Sourcing cotton is typically a draining and wasteful process, needing 20,000 litres for just 2 pounds of cotton.
With non-organic cotton sheets as the norm in many households, imagine the waste and water used for your king-sized bed alone! But there are sustainable (and even softer) alternatives: Tencel and bamboo.
Bamboo and Tencel (from eucalyptus) are both grown sustainably, without the use of pesticides or insecticides.
Using just a fraction of the water needed for sourcing, these eco-friendly alternatives can thrive in areas not typically suited for agriculture. Not only are they porous and hypoallergenic, but they are also antibacterial, moisture-wicking, and some of the softest fibres around.
When it comes to buying bedsheets, the options have expanded far beyond just cotton. While still a firm favourite and solid choice, new bed sheet materials are attempting to challenge its crown. Two such options are bamboo and Tencel.
There are many similarities between the two bedsheet fabrics, from raw materials to production processes, to their final properties.
Making a decision between the two is trickier than ever! Here is a comprehensive guide comparing bamboo and Tencel in order to help aid your decision.
What Are Tencel (Lyocell) Sheets?
Tencel is a kind of rayon that has cellulose fibre taken from wood pulp. American Enka first engineered it through the pilot stage in 1972, and they referred to it as “Newcell.” Further down the line, the fibre was commercialized by Courtaulds Fibers in the 1980s.
Then, in 1990, the first facility was introduced in Mobile, Alabama, and Courtaulds rechristened the fibre “Tencel.”
When Lenzing AG purchased the Tencel plants over a decade later, they mixed it with their lyocell business, but they kept the Tencel name. Lenzing AG is the only foremost producer of Tencel fibre.
The Federal Trade Commission chose the separate generic name of “lyocell” and referred to it as a sub-category under rayon. Tencel fibres are lyocell fibres and therefore, a subcategory of rayon. Lenzing is using the Tencel branding on the packaging of consumer products, which is composed of nonwovens and woven/knit fabrics.
Tencel is originally a brand name. Tencel is at times, referred to as lyocell. The fabric is derived from wood cellulose, very much like bamboo. However, Tencel makes use of eucalyptus trees instead.
It was first developed in 1972 and gained a lot of traction when environmentalists and eco-friendly groups touted its eco-friendly nature. Its distinct manufacturing process lets it be free from harmful elements and recycles 99% of the water being used.
Tencel sheets are known to be super soft and supple yet very cool to the touch, which makes it a fine choice for people that suffer from easily irritated, sensitive skin.
However, Tencel is hydrophilic, which basically means it loves water and is super absorbent, and can result in mildew growth if it is not maintained properly.
When dealing with Tencel sheets, you really have to make sure that your sheets are dry before making your bed every morning. In addition, you should also check to see if the sheets are dry after washing and before you put them away for storage.
Line dry in a cool, dry area every single time for your sheets to last for an extended period of time.
Characteristics Of Tencel Sheets
- Breathable, but not as much as natural fibres
- Resists wrinkling & shrinking
- Hydrophilic – absorbs moisture well
What Are The Benefits Of Tencel Bed Sheets?
When discussing environmentally sound bed sheets, Tencel is often mentioned right off the bat.
Not only are the eucalyptus trees made from a sustainable resource, but also the production process avoids the use of hazardous elements, and stops the solvent they use from leaking into the environment.
Tencel bed sheets also feature a very smooth and soft feel. This is because it is using long fibres, which results in a smoother surface.
This not only makes it super comfortable but may be really helpful to those with sensitive or easily irritated skin. These fibres are hydrophilic, which means they essentially “love water,” making Tencel very absorbent and hygienic.
There are also benefits to Tencel when talking about breathability. It is suitable for warm sleepers and boasts of a cool feel to the touch. It responds to dye very well and is less prone to wrinkling. Tencel tends to have a lustrous and less matte look.
Do Tencel Bed Sheets Have Any Drawbacks?
Very much like bamboo, Tencel can come with a hefty price tag, and the price range that Tencel bed sheets have is not very broad.
Tencel does not also have that crisp feeling that some people want with their bedsheets. Instead, it’s softer and “draper.” Because of the hydrophilic nature of Tencel fibres, it can be somewhat more susceptible to mildew. But if cared for the right way, this shouldn’t be a concern.
What Are Bamboo Sheets?
Bamboo sheets are made out of the bamboo pulp. The bamboo textile was conceived ages ago with its many uses in corsets, hats, shoes, etc.
That said, the first use of bamboo in bed sheets is an unknown matter since bamboo textile has been mixed with cotton long before pure and unsullied bamboo sheets came to be.
Bamboo sheets boast of antibacterial and antifungal properties, which help people with allergies by keeping irritating dust mites from living in your bed.
The yarn made out of bamboo that is utilized for bamboo sheets is also more durable than its rivals because instead of small pieces of thread that are woven together, bamboo sheets are produced by stretching long threads across from one end of the sheet to the other.
Bamboo sheets need gentle care as they can get wrinkly and shrink if they are not dealt with the right way.
You can eradicate the possibility of your bamboo sheets wearing down and keep them usable for many, many years by simply making sure to wash it with warm water, by itself and without the use of any fabric softener.
Characteristics Of Bamboo Sheets
What Are The Benefits Of Bamboo Bed Sheets?
Much like Tencel, bamboo bed sheets are praised for its friendliness to the environment. Bamboo is one of the earth’s wholly sustainable wood resources owing to the fact that it can grow up to a yard each day.
When bamboo is harvested, the roots of the plant are not ruined, so it can keep on growing. In addition, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing woods in the world.
Bamboo bed sheets also have a lot of benefits when it comes to comfort. They have a super soft and smooth feel, because of the makeup of longer fibres.
They “wick” moisture away from the body, which means you won’t feel sweaty or clammy. Bamboo sheets are known to be very breathable as well. They don’t hold heat close to the body, which is ideal for those that share a bed and those who reside in warm and humid environments.
Bamboo bed sheets wash well at low temperature and don’t need any fabric softener or any unique washing care.
They also dry up very fast, making it ideal for those who reside in smaller apartments without a washer-dryer. When cared for properly, bamboo sheets are very durable and can take a very long time.
There are also health-related benefits of owning bamboo sheets. They are antifungal and antibacterial; they’re commonly hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites. Bamboo sheets are also less prone to mould, mildew, and odour compared to traditional cotton.
Do Bamboo Bed Sheets Have Any Drawbacks?
Bamboo bed sheets can be somewhat pricey. The range is similar to that of top quality cotton. However, when looked after properly, like cotton, they can last a really long time.
Aesthetic-wise, bamboo bed sheets can be more prone to wrinkling, due to their softness and suppleness. They also lack the “crisp” bedsheet feeling, which is a matter of personal preference.
Which Are Better: Bamboo Sheets Or Tencel Sheets?
Let’s take an in-depth look into the main differences between Tencel and bamboo:
Bamboo plants are not ruined from the roots while they are being harvested. The growth gets cut so that the plant can keep on growing. While the mechanical process of bamboo is environmental sound, the chemical process puts in some toxic substances to the bamboo pulp to process it.
Eucalyptus plants, from which Tencel is derived from, need to be harvested during its peak season and no more than half of the leaves of the plant can be collected if they want the plant to keep on producing.
It may take longer and more plants to produce Tencel, but the production is wholly eco-friendly with no toxic compounds being added. Tencel manufacturers also recycle 99% of the water that is used during production.
Health And Comfort
Bamboo sheets are usually known for their supreme comfort. Softer than cotton, bamboo sheets are breathable, hypoallergenic, antibacterial and anti-fungal.
Bamboo also has the softest fibres compared to others in the market because it needs less processing and keeps dust mites and mildew away from your bed.
They also keep their long-form, which basically means that you will not find any loose threads in the middle.
On the other hand, the comfort of Tencel sheets goes above and beyond the physical touch. The fibres in the eucalyptus plant are antimicrobial and resist dust mites and fungal growth.
But because of its hydrophilic properties, while it is considerably stronger than cotton and polyester, Tencel is weaker when it comes to the defence against mildew compared to bamboo.
Tencel also does not have that “crisp” feel that some look for in sheets but is very soft yet cool to touch, which is great for people that have sensitive skin.
Upkeep And Durability
Bamboo sheets hold a reputation for being one of the most durable sheets because of its strong, long fibres. It is super absorbent and does not turn yellow from the oils of your skin.
Bamboo also responds to dye very well, needing less to give the sheets its colour and helping the colour of the sheets last for a very long time.
If taken cared for very well, bamboo bed sheets have been known to last for a lifetime. Bamboo sheets need to be washed separately from other articles of clothing, in warm water without the use of fabric softener to make sure its natural fibres remain intact for as long as possible.
However, bamboo sheets are prone to getting wrinkly, even more than Tencel and cotton.
Tencel sheets are also very long-lasting and tough. The colours of your sheets will remain as vibrant as the day you took them out of the packaging, thanks to its ability to need small amounts of dye and absorbing it very well for a very long time.
If you do not have much time to spend ironing, Tencel sheets resist wrinkles and would make a fine choice. It is harder to get them wrinkly than it would be for cotton.
Also providing a sleek, matte look that lasts as long as the sheets, Tencel sheets can be washed in the washing machine along with other items using the gentle cycle. Line drying Tencel is strongly suggested rather than machine drying.
Bamboo sheets easily take this one with more of its products out in the market today. Tencel is fairly new; therefore, the number of products it has on the market is lower by a substantial margin.
Differences Of Tencel And Viscose From Bamboo
Sodium Hydroxide (Solvent used for Bamboo)
As we learned above, sodium hydroxide is the solvent used for the transformation of the viscose process.
As you can see on this web page, this solvent is classified as corrosive according to the EU classification system.
Although no residue of this product remains in the fibre after the procedure, it remains weird to qualify this as an ecological process. It’s not as harmful as the 25% of the world’s pesticides are dumped directly into the environment to grow conventional cotton, but it’s still something not to be thrilled about.
Admittedly, sodium hydroxide is also used extensively in the paper industry, in the soap and detergent industry, for water treatment and many others.
Sodium hydroxide is not a toxic product that remains in the clothes (the whole process is certified Oeko-Tex 100). It is a product of our traditional industry. Yes, we need to aim to replace it, but can also be used without damage to our environment.
NMMO (Solvent used for Eucalyptus)
NMMO (because nobody can pronounce “N-methyl morpholine N-oxide”) is a solvent used for the lyocell process. This product is non-toxic and biodegradable in addition to being an organic compound (which has not been obtained by a chemical union). It is, by far, a better choice than sodium hydroxide to dissolve wood into a textile fibre.
Viscose process (bamboo)
The viscose process is the name of the method used for the transformation of the bamboo fibre.
Hence the name “Viscose from Bamboo”. This process includes dissolution and extrusion. To dissolve the wood, it is necessary to use water and solvent. As we know, water is a very valuable resource in this world.
But unlike the lyocell process, we do not really know how water is used in the viscose process. Perhaps responsibly, maybe not. We do not have any guarantee or certification for this.
Lyocell process (eucalyptus)
Lyocell process used for transformation of eucalyptus fibre was designed according to the “Closed-loop” process, which guarantees that 99% of the water and solvent used are recovered and reused again. This results in better water management and aims to preserve this natural resource we all need to live.
67% Viscose from Bamboo, 27% Org. Cotton (Bamboo)
In order to have a final fabric that is more interesting to work and wear as clothing, bamboo yarn and is often mixed with a little over a quarter of organic cotton.
This practice gives the opportunity to have a fabric which doesn’t shrink or expands after washing. Having always to have to add an organic cotton blend with bamboo makes this fibre dependent on another industry.
And despite our best efforts to avoid it, we are sometimes forced to buy a fabric whose yarn was made with 27% cotton that is not organic. The remaining 6% is for the spandex. A compromise that makes it durable and comfortable clothing.
92% TENCEL® (Eucalyptus)
Unlike the bamboo viscose fibre, the TENCEL® doesn’t need to be blended. It is, therefore, a more independent fibre. The remaining 8% is for the spandex. A compromise that makes it durable and comfortable garment.
Which To Choose?
Bamboo and eucalyptus both grow sustainably and responsibly. They are both mainly knitted (in the case of Respecterre) in Quebec and assembled in Quebec in our shop in Ham-Nord, in an ecovillage. The differences between these two fibres are in the solvent necessary for processing the wood into fibre as well as the water required for that process and the required blends.
Prioritizing eucalyptus (TENCEL®) compared to bamboo (viscose from bamboo) becomes a choice that leads to more responsible consumption. Bamboo is not inherently bad. Its solvent is used in several other industries, and the bamboo does grow organically and produces the most fibre per hectare.
Tencel and bamboo are very similar fabrics in terms of how they’re made, so there was very little to separate the two.
What made the difference, in the end, was the tighter controls Lenzing has in place compared to the average bamboo fibre production facility.
We think this is a fairer comparison as there’s less guarantee with bamboo supply. However, if production facilities were the same, we would give a slight edge to bamboo. All we can say is, Tencel edged it in the first round against Linen and it’s done so again, against bamboo!