A piece of hemp fabric on a wooden table

Bamboo vs Hemp Fabric – Which One Is More Sustainable?

When it comes to the battle between different sustainable yet comfortable plant-based fabrics, there is no easy winner. If you’ve narrowed it down to bamboo fabric and hemp fabric, it can be hard to figure out which is better. Both fabrics have their advantages and disadvantages, and which is the more sustainable option depends largely on what you value most.

Bamboo fabric and hemp fabric both have pros and cons, and determining which fabric is the more sustainable fabric comes down to the specific manufacturer and what you intend to use the fabric for. While bamboo is softer and more comfortable, hemp is a much more durable fabric, making it a better option for drapes, curtains, and even sheets.

Below we’ll compare bamboo and hemp fabrics for their sustainability, durability, comfort, as well as other factors that you may find valuable as a consumer to make the best choice. While we have uncovered a winner based on our research, this comparison should help you make the best decision for your values and needs!

Choosing the right plant fabric for you

Unlike some fabric comparisons (such as bamboo fabric vs. alpaca wool), bamboo and hemp are very comparable fabrics as they are both made from natural resources. While both bamboo fabric and hemp fabric are largely considered eco-friendly materials, their trendiness is causing some manufacturers to cut corners for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This can result in misleading claims, so looking into the manufacturing process is important to ensure you get a sustainable product with the least environmental impact.

A stack of hemp fabrics on a table

Since hemp is made from the cannabis plant, one of the possible downsides to this fabric is its association with marijuana, which has a mixed reputation. Even though the material itself does not contain the THC-rich resin that most people associate with marijuana, hemp fabric is heavily stigmatized and associated with hippy culture.

Bamboo, on the other hand, tends to have a more favorable reputation since it has a long history of association with zen, peacefulness, and feng shui.

Bamboo vs hemp fabric: which one is better?

Doing a direct comparison of bamboo fabric vs hemp fabric can be challenging since there are so many variables to consider. It’s also expected that one type of fabric will not be one-size-fits-all. But to help you out, we’ve compiled a general quick comparison of how bamboo and hemp fabrics perform in several consumer categories:

CategoryBamboo RatingHemp RatingWinner
Sustainability★★★★★★★Hemp: Both products can be sustainable to produce, but many bamboo companies use toxic chemicals that negatively impact the environment whereas hemp fabric is more often made mechanically.
Farming★★★★★★★★★Bamboo: slight edge over hemp as it is a perennial plant and for its rapid growth.
Breathability★★★★★★★★★★Tied: Both of these fabrics are very breathable, cooling, and comfortable.
Antibacterial properties★★★★★★★Hemp: Both natural materials have the potential to be antibacterial, but the frequent chemical treatment methods of bamboo fabrics in the production process lessen or even diminish the antibacterial properties.
Softness★★★★★★★Bamboo: Bamboo fabric is very soft and comfortable. Hemp fabric tends to be a bit more stiff but will soften with washing and use.
Durability★★★★★★★★Hemp: While still durable, bamboo fabric will experience more wear and tear over time and usage.
Hypoallergenic properties★★★★★★★★Tied: Both fabrics are naturally hypoallergenic and suitable for sensitive skin, as long as they are in their organic form and not chemically treated.

Which fabric is more eco-friendly: bamboo or hemp?

It’s difficult to directly compare the eco-friendliness of bamboo fabric to hemp fabric as they can both be made using a variety of methods – with varying levels of sustainable practices. To understand this better, let’s take a look at how each fabric is commonly made:

How is bamboo fabric made?

To learn whether bamboo is better than hemp regarding sustainability, it’s important to look at how bamboo fabric is made. It can be made using several methods, but ultimately, it comes down to whether it is made mechanically or chemically.

The mechanical process involves turning the woody portion of the bamboo plant into wood pulp and applying natural enzymes. The resulting bamboo fibers are then untangled and spun into yarn. The result is what is known as bamboo linen, a very high-quality material that is incredibly strong and durable. However, since this is a complicated and time-consuming process, many manufacturers will opt for the chemical process instead.

When bamboo fabric is made through a chemical process, the fibers are made into regenerated bamboo cellulose, called rayon or modal. These synthetic fibers make a soft fabric perfect for bamboo clothing or bamboo sheets. Unfortunately, this has become much more common with bamboo fabrics and is highly problematic for the environment due to the use of harmful chemicals. The chemical process also removes the natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of bamboo. What’s worse, since rayon is technically derived from bamboo, it is still sold as bamboo or bamboo viscose, which can be misleading.

On the other hand, bamboo lyocells are made using an alternative chemical process that meets environmental standards more. In this process, the non-toxic chemicals are recycled so they are not released into the environment. This method results in a fabric that is considered biodegradable and also preserves bamboo’s natural antibacterial properties in the fabric.

If you’re looking for a bamboo fabric that is eco-friendly, I’d strongly recommend looking into the manufacturer and the process through which it was made. Fortunately, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission of the US government) has mandated that bamboo made from rayon must be labeled accordingly, so keep an eye out for “rayon made from bamboo” vs “bamboo fabric.”

Cannabis leaf on a hemp fabric.

How is hemp fabric made?

Hemp fabric is woven from natural fibers from the cannabis sativa plant. The hemp fibers are separated from the bark in a process called “retting,” where the material is broken down so the fibers can be easily separated. The lignin, the starchy part of the plant that makes it woody, is removed. Then, the fibers are spun together into a continuous thread, which can then be woven or knitted into hemp fabric. Since hemp fabric can be abrasive and coarse, at this point it is often softened chemically or with biodegradable softening solutions to make it suitable as hemp clothing.

However, like bamboo fabrics, many manufacturers are turning to chemical hemp production to increase efficiency and reduce production costs. Rather than rayon, this chemical process results in a fabric known as “hemp viscose,” and involves various chemicals just as regular viscose. However, like bamboo, some manufacturers opt for the lyocell process instead.

Retting, which is the process of separating the hemp fiber from the rest of the plant material, can be a bit controversial as well. If chemicals are used to speed up the process, it becomes more harmful to the environment. At the same time, environmentalists consider retting with water also very wasteful as it uses a lot of water. Some manufacturers will use dew for retting, which seems to be the ideal method.

Bamboo vs hemp fabric: the main criteria

Beyond the sustainability of the production of each fabric, there are several other criteria. For example, do you want a fabric that is soft, durable, or biodegradable? How important is it for you that a fabric is hypoallergenic?

Farming -which plant is more sustainable to grow?

While the processes used to make bamboo and hemp fabrics have pros and cons, the plants themselves are very comparable as sustainable materials to grow. While hemp is considered a weed for good reason, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet.

Using either material for making fabric helps to prevent deforestation. Both hemp and bamboo plants are pest-resistant, require little water consumption, grow very quickly, and do not require herbicides, pesticides, or the use of fertilizers. Both fabrics are considered more eco-friendly alternatives to organic cotton or polyester.

Ultimately, bamboo gets a slight edge over hemp for the simple reason that hemp is an annual, whereas bamboo is a perennial grass. The cultivation of hemp requires annual planting in the spring and is harvested in late summer or early fall. Farmers will often rotate growing hemp with other crops since repeated planting year after year can make crops more susceptible to pests and degrade the soil over time. However, ultimately bamboo is a more sustainable natural resource because of its rapid growth and because bamboo cultivation does not require replanting.


The good news is that both fabrics are considered biodegradable. However, there are some exceptions!

For example, untreated hemp is remarkably biodegradable. Many have found hemp to take just weeks or months to biodegrade. However, if it has been chemically treated, dyed, or blended with other materials, it won’t biodegrade as quickly.

Untreated bamboo fabric takes approximately one year to biodegrade. However, bamboo rayon is not considered biodegradable as it takes unreasonably long to decompose once discarded. Once again, this comes down to the individual product, the manufacturer, and their process.


For this category, we will have to call it a tie! The good news is that both fabrics are equally as breathable and comfortable. Hemp fabric allows for the passage of moisture from the skin to the atmosphere, making it very breathable and a popular fabric for warmer climates. The hemp fibers’ structures are hollow, making them breathable and insulating. It’s also flexible and fits the individual, though not necessarily elastic.

Bamboo fabric is renowned for its breathability, and many argue that it is the most breathable fabric on the market. It can wick excess moisture from the skin, which makes it ideal for thermoregulation. For this reason, bamboo fabrics are very popular for undergarments or athletic apparel.

Antibacterial properties

Plant fibers inherently have some antibacterial properties, so both hemp and bamboo fabrics have the potential to be antibacterial. But, you do need to be careful and do research into your specific product’s manufacturing process.

One study found that all hemp plant components contain strong antibacterial properties. Organic hemp fabric is very resistant to bacteria and fungal growth, making hemp clothing ideal for extended wear and the prevention of odors. With that said, if hemp fabric has been chemically produced, it may not have the same antibacterial properties.

The study also found antibacterial properties in raw bamboo. Bamboo fabrics contain a material called bamboo kun, which is both antibacterial and antifungal. Bamboo kun prevents pests and fungal diseases in bamboo plants. However, as we mentioned, looking at how bamboo fabric specifically is made, some of the additional chemicals and materials that go into most bamboo fabrics can reduce the antibacterial properties.


If you have stumbled upon bamboo fabric in the past, you likely noticed its soft feel. Many people use the word “luxurious” to describe the soft bamboo fabric. This is partly why bamboo has gained tremendous popularity in recent years. Bamboo fabric is generally much softer than hemp and is the better choice for bedding, towels, sheets, undergarments, and socks worn close to the skin.

On the other hand, many people find hemp to be a slightly abrasive or coarse material. Fortunately, hemp softens over time, much like linen. Not only that, but the fibers do not degrade even after ample washing, so you won’t compromise durability for comfort. How soft your hemp fabric is depends on the production process and the quality of hemp used. You may opt for hemp fabrics for backpacks, jeans, and jackets as they would be a little less uncomfortable to “break in” but still durable and strong.


Hemp fabric ultimately wins when it comes to durability and longevity. While bamboo is arguably one of the strongest plant materials aside from wood, hemp fabric is much stronger and more durable than bamboo fabric. Does this mean the bamboo fabric will completely fall apart with minimal use? Of course not. Bamboo fabric is still durable, though it may show wear and tear over time.

Thanks to those robust hemp fibers, hemp fabric is highly durable and strong. Hemp was harvested for its fibers as early as 2800 BCE in China and has been used for materials like ropes and cables due to its strength. It has triple the tensile strength of cotton, which means it doesn’t stretch or tear under intense weight. Not only that, but hemp is also less likely to wrinkle since the fabric is very durable and stable.

Hypoallergenic properties

Both bamboo and hemp fabrics are generally great for allergies or skin sensitivities but for different reasons. Quality hemp fabric, despite various myths, is not itchy and uncomfortable on the skin. The fibers themselves are quite smooth so they would be suitable for those with sensitive skin.

Bamboo is also very soft and smooth, therefore gentle on sensitive skin and great for those who are prone to allergies. It is also considered hypoallergenic, in part because of its breathability, which reduces the likeliness of dust mites or mold.

Of course, there are rare cases of people allergic to the plants themselves, so always test out a new fabric with care.

A close up of different colors of hemp fabrics

Which is the winner?

This is an incredibly close race, as the results are clearly not black and white. According to our research, hemp fabric does appear to come out on top, but with a very narrow victory. Ultimately it comes down to the manufacturer and what your intention is for the fabric. Both bamboo fabric and hemp fabric are plant-based fabrics that, when purchased responsibly, are sustainable choices and can have a positive environmental impact.

Since bamboo fabric tends to be softer, you may want to use this fabric for items that are close to the skin such as undergarments and sheets. Bamboo is also a relatively new fabric so there is the possibility that more sustainable methods of production may become available over time.

On the other hand, hemp fabric is an incredibly durable and strong material that will stand the test of time. This makes it ideal for items that may take a beating, such as outdoor clothing, bags, and backpacks!

Do you have a preference for either hemp or bamboo fabric? Let us know your experience with either fabric in the comments below!
Woman (Natalie) and man (James) in front of bamboo
About the Author: James Zimmerman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *