As the modern, sustainable fabric lyocell gains popularity as clothing, bedding and home furnishings, many are left wondering what it really is and where it has come from. The semi-synthetic fabric, named interchangeably as Tencel™, has impressed consumers with its high-quality feel and luxurious comfort, but less is known about its sustainable production.
So, how exactly has lyocell ended up in our wardrobes and on our beds and is it the sustainable answer to fast fashion that we desperately need?
Our extensive background check on lyocell will answer all of your questions…
Lyocell Bedding KEY QUESTIONS AND INFORMATION
- What is Lyocell Fabric?
- How is Lyocell Made?
- Benefits of Lyocell
- Lyocell Bedding
- Lyocell vs Viscose
- Lyocell as a Luxury Fabric
- Is Lyocell Sustainable?
WHAT IS LYOCELL FABRIC?
Lyocell is one of the newest additions into the range of modern fabrics. It is technically part of the rayon family of semi-synthetics but has many different qualities and a distinct method of production.
The original version was developed in Australia in 1972 by the American Enka Company: the country’s biggest source of rayon manufacture. Just a few years later, the production method was adapted to produce the trademarked fabric Tencel™.
Tencel™ is now owned by the Austrian company Lenzing which now produces Tencel™ material to meet the increasing demand as it continues to grow in popularity across the globe.
Like other Rayon materials, lyocell is an alternative for natural materials cotton or silk. The original rayon, known as viscose, gained popularity as it provided a silky feel at a fraction of the price.
Lyocell or Tencel™ has different advantages. Its higher costs put it in the luxury fabrics department, on par with natural silk. However, its unbeatable texture and sustainable manufacturing process make it the fabric of choice.
Tencel fibres are comprised primarily of cellulose from wood pulp. The pulp, commonly from fast-growing eucalyptus trees, is broken down and regenerated to form strong fibres that are spun into Tencel™.
HOW IS LYOCELL MADE?
Despite sharing a similar journey from plant cellulose to semi-synthetic fabric, the production methods of viscose and Tencel™ are dramatically different. Viscose production involves many wasted toxic chemicals that are damaging to workers and local environments.
On the other hand, Tencel production uses non-toxic agents in a closed loop system that limits both waste and exposure to outside environments. Additionally, the method takes less time and involves fewer steps.
Firstly, the wood is broken down into small chips. The chips turn into a pulp with the aid of non-toxic chemical digesters. The pulp is then washed and laid out into sheets to dry.
The dried sheets are broken up and amine oxide, along with pressure and heat is used to dissolve the cellulose which separates as a clear liquid. Amine oxide is safe, widely used substance that doesn’t cause harm to humans and is readily biodegradable.
The liquid cellulose is filtered and pushed through the small holes of a spinneret to form long, strong fibres.
Regenerated cellulose fibres are set in a vat of dilute amine oxide before being washed with demineralised water. As the fibres are drying, a soapy lubricant is applied.
The strands are then ordered before finally being cut and loaded onto spools. The spools are used to weave the fibres into the fabric we know as lyocell.
BENEFITS OF LYOCELL
- Lyocell is soft and smooth to the touch with textures similar to organic cotton or silk. This makes them a great choice for clothing and bedding as they will be soft of the skin. A set of lyocell bed sheets provides the ideal comforting environment for sleeping.
- Additionally, the soft feel is great for those with sensitive skin. Even extended amounts of contact time with lyocell fabrics will feel supple, dry and cool against skin.
- Many garments or bedding sets are made entirely of lyocell. These products are soft, strong and long lasting. However, lyocell is also commonly blended with other types of fabric such as cotton, silk or wool. Lyocell works very well with other fabrics and when mixed, elevates the strength of the joining fabrics.
- Breathability and the ability to wick moisture is an important quality for bed sheets and clothes. Lyocell is strong and highly absorbent which leaves skin feeling dry and cool. Not only does this make for a comfortable sleeping experience, it also promotes temperate regulation, leaving sleepers cool in the summer and warm on chilly nights.
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- Absorbency is also great for hygiene. As water is pulled away from the body, there is less of a build up of moisture. This prevents mildew and unpleasant smells, keeping sheets fresher for longer.
- Absorbency also gives the fabric anti-bacterial properties which reduces the user’s exposure to lingering pathogens and germs. This is also why lyocell is being increasingly used for medical dressings.
- Lyocell is an incredibly durable fabric when wet and when dry. It is resistant to shrinking and washes well without being weakened or becoming misshapen. Lyocell fabrics can also be machine washed without any problems.
- Lyocell products can last a long time before needing to be replaced. The quality of lyocell bedding or clothing remains brilliant for lengthy periods of time. It is resistant to pilling and stands up well to wear and tear.
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Lyocell or Tencel™ is a popular choice for a range of products. It is commonly used for clothing, underwear and home furnishings such as bedding. When choosing Tencel™ over a broader lyocell product, you will pay a little bit more for the assurance of quality and sustainability.
It’s incredible breathability and absorbency make lyocell bed sheets the perfect choice for a comfortable night’s sleep. Lyocell bedding can also be used throughout the year as they can regulate temperature well, keeping sleepers warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Additionally, the silky texture of lyocell fabric will feel smooth and comfortable against the skin, allowing for an easy drop off to sleep. This is also great for those with sensitive skin as the soft fibres will limit irritation.
At least a third of our lives are spent in bed with our skin rubbing up against bed sheets. That’s why it’s important to maintain a comfortable, healthy and relaxing sleep environment.
As moisture is wicked away by lyocell bed sheets, germs, fungi and pathogens are less likely to survive on bedding, thereby creating a much healthier environment.
LYOCELL VS VISCOSE
Viscose was the first type of semi-synthetic fabric made from regenerated cellulose. It was created as a cheaper alternative to silk as it has a silky, smooth texture. It has exploded in popularity due to its cheaper price and soft feel and is used in clothing, bedding and furnishings across the world.
Unfortunately, the production of viscose involves the use of numerous toxic chemicals that are damaging to both the environment and to the workers involved. Local environments surrounding viscose production factories are particularly affected with toxins contaminating waterways, soils and ecosystems.
Tencel™ is in the same family of rayon fabrics and follows the basic blueprint of cellulose obtained from natural sources being broken down and regenerated into fabric fibres. However, the production method for creating Tencel™ is much less complicated and distinctly less damaging.
Firstly, Tencel™ is produced in a closed loop system so that any substances used or created are fed back into the system and aren’t wasted. This prevents any chemicals used from entering local ecosystems. Additionally, the chemicals used are non-toxic and won’t cause damage in humans after exposure.
Unlike viscose production, Tencel™ employs a solvent spinning technique. With this method, the chemical structure of cellulose remains largely intact without any significant changes. It also uses a direct solvent as opposed to the indirect solvent used in viscose production.
LYOCELL AS A LUXURY FABRIC
- Lyocell stands its ground against other luxury fabrics regarding texture and comfort levels. It also boasts other luxury qualities such as being hypoallergenic, hygienic and super absorbent.
- What sets lyocell, and especially Tencel™, apart from other luxury fabrics is that it offers exceptional comfort levels and incredible breathability while also being substantially better for the environment.
- The specialised, semi-synthetic fabric typically has a higher price tag in a similar range to other luxury fabrics such as silk or cashmere. However, consumers aren’t only receiving unbeatable softness, they are also getting the satisfaction of a guilt-free purchase.
- Additionally, lyocell products have the potential to last for a really long time if well looked after. They are resistant to pilling and shrinking and can put up with wear and tear. Buying lyocell bedding or clothing is likely to be a long-term investment.
IS LYOCELL SUSTAINABLE?
Sustainability starts with the original source of the material used. As we have seen, lyocell is made from the regenerated cellulose of wood pulp. The pulp is commonly sourced from eucalyptus trees or sometimes birch trees.
These trees are fast growing and easily replenishable and don’t naturally require any pesticides or herbicides to grow. They also have a low water demand compared with many other crops.
If the trees are not grown sustainably, however, production could have a negative impact on the environment. Fortunately, Tencel™ trees are grown on approved land (by the Forest Stewardship Council) that is deemed unfit for food production.
As the original source of lyocell fibre is completely natural, lyocell fabric is fully biodegradable and won’t be filling up landfills after its cycle of use is complete.
Semi-synthetic and artificial fabrics typically falter in their production methods with regards to sustainability. Often, toxic chemicals are used to break cellulose down and regenerate it. However, lyocell is the one fabric that breaks the mould.
It is produced with non-toxic chemicals and in a closed loop system. Local environments and factory workers therefore have limited exposure to any chemicals. The same batch of amine oxide is used to extract multiple batches of Tencel™.
To ensure that you are buying a lyocell based product which isn’t damaging the natural world, always look out for the Tencel™ logo and be sure to check out the reputation of the company.
Shop our latest collection of Lyocell (Tencel) bundles here.