Bamboo is the latest eco-friendly trend. Bamboo is everywhere: bamboo materials, bamboo kitchen ustensiles, bamboo textile and clothes. It‘s allegedly the new ideal alternative to cotton as the bamboo plant uses less water and almost no pesticides or harsh chemicals.
Bamboo textile would not only be sustainable and eco-friendly but it would also have various health properties such as hypoallergenic, antibacterial, and much more.
But are any of these claims founded on scientific evidences? Are bamboo sheets healthier for you or your skin? Are bamboo sheets better than cotton sheets?
In this article we explore the bamboo sheet benefits, based on scientific studies and research. If you want to know more about eco-friendly textiles, see our article about sustainable fabrics.
The Conscious Insider is reader supported. When you buy something we recommend, we might earn an affiliate commission at no extra charge for you.
Table of Contents
The Bamboo Plant – A Sustainable Alternative to Cotton?
Let’s start with the plant itself. The bamboo plant is mainly found in Asia. It is a rapidly-growing plant that needs very little water or fertilizer to thrive. The culture of bamboo is therefore more eco-friendly than the culture of cotton which requires a considerable amount of water and harsh chemicals (“Cotton accounts for 16 percent of global insecticide releases”). Bamboo plants are also beneficial for controlling soil erosion.
Bamboo fiber is extracted from the bamboo plant.
This 2015 scientific study found many properties of bamboo fiber, such as:
- Hydroscopic (readily taking up and retaining moisture),
- Resistant to ultraviolet light,
- Highly durable, stable, and tough,
- Softer than cotton (due to micro gaps in its structure).
The 3 Kinds of Bamboo Textile – What’s the Difference?
As explained previously, bamboo fibers have many healthy benefits. But bamboo textiles can be quite different from bamboo fibers and from their properties.
The Eco-friendly Textile: Natural Bamboo or Bamboo Linen.
Bamboo linen is obtained by mechanically crushing the bamboo plant into natural bamboo fibers. The whole process doesn’t require chemical treatment. This fabrication process is similar to that of linen or hemp.
The manufacturing process is therefore eco-friendly, non-toxic and durable. The mechanical process is also long, labor-intensive and therefore most costly.
Therefore Bamboo linen is very rare on the market.
The Most Commun: Bamboo Rayon and Viscose (regenerated manufactured fiber)
Bamboo viscose or bamboo rayon are regenerated manufactured bamboo fiber. It means that the manufacturing process is to dissolve the plant fibers into chemicals.
This process therefore eliminates all natural properties of bamboo plants. In 2009, the FTC already alerted the consumers, “The truth is, most “bamboo” textile products, if not all, really are rayon, […] there’s no trace of the original plant in the finished rayon product.”
The manufacturing of bamboo rayon/viscose is done with extremely polluting and toxic chemicals that release hazardous pollutants into the environment.
Bamboo rayon/viscose are unfortunately the most common “bamboo” fabrics found in stores.
The Alternative: Bamboo Lyocell
Lyocell is a manufacturing process using non-toxic solvents and saving energy and water compared to the other rayon/viscose processes. Bamboo Lyocell is made from bamboo fiber.
Beware of Greenwashing – Bamboo Plant Properties are not applicable to Bamboo Rayon/Viscose fabric
Many bedding and clothing brands are using the properties of the bamboo plant to promote their bamboo rayon/viscose products and market them as green, sustainable and eco-friendly.
With the rising popularity of bamboo bedding, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is fighting greenwashing and misinformation.
Since 2009, the Commission made it mandatory for companies to list bamboo rayon/viscose products as “rayon made from bamboo” instead of the misleading “bamboo” label.
In addition, the entity is also suing various companies for false or misleading green claims, such as products with sustainable, antibacterial or hypoallergenic properties.
In May 2022, the FTC sued Walmart and Kohl’s for “deceptive environmental claims, touting that the “bamboo” textiles were made using ecofriendly processes, while in reality converting bamboo into rayon requires the use of toxic chemicals and results in hazardous pollutants”.
The court orders require penalties of $5.5 millions in total.
What Are the Advantages of Bamboo Rayon and Bamboo Viscose Sheets? And What Does Science Say About It?
Nowadays, there are many claims about the benefits of bamboo sheets, but what’s myth and what’s reality? Here’s what the scientific studies and research found.
We will review here only bamboo rayon and bamboo viscose, as bamboo linen is practically impossible to find on the market. Keep in mind that “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” according to the FTC.
Temperature & Moisture Management
If you suffer from night sweats, bamboo viscose/rayon are indeed the perfect fabric to fight humidity and help regulate your body temperature.
Several studies comparing bamboo viscose to cotton and viscose fabric have shown that bamboo viscose has thermoregulating properties. “Results confirmed that regenerated bamboo fibre fabrics have excellent moisture and temperature management properties “
The fabric is also ideal for regulating the temperature of the sheet while it is heated. This ScienceDirect article found that “bamboo and cotton have been demonstrated to have low thermal conductivity.”
In conclusion, viscose bamboo absorbs better water and humidity and has some thermoregulation properties. However, no scientific studies link those properties to the initial bamboo plant.
Bamboo Kun: Antibacterial
You might have heard of the bamboo kun. It’s the name of the antimicrobial bio-agent found in the bamboo plant. It repels bacteria, fungi, bugs, and pests.
This 2012 scientific study by Xi and Qin shows that natural bamboo fiber has no natural antibacterial property. It is backed by various scientific sources indicating that natural bamboo fiber has no significant antibacterial effect.
The FTC issued a statement refuting those claims: “You need competent and reliable evidence, such as scientific tests and analyses […] to claim that rayon fibers retain natural antimicrobial properties from the bamboo plant.”
We didn’t find any scientific proof that bamboo fiber or bamboo rayon/viscose have antibacterial properties.
Most of the fabrics made from bamboo fiber available at the moment on the market, are not sustainable. The bamboo plant is sustainable for the reasons mentioned previously. Obtained by a mechanical process, bamboo linen is also eco-friendly. Lyocell Bamboo is less toxic than bamboo rayon but it still uses chemical processes. Bamboo rayon/viscose is far from sustainable. The manufacturing processes used to create these fabrics are extremely polluting and unsustainable.
Is bamboo fiber naturally resistant to harmful UV rays? Yes, it is. But is bamboo rayon/ viscose?
This research indicates that it is not the case. “The conventional methods to manufacture bamboo fibres […], cannot retain the unique UV absorption property of bamboo plant in bamboo fibres.”
Hypoallergenic – Soft – Durable – Breathable
We didn’t find any scientific proof demonstrating these properties in bamboo rayon/viscose fabric.
What is the advantage of bamboo sheets?
The main scientifically proven advantage of bamboo bed sheets made out of bamboo rayon/viscose is thermoregulation. Bamboo fiber fabrics have excellent moisture and temperature management properties. LINK
Do bamboo sheets help you sleep better? Do bamboo sheets make you sweat less?
Yes, it’s scientifically proven.
If you experience heavy sweating during sleep, which soaks your night clothes or bedding. Bamboo rayon/viscose sheets are a temperature-regulating material, perfect for hot sleepers.
They can help reduce the discomfort associated with sweating by absorbing humidity and controlling the temperature.
Are bamboo sheets healthy for you? Are bamboo sheets good for your skin?
Some brands promote their environmentally friendly bamboo bedding which is supposed to be naturally hypoallergenic, dust mist repellent, and have naturally moisture-wicking proprieties. We didn’t find any scientific proof demonstrating these properties in bamboo rayon or bamboo viscose fabric.
Bamboo vs cotton: are bamboo bed sheets better than cotton sheets?
Bamboo made of viscose, Egyptian cotton, or traditional cotton, which are the best sheets?
In terms of quality, no study proves that bamboo sheets are superior to cotton sheets. ‘‘no empirical evidence was found in this study, […] to confirm that regenerated bamboo fibre fabrics are superior to those made of cotton and viscose rayon.’’
For the planet, the bamboo plant is more sustainable than cotton culture, consumes large amounts of water and requires insecticides and pesticides..
How do you choose bamboo bedding?
In general, when choosing a textile that is in direct contact with your skin, you should choose fabrics with the least chemical treatments, such as organic products or non-toxic products. Those products are environmentally friendly.
Look for the following labels:
- The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an international textile standard for organic fibers.GOTS certification bans the use of toxic chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs, and unethical practices such as child labor, unsafe working conditions, and precarious employment.
- Made Safe certification is a label for non-toxic products. It guarantees the product is made from safe ingredients and does not harm human health. It means the ban of harmful substances.
- Oeko- Tex certification was created by an independent certifier. It is a globally recognized standard that ensures that a textile is non-toxic for humans. This certification applies to all types of textiles, at any stage of processing.
Don’t forget to check:
- The thread count: The higher the thread count, the softer the sheets. Look for bamboo sheets with a thread count of at least 400.
- The weave: Bamboo sheets can be woven in various ways, which affect their softness, durability, and price. The most common weave is a sateen weave, which is soft and smooth.
How to wash and care for bamboo sheets?
Bamboo bedding can be washed like cotton sheets.
Wash your sheets in cool or warm water, using a mild detergent.
– Avoid using bleach or fabric softeners, as these can damage the bamboo fibers.
– Hang your sheets to dry, or tumble dry on low heat.
– Iron your sheets on low heat if needed.
How long does a bamboo sheet last?
Image Credit: All photos belong to Pexels and Unsplash