In the last while, I've noticed bamboo bedding and other bamboo products have become quite popular. In my life, I’ve sat on bamboo furniture, drawn with a bamboo pen and eaten bamboo shoots, but I always wondered how a bedsheet could be made from bamboo.
It turns out that the story of bamboo bedding seems to be an interwoven fabric of good news and bad news.
Good news: Back in the late 1800s, after problems with the French silk industry, a French chemist named Hilaire Bernigaud, who was also count de Chardonnet and a former student of Louis Pasteur, figured out how to make artificial silk with cellulose, the long chain of sugar molecules that give plants structure.
Bad news: This Chardonnet silk did not catch on because it tended to catch fire.
Good news: Techniques improved to produce what became known from 1925 as viscose rayon, using various sources of cellulose, including bamboo.
Bad news: The chemical processing means that rayon is not natural (whatever that means).
Good news: Bamboo can be grown sustainably, with little fertilizers or pesticides.
Bad news: Processing bamboo into rayon involves toxic chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide, and can give off gases, like the nerve toxin carbon disulphide.
Good news: Bamboo fibres can be extracted mechanically, like linen.
Bad news: Mechanically processed bamboo fibres are rough and too laborious and time-consuming to be viable commercially.
Good news: A type of rayon called Tencel can be produced with a non-toxic solvent in a closed loop system that captures most of the air pollution.
Bad news: The Tencel process is not usually applied to the production of bamboo textiles.
Good news: Bamboo is antibacterial.
Bad news: No evidence for these antibacterial properties has been shown in the material once it has been processed into rayon.
Good news: Bamboo rayon is soft and water absorbent.
Bad news: Bamboo rayon can lose its shape when wet.
Good news: High wet modulus rayon or Modal was developed in the 50s with greater durability when wet.
Bad news: The Modal process has not yet been used with bamboo.
Good news: Bamboo textiles are not synthetic because viscose rayon is a type of regenerated cellulose using plant material.
Bad news: My efforts to set up a good news/ bad news symmetry may represent a case of false balance.
What do you think about bamboo bedding? I think I still need to sleep on it.