Bamboo sheets have been increasing in popularity in recent years—and for good reason. They are sustainable, softer than cotton and linen, naturally hypoallergenic, and moisture absorbing. They also keep you cool in summer and warm in winter. Need we say more?
With more and more bamboo sheets with ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ claims and labels it can be overwhelming to know what to look out for when buying bamboo sheets for the first time. We created this simple guide to help you decode the labels and choose the best bamboo sheets for you. Spoiler: not all bamboo sheets are created equally. Read on if you’d like to learn more about the different bamboo fabrics on the market.
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. 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 fabric. Regenerated cellulose fibers are neither a truly synthetic fiber (in the sense of synthetics coming from petroleum) nor natural fibers (in the sense of processing fibers that are produced directly from plants or animals, such as wool). Bast bamboo fibers are processed mechanically using the same processes used to produce linen from hemp or flax, with similar sustainability benefits and considerations.
There are four varieties or generations of bamboo fabric on the market today: 100% bamboo viscose (also known as bamboo rayon), 100% bamboo modal, 100% bamboo lyocell and raw bamboo linen fiber. What makes these fabrics different from each other is the process involved in production. With vastly different environment impacts and chemicals used, it’s important to pay attention to which type of fabric you are purchasing. Follow along as we discuss the generations of bamboo in the order they were developed.
1. 100% Bamboo Viscose: The majority of bamboo sheets on the market are made of bamboo viscose, also known as bamboo rayon. Viscose and rayon are essentially synonymous terms; ‘rayon’ is most widely used in North America, while ‘viscose’ is the preferred term in Europe. For this reason, many bedding manufactures use both terms interchangeably. Bedding products made from bamboo rayon are naturally hypoallergenic and thermoregulating, incredibly soft, moisture-wicking, and resist odor and bacteria. Bamboo rayon is very absorbent and takes dye very easily, allowing for a variety of color options.
As a plant-based fiber, viscose is not inherently toxic or polluting. However, the concern with bamboo rayon is in the chemically-intensive processes that have harmful impacts on the environment, workers, and local communities. Fabricated in countries where environmental regulations are loose or non-existent, a common solvent used in the production is carbon disulfide. 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. Moreover, the recovery of this solvent in most viscose factories is around 50%, which 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 would generally be considered the worst-one. If you decide to go for bamboo rayon sheets, look for manufacturers with strict effluent treatment protocols and bamboo rayon treated without chlorine-containing bleach and zinc sulphate.
2. 100% Bamboo Modal: Bamboo modal is made with the same chemical process as viscose; however, modal fabrics are put through an extra processing 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 distinguishing characteristics are its high-wet strength and extra softness. It is sometimes referred to “as soft as a feather” and “the softest fiber in the world.” That said, the modal fabric is usually a little too thin and airy to make for good bedding products.
3. 100% Bamboo Lyocell (CleanBamboo™): ettitude is the first and only company to make 100% organic Bamboo Lyocell, or what we call CleanBamboo. It is one of the most sustainable and innovative textile materials of the 21st century. In the lyocell process, raw bamboo pulp is dissolved using a non-toxic solvent, producing non-hazardous effluent. The fiber is created using a closed-loop system that recycles 98% of the water used during fabrication. The result is bamboo lyocell fabric that is stronger and softer than bamboo rayon, free from harmful chemicals and requires less energy and water to produce.
4. Bamboo Linen Fiber: Unlike bamboo viscose, modal and lyocell, which use a chemical process to produce fibers, bamboo linen (also known as bast bamboo fiber), is produced mechanically without chemicals. The process is very similar to the production of 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 very sustainable fabric that is slightly coarse and wrinkles easily, making it not 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. It’s important to note that bamboo linen makes up a tiny amount of bamboo fabric on the market due to its more labor-intensive and costly process. As bamboo linen requires a lot of human labor, it is important to verify that the manufacturers use good, fair and safe labour practices.
5. Bamboo Cotton Blend: Bamboo can be blended—the most common blends are 60% bamboo rayon, 40% cotton or 70% bamboo rayon, 30% cotton. Blending makes the fabric slightly stronger than 100% pure bamboo. However, while stronger, the softness of the material is compromised. If a cotton component is added, a bamboo blend becomes a less sustainable choice for your bedding. The cotton production industry is labor intensive and involves a lot of chemicals and waste of fresh water.
The weave of a fabric ultimately affects how it looks and feels. While both are made with 100% bamboo fiber, bamboo sateen and bamboo twill are distinctively different in texture.
Sateen is a one-yarn-under and three-yarn-over weave, used to produce smooth, lustrous, higher thread count bedding with a thick, close texture. The larger thread surface exposed by the three-over, one-under weave, is what gives sateen its signature, silky-soft feel and the luminous sheen. This same characteristic of exposed yarns makes this fabric a bit more delicate than it’s twill weave counterpart. With this being said, it is important that you care for your bamboo sateen sheets correctly to prolong their lifespan.
- Pro: Silky-soft, vegan product that costs significantly less than traditional silk.
- Con: Delicate fabric that needs to be cared for properly.
Twill, identified by a diagonal rib or twill line, resembles the weave on a pair of jeans—it is tight, short and very fine. Bamboo twill is not as soft as bamboo sateen, but still significantly softer than cotton or bamboo cotton blend sheets.
- Pro: A more flat/matte look. Twill bed sheets are typically less expensive than sateen.
- Con: Twill can shrink more than sateen sheets in the first couple of washes due to its looser weave. Look for twill products that are pre-shrunk before sewing, like our very own CleanBamboo Twill.
We know how important it is to find the perfect sheets. So, here are our top tips to consider when choosing bamboo bedding:
- Always look at the material label to confirm that you are buying bamboo lyocell or CleanBamboo. In the United States, by law, manufacturers can’t simply mark their products as “100% bamboo.” They have to 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 what exactly it is. Bamboo lyocell and bamboo linen are the more eco-friendly choices.
- If what you care about most is the softness of your sheets, then we recommend you try our bestselling bamboo lyocell sheet set made with a sateen weave. It is feathery soft, and as close to sleeping on a cloud as it gets. It’s also suitable for people who have sensitive skin and babies (check out our crib sheet set!)
- If you are inclined to trade some softness for a heavier drape and added durability, bamboo twill is a good choice. Our CleanBamboo Twill is also a more affordable option compared to our signature CleanBamboo.
- Always wash your bamboo sheets in cold water and line dry or tumble dry on low. It’s also the more energy-efficient way!
- We do not recommend bamboo blends as it’s not as sustainable as the three other types of bamboo fabrics.
- Many manufacturers offer a trial period, this is a great option for those who want to feel the fabric and make sure the color matches your decor before committing to buying it. We offer a 30-night risk-free sleep trial on bedding items—sheet sets, duvet covers, fitted sheets, flat sheets, pillowcases and crib sheets—that are not on final sale. The 30 Night Sleep Trial applies to the customer’s first bedding purchase.
Bamboo is a magical plant. It is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and it can morph into many types of products. However, the production process of bamboo beddings will determine the carbon footprint and toxicity of the final product.
Did you also know that not all comforters are created equal? Down alternatives are gaining popularity and helping to save the planet.
Originally published on: Aug 1, 2017. Updated on July 13, 2020.