What is bamboo cotton?
Bamboo shirts have been the big hit this year with bamboo viscose heralded as the new wonder fabric. But people are asking:
‘Do bamboo shirts live up to the hype?’ and ‘How do bamboo shirts compare to cotton?’.
We can look at the bamboo vs cotton debate from two perspectives:
1) Quality of each fabric
2) Sustainability of production
Bamboo cotton: Quality
Bamboo cotton has been compared in terms of softness to Egyptian cotton or silk because of the fineness of the threads. This is despite the production cost being so much lower. The reasons for this will become apparent later in this article.
In terms of durability, bamboo threads are stronger than cotton. This is in spite of their thinner fibres. This reduces the overall weight of the fabric while at the same time producing a fabric that is stronger and more durable. Your shirts through their lifetime will go through a lot of punishment. Repeated wearing, washing, ironing and harsh chemicals. Not to mention the stresses and strains of being worn every day. For this you need a fabric that will not just look good, but one that will look good wash after wash and wear after wear. This is where the durability of bamboo is really tested. Not in the first wear
Cotton is often used for handmade shirts because of its wicking properties. That is to say its ability to draw moisture away from the body and evaporate. Drawing moisture away keeps you feeling fresh and the evaporation of the moisture helps to cool you down. Man-made materials such as polyester have the opposite effect and actually trap moisture next to the skin. Bamboo and cotton are bot natural fibres however bamboo is 40% more efficient at wicking than cotton. This is in part due to the fineness of the fibres mentioned earlier.
Another reason for the popularity of cotton is its breathability. But here, again, bamboo wins this round. Again thanks in part to the finer fibres, bamboo is a more breathable fabric and again allows the wearer to stay cool even on the warmest of days.
Bamboo cotton: Sustainability
With bamboo winning the quality test so convincingly, you would allow it some leeway on the sustainability stakes. Unfortunately for cotton, however, bamboo mocks the opposition with its impressive eco-credentials.
Cotton grows best in very warm climates; North Africa, Southern States of America, India, Australia etc. As such, the requirement for water for irrigation is considerable. As bamboo grows in wetter climates, it requires no additional water for irrigation. The bamboo plant also grows incredibly quickly – some species of bamboo are known to grow 1.3m in a single day, meaning that the volumes that can be produced are far greater than the relatively small amounts of cotton that can be grown in the same amount of space.
Bamboo requires no fertiliser and due to its incredible robustness as a plant, requires no pesticides, making it the environmentally conscious shopper’s firm favourite. In addition, unlike cotton that requires replanting every year, bamboo is self-propagating meaning that with no human intervention it will multiply and exponentially grow the volumes that can be produced.
Bamboo Cotton: The Conclusion
The claims of bamboo being the new wonder fabric are indeed well-founded. In tests, it not only performs far better than cotton in terms of softness, strength, breathability, coolness, and comfort, it also boasts impressive credentials when it comes to the sustainability of the crop. It not only grows faster and more abundantly in less space needing less water and no fertiliser or pesticide, as a plant it also regenerates itself.
So what about the future? There are many people who don’t like change. They like their cotton sheets, cotton socks, and cotton shirts. So the demand for cotton is not going to disappear any time soon. However, it is likely that as more bamboo products make it to market and more people try them, the products that we traditionally associate with cotton will soon be made primarily of bamboo: bamboo shirts, bamboo socks and bamboo sheets are definitely the future.