The lyocell, An Environmentally Sustainable Fiber
The continuous search for better, sustainable and environmentally friendly fabrics has led to some interesting inventions. One of such creations is the Lyocell fabric commonly known as Tencel.
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Lyocell is a natural, manmade material made from wood cellulose or pulp. This is done using an advanced solvent spinning process. It was first developed at the now-defunct American Enka fibers facility in 1972. Then it was further developed and marketed in the United States as Tencel hence, its name by Courtaulds. Later on, the Tencel division was sold to Austrian company Lenzing AG, a textile giant and a major lyocell producer in the world.
The versatility of lyocell fabric is evident in the many different things it’s used for. It is used to make things like bed linens, denim, shirts, T-shirts, trousers, and even towels.
A fiber made of cellulose
There is some discrepancy as to which category lyocell falls under. To understand this let’s look at it this way; You see many people who are not familiar with the different types of fabric presume that there are two principal categories of fibers: natural fibers like wool, hemp, cotton, ramie and silk; and artificial fibers synthesized out of petrochemicals like polyester and nylon.
Lyocell falls somewhere in-between. The main raw material for lyocell is the cellulose from wood pulp (gotten from trees like Eucalyptus, Oak, and Birch) which is chemically broken down in a soupy sludge which is then pumped out through reformed into more easily woven fibers. Thus, Lyocell can be accurately referred to as a recovered or regenerated fiber.
Characteristics of the lyocell fabric
Lyocell or tencel fabric is versatile; as mentioned above, it is used to create items such as bedding, shirts, t-shirts and trousers.
Now, why is it better to use products made with this fibre and not more common ones, such as those made of cotton or linen?
Read on and discover the interesting features that make Lyocell the ideal candidate for the production of clothing, sheets and more.
Texture of the fabric: Elastic
Lyocell material has a very smooth surface and a beautiful appearance. As for the feeling it gives, it is soft, breathable, light and comfortable. As if that wasn’t enough, Lyocell is made to last a long time. Its elasticity and strength make it perfect for the acquisition of durable items, which is why this fibre is widely used to produce sportswear. Although it is a little more expensive than cotton or linen, its quality is worth the investment.
Tencel absorbs moisture
This fabric has better moisture absorption than cotton (including natural perspiration). This makes Lyocell fibre a perfect choice for people with sweating problems or for people whose sensitive skin is aggravated by humidity. The same is true for those living in rainy climates. With products manufactured by Lyocell, the need to renew the cupboard from time to time due to the climate, the environment and perspiration is no longer relevant.
Lyocell fabric has controllable fibrillation (the very fine fibrils or hairs found on the outer surface of the fibre strands), which means it can be available in a variety of shapes, from a soft, silky finish to a softness similar to that of suede.
Producers and manufacturers like to work with this tencel fiber because it allows them many molding options to make different parts without sacrificing the quality of the final article.
Perfect for sensitive skins
The absorbency of Lyocell materials keeps the skin dry and the smooth surface of the fibres is soft and supple to the touch. Lyocell fabrics are therefore excellent for sensitive skin.
Lyocell is a biodegradable product. Its manufacture does not produce by-products harmful to health or the planet, while cellulose, its main ingredient, is obtained from well-managed forests.
In addition, the cultivation of the trees necessary for Lyocell production does not require irrigation or pesticides (unlike cotton, which is water-, pesticide- and labour-intensive). On the other hand, this fibre is much less toxic than the other types.
Advantages of using lyocell fabric
Lyocell fibers are smooth, elastic and are very resistant to wrinkles.
Lyocell is said to be anti-bacterial because of its moisture management property.
Lyocell material has a very smooth, soft surface that drapes beautifully. In terms of the way it feels it is soft, breathable, lightweight and comfortable.
This fabric has greater moisture absorption than cotton and natural breathability. This makes Lyocell fabric a perfect choice for people with sweating issues, or for people with sensitive skin aggravated by moisture.
Appropriate for sensitive skin
The wicking abilities of Lyocell materials keep the skin dry and the smooth fiber surface feels soft and supple against the skin. This makes lyocell fabrics great for sensitive skin.
Lyocell fabric has controllable fibrillation (the very fine fibrils or hairs found on the external surface of fiber strands) this means it can be arranged in various ways from a silky smooth finish to a suede-like softness.
Disadvantages of the lyocell fabric
From a consumer’s perspective, lyocell fabric is more expensive. This is because of the technology used in processing. It simply costs more to produce, and this is transferred to buyers.
Fairly low surface energy
The fairly low surface energy of Lyocell fiber makes it difficult for dyes to bind to it during production.
Why Lyocell is environmentally-friendly
- Lyocell fabrics are naturally biodegradable.
- The production of lyocell produces no harmful byproducts
- The main ingredient, cellulose, is easily gotten from managed tree farms.
- The amine oxide solvent is non-toxic.
- The farming of trees to produce lyocell materials does not require irrigation or pesticides.
- The amine oxide is recyclable. That is after using it to break down the cellulose spin and setting, the amine oxide can be re-used in the manufacturing process again.
- When compared to the manufacture of other cellulose fibers, lyocell production is significantly less toxic and wasteful.
- The amine oxide solvent used is non-toxic, and because most of it is recycled during production, it is not released into the environment.
- Production of lyocell is short. It takes about two and a half hour from chopping the wood down to the carding. Thus, compared to the production of other manmade fibers it uses less water and energy.
Theses properties of the lyocell material have made it a star in the realm of fashion and textile industry.
That said we cannot talk about lyocell and not compare it to the mainstream material which is cotton. For the most part, cotton is still thought of as the gold standard when it comes to fabrics this is mainly because of the price. Cotton fabric is way cheaper to buy compared to lyocell fabric.
Main differences between Lyocell and cotton
Lyocell tends to be softer than cotton. This softness is due to a very smooth surface. Not only does it provide a feeling of well-being, but it also makes it non-irritating, even for sensitive skin. It compensates for one of the common disadvantages of cotton sheets: their tendency to scratch.
Lyocell (Tencel) is composed of very small hydrophilic fibres, literally “water lovers”. This means that it absorbs moisture from the skin.
However, cotton is also very breathable and generally non-irritating to the skin, and hypoallergenic. If you don’t have any major problems with cotton sheets, it may not be necessary to change things.
Lyocell’s hydrophilic quality makes it more effective at keeping the body cool during sleep in a wide variety of climates. It is extremely breathable, because all night long, sweat is absorbed by the body.
The freshness of the fabric can be a decisive factor for people with high body temperatures and who have difficulty sleeping because of the achaleur. Cotton is also a comfortable sheet in terms of warmth, thanks to its breathability, although it is not as absorbent as Lyocell.
4. Environmental impact
Tencel (Lyocell) is generally obtained from eucalyptus. The manufacture of fabrics from wood pulp is more efficient than that of cotton plants. The growth and cultivation of these eucalyptus trees requires less pesticides or irrigation, which is good for the environment.
Lyocell wrinkles less than cotton and is fairly easy to maintain. It is easy to wash, Lyocell clothing is less likely to shrink or deform when washed. In addition, it is very resistant and does not tend to lose weight over time.
6. The price
Compared to cotton, Lyocell is more expensive. The production of Tencel leaves is generally a process that requires more investment than most cotton fabrics. However, Lyocell sheets are generally more durable, with less time for washing and ironing, making the cost difference quite difficult to quantify.
The high absorbency of Tencel (Lyocell) fibres makes the fabric softer, fresher and more hygienic.
Cotton looks rougher and matt than Tencel. It also absorbs colour very well and is not excessively prone to wrinkles and creases.
Why buy Lyocell sheets ?
Buying sheets can be a complicated task. There are many options and the differences may seem minimal. However, it is important for your sleep, and therefore your health, to make the right decision for you. And a large part of this decision can be summarized as the matter that constitutes them.
One of the biggest problems people have with cotton is the huge disparity in quality within this category. Egyptian cotton and Peruvian pima are often considered the best cotton on the market.
Yarn counting is often considered the only way to judge the quality of fabrics, but in reality, it is only one factor among others. There may be something better for you outside the world of cotton, and this material could well be Tencel.
Although Lyocell (Tencel) does not benefit from the popularity of cotton, it becomes an ideal choice for people with sensitive skin. This ecological fibre is soft and smooth to the touch and eliminates moisture. It also has the exceptional ability to adapt to temperature fluctuations.
Although Lyocell is a synthetic fibre, its origins are natural. The wood used to build its fibres comes from eucalyptus or oak, which is grown or simply found in sustainably managed forests. These fibres are then spun to form a yarn, which is woven to create a soft, durable and highly breathable fabric. In some products, Lyocell is mixed with hemp, wool and other natural fabrics.
Where to buy lyocell clothes and sheets?
You can find lyocell/tencel clothing or sheets in a large number of stores and online stores. We will mention some of them here, but the list is not at all exhaustive.
Amazon, the global e-commerce giant, has a wide variety of cotton sheet options. On their website, you can find models such as the items manufactured by GhostBed and DTY Bedding.
Eucalypso, a pioneer in the production of high quality Lyocell fabrics, has an online shop with excellent delivery times, and very good value for money products.
On the other hand, the Made Trade organization offers free delivery anywhere in the United States (not in Europe unfortunately), for the purchase of any product made in Lyocell, in its catalog there is a wide variety of products made of this fiber.
On the major brands that manufacture Lyocell products, from sheets to pants and shirts, you can visit the stores of renowned companies such as H&M, Levi’s, Victoria’s Secret, PBteen, Ted Baker and Hanes. In their catalogues, you will find Lyocell products.
In 2019, the market saw a wide variety of new products in Lyocell products. Each of the options we have shared with you in this section represents the best quality and best value for money of the products of the leading companies in the industry.
Whichever option you choose, you will get a product that meets your requirements in terms of comfort, quality and durability. We invite you to give Lyocell fiber products a chance. Once you have purchased a product made from this fibre, you will never want another fabric again!
How to wash lyocell fabric?
Whether you are buying lyocell fabric/Tencel to sew your own clothes or perhaps you buy clothes made of Tencel, learning how to keep them clean can help you maintain their fine texture.
Garments like bed linens, tops, trousers, scarves, that are 100% made up of lyocell fabrics should be hand washed in a container of warm or cool water and with a mild detergent. Hand washing is gentler and is enough to prevent damage. Remember never to twist or squeeze the wet fabric and air dry it using a hanger. Moreover, undesired stiffness can be removed by putting the garment with a towel into a dryer on low setting to improve the garments softness.
Some garment manufacturers combine lyocell fabric with other materials like cotton or nylon to reduce cost. Washing this type of garment is tricky. So make sure you read the label on the garment first. If it says you should dry clean then dry clean it.
However, for treated lyocell fabrics you can use a washing machine and dryer. Just make sure it’s on the low or medium setting.
Note: garments that are 100% lyocell fabric do not use a washing machine or a tumble dryer. Fully wet lyocell fibers lose almost half of their tensile strength and can tear.
It is advisable to use oxygen-based bleach to whiten and remove stains on lyocell fabrics although some can take diluted chlorine bleach. See the garment label first.
How to iron lyocell ?
Use the lowest iron temperature setting that will produce steam (medium setting max)
Always iron on the wrong side of the fabric.
Use a pressing cloth between the lyocell fabric and the iron.
Note: ironing at very high temperatures can scorch cellulosic fibers.
How is Lyocell made?
Making the pulp. Trees such as Eucalyptus, Oak and Birch are harvested from tree farms or forests and sent to the mill to be debarked and chopped into several pieces. These wood pieces are then put into chemical digesters to soften them into a wet pulp. Later the pulp is washed with water and in some instances bleached. It is dried and then rolled up onto spools.
Dissolving the cellulose. The next step is to dissolve the cellulose by breaking it into small pieces and loading it into heated, pressurized containers filled with amine oxide.
Filtering. At this stage as soon as the cellulose in the solvent dissolves into a clear solution, it is squirted out through a filter, to make sure that all the chipped cellulose was dissolved.
Spinning. At this stage, the solution is pumped through spinnerets. Spinneret looks like a showerhead, so when the cellulose is forced through it, long fiber strands come out. This will set the fiber strands and later washed with de-mineralized water.
Dry and lubricate at this stage water in the lyocell fiber is removed by heating it. At this point, the fiber strands pass through a finishing area, where a lubricant like soap, silicone or some other agent is applied. This helps to untangle the fiber strands and facilitate the process of carding and spinning into yarns.
Carding. At this level, the tow (that is the dried and finished fiber strands are called tow which is basically a large bundle of untwisted filaments) is compressed by a crimping machine to give it texture and bulk. Then a machine cards (combs) the fiber. That is it separates the fiber strands. And lastly, the carded fiber strands are rolled up and sent or shipped to a fabric mill.
So the major production steps are summarized as follows:
- Using amine oxide to create a solvent solution from cellulose
- Spinning lyocell fiber from the amine oxide solvent solution
- Washing the lyocell fiber to remove solvents
- Dyeing the fiber and producing yarns
- Finishing to produce lyocell fabric