Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bamboo U

I bought some new socks the other day. In addition to all the choices I usually have to make (short or long? white or colored? print or solid?) I was faced with another decision-cotton or bamboo. I ended up buying the bamboo socks, because I was under the impression that it was a good "green" decision, but I really wasn't sure. Today I researched the advantages of bamboo for fabric.

A sticker on the sock package touted the "Luxuriously soft bamboo" that "Keeps feet dry [and] reduces foot odor". The side of the label indicated in smaller print the socks were made with rayon from bamboo, polyester, spandex, and rubber. I thought rayon was for silky-looking Hawaiian shirts and dresses, not socks!

Bamboo is not a fiber, but the world's fastest growing grass. It grows without requiring chemicals or pesticides, and reaches maturity quickly. It can be harvested in about 4 years, and doesn't need to be replanted; it spreads by underground runners that send up new shoots.

Rayon is a fiber that is neither synthetic or natural. It is manufactured from naturally occurring cellulose that requires extensive processing to become rayon. Rayon can be made from any fiber that contains cellulose; bamboo is just one of them. The cellulose is extracted from the bamboo, then mixed with chemicals to convert the plant pulp into textile quality fiber.

Once the bamboo is harvested, there are two ways to process bamboo to make the plant into a fabric: mechanically (by crushing the woody parts of the bamboo plant, then using enzymes to break the bamboo walls so that the natural fibers can be mechanically combed out and spun into yarn) or chemically (by processing the bamboo leaves and shoots in strong chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide, otherwise known as lye, and carbon disulfide). Most bamboo is processed chemically because it is cheaper and less labor-intensive.

Advantages of bamboo clothing:
  • It's easy to launder
  • Bamboo is highly absorbent and wicks water away from the body faster than cotton.

  • The structure of bamboo fibers make bamboo fabrics more breathable than other fabrics.
  • Bamboo is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal
  • Bamboo clothing is 100% biodegradable--I'll keep this in mind when the socks are ready to be tossed-it can be in the compost pile!
The socks were very soft and silky, and had a slight sheen. They kept my feet warm, even when I walked out to the mailbox to get the mail. At the end of the day I laundered them in warm water in the washer, and dried them in the dryer. They came out much softer than cotton socks would.

I think I'll keep them.

1 comment:

  1. The other good thing about bamboo is that it is easily renewable. Oh- I didn't read closely enough- I see you said that. It is very popular for baby clothing and cloth diapers. I bought a length of bamboo knit to make baby clothes out of, and decided to keep it for myself! I won't be spitting up on it.