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Are bamboo textiles safe
to wrap and clothe little bitty humans? Or are bamboo products too good to be
To answer these questions, we need to investigate where bamboo fabric comes from.
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.
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.
You’ve seen it already. Marketing and advertising make bamboo textiles seem like they qualify for sainthood:
· Silky soft texture
· Lightweight, strong
· Effectively wicks moisture away from skin
· Highly absorbent
· Helps regulate body temperature
· Resists odors
· Sun protective
· 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.
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.”
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.
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?
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 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
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.
· Oeko-Tex 100 certification
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