The Truth About Bamboo

Why bamboo isn’t the environmentally sustainable textile it’s cracked up to be

Bamboo: Fabric of the Future?

Bamboo has become synonymous amongst many consumers with words like “soft,” “pure,” and “eco friendly” (mostly because it has been marketed this way). The Bamboo craze seems to have reached every corner of the apparel and home goods market – from sheets, to underwear, baby clothes, and more – with people shelling out a lot of money for what are touted as luxurious bamboo goods.

At first glance, bamboo appears to be a highly sustainable resource. It grows quickly and doesn’t need much fertilizer or water, and there is evidence that it has amazing carbon sequestering capabilities. It even improves soil quality, and can help prevent soil erosion.

The Catch

The real problem with bamboo textiles lies in the process that is required to turn hard, tough bamboo stalks into soft fabric. Bamboo fabric is, after all, most commonly just a form of rayon. The process used to manufacture rayon requires the use of chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

As the Federal Trade Commission has said, “The truth is, most ‘bamboo’ textile products, if not all, really are rayon, which typically is made using environmentally toxic chemicals in a process that emits hazardous pollutants into the air. While different plants, including bamboo, can be used as a source material to create rayon, there’s no trace of the original plant in the finished rayon product.” 

Lye and carbon disulfide are the chemicals that are used to treat the bamboo and turn it into a syrup, which can then be turned into strands for use in weaving textiles. Carbon disulfide is incredibly toxic, and is “known to cause dizziness, vision problems, even psychosis in workers without proper protection.”

The durability of bamboo apparel has also been called into question. According to Ajoy Sarkar, a textiles expert at the Fashion Institute of Technology, rayon is a weak fiber and pills easily, which is why bamboo baby clothes come with cumbersome washing instructions.


Our Takeaway

While in theory bamboo sounds like a great low-impact resource for baby clothes, in reality the process of turning the plant into the material has a high environmental cost. 

When shopping, especially for products that come into close contact with your baby’s sensitive skin, look for organic products made from natural fibers such as cotton and that are processed without chemicals. Also look for companies that are transparent about how their products are made and their environmental impact. Crazes come and go, but opting for healthy and sustainable products without harmful environmental impacts is timeless.