one might question the industry safe standards in the countries producing rayon bamboo.
Weavers, spinners and fibre artists are slow to wake up to the fact they have been bamboozled. Rayon is rayon, even if bamboo has been used somewhere along the line in the manufacturing process. Those people buying yarns, fibres and fabrics labelled as bamboo are paying silk prices for rayon.