Bamboo sheets have been increasing in popularity in recent years—and for good reason. They’re sustainable, softer than cotton and linen, naturally hypoallergenic and moisture-wicking. Bamboo sheets are also thermoregulating and breathable, keeping you cool in summer and cozy in winter. Need we say more?
It can be overwhelming to know what to look for when buying bamboo sheets for the first time. Especially as more and more brands claim to be ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’.
Spoiler: not all bamboo bed sheets are created equally.
We’ve created this simple guide to help you decode the labels and different fabrics and choose the best bamboo sheets for you.
Material breakdown—how are bamboo fabrics produced?
Firstly, it’s important to understand the source of where these different fabrics originate. According to The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA), bamboo is a natural fiber that can be processed mechanically into a natural bast fiber or chemically into a regenerated manufactured fiber.
Let’s break down the difference:
- Regenerated cellulose fibers are created by taking natural raw cellulose (plant fiber) like bamboo or eucalyptus and then converting it through a chemical process to turn it into the fabric.
- Bast bamboo fibers are processed mechanically using the same processes used to produce linen from hemp or flax, with similar sustainability benefits and considerations.
So, which type of fabric makes the best bamboo sheets?
With vastly different environmental impacts and chemicals used, you should pay attention to which type of fabric you’re purchasing.
There are five varieties of bamboo fabric:
- 100% bamboo viscose (aka bamboo rayon)
- 100% bamboo modal
- 100% bamboo lyocell
- Raw bamboo linen fiber
- Bamboo cotton blend
How are they different from each other? It all comes down to how they’re produced. Discover the different varieties of bamboo (and which ones you should avoid).
- 100% bamboo viscose
The majority of bamboo sheets available are made of bamboo viscose (aka bamboo rayon). Viscose and rayon are essentially synonymous terms; ‘rayon’ is most widely used in North America, while ‘viscose’ is preferred in Europe. For this reason, many bedding manufacturers use both terms interchangeably.
Bedding products made from bamboo rayon are hypoallergenic, thermoregulating, soft, moisture-wicking, and odor and bacteria-resistant. In addition, bamboo rayon is very absorbent and takes dye very easily, allowing for a variety of color options.
Sounds great, right? But there’s a dirty side to the bamboo rayon/viscose production process. Bamboo rayon requires chemically-intensive processes that harm the environment, workers and local communities.
The bad side of bamboo viscose: carbon disulfide
Carbon disulfide is a common solvent used in the production of bamboo viscose. This toxic chemical has been linked to widespread severe and often lethal illness among factory workers and can cause reproductive harm and damage to the nervous system.
Plus, the recovery of this solvent in most viscose factories is around 50%. This means that the other half goes into the environment—contaminating waterways and endangering aquatic life. With all the negative impacts, it’s no wonder that carbon-disulfide-based viscose manufacturing is no longer permitted in the U.S.
Out of all the bamboo fabrics, bamboo viscose/rayon is generally considered the most toxic and polluting. If you decide to go for bamboo rayon sheets, look for manufacturers with strict waste treatment protocols. And try to avoid bamboo rayon treated with chlorine-containing bleach and zinc sulfate as these chemicals are known to cause irritation to the respiratory system.
- 100% bamboo modal
Bamboo modal is made with the same chemical process as viscose. However, modal fabrics are put through an extra process to stretch them. This makes modal lighter and finer than viscose and increases the strength of the fibers.
Modal is ideal for athletic clothing or uses where the fabric is going to be treated a little more harshly. You can also tumble dry modal, which is something you should avoid with viscose/rayon.
Modal’s high-wet strength and extra softness are its most distinguishing characteristics. It is sometimes described as ‘the softest fiber in the world’ and ‘as soft as a feather.’ That said, modal fabric is usually a little too thin and airy to make for good bamboo bed sheets.
- 100% bamboo lyocell (CleanBamboo™)
In the lyocell process, raw bamboo pulp is dissolved using N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO), a non-toxic solvent that produces non-hazardous waste.
The fiber is created in a closed-loop system that reuses water up to 200 times, recycling 98% of water in the process. The result is a first-of-its-kind bamboo lyocell fabric that is stronger and softer than bamboo rayon, free from harmful chemicals, and requires less energy and water to produce.
ettitude is the first and only company to make CleanBamboo—one of the most sustainable and innovative textile materials of the 21st century. Read more about why our CleanBamboo fabric is better for you and the planet.
- Bamboo linen fiber
Bamboo linen (aka bast bamboo fiber) is produced mechanically, without chemicals, unlike the other bamboo fabrics. The process is very similar to common linen fabrics made from hemp or flax.
The wooden parts of the bamboo are crushed mechanically before an enzyme retting and washing processes its walls. After the extraction of the bast bamboo fiber (the long, strong, flexible fibers in the inner bark of the plant), it is spun into yarn.
The result is a sustainable fabric that is slightly coarse and wrinkles easily. So it isn’t very suitable for soft and intimate bedding products. A lot of maintenance is involved when buying bamboo linen bedding, as it requires continuous ironing after washing.
Bamboo linen makes up a tiny amount of bamboo fabric on the market due to its labor-intensive and costly process. As bamboo linen requires a lot of human labor, it’s essential to check that the manufacturers use good, fair and safe labor practices.
- Bamboo cotton blend
The most common bamboo blends are 60% bamboo rayon, 40% cotton and 70% bamboo rayon, 30% cotton. Blending makes the fabric slightly stronger than 100% pure bamboo. However, it also compromises the softness of the material.
It’s important to note that adding cotton makes the bamboo blend less sustainable. The cotton production industry is labor-intensive and involves a lot of chemicals and freshwater waste. Learn why bamboo is better than cotton in our Impact Report.
How to choose the best bamboo sheets: our top 4 tips
We know how important it is to find the perfect sheets—after all, we spend half our life wrapped in them. So, here are our top four tips to consider when choosing bamboo bed sheets:
- Always look at the material label to confirm that you are buying bamboo lyocell (CleanBamboo) or bamboo linen as they’re more eco-friendly. In the United States, manufacturers can’t simply mark their products as ‘100% bamboo.’ By law, they must specify if it’s bamboo rayon/viscose, bamboo linen or bamboo lyocell. In Australia, the regulation is looser. So, if the label says “100% bamboo,” ask the manufacturer exactly what it is.
- Avoid bamboo blends as they’re not as sustainable as bamboo lyocell or bamboo linen.
- Find brands with a risk-free trial to test the bedding in real life. This is an excellent option for those who want to feel the fabric and make sure the color is right before committing. Try our bamboo bedding for 30 nights risk-free with our Sleep Trial.
- Read customer reviews before committing to a bamboo bedding brand. This way, you’ll know if the sheets will feel cooling and soft and give you better sleep. Check out some of ettitude’s reviews to see why our customers love sleeping with us.
Before choosing which bamboo sheets to bring home to bed, make sure you’re making an informed purchase by researching the manufacturers, production processes and brands.
Did you also know that not all comforters are created equal? Down alternatives are gaining popularity as a more sustainable, cruelty-free option.
Originally published on: Aug 1, 2017. Updated on June 8, 2022.