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Is Bamboo Fabric Sustainable? What to Look For—and What to Avoid

Is bamboo fabric sustainable? Here's what to look for before making a purchase—and what to avoid—to find the most eco-friendly option.

Written by
Asha Swann
Published

When most of us think of sustainable materials, bamboo is one of the few that come to mind.

Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular in the sustainability world. And it makes sense: It's a fast-growing crop that doesn't require chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It can also grow up to three feet per day and regrows naturally, making it a regenerative plant.

If grown under ethical, eco-friendly conditions, bamboo is the go-to material when shopping sustainably. But when it comes to textiles, is bamboo fabric sustainable?

While bamboo can be sustainable, not all bamboo fabric is created equal. If you've seen bamboo rayon, bamboo modal, and bamboo linen labels on your textiles, and you're not sure what the difference is, don't worry. We've broken it all down for you.

The road to becoming a conscious consumer comes with a learning curve. It requires us to do some research and understand ways to consume in more sustainable ways that benefit both ourselves and the environment. Here's everything you need to know about bamboo fabric.

Is Bamboo Fabric Sustainable?

You may have read labels on products that read, "sustainable," "clean," or "eco-friendly." And when most of us see those labels, we assume the product itself is better for the environment. However, those labels don't give us the details on how eco-friendly the products really are. Unfortunately, bamboo falls victim to this.

Most of the bamboo fabric you'll come across isn't sustainable, even though it seems like it would be. You can thank—greenwashing is a marketing practice in which a product is marketed to seem better for the environment than it actually is. In other words, it fails to provide enough information on how sustainable products are—and it could lead to consumers unknowingly supporting a brand that doesn't prioritize sustainability.

Greenwashing can come in many forms: using the color green, displaying recycling logos, or using language that misleads. As consumers, it can be tricky to figure out what's actually sustainable and what's being marketed as sustainable.

Bamboo is typically synonymous with eco-friendly, natural materials. When many of us see an item that includes bamboo, we may assume it's sustainable. And while most bamboo is more sustainable than other synthetic textiles, there are a few bamboo blends to look out for.

Bamboo Blends

To make sure your bamboo-based fabric is actually as sustainable as it seems, check the label.

Bamboo Viscose or Bamboo Rayon

Bamboo viscose, or bamboo rayon, is one of the most common bamboo textiles on the market. It's also the most misleading. This textile combines a bamboo pulp blend and synthetic fibers.

Creating bamboo rayon—or any rayon—is a chemically-intensive process that often results in water pollution and contributes to deforestation. Plus, rayon doesn't biodegrade sustainably because of the chemicals, leading to further pollution.

So bamboo rayon exists in a grey area. Brands aren't required to disclose how much of the textile is bamboo. Therefore, brands can get away with calling the textile bamboo rayon or bamboo viscose, without sharing percentages or sustainability information.

Bamboo Modal

Another common blend is bamboo modal. Bamboo modal is often used in stretchy materials like athletic wear or undergarments.

It's similar to bamboo rayon: Both are semi-synthetic fibers. Modal is less chemically intensive to produce, but it's still not necessarily better for the environment. Creating modal can still lead to an increase in pollution.

Bamboo Lyocell

Lyocell is another semi-synthetic rayon fabric. It's generally made from bamboo pulp and is overall less chemically intensive to make. Lyocell, specifically, is naturally biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable.

Out of these bamboo blends, this seems to be the most eco-friendly option with the lowest environmental impact.

Bamboo Linen

If you're looking for textiles that are fully bamboo without all the synthetic stuff, check the label for bamboo linen.

Bamboo linen is mechanically produced: No chemical process is needed here! If a label says "100% organic bamboo linen," then you're getting one of the most sustainable bamboo options—without the chemical pollution.

Bamboo linen has a distinct texture, but it gets stronger and softer the more you wear it, making it a sustainable and long-lasting fabric.

Check for Independent Certification

How can we avoid greenwashing and make sure our bamboo clothing is actually as sustainable as we think it is? Check for independent, third-party certifications.

Have you ever seen a small bunny with the words "cruelty-free" written underneath? Leaping Bunny is one of the most popular independent certifiers out there, and its job is to check that manufacturers are following cruelty-free standards.

Having an independent certification eliminates bias on product labels. And eco-friendly, ethical certifications prove that companies are following the highest social and environmental standards.

Some key certifications to look for when it comes to shopping for textiles and other materials are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the B Corporation, GreenCircle, Fair Trade, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), among many others.

Check out our comprehensive list of ethical and sustainable labels to look out for when shopping.

Sustainable Bamboo Swaps

Still not sure where to begin your bamboo journey? Brightly has got you covered. The Brightly Shop features everyday swaps you can make, with some products made with natural bamboo. And don't worry: Our team looks for the top eco-certifications so you can be assured your products are the most sustainable choice.

Replace your synthetic, plastic hairbrush with our bamboo hairbrush. Try Patch's all-natural, ultra-soft bamboo bandages to sustainably take care of your small wounds. Check out our limited-time-only microfiber-free hair towel, made with organic cotton and bamboo. Or trade your disposable, single-use makeup wipes for reusable bamboo charcoal makeup remover pads. Every small step makes a difference.