Can you handle the truth about bamboo for your baby?

Are bamboo textiles safe to wrap and clothe little bitty humans? Or are bamboo products too good to be true? 

To answer these questions, we need to investigate where bamboo fabric comes from.

Delicate baby skin deserves the truth

Infant skin is generally considered to be much more sensitive than an adult’s. Jennifer Shu, M.D. of healthychildren.org (American Academy of Pediatrics) states that baby skin can be up to five times thinner than that of older children and adults. So we as caregivers must undoubtedly consider how the products we use can help or harm these vulnerable ones.

Also, familial skin conditions exist, such as eczema and allergic dermatitis, which baby may have inherited. We must always keep in mind the possibility that our child may have an adverse condition and watch for reactions when we purchase products our babies will use.

Natural bamboo 

Bamboo as a plant actually rocks the natural world in several ways!

Bamboo is a very sustainable type of grass that renews itself quickly. Sources say there are approximately 1500 species of bamboo on the planet. It grows on every continent except Antarctica and Europe.  

The consensus of research on the internet supports the growing of bamboo as extremely eco-friendly. Everyone seems to agree on the following characteristics of bamboo.


  • It uses very little water to grow so it requires no additional irrigation
  • It has natural antimicrobial properties so it is grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers
  • It rarely needs to be replanted and can be harvested in 3-5 years (much, much faster than trees)
  • It grows quickly and can be harvested as much as 5 times annually
  • It produces 35% more oxygen than a comparable stand of trees
  • It absorbs 5x more carbon dioxide than a comparable stand of trees 
  • It inhibits soil erosion and improves soil quality
  • It grows in a wide range of environments and terrain


Sounds pretty much like the perfect plant!

Now let’s consider the attributes of the yummy soft bamboo baby blankets and clothing we can choose from.

Reputed properties of bamboo fabrics

You’ve seen it already. Marketing and advertising make bamboo textiles seem like they qualify for sainthood:

·         Silky soft texture

·         Breathable

·         Lightweight, strong

·         Effectively wicks moisture away from skin

·         Highly absorbent

·         Helps regulate body temperature

·         Antistatic

·         Antibacterial/antifungal

·         Resists odors

·         Sun protective

·         Biodegradable

·         Easy to launder (dry cleaning not required)

Obviously, an ultra-soft, lightweight, strong fabric that helps regulate your baby’s body temperature and battles bacteria while protecting her from the sun is the one you want! Add to that, if it wicks moisture away from delicate baby skin, what loving caregiver can resist!

The truth about bamboo textiles is that all of the above are accurate, at least to some degree, depending on what studies you read. Sounds like bamboo fabrics will keep baby super comfortable and save the world at the same time! A miracle fabric!

So now we all rush out and stock up on bamboo baby blankets, clothing and cloth diapers, right? 

Not so fast, Mom, Grandma.

There’s more you need to know.

Bamboo fabric has a dark side.

Truth about bamboo textile production

Most bamboo fabric is not made directly from the virtuous bamboo plant.

That super soft bamboo swaddle blanket you absolutely love is actually rayon! And the process of making rayon for use in baby items – some would call it ghastly!

Rayon is an artificial product (not natural or synthetic). It is produced using manufactured cellulose, which is material from trees or other plants, in this case bamboo. The cellulose plant fibers are dissolved with potent chemicals into a gooey mush called viscose. The noxious slush is then mixed with a toxic chemical and extruded into a fiber that is spun, creating the strands to make the fabric. Not a trace of the original plant remains.

This textile process is the most commonly used in making bamboo fabric. The chemical carbon disulfide is hazardous to the humans who work with it, if proper procedures are not taken. If the chemicals are not treated correctly, residue may remain. The process itself releases pollutants to the air and water. Therefore, bamboo fabric is nowhere near truly “green.”

Bamboo can be processed mechanically, directly from the bamboo plant. This results in a fabric termed “bamboo linen.” Bamboo linen may retain the antibacterial properties of natural bamboo and may be considered organic. However, not much is made because the mechanical process is quite expensive. And this fabric is not nearly as silky soft as viscose rayon of bamboo.

But do not despair!

Another chemical process (not nearly so hazardous) has been developed that produces a rayon-like fabric from bamboo that is similar to the fabric made from the common method ~ but it’s even better! And without all the toxicity and pollutants! It's called lyocell.

Lyocell ~ Tencel 

The Lyocell process of making rayon uses less-toxic chemicals in a closed-loop system of manufacturing. This process recaptures over 99% of the chemical solvent for reuse, thereby protecting the environment from potential pollutants. The Lyocell fiber is used to make the fabric called Tencel. This fabric has all of the above listed attributes as ordinary viscose rayon from bamboo. Some to an even stronger degree.

That is great news! But how can you tell eco-friendly bamboo fabrics from the toxic slushy mushy fluff stuff?

Look for certifications

First of all, know that regenerated fibers (rayon) such as are made from bamboo DO NOT qualify for organic certification. They never will be organic. 

However, to simplify your shopping, look for these tags or labels on the bamboo fabrics you want for your baby: Lyocell, Tencel, Oeko-Tex. You already know about Lyocell and Tencel.

 

Oeko-Tex ~ Confidence in Textiles

Oeko-Tex is a global independent testing and certification system that has been active since 1992. They test for harmful substances in products including the chemicals utilized in manufacturing that may/may not remain on the fabric. Textiles for babies are considered Product Class 1 which has the most stringent testing limits of all the Oeko-Tex certifications.

 

Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex tests textile products at all levels of processing including finished products. This includes threads, fabrics, even the accessories such as buttons and zippers. If a product has the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification, you can relax knowing that the product has been rigorously tested for harmful substances. This means that no potentially harmful chemicals are present in the ready-to-use product you are considering for your child. Or for you.

 

So be wise! 

Remember to look for any of these on the tags of items as you shop for bamboo products for your baby and the rest of your family.

·         Tencel

·         Lyocell

·         Oeko-Tex 100 certification

There you have it

Obviously, no textiles yet exist that are perfect in every aspect of safety, eco-friendliness, and ethical workplaces. BUT…many people are working on these issues and making progress! So check your baby registry. Let your family and friends know that all bamboo fabrics are not created equal! Teach them what to look for.

But clearly, the bamboo market is here to stay. It has way too much going for it to just let the pandas have it.

The truth is that you CAN find delightful, safe, eco-managed bamboo textile products for your baby if you know what to look for.


By the way, pandas don’t eat the kind of bamboo that textiles are made of. Thought you’d want to know! J





References:

https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/CBD_FiberFacts_Bamboo.pdf

https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/consumer/what_is_ots100/what_is_ots100.html 

http://organicclothing.blogs.com/my_weblog/2007/09/bamboo-facts-be.html

https://www.ncsu.edu/bioresources/BioRes_08/BioRes_08_4_6501_Xi_Qin_Antibacterial_Perform_Natural_Bamboo_Fiber_4310.pdf

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