We’ve broken down popular bedding materials to determine the best. There are three types of bamboo bedding fabrics: rayon, modal, and lyocell. All three of these fibers are called “cellulosic fibers” since the natural material that makes up the fiber is cellulose, a component of all plants.
Unlike other man-made fibers, rayon, modal, and lyocell are not synthetic. They are made from cellulose, commonly derived from wood pulp, and more recently, bamboo. They are neither synthetic fibers (in the sense of synthetics coming from petroleum) nor natural fibers (in the sense of processing fibers produced directly from plants or animals, such as wool).
However, their properties and characteristics are more similar to those of natural cellulosic fibers (cotton, flax linen, hemp, and jute) than those of thermoplastic, petroleum-based synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester.
Lyocell bamboo, modal, and rayon are created by breaking raw materials into pulp before being dissolved in a solvent and forming the fabric’s fibers. While all three fabric types come from the same fibers, they’re different. In fact, the method of extracting the cellulose from the bamboo pulp significantly affects the fabric. Let’s take a look at the various types of bamboo materials available on the market today.
Rayon is the first generation of these fibers, and the one further enhancements were built upon. It is known by the names viscose rayon and art silk (abbreviated from “artificial silk”) in the textile industry. It has a high luster quality, which gives it a bright shine.
There are many different processes for manufacturing rayon that vary between the chemicals used and their subsequent impact on the environment.
The production of rayon also applies to modal and lyocell: purified cellulose, often from trees, is converted into a soluble compound. A solution of this compound is passed through a spinneret (similar to the holes in a showerhead) to form soft filaments that are then converted or “regenerated” into almost pure cellulose in the final product.
Rayon fabrics can have different strength and stretch characteristics created by adjusting the drawing process applied in spinning. Regular rayon has the largest market share and is typically found in apparel and home furnishings; it is identified on labels as “rayon” or “viscose.” The distinguishing characteristic of regular rayon is its low-wet strength (resulting in loss of stability or a tendency to shrink or stretch easily when wet).
Rayon’s cellulosic base contributes many properties similar to cotton or other natural fibers. Rayon is more moisture absorbent than cotton, soft, comfortable to wear, drapes well, and easily dyed in a wide range of colors. It does not build up static electricity or pill unless the fabric is made from short, low-twist yarns. Rayon does not insulate body heat, making it ideal for use in hot and humid climates.
Rayon has moderate dry strength and abrasion resistance. Like other cellulosic fibers, it is not resilient, which means it will wrinkle. Rayon withstands ironing temperatures slightly less than those of cotton.
Unfortunately, viscose utilizes corrosive materials during production, and many of these chemicals can contaminate water if not disposed of properly. The two toxic chemicals used in rayon bamboo products are sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, which contribute to pollution. Therefore, rayon is less environmentally friendly than some people believe. Just because something is made from bamboo, a sustainable material, doesn’t mean the production process is eco-friendly.
Modal is a second-generation regenerated cellulosic fiber and a variation of rayon. Modal’s distinguishing characteristics are its high-wet strength and extra softness. It is sometimes referred to as being “as soft as a feather” and “the softest fiber in the world.” In addition to its use in general apparel, its softness makes it especially ideal for body contact clothing such as lingerie and undergarments.
Bamboo modal fabric uses a modified production process that is less resource and chemical-intensive than rayon fabric, making it more sustainable. Still, it’s not the most sustainable option for bamboo sheets. However, as the next generation of bamboo products, modal offers the following benefits:
Due to its high-wet strength, modal can be machine-washed and tumble-dried. Modal fibers are dimensionally stable and do not shrink or get pulled out of shape when wet like many rayons. They are also wear-resistant and robust while maintaining a soft, silky feel. Modal fibers are often used in clothing, outerwear, and household furnishings. They are blended with cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers and allow easy tone-in-tone dyeing, which may be done with environmentally friendly dyes, depending on the manufacturer.
Modal is about 50% more water-absorbent per unit volume than cotton. It’s designed to dye like cotton and is color-fast when washed in warm water. Even after repeated washing, modal remains absorbent, soft, and supple.
The colors in modal typically remain brilliant and intense. Graying, as with 100% cotton textiles, does not occur. Bleaches or whiteners may not be necessary at all. However, if you do use these in any of your launderings, be sure to use environmentally friendly ones.
The smooth surface characteristics of the modal fiber make it impossible for mineral deposits from water, such as lime scum, to be deposited on the textiles, thus preventing fabric hardening after repeated washes. This “dry rigidity” in some fabrics is caused by the mineral incrustation on the fiber after repeated washing.
Bamboo lyocell fabric is the most recent generation of bamboo fabrics. But what is bamboo lyocell compared to the other types of fabric? After modal gave us softer and more durable fabrics, lyocell aimed to take on the production process to make it more environmentally friendly. Instead of harsh chemicals, bamboo lyocell uses organic solvents and nanofibrils, making it moisture-wicking, silky-soft, and better for the environment.
The production process for bamboo lyocell fabric is a closed-loop system that makes it greener. Since bamboo is resistant to pests, there’s no need for chemicals like herbicides and pesticides, making it easier to grow with less water usage. Once the bamboo is turned into a pulp, it’s dissolved in the organic compound into a thick solution that’s spun to create fibers, while the organic compound is recovered and recycled. The benefits of bamboo lyocell include the following:
Wicks away moisture
Lyocell has numerous advantages over rayon and modal in its properties and its manufacturing process. One of lyocell's major “claims to fame” is its ability to absorb excess liquid (perspiration) and quickly release it into the atmosphere. It does this while being resistant to developing odors.
The skin is the largest human respiratory organ. Lyocell supports the skin's natural ability, acting as a protective shell to regulate body temperature and maintain water balance.
Nanofibrils are the key to the performance of lyocell. This is the first cellulose fiber to use this nanotechnology. The nanofibrils are hydrophilic (a strong attraction to absorb water), which optimizes moisture absorption with excellent cooling properties that wick away moisture into the air. Lyocell controls and regularly absorbs 50% more moisture than cotton and wool. In contrast, synthetics do not absorb moisture.
Minimizes skin irritation
Rougher fibers can lead to skin irritation. Due to the nanofibrils, the microscopic surfaces of lyocell fibers are smoother than the surfaces of modal, cotton, and wool. The combination of a highly smooth texture and excellent moisture absorption makes lyocell textiles feel soft and pleasant to the skin, making this fabric ideal for active wear, clothing, and bedding for sensitive skin.
Lyocell prevents the growth of bacteria (which causes odors) naturally without chemically treating the material; additional chemicals in the fabric may cause allergic reactions and are environmentally unfriendly. Bacterial growth is prevented through the fiber’s moisture management properties. When moisture is produced, it is directly absorbed from the skin and transported to the inside of the fiber. As a result, no water film is produced on the skin where bacteria could grow.
Clothes and antimicrobial bedding remain odor free for multiple wears much longer than cotton. This also means fewer washes and saving on water and energy as well as on the wear and tear that occurs on any fabric from the washing and drying processes.
On the other hand, synthetics have hundreds to thousands of times higher bacteria counts over the same periods as lyocell. Chemical additives are often used in synthetics and many cotton products to reduce the growth of bacteria.
Bamboo lyocell is hypoallergenic, meaning that it is not likely to cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. This is why it is used for clothing and home furnishings by individuals with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), allergy sensitivities, psoriasis, and neurodermatitis. It is also anti-static and doesn’t cling.
Is rayon, modal, and lyocell fabric sustainable?
Rayon, modal, and lyocell are produced from renewable cellulosic plants such as beech trees, pine trees, and bamboo. All three fibers are biodegradable. However, the most sustainable fabric is bamboo lyocell which uses less water and energy within a closed-loop system that recycles water in the process.
ettitude’s bamboo lyocell CleanBamboo® is produced from FSC-certified bamboo. Bamboo grows quickly and without artificial irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers, or gene manipulation that may be used in “wood farms” for industrial use. Our products are also Oeko-Tex certified to ensure they’re free from harmful chemicals and gentle on sensitive skin.
Lyocell manufacturing is an extremely environmentally friendly process and the most sustainable of these three fibers. The revolutionary aspect of lyocell manufacturing is the recovery and reuse of up to 99.8% of the solvent. Plus, the remaining emissions are broken down in biological water treatment plants. In fact, the solvent is not acidic, and the harmlessness of the solvent has been proven in dermatological and toxicological tests. You can even put your bare hand in it without any skin reaction (although it’s probably not advisable to leave it there). Also, no toxic substances remain in the fiber.
The fiber yield per acre from the bamboo used in the lyocell fibers is up to ten times higher than that of cotton. Also, cotton needs up to 10-20 times more water than lyocell fibers. This means minimal impact on the earth and soil health compared to cotton.
Much of the total environmental impact of textile goods comes from the care of the textiles while in use. With lyocell fabrics, there is no need for fabric softener, whitening agents, or bleach–all of which add cost to the consumer and harsh chemicals to our environment.
Bamboo lyocell (aka CleanBamboo®) is truly an achievement in environmental innovation in fiber production. It is derived from a renewable and sustainably harvested raw material, it is manufactured sustainably, and its disposal is biodegradable to complete the full cycle.
Which fabric is best for you?
When comparing the different types of bamboo fabrics on the market, determining which ones are soft, durable, and eco-friendly can be difficult. Of course, bamboo bedding is made from a sustainable material, but that doesn’t mean all of these products are truly sustainable. Most of the products you’ll find are made from bamboo viscose. While bamboo lyocell and viscose feel similar and are silky-soft, only one is truly eco-friendly. While the manufacturing process for viscose is harmful to the environment, lyocell fabric’s closed-loop system uses non-toxic chemicals and reuses 99% of the resources used during the manufacturing process, ultimately decreasing waste and water consumption.
Bamboo lyocell is the only bamboo fabric that's truly eco-friendly. It’s lightweight, soft to the touch, antimicrobial, moisture-wicking, and temperature-regulating. So, it's no wonder why ettitude’s bamboo bedding and bamboo bath products are made from bamboo lyocell fabric.
If you care about the environment and want to reduce your environmental impact without compromising comfort, shop ettitude’s eco-luxe bedding & bath towels that uplift your home, your outlook and the planet.