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Margaret Conover

I am so glad to read this! It confirms my suspicion that bamboo is really just rayon: in other words,cellulose molecules forced through spinnarets!

As a botanist, I can tell you that cellulose from woodchips is essentially the same as cellulose from bamboo.

I'm not sure which is the most sustainable raw material. I believe that the wood chips that are made into rayon are simply a by-product of forest industries. But for all I know, cellulose from bamboo has also been used in production of rayon.

Also, I question the existence of the bacteriostatic agent unique to bamboo plants called “bamboo kun” or “kunh.” These agents are usually complex phytochemicals that cannot withstand the harsh chemical treatment that you describe.

So, it seems to me that textile manufacturers have just found another way to "spin" this fiber for purposes of marketing to a gullible public.

Thanks for the expose.


I'm a textile engineer and have been telling people this for years. This type of bamboo fabric is nothing more than rayon made using bamboo as the source of cellulose. The only advantage it has is in the growing of the bamboo, all the other chemical ickyness is the same.


Thank you for your wonderful research and sharing.

For 2 years I have worked to make a very green "printed" tee. I am not a marketer, but an artist struck by the desire to witness change. Eventually, I settled on a blend of bamboo and organic cotton and work very closely with my manufacturer (textile and tees are made in the USA.)

Certaintees, my company, does not use bamboo fabric processed with caustic soda or harmful additives. I also requested that the fabric used to make my tees not be coated with any softener (silicone is often used), or have added lycra or spandex (not even 5%). Durability and non-pilling were issues and I learned that weak and fragile yarn is caused by using bamboo that is "over" processed (severely broken fibers). Certaintees are naturally strong and soft.

Improvements have been made and continue to be made. I am not an expert of plants or fiber, but will do my best to continue to ask questions, make demands, share information, and promote the progress being made.

Maria Amparo

Thank you! great article!
I love to know more about the best type of bamboo variety to produce fiber for clothing. I am really only on the planting process. I love bamboo and have some land with "dendrocalamus asper". Living in a country that has a great climat and still keeps natural healthy land, I will love to support that line of enviromentally safe products, yet making possible for many to find a living. Bamboo could be great for many poor farmers and could help them since there are many that have land but not money for investment. It is a great way of taking care of our beautiful home our planet. By the time the bamboo grows, I am sure interesting research will develop, we are many now to think with love. I will love to learn more about this textile processing and could develop something in my country that could be good for many.. could you help me to find my way?
Thank you

Chloe Tostevin

''The FTC classifies all man made fibers that use cellulose from plants as rayon. Historically viscose rayon has been manufactured using a process in which fairly toxic chemicals chemically convert the cellulose into a soluble compound which is in turn regenerated into almost pure cellulose, hence the term ‘regenerated cellulose fiber’. This process removes any natural characteristics of the original cellulose.

In contrast to this is a new method for converting plant cellulose into a usable fiber. This was first done in 1992 by a company using wood fiber, and is now identified as Lyocell and marketed in the US under the name Tencel.

Bamboo fiber used in spinning yarn for textiles is manufactured the same way as Lyocell (wood fiber) -with the same organic solvent N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide (amine oxide). This solvent is non-toxic and completely recycled during the manufacturing process. So although bamboo is classified as rayon by the FTC because it is made from cellulose it is actually a subset of rayon that uses a separate process from viscose to convert the bamboo cellulose to a spinnable form (bamboo rayon is NOT therefore the same as viscose rayon). One of the great advantages of this process is there is no formation of a derivative and therefore the natural characteristics of the cellulose are retained in the final product.

Bamboo has 1000’s of uses and its use as a textile fiber is just emerging. It benefits the environment not only in growing the plant (excellent carbon dioxide and nitrogen sink, produces copious oxygen) but also the processing since it is a closed system with non toxic chemicals, and will hopefully lessen the demand for higher polluting materials.''


Great blog, but some crucial information is missing here. While in theory the growth of bamboo can be sustainable and eco-friendly, in practice it is as far from that as possible.

First, I would challenge anybody to find proof of a sustainable bamboo plantation that maintains any biodiversity. Bamboo plantations are mono-cultures. With the rise in popularity of bamboo large tracks of natural forest are cleared to make way for bamboo.

Farmers are also sometimes converting food areas over to bamboo as the prices they can fetch for bamboo is often more lucrative. Contrary to popular perception loads of chemicals are used to grow bamboo at the rate commercial interests need. Herbicides are used to keep competing foliage down as are fertilizers to encourage fast growth.

If something sounds to good to be true, it likely is. Bamboo is not a solution in it's present commercial form. If there was a certification process for bamboo like there is for wood ( we might have the ability to encourage and support more sustainable bamboo options, but there isn't any such standards for bamboo farming.

The truest eco-fibre is still hemp when it is grown and processed without chemicals and when it is sourced from old existing plantations so as not to lose more habitat. After that organic cotton grown in such a way as to minimize water usage is next. Some parts of the world cotton is native to and as such natural rainfall patterns can alone often be enough.

We need to encourage the conversion of current cotton plantations over to organic methods with a focus on extreme water management. Habitat protection is important so just allocating more and more of it for textile fibre production quickly will pass the point where there is any value at all in a natural fibre being produced in the first place.

Everything old becomes new again. In a more sustainable world we will all have less clothing, take care of it and repair it rather than replace it. Better quality garments and the realization that we can't have massive wardrobes is the way to go. Ever wonder why old homes had such small closets? It is because people made do with less and we will eventually find ourselves back there before to long.

bamboo supporter

Hi, Whilst i am not an expert, I too have spent a considerable amount of time recently researching the masses of websites and contacting relevant individuals regarding bamboo clothing. I've investigated the phases involved from growing to bamboo to manufacuring the fabric and the final clothing garments. My conclusion to all the research is that although there are some areas of the processing which are not ideal, there is no alternative that can provide a wholistic benefit to the environment and the consumer that can compare to bamboo.

The growing phase is much friendlier than any alternatives, even organic cotton. Just to name a few benefits, bamboo uses almost no water to grow (unlike any cotton, which can use up to 29,000L to produce 1kg), use no pestides/fertilizers to grow, takes 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases and produces 35% more oxygen for our environment. Clearly beneficial for the environment.

Chemicals can be added in processing the bamboo fibre.
The chemical used in bamboo processing is sodium hydroxide which can be added to aid in the
breakdown of the woody bamboo stems. When the stems are pulverised another substance is added to the mixture which breaks the sodium hydroxide bonds and converts it to inert salt and water.

The chemicals used are contained within the factory, reused and
recycled in most repuatable places, and the worst that can happen to workers that are working in direct proximity with the sodium hydroxide is their eyes may become irritated. Again , not ideal, but not a reason to dismiss bamboo clothing, for alternatives that can't provide the overall benefit gained from bamboo.

No chemicals are found on the bamboo fibre at the end of processing particularly if it is certified by OEKO-Tex100. This means there is absolutely
no residues of harmful chemicals.
(check for more info.)
This certification agency is one that also certifies organic cotton. This is essential in order to recognize an Organic T-shirt. What those standards aim to achieve is to maintain the integrity of the organic nature of the fiber as much as possible. This is achieved by using as much organic material as possible, and by adopting alternative chemicals and processing practices that minimize the impact on the environment, and protect the health of consumers, while insuring textiles of high quality that are economically viable. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Mark is one such standard.

So, after all that, there are many points to consider when weighing up whether or not to support bamboo clothing (or any other eco friendly clothing for that matter). Unfortunately none of them are 100% perfect. My hope is that consumers will look at the entire scenario involved in bamboo clothing from growing the plants to producing the final garment and see the whole picture

Adrian Desbarats

The reality is nothing is perfect. The conventional textile industry has a very significant impact on human health, social health and the environment. Are bamboo viscose, organic cotton and hemp perfect solutions to all our textile related environmental issues? No. Are they better solutions versus conventional cotton and synthetics such as polyester? An emphatic yes.

Yes, its true that the production of bamboo viscose involves the use of chemicals that if left unmanaged can do harm to humans and the environment. But before we write off bamboo as a sustainable textile option, let's consider some facts:

- Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth with an average growth rate of 12 - 19 inches per day (Jinhe Fu, 2000). Bamboo is tremendously hardy and pest resistant. No fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation is required. Neither is replanting required. The shoots are simply cut to their base and the bamboo regrows from new shoots. As such, bamboo offers a tremendous source of sustainable cellulose for textile production.

- Let's compare this with cotton. Cotton is very sensitive to pest infestation and drought. Every one Kg of cotton lint production requires 10,000 - 17,000 liters of water. Cotton production accounts for 2.4% of total arable land yet accounts for 11% of global pesticide use and 25% of global insecticide use (Kooistra & Termorshaizen, 2006). Approximately 40,000 lives are lost each year due to pesticide / insecticide application (WHO, 2002). Approximately 100 million hectares of land (8% of global arale land) has been lost due to over-exploitation with the main cause being salinisation caused by improper irrigation practices employed in cotton production. And then there is the environmental impact. Each year, it is estimated that approximately 67 million birds are killed by pesticides (Lotus, 2004). And then there is the impact on our river, lake systems and ground water.

I can go on and on but I think we can all agree that conventional cotton production exacts a terrible toll on human and environmental health. Organic cotton is definitely a huge improvement as it removes synthetic pesticides, insecticides and synthetic fertilizers from the equation. However, water use is not considered in organic cotton certification so in a sense organic cotton production is not truly sustainable. Is it better then conventional cotton production? Hell yes.....way better. Is it perfect? No, but its a darn good start that we can continue to build on.

And the same goes for bamboo. Unlike organic cotton which does employ organic pesticides, organic fertilizers and irrigation, bamboo culture uses nothing. As such, the environmental impact at the harvest level should be much less even then organic cotton.

For bamboo, the issue seems to be the chemical use at the production level. I would agree the chemicals used in the process are not good, however, I would argue that it is alot better and safer then losing 40,000 people per year through pesticide use! Additionally, because this chemical use occurs within central locations (ie. manufacturing plants) this offers much better ability to treat the water prior to leaving the plant and entering the environment. This type of treatment is simply not possible with the land application of fertilizers and pesticides on cotton farms.

Is bamboo a perfect solution? No. But it has all the opportunity to be a very low impact and sustainable solution to meet our growing textile requirements.

At our company, we are very careful in choosing eco fashion products that meet our very stringent certification requirements. I invite you to take a look at our environmental policy at


This is THE BEST article I have read on the sustainability aspect of Bamboo. Thanks for that.

I am consulting for a mattress manufacturer looking to create the world's healthiest, greenest mattress. Is bamboo the answer with our current technologies or should we stick with organic wool or the like. Would greatly appreciate any suggestions from fabric experts out there.


Eco to the People

Oh my goodness. I feel bamboozled by bamboo rayon. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

Thank you for this extensive article. I write about green living on my website ( and fashion is a huge part of what we offer our readers. I plan to send this to all of our eco friends.

Sincerely, Heather O'Neill


Thanks, Heather. I was unaware of Eco To The People until your posting and I just spent the last hour browsing through your site at Totally fascinating, useful, playful and well written! Thanks for stopping by. -Michael


I was curious if anyone knows how the bamboo processing differs with non woven fabric? I am gathering lots of information on the processing of bamboo for yarn, but not sure if this is pretty much the same for non woven. Would appreciate any feedback.

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Perry Peck

This is great we need more Bamboo and Organic and Hemp check out for lots of green clothing ...

Perry Peck

The day will come very soon when hemp will become as common as other natural resources. We who understand this and try our best by becoming activist and writing our political leaders. By demanding action to right this wrong we are not only helping humanity we are helping ourselves. Hemp makes common sense but for economic reasons too and environmental reasons HEMP IS GOOD FOR US AND OUR COUNTRY. Check out Organic and hemp clothing at GO HEMP GO!

hi i love this article so much, im a student of Applied Science Textile Technology at RMIT University Australia, i study Environmental and Experimental Textiles along wid Fabrics, and this article has helped me understand so much more about bamboo, and how people can believe so easily if unaware of Bamboo facts can be tricked in buying bamboo products as there are alot of hidden disadavantages of this fabric for the environment in the long run.

I believe there are many significant factors that were not brought up here. Focusing on the production of bamboo is not a great method of assessing its "greeness".

For starters - The vast majority of a textile products environmental impact (if that is your primary focus) is in its "use stage".

We have written extensively on bamboo fabrics (It is the primary focus of our blog)

If anyone is interested in learning more about bamboo textiles, you can do so here:


Agreed that the most serious environmental impact of textile is in its 'use phase'. That is, depending on the production technology used in the first instance to produce the textile.

One cannot oppose the fact that mechanical production of bamboo textile is greener than the chemical process!

From a broader perspective, however, the e co-friendliness of bamboo textile cannot be overemphasized given the fact that the stock grows wild and without any chemical inputs.

Nigel Plant

Bamboo is a very good material. It is amazing for clohtes and towels. I love this post#! :)


Hi! Can you please tell me does it mean that Linda Loudermilk, Viridis Luxe and some other high quality eco-fashion brands produce rayon? And call it "bamboo"? This is very important because i actually buy bamboo clothing sometimes and if i discover that this bamboo is a "greenwash" i will be very disappointed. Because those pieces weren't cheap at all...
I trust certain brands like Fin Oslo for example... But my trust is not supported by anything, I do not know and cannot be sure how a particular garment has been produced, i only get the end result, finished product. Is there any difference in feel to skin between "genuine bamboo" and rayon? Is there any consumer guide that I can refer to? Are there list of companies or brands that are making genuine bamboo clothing? Or should I just rule all bamboo out and avoid it altogether, because rayon is not even biodegradable and polluting to the environment (thing im most concerned about).
I dont want to waste money on something that is a lie...

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Its good that you gave very clear details on how chemically processed bamboo is processed into textile. It is eye opening to what extent it is processed. I also love reading the comments here I can really feel that in the end all we want is the best for our nature and future. And so we shall push our governments all around the world to adopt policies that will protect our environment.


Very imformative article. I have just started carrying bamboo as part of my efforts to be more eco friendly. Found a really neat bamboo clothing line that is actually about 95% bamboo. I thought that wasn't possible, but they combine it with Lycra and it makes a really soft airy, kind of stretchy fabric. It's perfect for baby wear. You can see it at

I am not sure why people think that GreenYarn is more eco-friendly - it too can be just rayon with the addition of bamboo charcoal. This isn't any more eco-friendly than rayon.

Suzanne Holt

This was really interesting to read. I bought some bamboo capris at a Living Green Expo recently and loved them. I had no idea about all of the controversy over bamboo; I'm going to be more thorough in my research before my next purchase. Thanks!

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