Discover the fabric of the future: Lyocell


You have probably heard about Lyocell before and you might actually have clothes made of this fabric hanging in your wardrobe. The question is: what do you really know about it? This is the complete guide to Lyocell.


Table of contents

  1. Lyocell in numbers and shorts facts
  2. What is Lyocell and how is it made?
  3. Is Lyocell sustainable?
  4. Lyocell's characteristics
  5. Lyocell's advantages and disadvantages
  6. What is Lyocell used for?
  7. The cost of Lyocell
  8. Lyocell vs other materials
  9. Why buy Lyocell sheets and where to find them?
  10. Why buy Lyocell clothes and where to find them?
  11. FAQ

1. Lyocell in numbers and shorts facts


With the textile and fashion industry taking action for a greener future, the name Lyocell has become quite popular nowadays. It's a sustainable fabric 一also known as Tencel一 that made its first appearance at the American Enka facility in 1972. It became popular across the United States and later in the EU too, thanks to licensees from Austrian company Lenzing AG and English manufacturer Courtaulds.

Currently, textile manufacturer Lenzing AG holds the Tencel patent and it's the largest producer of Lyocell in the whole world.
Today, Lyocell can be found in bed linens, towels, denim, clothing, underwear and even medical dressing, among others. As you can see, it's a very versatile fabric. In 2018, the global production of Lyocell reached 415.6kg tonnes and it's expected to double for 2027.

Aside from its multiple uses, Lyocell is highly coveted because it's 100% biodegradable and compostable (that is if it's not blended with other synthetic fibers). Because it's made of wood, Lyocell products would only take a couple of months to decompose, contrary to other plastic-based items that could take up to 100 years to biodegrade.


But enough spoilers! Let's dive deeper into what lyocell is and what it is made of.

2.What is Lyocell and how is it made?


drawing of eucalyptus leaves

A lot of people think that there are only two categories when it comes to fabrics: natural fibers (such as wool, hemp, cotton, ramie and silk) and artificial fibers synthesized from petrochemicals (like polyester and nylon). But contrary to what many believe, the boundaries between these two groups blur easily and Lyocell falls right between them.

Lyocell is indeed a plant-based fiber, but it's also processed with advanced synthetic substances. That means, it's neither all natural nor all synthetic: it's in the middle. And technically speaking, that makes it a semi-synthetic fiber.

The making of Lyocell starts with harvesting wood, which often comes from eucalyptus trees. Nevertheless, it's also common to find Lyocell made of oak, bamboo and birch trees too. This wood is broken down into tiny pieces and then chemicals are added to dissolve it into a wood pulp.
The result is a liquid and sticky raw cellulose. By the way, these solvents do not change the chemical structure of cellulose, they're only an instrument to alter its form.
This liquid mixture is heated and broken into small pieces one more time using a solvent called amine oxide. After being filtered, the cellulose goes through a spinning process that turns it into bright, long and thin fibers.


These fibers are washed, dried and lubricated, until they're ready to be spun into a yarn and woven into the final Lyocell fabric. At the final stage, Lyocell fabric is cut and turned into the variety of products we use everyday.
Aside from “Tencel”, Lyocell fibers can also be found under different names. For example, you might come across brand names like Lenzing Lyocell, Seacell, Newcell and even Excel. The chemical composition is exactly the same, the only thing that changes is the company behind them.

3.Is Lyocell sustainable?


picture of a eucalyptus forest

We've already mentioned that Lyocell has become a popular alternative in the sustainable fashion world, among other industries. But it's essential that we understand what makes it so environmentally-friendly.
Lyocell material is indeed naturally biodegradable and compostable, but there's much more to it on why it's sustainable.


This fiber's production process is what we called a “closed loop”: It's a manufacturing process that doesn't create harmful by-products. The dissolvent chemicals involved in its creation are not toxic and can be reused over and over, meaning they are not released in the environment once the process is finished. Amine oxide, which is one of the solvents involved in the Lyocell fiber production process, isn't harmful and it's totally recyclable.

But not only that. Aside from being a sustainable process because of the materials involved, Lyocell's production is quite short and simple compared to other manmade fibers. The entire process that is, from chopping the wood down to the carding一 can take about two and a half hours tops. That means less water and less energy are required.

Furthermore, one of Lyocell's most common sources are eucalyptus trees and they check all the right boxes. Eucalyptus trees can grow literally almost anywhere, even in lands that are no longer fit for planting food. They grow very quickly and they don't require any irrigation or pesticides. Cotton needs more than five times the land that eucalyptus trees.

Lyocell is both eco-friendly and ethically-sourced too: its main component is wood cellulose and this can only be obtained from well-managed forests, making it a fantastic source of renewable fiber.


Among Lyocell's many properties there's its breathability. You may wonder why this has a positive impact not just for you, but also for the planet. Well, because it's breathable, the garment doesn't absorb smell as quickly as other fabrics, and therefore you don't have to wash it so often. Fewer washing saves both water and energy.


To sum up, when compared to other cellulose fibers' production processes, Lyocell's manufacturing is way less toxic and wasteful.

4. Lyocell's characteristics


pure water flowing

The manufacturing process of Lyocell is shorter and more efficient than other fibers like rayon, for example. Its production process uses 20% less water than the production of cotton and less energy too. In addition, it's a perfectly fit material to dye thanks to its high absorption properties, just like regular cotton.

Lyocell is worldwide known for being a sustainable material, not just because it has roots in a natural source (that is wood cellulose), but also because it has an eco-friendly production process. In fact, the spinning process necessary to make Lyocell recycles 99.5% of the solvent involved in this circuit, which means very little chemicals are left to waste. That's what is called a “closed loop” process.

Thanks to this sustainable production process, Lyocell has been awarded with multiple awards, such as the " European Award for the Environment " given by the European Union.


Despite being so strong and resistant, this fiber is simultaneously soft to the touch and light. It has excellent temperature regulation properties, as well as moisture absorption qualities. Its breathability, on the other hand, creates an antibacterial effect that results in a perfect fabric for people with skin sensitivity or prompt to irritation.


All the good properties of Lyocell allow it to be blended very well with other fibers, such as cotton, polyester, acrylic, ethical wool, silk and merino wool, for example.

5. Lyocell's advantages and disadvantages


lyocell advantages and disadvantages - infographic

  • Thanks to its breathability, Lyocell is an effective anti-bacterial and great moisture absorbent.
  • Lyocell provides high moisture absorption, even better than cotton. If you tend to sweat a lot or have skin sensitivity, then it should be your first option. The same applies if you live in a rainy, humid climate.
    Lyocell won't only favor your comfort by keeping you dry and providing you with a soft-to-the-touch sensation, it's also a time and money saver. When you choose Lyocell products you eliminate the need to buy new clothes so frequently, and therefore you don't have to compromise your time and wallet.

  • Because of its lightness, Lyocell does not wrinkle so easily. Nevertheless, it's always good to check tags for the proper care of the item. You might want to visit the FAQ section by the end of the article.
  • Lyocell material offers great strength and elasticity, which transforms it into a highly durable fabric.
  • Lyocell is so soft to the touch that it has often been compared to silk. It's smooth on the skin 一perfect if you suffer from skin irritation一 and visually it looks beautiful.
  • As we said earlier, Lyocell is a versatile fiber, maybe the most flexible of them all and that's what makes it so attractive for diverse manufacturers. Using controllable fibrillation, Lyocell can be shaped into a variety of designs without compromising quality. It can have a soft, silky finish or otherwise it can result in a consistency similar to that of suede.

We've been over the advantages, but what about the disadvantages? Performance-wise there aren't any, but when it comes to pricing, they rise up. To produce Lyocell you need specific technology, which makes the manufacturing process quite expensive. Therefore, Lyocell ends up costing more to buyers, in comparison to traditional fibers like cotton.

In simpler terms, Lyocell is more expensive than other fabrics on the market. But because of all its great qualities 一particularly its durability一, it should actually be seen as an investment.

6. What is lyocell used for?


group of women wearing lyocell outfit

Because of its great properties, Lyocell is used for a variety of industries and products. It's often used as a substitute for silk and cotton, and that's why it is so common to find it in bedding and towels all the way to fashion. As well, it can also be found in conveyor belts and specialty paper, for example.


Thanks to its elasticity and moisture-wicking properties 一Lyocell can absorb 50% more than cotton一, it's very common to find this fabric in activewear. Moreover, it's breathable and less prompt to smell, so it makes a great choice for all kinds of sports and exercising. If you tend to practice outdoor activities, Lyocell is perfect for both summer and winter due to its thermal regulation properties.

In comparison to cotton, Lyocell dries much faster and it's fresher, which makes it a great fabric for travelling to and living in warm climates. It's also great for travelling because it's very light and soft, so you won't have to worry about skin irritation while performing outdoor activities nor worrying about heavy weight suitcases.


Lyocell is also used for industrial purposes. For example, it has become the chosen fabric for conveyor belts because it's so strong and resistant. For the same reasons, it can be found in medical dressing too. Lyocell material has so much potential that you shouldn't be surprised to find it in the most unthinkable places. In fact, we still continue to discover its wide range of applications.

7. The cost of Lyocell


Environmentally speaking, there's not much we can say about Lyocell, except great job! Nonetheless, aside from its amazing, game-changing properties, Lyocell is quite expensive compared to other conventional fabrics like cotton.

When garments are made of 100% Lyocell, they tend to cost more than products made of a blend between Lyocell and other fabrics like silk or polyester.

The price difference has to do with the technology involved in the production process of Lyocell: because it costs more to make, it will cost more to buyers as well. Talking about sustainability, the slow fashion movement, for example, makes specific emphasis in prioritizing quality over quantity.

Therefore, when purchasing products made of Lyocell material, one should prioritize all its properties rather than the price. You should think about it as an investment: you are buying a long-lasting, quality fabric with multiple properties.


8. Lyocell vs other materials


Lyocell vs cotton

Before we compare those two, we need to make a distinction between organic and conventional cotton. When it comes to traditional cotton, Lyocell is clearly the more sustainable option, yet when it comes to organic cotton, the scale weighs pretty much the same.

On the other hand, despite Lyocell being a plant-based material made of natural resources and a closed-loop manufacturing process, cotton is a natural fiber itself. And a direct consequence of this is the higher price of Lyocell. Cotton is way more cheaper than Lyocell and it remains an undefeated top choice up to this day.

Nonetheless, Lyocell's production process might be more expensive than cotton, but it's way more efficient. It doesn't demand as many pesticides and it requires less than half of the water, both during its growth and cultivation. In fact, Lyocell is a material that takes less from the environment than cotton or other conventional fibers.

Price aside, if we think in terms of durability, Lyocell takes the win. Lyocell sheets tend to be more resistant than cotton sheets and they wrinkle much less, which means they're easier to maintain: they require less time to wash and iron. So, in the end, it's hard to quantify the cost difference.

Performance-wise, Lyocell is a better absorbent than cotton and it's much softer. Its smooth surface is ideal for those with sensitive skin that is prone to irritation, and for those who just want to feel its lightness and softness. That's another big difference with cotton and its tendency to scratch.

Lyocell is made of small hydrophilic fibres that love water and will absorb all the moisture from your skin. Because of its extraordinary absorption, Lyocell tends to be fresher and more hygienic than cotton as well 一this explains why Tencel performs well with dyes一. It keeps you fresh and maintains your body temperature low during your sleep.

Nonetheless, cotton is still breathable, hypoallergenic and soft too, so if you are not having any problems with your cotton clothes and sheets, then you probably don't need to switch to Lyocell.


Lyocell vs polyester

Lyocell is often considered a sustainable alternative to synthetic fibers such as polyester. In fact, polyester might be cheaper and more popular nowadays than Lyocell, but is far from being as eco-friendly as it.

Polyester is a fully-synthetic fiber made from polymers, that is recycled plastics and petroleum derivatives, which means it's hardly biodegradable as Lyocell, which is made of wood cellulose. Aside from its environmental impact, polyester is not as breathable as Lyocell and it provides low moisture absorption.
Lyocell is also more delicate than polyester and therefore it requires specific care of the garment or product (for example, it can only be washed with cold water). Polyester, on the contrary, doesn't have any requirements and it's actually more stretchy than Tencel.


Lyocell vs viscose

Lyocell and viscose are both plant-based fibers and they are commonly used for the same purposes. Yet they differ from each other because the second one requires toxic chemicals for its production, like sodium hydroxide solvent, and it's not as breathable and absorbent as the first one.



Lyocell vs tencel

As we mentioned in the beginning, Tencel is often used as a synonym to Lyocell. There tends to be a lot of confusion about what distinguishes them, but it's easier than it seems. To put it simply, the main difference between Tencel and Lyocell is the brand name, just like Dyson is a brand name for a type of vacuum cleaner.

Tencel is actually a type of Lyocell that was first made up by Austrian licensee Lenzing AG in the 20th century. They are both fabrics made of wood-based cellulose fibers, the only difference is that Lyocell is made from wood pulp, while Tencel is made from bamboo pulp. Bamboo lyocell is a renewable plant source and it has all the same great properties as Lyocell, only that it is silkier, softer and smoother.

We've said multiple times now that Lyocell is a sustainable fabric, but Tencel is even more eco-friendly than the former. Lyocell is crafted using a closed-loop system and therefore it has a minimal impact on the environment. But Tencel has even a smaller effect. Because it's made of bamboo, Tencel requires far less water for growth than eucalyptus trees.

9. Why buy Lyocell sheets and where to find them?


pile of lyocell bedding

Sleeping is a major player when it comes to our health, so choosing the right bed sheets is as important as picking the perfect mattress. In order to have a good night's sleep, it's important to choose a material that works for you and your needs.

There're a lot of options and, although the differences are minimal, they can have a huge impact. And we're here to help you make the right decision.

Cotton can be found in a lot of products today, yet one of the biggest issues with it is that quality is not always the same. A common mistake is to think that the quality of the fabric is only assured by the yarn counting, but that's far from true.

So, cotton might be the most popular fabric today, but that doesn't mean it suits everyone. There are better materials out there, such as Tencel. Lyocell is a great alternative for people with sensitive skin because it's very smooth to touch. Thanks to its breathability qualities, it absorbs all the moisture of your body and it adapts to temperature fluctuations.

You can find sheets made solely from Lyocell or mixed with other natural materials, like hemp or wood too. Although Amazon is always a go-to when it comes to shopping for Lyocell, there are plenty of other alternatives in the market both physical and online.


If you're from the US, Sweet ZZZ, Plush Beds and Eucalypso offer luxurious and eco-friendly TENCEL™ bed sheets. Weavve also provides an entire collection made of 100% Lenzing TENCEL™ Lyocell.

At Bed, Bath & Beyond you'll be able to find more than one option from diverse brands and for quite accessible prices. West Elm is another great alternative for Lyocell bedding: they offer entire TENCEL™ sets, including the pillowcases.


If you're from the EU, you might want to check out Lenzing TENCEL's products: they're based in Austria, but they have an online store too where you can find clothing, bedding and all types of products from different brands, all made with Lyocell. Lazy Cricket also offers a 100% Lyocell bedding set made of bamboo trees.

10. Why buy Lyocell clothes and where to find them?


lyocell garment Image from organicbasics.com

Lyocell clothing is particularly great for the warmer seasons, especially if you tend to suffer the high temperatures. If you live in a humid climate or if you're travelling during summer or spring, then you should definitely pay attention to what you are wearing.

Nonetheless, clothes made of Lyocell or its variants are great for basic, everyday clothing too, such as underwear and activewear. They can keep you fresh and comfortable all day long, especially if you have irritable skin.

When it comes to buying Lyocell clothing, All Birds and Patagonia are usually the main two options out there, whether you are in the US or in the EU. Actually, Patagonia aims to only use recycled TENCEL® fiber from cellulose waste streams instead of using virgin materials. But there are tons of other brands as well and here are just a few of them.

Organic Basics has become a renowned alternative for sustainable clothing not only in Europe, but all around the world too. Among their varied collection of eco-friendly and ethically made products, you'll find TENCEL™ base-layers, activewear and underwear for both men and women. Another famous player in the market is People Tree, based in the UK.

Mara Hoffman, on the other hand, provides timeless summer essentials for women in TENCEL™, from pants and dresses to body suits and tops. A similar alternative also in the US is Amour Vert which locally designs colorful clothes for women. When it comes to men's fashion, then your options can be BN3TH and TenTree. Other brands working with Lyocell are Tradlands, Encircled and Paneros.

Honestly, the brand you choose will really depend on your personal style, but the important thing is that you try on this game-changing fabric.

11.FAQ


Is lyocell breathable?

Yes, it is. In fact, Lyocell is one of the most breathable fabrics in the world and it's actually much more breathable than cotton. That's why it is a fabric so frequently used for summer clothing and bedding.

If you live in a humid area or you tend to sweat a lot, then Lyocell should be your go-to fabric as well. Lyocell is a synthetic fabric, but it's made of natural raw materials. Besides, it has an eco-friendly production process that has a very low impact on the environment thanks to the recyclable chemicals.

If you're looking for freshness and comfort, Lyocell fabric is the answer.



Is lyocell a natural fiber?

Lyocell is an eco-friendly semi-synthetic fiber. It's made of wood cellulose, usually from eucalyptus trees, which means it is made of a natural source. Nonetheless, its production process does involve synthetic chemicals that are recycled during the circuit and they don't generate by-products.



What's the difference between lyocell and tencel?

Tencel is a type of Lyocell and, chemically speaking, they are both the same fiber. While Lyocell is made from wood pulp, Tencel is made from bamboo pulp. They are both sustainable fabrics, although Tencel is slightly more eco-friendly because it has an even smaller impact on the environment than Lyocell.



Is lyocell stretchy?

Yes, it is, in fact, it maintains its stretchability for a very, very long time. You won't have to worry about bagging or dropping. Lyocell is stretchy and flexible, but most importantly it's comfortable. So don't try to compare it with other stretchy fabrics like spandex, nylon, elastic or rubber, because none of them we'll be as smooth as Tencel.



Does lyocell shrink?

First time you wash your Lyocell fabric, it will shrink about 3%. Nevertheless, this shouldn't go on if you take the proper care of it. Lyocell garments and bedding should be hand washed in cold water, using only a gentle detergent and then dried in the air.

Avoid using the drying machine and ironing because they could cause permanent damage to the fabric and promote shrinkage.



Is lyocell waterproof?

Lyocell has many incredible properties, but being waterproof is not one of them.



How to iron lyocell?

Preferably, avoid ironing Lyocell. But if you are left with no choice, then opt for low or medium temperatures. Under no circumstances use higher heat because it could permanently damage the textile.

Don't heat the fabric longer than two seconds, and put a pressing cloth between the fabric and the iron too.

How to wash lyocell?

Yes, Lyocell is a strong, durable fiber, but it's also quite delicate. So, knowing how to properly care for it will extend the life of your clothing and bedding for a long time.

If your pants, t-shirts or bedding is 100% made of Lyocell, then you need to wash them by hand. Always use cold water, unless the label tag says otherwise. As soap, you can opt for a detergent that's gentle on the fabric and it won't cause any damage on the product.

Avoid twisting or squeezing the fabric when it's still wet and avoid using a dryer too. Instead, let the garment dry in the air (if it's a top or sweater you can use a hanger). If the garment remains stiff, you can place it inside the dryer along with a towel and opt for a low, gentle cycle.

If the garment is made of Lyocell blended with other fibers like cotton or nylon, then the care methods are slightly different. You should always read the tags on your clothing before washing them: you'll find all the necessary information to clean and dry them correctly.

In this case, it's not a problem to use the washing machine, just make sure to opt for the low or medium cycle. A stronger cycle could break the Lyocell fibers and damage its strength.

To remove stains or to whiten garments made of Lyocell, you can use bleach, but check out the tag first: some fabrics allow diluted chlorine bleach, while others only permit oxygen-based bleach.

If your garment is made of Bamboo Lyocell then avoid adding fabric softener and harsh detergents. Only use cold water and a gentle detergent, and air dry the garment.