What is Tencel Fabric?
If you have recently shopped for bedding or clothing, you’ve likely come across products made of lyocell or modal, also known as Tencel or Tencel Lyocell. Tencel is a new fabric that is quickly becoming a popular replacement for cotton. It is incredibly soft, durable, versatile, and more eco-friendly than rayon and even cotton.
But what is Tencel fabric and how is it produced? To help you better understand the specifics of this material and make more informed purchasing decisions, we explain the ins and outs of Tencel production and the benefits of this material.
What Is Tencel and How Is It Made?
The brand name Tencel is used to describe two types of materials—lyocell and modal. These two fabrics are very similar and are frequently used in bedding and clothing.
Tencel is made of wood cellulose fibers, more specifically, wood pulp. These fibers are what the textile industry calls “regenerated” because they are left to dissolve in a chemical solvent, called N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide, and then pushed through an extruder to form long fibers. Lastly, these fibers go through a drying process called spinning before they are spun into yarn and woven into cloth.
Tencel is similar to viscose rayon because it is produced in a similar way. However, unlike Tencel, rayon manufacturing requires toxic chemicals and high energy levels, making it harder on the environment and production workers.
In comparison, manufacturing Tencel requires less water, energy, and dye than both cotton and rayon. Tencel manufacturers can recycle chemical solvents throughout the production process, creating very little waste. This is known as a closed loop process because the chemical solvents used in Tencel production are recycled with a 99.5 percent recovery rate.
Since the wood pulp for Tencel is harvested with sustainable methods approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), this material also has minimal impact on the environment.
Benefits of Tencel
In addition to being a more sustainable fabric, Tencel has many other benefits. Below, we highlight why this material has become so popular.
- Breathability: According to Lenzing AG, the leading Tencel manufacturer in the US, Tencel is 50 percent more absorbent than cotton. This breathability makes it less likely for Tencel to develop bacteria and unpleasant odors. For this reason, activewear and high-quality bedding are often made with Tencel. If you are a hot sleeper, Tencel sheets can help increase the breathability of most high-quality mattresses.
- Wrinkle-resistant: Tencel is less likely to wrinkle than cotton. It also has a clean, modern look and a beautiful drape when used in loungewear.
- Softness: Tencel modal is incredibly soft, making it the perfect fabric for sheets and sleepwear. In fact, many customers find this material to be softer than cotton and cotton-poly blends.
- Holds dye: Tencel holds dye better than cotton, so this material is less likely to fade with washing.
- Versatile: Tencel can easily be blended with other fibers, such as cotton and polyester, to increase softness. For example, many denim brands now use a Tencel-cotton blend to make their products more comfortable.
Frequently Asked Questions
With the first washing, Tencel products may shrink about 3 percent. However, after this first washing, this material will resist shrinking.
To prevent shrinkage with the first washing, you can opt to hand wash the garment in cold water with a mild detergent and allow it to drip dry naturally.
Although you may see companies claiming that Tencel is all-natural, this is a misleading statement. Tencel is not completely natural, nor is it synthetic. The origins of the Tencel fibers are natural (wood pulp from beech, birch, spruce, and eucalyptus trees), but this wood pulp is used to produce a made-man fiber. This is why the industry labels Tencel fabrics as "regenerated cellulose" fibers.
However, this material is ideal if you are looking for bedding and clothing produced with more eco-friendly methods. Tencel wood pulp is harvested sustainably, and the manufacturing of Tencel creates less chemical waste and uses less water and energy.
While Tencel fabric is biodegradable, it is best to recycle or reuse all textiles. When these items end up in landfills, the finishes and dyes can leech from the material and make their way into the soil and water, causing pollution.
Yes. According to the National Eczema Society, Tencel is safe for those with eczema and other skin-related conditions. Tencel is soft, non-irritating, and breathable, so many people find it soothing and comfortable.
Tencel fibers often come from the pulp of eucalyptus wood. However, it is a common misconception that Tencel is made from "eucalyptus fibers." Many brands label their Tencel sheets as "eucalyptus sheets" when they are really using either modal or lyocell fibers.
This wording is designed to make the product seem more natural. Although Tencel is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than most, it is not completely natural.
When washing Tencel products, it is best to read the instructions care label first. In most cases, Tencel items can be machine washed on a gentle cycle with a mild detergent. Sheets and bedding items made with Tencel can be machine dried on a low heat, low tumble setting. However, it is best to hang Tencel garments to drip dry naturally.
As many brands shift to more eco-friendly practices, we will likely see more Tencel products on the market. For consumers, this is great news. Tencel is better for the planet, but it also creates soft, more breathable, and more durable products. Although Tencel items cost slightly more than cotton and cotton-poly products, you’ll find that Tencel lasts longer and provides more overall comfort.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.