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Bamboo sheets. Eco or not?

Bamboo sheets. Eco or not?

As bamboo linen becomes increasingly popular, many people think that bamboo is a more sustainable option. And it is. But only sometimes

We got a press release this week from ettitude, the bamboo sheet makers, about their two new colour ranges called Sand and Sage. It was really a promo celebrating the natural shades of their two markets - Australia and USA - native Australian flora and the California coastline.

While red and black are unfortunately more likely the current colours with California's turn to battle wildfire infernos, the press release peaked our attention because ettitude are a known sustainable bamboo linen maker and we've been looking for some help to explain the whole bamboo fabric fiction for ages. Like many manufacturers of quality sustainable products, a clear explanation of how they achieve more sustainable manufacturing is always right there in their promotions. 

THE TRUTH IS THAT THERE ARE BAMBOO LINENS AND TOXIC BAMBOO LINENS. THE ONLY THING  YOU CAN BE SURE OF WITHOUT DOING YOUR RESEARCH IS THAT THE BAMBOO THAT MADE THE LINEN IS LIKELY TO BE SUSTAINABLE, PESTICIDE FREE AND MAYBE EVEN ORGANIC. AFTER THAT, IT'S PRETTY MUCH THE WILD WEST FOR THE TRUTH. 

How is bamboo fibre made?

Bamboo is effectively viscose rayon. How it generally works is that bamboo is harvested then crushed and submersed in a strong solution of sodium hydroxide which dissolves the bamboo cellulose. Carbon disulfide renders the mix ready to regenerate fibres which are then drawn off, washed, often bleached to a bright white colour and dried. The resultant fluff is very long in 'staple' and visibly finer than other plant fibres.

The 'fluff' is spun into yarn and the longer staple and higher tensile strength is what makes a tough, soft yarn and what gives bamboo fabrics excellent durability. The hollowness of the fibre contributes to its very high level of absorbency and also enables it to hold dyes and pigments more readily and permanently, thus making it much more colourfast than something like hemp, for instance.

What's the issue?

The issue with bamboo viscose is both in the toxicity of the chemicals chosen to dissolve the plant and then where the waste chemicals and waste water goes - ie into local water ways. (If, at this point, you are starting to see why so much of bamboo fabric marketing focus is on the bamboo, you are getting the idea of the issue.)

You are being spun a yarn if the only thing mentioned on the packet is bamboo

The fact is that there is no escape from dissolving raw bamboo to make fabric - it is simply how you do it. And that's where how much you care and how much you are prepared to pay comes in, both for the manufacturer in the first place and the ultimate consumer.

ettitude and others like them use the Lyocell process, which relies on dissolution of cellulose products in a solvent, N-methylmorpholine N-oxide. The process starts with cellulose and involves dry jet-wet spinning. It is not widely used because it is relatively expensive.

Lyocell is one of the most sustainable textile materials of the 21st century, consuming 1/10 of the water vs conventional cotton sheets. In the case of ettitude, their closed loop technology recycles and reuses water up to 200 times, recycling 98% of water in the process.

Expect to pay a bit more

If you are presented with a set of bamboo sheets - or any sheets really, check out their story for how the product was manufactured. If they are super cheap bamboo sheets, with a pile of sustainable bamboo claims and nothing else, you can be pretty sure they don't have any real environmental credentials. (Absence of information is the fastest way to guess that something is greenwashing.)

There is also so much more that can easily be done

While this article isn't an ad for ettitude, it's important to understand just how far companies who care about the integrity of their products, can and do go. The truth is that much of what can be done in the manufacturing process isn't that hard and it often saves money. (Unilever are a world class example of saving hundreds of millions by making manufacturing sustainable.)

Back to ettitude - they are organic, vegan and 100% cruelty free, and they also seek out ways to minimise waste, such as utilising fabric offcuts to create packaging for its produce. ettitude’s CleanBamboo™ is OEKO-Tex Standard 100 certified and their new range is 100% biodegradable and produced in a closed-loop system. The colours are created with low-impact, non-toxic dyes and ettitude donates 1 percent of all sales to environmental initiatives through an ongoing partnership with 1% For The Planet.

A bit more about ettitude the company

In 2019, ettitude was awarded “International Conquerer" by the Australian Online Retail Industry Awards for showing significant, rapid growth through its direct-to-consumer model, and between October 2019 and March 2020, ettitude held its first pop-up retail experience on Abbot-Kinney Boulevard in Los Angeles. We first discovered ettitude more than two years ago when they crowdfunded coffee infused bamboo sheets on Kickstarter. 

Images: ettitude / NOTE: ekko.world do not undertake any paid promotion

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