A stack of bamboo fabric folded towels on a stool

Is Bamboo Eco-Friendly? The Truth About Bamboo Fabric!

Bamboo is not only a beautiful plant, but it is a highly renewable resource. It has become popular as a sustainable alternative to common materials such as wood, plastic, and plant fiber. Bamboo can be turned into flooring, tools, and even clothing! But you might be wondering, how sustainable are fabrics made from bamboo?

Because bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants that requires little water or chemical fertilizers, it is considered a highly sustainable material, especially for use in the construction industry. However, its use in the textile industry is not so straightforward. Some bamboo fabrics are more eco-friendly than others depending on the processes used to turn the raw material into wearable fabric.

Because not all bamboo fabrics are created equal, there has been some controversy around the use of this textile in the fashion industry. But ultimately, there are many benefits to bamboo fabrics, as long as they are produced using sustainable methods.

A bamboo forest with lush greenery

Is bamboo a sustainable resource?

Bamboo is often praised as a sustainable material because of its fast growth rate. While trees take several decades to reach maturity, a single bamboo culm reaches maturity within a few years in the right conditions. In fact, this grass is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, with evidence that the species Phyllostachys edulis, or Moso Bamboo, can grow more than a meter per day!

Moreover, when grown in its native habitat, bamboo plants don’t need water, fertilizers, or use of pesticides to grow. New culms regenerate from the roots, which have been shown to help stabilize the soil prevent soil erosion. In addition, bamboo forests are carbon sinks, trapping carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the air, potentially mitigating the effects of climate change.

However, these benefits are reduced when bamboo is not grown in its native environment, or if the bamboo is harvested all at once instead of allowing some canes to continue growing to keep the underground rhizomes healthy. In addition, as demand for bamboo increases, some bamboo farmers turn to monoculture or pesticides for maximum short-term profit, damaging existing ecosystems.

You may also have heard that some species of bamboo can be invasive. This is particularly true for species of running bamboo, which can take over a landscape if not properly contained. While you can contain bamboo in your garden with some effort, it’s more difficult to do so for an entire grove.

But ultimately, bamboo grown responsibly in its native environment is an incredible and sustainable resource.

Why is there such a controversy about bamboo fabric?

You may be wondering, if bamboo is such a sustainable material, why is there so much controversy around bamboo fabric? As with anything, it depends on the context. In the case of bamboo fabric, it depends on how it was manufactured, as some processes are more sustainable than others.

Bamboo has been used by humans for thousands of years, but it’s only more recently that it’s become a popular material for textiles such as clothing. There are different types of bamboo fabrics, the most popular one being bamboo rayon, or viscose. Bamboo rayon is essentially a synthetic fabric made by breaking down cellulose and regenerating it into fiber. This type of chemical production not only requires large amounts of water, but also involves highly toxic chemicals.

But because the fabric is derived from bamboo, it’s often advertised as an eco-friendly product without much context. This greenwashing can be confusing for consumers, who are left bamboozled.

Fortunately, there are other types of bamboo fabric that are more eco-friendly. Additionally, continuing innovation may lead to improvements in the production of rayon. To better understand all of this, we’ll take a closer look at how different types of bamboo fabrics are made.

A row of bamboo fabric hanging on a rack

How are bamboo fabrics made?

There are two main ways in which bamboo can be transformed into fabric: mechanically or chemically.

Mechanical production

In the mechanical process, woody sections of bamboo are mashed into a pulp, to which natural enzymes are added to further break it down into individual fibers. The natural fibers are then untangled and spun into yarn, at which point they can be woven into cloth. The resulting fabric is often referred to as bamboo linen.

Bamboo linen is considered highly sustainable, similar to hemp or linen. It is also similarly strong yet coarse, therefore not the desired material for intimates or sheets. Moreover, the mechanical process is complicated, time-consuming, and expensive, so many manufacturers opt for the chemical process instead.

Chemical production

Bamboo fabrics made through the chemical process are closer to synthetic fabrics than they are to natural fabrics like hemp or cotton. Essentially, the fibers are chemically broken down into cellulose and regenerated into fibers.

Currently, there are two main types of bamboo fabrics produced chemically: bamboo rayon and bamboo lyocell. One is more environmentally friendly than the other.

Bamboo rayon

Rayon is one of the most misunderstood bamboo products, due in part to the large amount of greenwashing surrounding it. The particular chemical process was first invented in the 19th century, and the production of man-made rayon fabric began some years later in 1891 in France. It was referred to as artificial silk due to its softness.

Essentially, rayon is produced by chemically breaking down natural materials into cellulose, and then regenerating the cellulose into semi-synthetic fibers. Essentially, rayon is produced by chemically breaking down natural materials into cellulose, and then regenerating the cellulose into semi-synthetic fibers. Any plant can be used in the rayon or viscose process, with eucalyptus being a common source but bamboo becoming more and more popular.

Unlike bamboo linen, which is made directly from natural bamboo fiber, bamboo rayon and bamboo viscose are no longer considered bamboo but rather bamboo-derived fabric. Because it is generally synthetic, bamboo rayon fabric is not biodegradable, and clothes made from bamboo rayon will not quickly decompose. Luckily, any kind of fabric can be recycled or downcycled even if it is synthetic.

The chemical process involved in making rayon is considered to have a high environmental impact for a variety of reasons. First, rayon processing involves numerous harsh and/or harmful chemicals including bleach, carbon disulfide, sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), zinc, glucose, and sulfuric acid to name a few. These chemicals are not always recovered by the manufacturers and can end up washing into water supplies, affecting the environment and local communities.

Additionally, the rayon process consumes large quantities of water, impacting communities that may already be facing drought stress. While rayon is still considered more sustainable than completely synthetic fabrics, it is the least eco-friendly bamboo fabric and should be consumed sparingly.

Bamboo lyocell

More recent innovations in textile manufacturing have resulted in alternatives to bamboo rayon that are more sustainable, namely lyocell. Bamboo lyocell is made using an alternative chemical process that follows a closed-loop process and has a much higher recovery rate of water and chemicals. This means the lyocell production creates less environmental pollution.

Plus, the chemicals used are not only recycled, but they are non-toxic too. That means that they are less harmful to workers and less damaging to the surrounding environment. The resulting bamboo lyocell is soft, durable, and biodegradable.

A row of colorful scarves made from bamboo fabric hanging on a rack

Benefits of bamboo fabric

The advantages of bamboo make it an obvious material to make fabric out of. Not only is the material itself highly renewable, but the resulting fabric has numerous benefits. Let’s take a closer look at these below:

  • Luxurious feel
  • Antibacterial and antimicrobial: These qualities are not lost if you choose bamboo linen or bamboo lyocell. Unfortunately, the harsh chemical process involved in making bamboo rayon or viscose appears to strip the fabric of those antibacterial properties, according to this study.
  • Breathable
  • Hypoallergenic: Due to its breathability and tight weave, bamboo fabric is less prone to dust mites and mold growth
  • Durable
  • Naturally stain-resistant
  • Great for thermoregulation due to it’s moisture-wicking properties
  • Naturally UV-resistant (excellent choice of clothing in warm climates, often have UPF 50)
Green t-shirts made with bamboo fabrics hanging on a rack

How can you tell if bamboo fabric is eco-friendly?

Now that you have a better idea of the different kinds of bamboo fabrics and their processes, you may be wondering how to find this information while shopping for bamboo clothing or bamboo sheets. Whether shopping online or in person, the best way to check a brand of bamboo fabric for its sustainability is to go directly to their website. Not all companies will provide information about the manufacturing process, but those who are more transparent and honest tend to also be more responsible in their practices.

If you want to be able to identify bamboo rayon, there’s fortunately a way to do so even if a company doesn’t explicitly say so. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandates that bamboo made from rayon must be labeled accordingly. In other words, rayon bamboo clothes must be labeled as “rayon made from bamboo” rather than “bamboo fabric.”

Here are more ways to make sure you are buying eco-friendly bamboo textiles:

  • Check for the OEKO-TEX certification, which ensures that fabrics have been tested to be safe for human use.
  • Look for third-party organic certifications on clothing labels.
  • Opt for bamboo lyocell or TENCEL lyocell over bamboo rayon.
  • Shop second-hand bamboo textiles at your local thrift store or online.

Can you compost bamboo fabric?

You may not be able to donate worn-out clothes to charities. You may not be artistic enough to repurpose them. Or you may not have a textile recycler near you. So you may be wondering if bamboo fabric is compostable.

Bamboo rayon can take up to 200 years to decompose, so it is not considered compostable. Not only is it synthetic, but the chemicals used in the manufacturing of bamboo rayon are toxic and should not be added to a compost pile. While some chemicals are washed away, others remain in the clothing, such as dye.

On the other hand, bamboo lyocell and bamboo linen are both considered biodegradable. Note, however, that you should not compost these unless they have been dyed with natural, non-toxic dyes.

If you do have bamboo fabric that can be composted, here’s how to do so:

  1. First, cut your bamboo fabric into small strips.
  2. Next, remove any biodegradable parts such as zippers or buttons.
  3. Add your strips of bamboo fabric to your compost pile. In a hot system, they can decompose as fast as 18 days, but it may take longer than that in home composting systems.
Do you have any clothes or textiles made from bamboo fabric? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
Woman (Natalie) and man (James) in front of bamboo
About the Author: James Zimmerman


  • Hello,
    I have been wanting to make scarves, bracelets and necklaces using eco friendly fabrics and I have been researching materials a lot. I came across your article and wanted to thank you for the detailed information you provided. It helped break it down about the differences and better understanding of the processes. Do you recommend any reputable eco friendly fabric companies that have these certifications you mentioned? I’m not sure where to start. Thank you so much for any info !!

    • Hi Deanna, I am so happy that the article helped you. You said that you are looking for bamboo fabrics for crafts. Maybe Wazoodle Fabrics or Nature’s Fabrics has what you need? They seemed to have either certifications or other ways of proving their eco-friendliness. I hope this helps you!

  • What about paper towel replacements manufactured from bamboo and sugar cane? Are they eco-friendly (non-toxic) and do they break down?

    • Hi Carol, thanks for your question. I, honestly, haven’t researched bamboo paper towels yet. This is a great topic! I’ll put it on my list. Sorry that I cannot answer your question right now, though!


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