A plush bed in a hotel room with luxurious Viscose or Rayon Bamboo Sheets

Viscose vs. Rayon Bamboo Sheets – What’s The Difference?

If you’re on the journey to a more restful sleep, bamboo sheets offer many benefits, from being highly breathable to luxuriously soft. But unless you are in the textile industry, understanding the terminology surrounding different fabrics can be confusing. Bamboo viscose and bamboo rayon are two of the most dominant types of bamboo bedding and bamboo clothing, but what is the difference between the two? Is one better than the other?

Although bamboo viscose and bamboo rayon are often used interchangeably, bamboo viscose is actually a type of bamboo rayon. There are other types of bamboo rayon that are not bamboo viscose. For example, bamboo lyocell is a type of bamboo rayon that has a different manufacturing process and is typically considered more eco-friendly than bamboo viscose.

Confused? Don’t worry, we’ll untangle the technical terms and break down the differences between bamboo viscose and rayon bed sheets so that you can choose the ones that are best for you.

What are bamboo viscose and bamboo rayon?

To understand the differences between bamboo viscose and rayon sheets, it helps to learn more about the two types of bamboo fabrics. While the terms viscose and rayon are frequently used as if they are identical, viscose is actually a type of rayon, which is an umbrella term for semi-synthetic fiber generated from plant cellulose fibers.

Not all viscose and rayon fabrics are derived from the bamboo plant. In most cases, viscose is derived from wood pulp (such as beech trees or eucalyptus trees). However, bamboo viscose has recently gained popularity due to the rising interest in bamboo as a sustainable material. Despite bamboo textiles dating back centuries, bamboo fabric has only recently become popular for clothing and bedding.

The reason viscose and rayon are used interchangeably is because viscose is the dominant type of rayon. It is cheap to produce compared to cotton and polyester, and appeals to eco-conscious consumers since it is made from plants. However, viscose rayon is not exactly environmentally friendly due to the toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

Other types of rayon fabrics include modal and lyocell. While the manufacturing processes of the different rayon fabrics are very similar and rely heavily on chemicals, modal and lyocell fabrics are considered more environmentally friendly since the processes used to make these fabrics typically use less toxic chemicals that are then recycled (a closed-loop process).

A bamboo grove destined for the production of viscose and rayon bamboo sheets crafted from natural bamboo fibers

How is bamboo viscose made?

Turning strong, sturdy natural materials like bamboo into a soft fabric is a complicated process. While it can be done mechanically (resulting in a fabric known as bamboo linen), it is cheaper to produce bamboo fabric chemically.

The process of making bamboo viscose starts with mashing the bamboo fibers (typically the softer inner portion of the culm and the leaves) into a pulp-like material. This bamboo pulp is immersed in a water-based sodium hydroxide, which removes impurities and turns them into alkali cellulose. The alkali cellulose is pressed into sheets and then shredded and aged before being converted into xanthate with carbon disulfide. Following this, the viscous, honey-like material is extruded through spinnerets with numerous tiny holes, forming filaments. These filaments are then solidified into fibers by being submerged in a sulfuric acid bath, which sets the viscose and allows it to be spun into yarn.

As you can imagine, the chemicals used in this process are highly toxic to the environment. In particular, they pose a risk to aquatic life when washed out into the water supply. Workers at manufacturing plants can also be exposed to these chemicals and suffer negative health impacts as a result.

How is bamboo rayon made?

To make things more confusing, many people describe the manufacturing process for rayon as nearly identical to viscose. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, in most cases, they are referring to viscose even if they are calling it rayon.

However, there are other types of rayon besides bamboo viscose fabric: namely, bamboo lyocell. The main difference is the closed-loop system for producing lyocell fabrics which is considered less harmful to the environment. While chemicals are still used to synthesize the bamboo cellulose, those chemicals can be captured and reused, instead of polluting the environment. Plus, fewer chemicals overall are used and they are generally considered non-toxic.

There is a third type of rayon fabric called modal, which is also less harmful to the environment. However, at the time of writing, modal is not widely being made from bamboo.

A pile of different colored blankets, including viscose bamboo sheets and rayon bamboo sheets

How can you tell if bamboo sheets are rayon or viscose?

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine exactly what type of bamboo sheets you have without doing a little investigating. Inaccurate labeling is part of the problem. Since bamboo viscose is a type of bamboo rayon, the two terms are often used interchangeably in marketing. Even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that viscose and rayon are the same material.

This means that bamboo viscose products, including bamboo viscose bed sheets, may be sold as bamboo rayon or bamboo viscose and vice versa. Luckily, if you are specifically looking for bamboo lyocell, it will likely be specified by the manufacturer.

Bamboo viscose vs. bamboo rayon: which sheets are easier to find?

Bamboo viscose dominates the majority of the market when it comes to bamboo textiles because the viscose process is well-established, with many existing factories. As a result, it’s cheaper for manufacturers to produce bamboo viscose than other types of bamboo rayon. Plus, bamboo viscose has become especially popular for bedding due to its silky feel, which is ideal for sleeping.

Since the lyocell process is newer, there are fewer established factories, making it more expensive to produce. However, since bamboo lyocell sheets are considerably more eco-friendly, manufacturers will proudly market this type of bamboo rayon. It appeals to those who are hoping to reduce their environmental footprint, which makes it a huge selling point.

However, bamboo lyocell sheets are not as common as sheets made from bamboo viscose. That doesn’t mean you can’t find them, you may just have to search a little harder. It’s also important to note that some manufacturers will hint through clever marketing that their bamboo sheets are eco-friendly, even if they are made from the less eco-friendly bamboo viscose.

Bamboo viscose sheets vs. bamboo rayon sheets

In most cases, sheets made from bamboo rayon and sheets made from bamboo viscose are very similar. However, depending on how they were manufactured, and what type of weave was used, there may be a few notable differences between bamboo viscose and rayon.

Softness and shine

There are many who argue that bamboo viscose sheets are softer than other types of bamboo rayon sheets or that viscose has a silkier sheen than rayon. Since viscose is a type of rayon, this can be difficult to measure accurately. When it comes to the satin-like sheen in bamboo sheets, many people don’t know that the fabric weave is just as important as the type of fabric.

One of the most popular weaves for bamboo sheets is called a sateen weave. This silk-like weave follows the one yarn under three yarns over structure. The result is a thicker, wrinkle-resistant sheet with a glossy shine to the fabric. Sateen is a popular choice for bamboo viscose sheets in particular, which is likely why bamboo viscose sheets have a reputation for being extra soft and silky.

Cooling, hypoallergenic, and breathable

Both bamboo rayon and bamboo viscose sheets are naturally hypoallergenic and can help with the regulation of your body temperature. Both types of bamboo bed sheets are great for hot sleepers because they will wick moisture away from the skin and allow it to pass through the fabric’s weave. As a result, dust mites, which can cause allergies, are less likely to build up. Both types of bamboo sheets are also great options if you tend to have sensitive skin since the fibers are both very soft and round. This means a more restful sleep with either bamboo viscose or bamboo rayon sheets.


If it’s important that your bed sheets are naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial, viscose bamboo sheets may not be the right choice. The chemical processes that turn the cellulose into viscose fibers remove bamboo’s natural antibacterial or antimicrobial properties.

By contrast, bamboo lyocell is made in such a way that it maintains those antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. So if this is a top priority for you, choosing lyocell bamboo is your best option.

Fortunately, both bamboo viscose and bamboo rayon sheets still wick moisture away from the skin and allow it to pass through the breathable material. This is very helpful in preventing the buildup of microorganisms or mold.

Have you tried either type of bamboo bed sheet? Which one did you prefer: bamboo viscose or bamboo rayon sheets, and why?
Woman (Natalie) and man (James) in front of bamboo
About the Author: James Zimmerman

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