Is Bamboo the New Cotton?

The first few times I came across bamboo sheets, the thought of panda snacks rubbing against my skin didn’t seem especially velvety. I was interested, though, and took the bait. Upon first touch I was shocked… bamboo fibers are surprisingly soft.

In fact, the bamboo sheets I felt in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Street Market were silkier than standard cotton sheets. Since my first encounter with bamboo fabric a few months ago, it seems to be popping up everywhere.

Tees from New Balance. Tops from Gap. Even linens from Target.

But people aren’t breaking up with cotton and switching to bamboo based on texture alone. Bamboo fabric has all the qualities of cotton that Americans have grown to love, but the cultivation and harvesting processes of bamboo are much easier on our planet (in most cases, harvesting is the general equivalent of mowing your lawn).

Like many crops, cotton needs oceans of pesticides to be productive and profitable. Most bamboo is organically grown and naturally irrigated. In the right climate, bamboo can literally grow like a weed — up to three feet per day — and the plants can reach 100 feet tall.

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There are over 1,000 different kinds of bamboo and some are stronger than steel.In certain parts of the world where bamboo grows on every corner, it’s used as a substitute for steel when building homes, boats and even bridges. So it’s strange then, that fabric made from bamboo can be as soft as cashmere. And unlike cashmere, no goats are harmed in the process.

Bamboo fabrics are more porous than cotton and because of this, they don’t require as much dye in order to become your sheets, towels or tees. The fabric also has a natural moisture wicking property that keeps moisture out. This not only means a more comfy night’s sleep and a quicker dry-off, but it also makes the material antibacterial and odor resistant… qualities cotton simply can’t compete with.

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Like all green products, there are still questions to consider before you go refitting your entire home linen collection or wardrobe with bamboo:

  • Bamboo is greener than cotton, but still less green than soy.
  • Not all bamboo is green! Question if the bamboo you buy was grown sustainably. (A concern is that bamboo farming might lead to deforestation in China.)
  • Not all bamboo is organic! It’s usually a perennial crop that can grow naturally without fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation, but unless it’s from a certified farm, it’s not organic.
  • Like cotton, bamboo fabric will shrink the first time you wash it, just not as much.
  • Bamboo fabric is sturdy, but is still best washed on the delicate cycle. Fabric softeners and chlorine bleach are no-nos.
  • The fabric is best air-dried or put in the dryer on the “fluff” cycle. No need to iron since the fabric is wrinkle-free.
 

3 Comments

  1. I love how we keep finding the value of Nature’s elements. Bamboo is such a noble wood I was glad to read this article

     
  2. Next month I’ll be attending a botanical garden talk on “The Diversity of Bamboo” and looking forward to it.

     
  3. I’ve worn bamboo tshirts before and I didn’t expect them to be so comfy at first. It’s probably the panda association that turns some people off at first, but if people knew how much more toxic it is to grow and process cotton, they would switch. Plus the cost would come down. It just takes time to educate people as well as taking on the big cotton lobbyists.

     

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