Bamboo is the only kind of grass listed in tree identification guides. It is the largest and tallest grass, growing to tree-size, and it is woody. Since ancient times in East Asia, bamboo has been an important building material. It has also been used for musical instruments, cooking and eating utensils, hats, mats, ship sails, and many other things, including fabrics. At least 27 manufacturers reviewed on Beds.Org use bamboo, mostly in cover fabrics.
Bamboo is touted as a “green” material, and the raw material itself qualifies. It requires no pesticides or fertilizers, grows quickly, does not need irrigation, and does not require replanting after being harvested. Bamboo’s root system actually stops soil erosion, and it filters ground water. It also takes a lot of CO2 out of the air.
Besides being “green,” bamboo is also naturally antimicrobial. Bamboo has a substance called kun, which inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi.
While the bamboo plant is “green,” bamboo fabrics for clothing and mattresses is another thing. There are actually two kinds of fibers coming from bamboo. One is the natural fibers of the plant itself. The other is rayon.
Natural bamboo fibers are not easily obtained, as cotton is. The process of separating fibers from bamboo is similar to getting linen from flax. It involves crushing the bamboo, then rhetting (using enzymes or chemical agents to free the fibers), a process that is not cheap, especially for fine fibers. Bamboo fibers for textiles are also called “bamboo linen.”
A few mattress manufacturers use natural bamboo fibers. Most of these are in cover or ticking fabric. Some of these are blends with silk, cotton, polyester or rayon. Some fabrics are described as “bamboo-infused,” meaning that shorter bamboo fibers are spun with other fibers in the yarns used for the fabric.
Much of the bamboo used in fabrics is “reconstituted bamboo cellulose fiber,” better known as rayon, or “bamboo rayon.” The cellulose in the bamboo is dissolved into a viscose liquid, which is extruded through spinnerets then solidified into fibers, a process similar to making rayon from wood. The chemicals usually used are toxic, such as carbon disulfide and lye (caustic soda). Even though the bamboo itself is ecologically friendly, the manufacturing process for bamboo rayon is environmentally problematic.
The Federal Trade Commission in 2010 ruled on the eco-friendly claims for bamboo fabrics. Only fabrics made from bamboo pulp fibers can be called “bamboo” or “natural bamboo.” Since the only part of the bamboo plant that remains in rayon made from bamboo is the cellulose, it must be called “rayon.” This can be specified as “bamboo rayon” or “rayon from bamboo.” Also, “viscose” can be used for “rayon.” Therefore, the only ecological advantage of bamboo rayon over wood pulp rayon is the impact of the source plant.
Out of 27 manufacturers covered on Beds.Org who use bamboo, according to their own mattress descriptions, 15 use natural bamboo fibers, 4 use rayon, 2 use both, and with 6 the type of fiber is unspecified.
In conclusion, a mattress using fabrics made with natural bamboo fibers does have health and environmental benefits, such as being hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, breathable, and moisture wicking. Using the finer fibers adds the advantage of a soft, smooth cover. The primary advantage of bamboo rayon is the quality of the fabric itself: texture and durability.
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