March 10, 2010 (5:50 am)

Bamboo Clothing, Bedding, and Towels

topics: Green Home
by Kristen Suzanne

Our pet bamboo

For some time now, I’ve been gradually transitioning my family’s life to a greener existence. First, I  started with food. Then, I incorporated body/beauty care products and household cleaners. Then, I started tackling some more expensive items like clothes. When I became pregnant, I decided that the only thing I want touching my baby’s skin will be organic clothes — at least, to the extent that is realistically possible. Finally, I’m starting to address household items such as towels, rugs, bedding, etc., which of course can get quite pricey. One way I addressed the cost was by asking for these items during the holidays — they weren’t just on my wish list, they were my list — and from this, I received organic cotton kitchen and bath towels (yay!). Another time I asked for organic cotton sheets and received them for my birthday.

In the past, I have bought some organic sheets for our bed that I had found for cheap prices at places like Overstock.com. But I can’t help but wonder… are these really eco-friendly? In the U.S., the law requires that any producer wanting to label and sell a product as “organic” must meet the standards established by the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. That’s terrific and all, but — call me paranoid — if lead paint can show up in toys, I don’t put all of my faith in regulations to assure that a company has the same values that I do. There is a reason the term “green washing” was created after all. Therefore, I want to know more about a company’s culture and attitude about organics and sustainability. I want to know just how eco-driven they are, if that makes sense. For example, sometimes there are descriptions about a company and they make a point to describe the materials they use, proudly boasting an explanation as to their suppliers, materials used, and going above and beyond to assure buyers that the products are totally eco-friendly. But with other companies, sometimes it’s very vague and I can’t help but wonder if they’re just throwing around buzz words as an afterthought. I want to buy from a manufacturer or merchant that takes it as seriously as I do.

Anyway, I decided to buy a set of sheets and towels, and this time I did more research. There are basically three eco-friendly options: Bamboo, Hemp, and Organic Cotton. I decided to pursue bamboo or organic cotton for now. I have a big heart for hemp, but every time I shop for hemp items, they’re really really expensive. I figured I’d start with bamboo and organic cotton and see where it led me. If I didn’t find anything I liked, then I’d pursue hemp.

The first place I looked was Amazon.com, as I buy a lot of stuff there and the discounts are usually awesome, but I was unhappy with the options. So I moved on to search Google, where I found a couple of sites that looked very promising. After checking the price differences with their bamboo vs organic cotton options, I decided to experiment with bamboo.

Now, you might be thinking, “clothing made from bamboo? Seriously?” Yes, really! (I had to convince my husband that bamboo clothing doesn’t look like this.) Through various processes, bamboo fibers are converted into something very much like cotton.

Through my research, I learned that although bamboo is naturally sustainable and eco-friendly in the way it’s grown, there can be concerns with the manufacturing. Bamboo basically grows without the need to use pesticides or herbicides (whoot!). It thrives in its natural environment, requiring no irrigation (natural rainfall is enough), which is also cool. It’s an abundant and renewable resource that removes CO2 from our atmosphere while producing plenty of oxygen. Go bamboo!

That said, bamboo is not perfect when it comes to clothing, bedding, and towels. There are two main things to consider when purchasing bamboo for these items.

  1. The reputation and mission of the place from which you’re buying: I always try to do some research into the company and make sure they make sustainability a main point of their corporate mission. This helps ensure that the company selling the items, the manufacturers, and the suppliers are on the same ideological page as you. I have no problem peppering a company with hard questions in order to make sure I’m making enlightened decisions. You’ll know when you’re talking to the real deal, because they’ll be happy you asked and quick to talk about how seriously they take it. Companies that are faking it become immediately apparent, such as by having no idea what you’re talking about.
  2. To get that silky soft experience from bamboo fabrics, the manufacturing process most likely included the use of chemicals, more specifically, sodium hydroxide. From what I’ve read, this chemical isn’t as harmful as you might think if used responsibly (which brings me back to point #1 above). I’m told that sodium hydroxide doesn’t remain as a residue on bamboo clothing, sheets, and towels because it washes away easily and can be neutralized to harmless. Despite this, it’s not ideal in my opinion. The good news is that some companies are really trying to make improvements in the chemical manufacturing of bamboo. For example, according to OrganicClothing.blogs.com,

Newer manufacturing facilities have begun using other technologies to chemically manufacture bamboo fiber that are more benign and eco-friendly. The chemical manufacturing process used to produce lyocell from wood cellulose can be modified to use bamboo cellulose. The lyocell process, also used to manufacture TENCEL®, uses N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide to dissolve the bamboo cellulose into a viscose solution.  N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide is a member of the amine oxide family.  Amine oxides are weak alkalines that act as surfactants and help break down the cellulose structure.  Hydrogen peroxide is added as a stabilizer and the solution is forced through spinnerets into a hardening bath which causes the thin streams of viscose bamboo solution to harden into bamboo cellulose fiber threads. The hardening bath is usually a solution of water and methanol, ethanol or a similar alcohol.  The regenerated bamboo fiber threads can be spun into bamboo yarn for weaving into fabric. This lyocell processing is substantially healthier and more eco-friendly because N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide is supposedly non-toxic to humans and the chemical manufacturing processes are closed-loop so 99.5% of the chemicals used during the processing are captured and recycled to be used again. Only trace amounts escape into the atmosphere or into waste waters and waste products.

Other chemical manufacturing processes for bamboo fabric are appearing such as using acetic anhydride and acetic acid with sulfuric acid as a catalyst to form acetate fiber which is then spun into a yarn.

New nano-technologies are also being introduced into the bamboo clothing industry. GreenYarn, a new startup located in Boston, is developing a bamboo clothing line made from nano-particles of bamboo charcoal. GreenYarn’s “Eco-fabric” is manufactured from 4 to 5 year old Taiwanese-grown bamboo that has been dried and burned in 800 degree C ovens until it is reduced to charcoal. The bamboo is processed – we don’t know how – into fine nano particles which are then embedded into cotton, polyester or nylon fibers. This conventional fiber yarn that contains trapped bamboo charcoal nano particles is then woven into fabrics … mostly socks and blankets now.

After much research, I decided to buy some bamboo sheets and towels. Now, I won’t be bamboo-dependent for everything; I just thought I’d dip my toe into some of the other eco-friendly alternatives for our home by trying bamboo. Next, I plan on trying some organic cotton items — from an eco-driven source! And, long term? I want an organic mattress! (But that’s another story.)

Update! I received my sheets and we slept on them for the first time. Oh my goodness gracious! They are so SOFT!!!!! Why did I wait so long to buy these??? (Haven’t used the towels yet.)

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  • http://gingeristhenewpink.blogspot.com/ Lauren519

    I do the same thing: I ask for these things as gifts! I've been wanting to change my towels over. As for my sheets, right now I have really expensive Ralph Lauren ones I asked for a few years back, I washed them many times to make sure there aren't any chemicals on them (I think that helps a little). But for my baby: bamboo all the way! :)

  • Joanna_Steven

    Thanks Kristen! I got some bamboo towels and they are SO soft, it's all I want to use now. I love them! I got them for Christmas ;) Amazon should definitely get a little bit more on the organic clothing/bedding wagon, because I like to have a single wish list for people to check out. I need to get some bedsheets, so I'll start saving for these cool 600 thread count bedsheets you linked to! :)

  • BrookieCookie

    I bought some bamboo sheets for my bed a couple years ago and I loved them sooooo much. They are so much softer than cotton and they feel so good against your skin. Unfortunately, my cat puked on them after he got his 3 year vaccination from the vet and the sheets got ruined. I'll be buying some more pretty soon though. Thanks for this post! I want to detoxify my house and these links will help me a lot.

  • http://www.greeniemama.wordpress.com/ Tricia

    Wow, I never thought about how a bamboo plant could become a towel or a cloth diaper insert…hmm…i can say that I like using the inserts I have that are made from bamboo because they are so soft. It is annoying for me though b/c we have terribly hard water and now that we have washed them many times they are not soft. I might have to do some stripping. Anyway…maybe I'll have to start researching those kind of things. I don't really like our current sheets or towels anyways.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Awesome Joanna! Mine arrive tomorrow and I'll update my blog with a
    review after I try them.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    I have a RL pillow case around here somewhere. Had it for years. I
    remember it being so soft. Lol haven't bought from them in soooo long.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Oh no about the puke :( Hope you get some new ones soon! I can't wait to try mine.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    I plan on doing a lot of research regarding cloth diapers, and you're right, I've seen some stuff come across as having bamboo for an option. Must be nice and soft against a babies tushy! (is that even spelled right – lol?)

  • http://www.loveveggiesandyoga.com/ Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga)

    i invested in some bamboo towels about 2 yrs ago. they have been washed hundreds of times and have totally held up..the only caveat is that it's very HEAVY and retains water and takes a long time to dry and in humid climates the dryer needs to go forever and/or extreme patience to line dry. Not a prob in AZ though. Great post, Kristen and i can hardly keep up w/ you between K's Raw and here…you're a machine!

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Thanks doll!!!

  • IndiasMommy

    I love it! Way to go, Kristen! Our little Bug will be 6 months next week and besides for an adorable pink tutu that I simply could not resist, she has only been in organic clothes her entire life! We didn't think it would be feasible for this long, but we are still going strong and don't plan on stopping yet! Sometimes it's hard to pass on the cutie tutie conventional clothes (and we certainly did NOT get all the clothes and blankies baby girls typically are gifted with), but my husband and I just love knowing we are providing a more pure environment for our baby. And thankfully there are more and more stores providing organic and even fair trade baby clothes.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Hi IndiasMommy,
    Thanks for sharing. Love what you've done! I'm on a couple of eco-baby
    daily email alerts where they send the deal of the day and there are
    some awesome finds. I bought a bamboo hooded robe the other day and a
    pack of 6 organic tshirts with veggies on them (2 each for 3 different
    stages of growth). I think the deals are out there, just have to
    look. :)

  • http://bittsblog.blogspot.com bitt

    i love my hemp clothes! I haven't done much with bamboo yet but thanks for mentioning it.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    What kinds of things do you have? Any favorite places to shop for it?

  • http://bittsblog.blogspot.com bitt

    oh here and there. there was a store in masschusetts called “the hempest”. they have a lot of hemp stuff. i get things at REI and patagonia. and simple has some hemp shoes.

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Awesome! Hemp friggin' rocks!!!

  • http://travelraw.blogspot.com/ Travel Raw

    Kristen,
    Awesome. Congrats on your new blog. Love the look and the content!! Can't wait to read more… :)

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Thank you Travel Raw :) Much appreciated!

  • http://www.rawdorable.blogspot.com shannonmarie

    Very cute. I was so surprised to see your new site. Nice :-)

  • Sarah

    We just purchased a Naturopedic mattress. Not perfect but relatively affordable comparatively and much better than your standard mattresses. I'm also on this quest, Kristen and, you're right, it's a long road!

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Let me know how you like it, Sarah! Thanks for commenting. :)

  • Joanna_Steven

    Awesome update! My dad wants to buy us something for our wedding anniversary. I said I want bed sheets :)

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    Great plan!

  • http://www.discoverjoydaily.com/ Rachel V

    Where do you even shop for these products? Online? I'm not near a big city, so not necessarily looking for any stores.

  • http://werkinonafullhouse.blogspot.com/ Brandie

    My mom just linked me to your blog… and I happened upon this post ;) I can’t WAIT to get some bamboo sheets .. I do have ONE precious precious bamboo towel lol and my son has bamboo diapers he uses for nighttimes still…. I want a robe and sheets and clothes and more towels and… and … and… lol. ;) Yay for your discovery! yay for bamboo! ;)

  • smilinggreenmom

    Oh I love this! Bamboo is the best in my opinion, I just love the feel. Your orange towels look just like the bamboo towels we received at Christmas! Love it :)

  • http://GreenMommyBlog.com/ Kristen Suzanne

    They're wonderful! :)

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Kristen Suzanne is a Raw food chef and author who blogs about all things green and mommy-related! More...

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