Towels that claim to be bamboo towels are most often a combination of bamboo and cotton. Regular towels are most often made of cotton alone. Read more...
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What are bamboo towels and how are they made?
Bamboo itself is a very fast-growing and renewable resource and does not require pesticides or fertilizers to grow. This is why it is often considered eco-friendly. Bamboo, when used in textiles, is often in one of four forms. Bamboo Rayon, Bamboo Lyocell, Bamboo blended with cotton, or Bamboo Linen. It is very common for companies to boast bamboo in their products but each of these forms is very different.
Most Bamboo in bedding is likely Rayon from Bamboo. Although bamboo may be used initially, it is processed in a manner similar to rayon. Rayon, although made from cellulose harvested from wood pulp (in this case the pulp would be from bamboo), it is chemically converted into the final product. Although bamboo may be considered eco-friendly, the production process is not. Although made from regenerated cellulose using bamboo pulp, the FTC fined four major retailers in 2013 for false advertising stating their products were made from bamboo when in fact they were made from “rayon made from bamboo.” (Commission, Bamboo Textiles, 2019)
Lyocell has become very popular in recent years given its soft feel and comfort. It is derived from regenerated cellulose using bamboo pulp. 99% of the solvent used in production, N-methyl-morphine-N-oxide (NMMO), is recycled earning this textile a more favorable environmental rating.
Bamboo with cotton requires the use of chemicals and a significant amount of water. Many do not realize that over 250 gallons of water are needed to grow the cotton required to produce just one cotton T-shirt. Organic cotton has gained in popularity owing to the fact that it is grown without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, to be labeled as organic, the only criteria to meet is to utilize USDA-certified organic crops in production. The word "organic" can still be ascribed to cotton that utilizes certified organic crops even if it has been chemically modified with finishes or dyes. (USDA, 2019)
Bamboo is a natural fiber made up of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin-derived from bamboo culm. It is considered a bast fiber similar to jute or hemp. Bamboo manufacturing can be either mechanical or chemical. The mechanical process involves enzymatically breaking down bamboo and combing out its fibers but is not commonly used given its costly and labor-intensive properties. The more common process of extracting bamboo fibers is via the chemical process which is almost identical to the production of rayon utilizing carbon disulfide.
Bamboo linen is produced in a manner similar to linen from flax. However, it is a durable and coarse textile and not as soft as Lyocell or Rayon from Bamboo.
What's the difference between bamboo towels and regular towels?
Towels that claim to be bamboo towels are most often a combination of bamboo and cotton. Regular towels are most often made of cotton alone. There is not necessarily a benefit of a bamboo blended towel over a 100% cotton towel. Bamboo is thought to be more absorbent than cotton allowing for quicker drying off after a shower. The only follow-up challenge here is that the towel itself may take longer to dry. Many products with bamboo will reference the naturally antimicrobial qualities of bamboo. It is difficult to state with certainty to true antimicrobial quality of the bamboo used in towels given the manufacturing process and the simple fact that it is often combined with cotton.
Are bamboo towels preferable to regular towels?
Some people may prefer the feel of a bamboo blended towel depending on the construction of the product. They may attain a softness. That being said, comparable softness can be achieved for cotton towels based on construction as well.
Should I incorporate bamboo towels into my routine?
I think it's important to not assume that if a company states it uses bamboo is using it in the most eco-friendly manner. If your goal is to choose bamboo products for the environmental benefit, it would be worthwhile to review what type of bamboo product you are investing in to avoid a false sense of security in a buzzword.
What qualities are best to look for in bamboo towels?
Really think about why you are seeking bamboo in your towels. Is the goal to seek eco-friendly options? If this is the case, review the company and its manufacturing process, the percentage of bamboo, and the type of bamboo fiber in the product. Try to avoid falling for bamboo as a marketing ploy to give a false impression of eco-friendly.
Are there specific bamboo towel product recommendations to consider?
Ettitude Bamboo towels are made of lyocell. There are studies that show that people with eczema or atopic dermatitis favor lyocell. It tends to cause less itching, it is softer and it can regulate temperature and moisture more effectively than cotton.
The softness of rayon from bamboo and lyocell tends to give textiles a feel similar to silk making it very favorable for linens. These towels tend to be 100% lyocell which can at least give more confidence that the product is based in bamboo and not just a small percentage of the composition.