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Bamboo ?

June 5, 2010

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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2010 8:44 am

    I just read the related bits of the Intentional Spinner last night and thought of you as I did so. 🙂

    I’ve been telling all my weaving/spinning/fibre friends about this ever since you woke me up to the fact – and am pleased as punch that my fibre supplier labels all her not-really-bamboo as “rayon bamboo” in line with regulations.


  2. Evelyn Oldroyd permalink
    June 5, 2010 9:05 am

    Awesome that the word is getting out! I think what I resent is what people have been paying and believing!


  3. June 5, 2010 9:12 am

    Honestly, I am surprised at the bamboo craze. While floors are great and it is a fast growing wood substance, I was only drawn in for a short while about bamboo fibers.
    Seems to me cotton processing is bad enoughbut seems to be getting a bit more friendly. Wool, silk, linen and cotton make up the vast majority of my weaving and knitting yarns. I dislike rayon clothing too. Thank you for the information in an easily managed and understood bite. 🙂


  4. Evelyn Oldroyd permalink
    June 5, 2010 9:27 am

    BTW – fibres and fabric made from “Soy” is also Rayon, processed by the Lyocell system.


  5. June 5, 2010 10:41 am

    Thank you for a very interesting post! I didn’t know anything about bamboo fibre processing until I read this. I haven’t seen bamboo fibre at the yarn suppliers here yet, but I guess it will come sooner or later.


  6. aspinnerweaver permalink
    June 5, 2010 6:12 pm

    Thanks for this informative post. I really like rayon fabric and yarn. I use a lot of bamboo yarn and was aware that it is a kind of rayon. Although many claims were made about its “greenness” I hesitated to tout this with my products, suspecting that the chemicals used to process it were not really environmentally friendly. I never did the research, so thanks for bringing it to me.


  7. June 7, 2010 8:45 pm

    Thanks for posting that. I’ve only made one purchase and was disappointed with my fiber. I’m glad to know that it’s not green as advertised. I have been confused anyway by this group of fibers that aren’t wool, cotton or silk.


  8. Amal permalink
    June 10, 2010 8:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing the truth. I’ve tweeted about this post to help spread the word 🙂 Sad that not many people know that… and as you said, it did feel like it was ‘too good to be true’.


  9. Leslie permalink
    July 21, 2010 2:32 am

    Great to see more fiber artists aware of what “bamboo” really means when they buy their materials. The only thing I would add is that lyocell doesn’t use the same chemicals (the solvent is an amine oxide rather than sodium hydroxide).



  1. Bamboo ? (via Evelyn Oldroyd) « Pirtti

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