What is Lyocell? Lyocell is one fabric that has garnered a lot of attention in fashion circles albeit for good reasons. If you're a big fan of stretchy denim, chances are you probably own a few jeans made with this fabric in your closet. Also known as Tencel, It's been compared to other popular fabrics like cotton and polyester, with fashion experts calling it the miracle fabric. So what is lyocell and why is it so special? This article is a comprehensive guide on lyocell and every tiny piece of detail you need to know about the popular fabric. Ready? Let's get started!
What is Lyocell?
Lyocell is a semi-synthetic fabric that is made with wood cellulose and synthetic substances. In some circles, it is called a natural fiber because of its plant-based composition, but it's officially regarded as a cellulosic fiber. Lyocell is one of the leading fabrics in a sustainable fashion. It is moisture-wicking and breathable, and this makes it the perfect fabric for making denim, eco-friendly underwear, dress shirts, and sustainable towels. It can replace other non-sustainable fabrics which is a big win for sustainable fashion and why it's dubbed the miracle fabric.
What is Lyocell - History
Lyocell was first developed in 1972 at the American Enka fibers facility in North Carolina. Although the facility is now defunct, their work was recognized by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) in 2003. They were awarded the Henry E. Millson Award for Invention. The fiber was called Newcell while undergoing development in American Enka. In the 1980s, Courtaulds Fibres in Coventry, UK, would go on to further develop the fiber under the name Tencel. The lyocell process was commercialized for the first time in 1991 at Courtaulds' rayon factories in Alabama.
What is Lyocell - Production
Lyocell fabric is a derivative of rayon and thus they are chemically identical. However, the production process for both fibers is slightly different. While an indirect solvent is used during the production process of rayon, a direct solvent is used for lyocell. Lyocell is created using a solvent spinning technique. Thus, it doesn't substantially alter the chemical structure of cellulose. This is unlike rayon that is created using the extrusion method.
You may be wondering why the lyocell process is being compared to rayon. It's simply because rayon was the first mass-produced cellulose fabric. And because the lyocell process is an improvement on the production of rayon. This means the lyocell process is more sustainable, efficient and creates a less synthetic product.
What is Lyocell - Benefits
Tencel fiber is beneficial in the following ways:
- It can be blended with other fabrics like silk, wool, polyester, and cotton.
- The fabric is stretchy and is an efficient moisture absorber. This makes it the perfect fabric for activewear.
- Since it's made from wood, it is compostable and biodegradable
- It is strong, breathable, and gentle on the skin.
- Unlike other rayons, lyocell's closed-loop production process means no chemical waste is released into the environment. This makes it eco-friendly.
What is Lyocell - Uses
Lyocell can be used to make the following:
Tencel fabric is used to make dresses, towels, underwear, and shirts. They can also be combined with other fabrics to create a material that is much stronger than pure cotton.
- Commercial Uses - It is used to make conveyor belts instead of cotton. Belts made with lyocell are generally stronger and can resist wear and tear.
- Medical Applications - Tencel is also used for medical dressing. Its properties that include tensile strength and a good absorbent, make it a great option for dressing wounds.
- For Specialty Papers - Tencel has high opacity and low resistance to air. These are qualities that make for a good filter. Hence, the semi-synthetic fiber is used as a component of specialty papers.
What is Lyocell vs Similar Fabrics
Certain kinds of fabrics are similar to lyocell. There are:
- Viscose Rayon: This fabric was first produced in the 20th century. It is the first cellulose textile to gain popularity and would go on to inspire the production of other cellulose textiles. Viscose rayon is cheaper to produce compared to Tencel, but its production process is not environmentally friendly. With the world steadily moving towards sustainable fashion, viscose rayon is fast becoming a relic from another time. That said, it's still being produced by many manufacturers across the world.
- Modal Rayon: It is a considerably stronger cellulose fiber compared to viscose rayon and was first produced during the 1940s. Its production process is more sustainable than other types of cellulose fibers like viscous rayon. This makes it a far more promising rayon moving forward.
What is Lyocell - Environmental Effects
Tencel's sustainability is one of the reasons it's so popular. Its production process adopts a closed-loop which means it won't release any chemical toxins into the environment. But this is when it's done correctly. It must be said that there are still companies that do not employ the closed-loop system in the production process. Tencel's closed-loop system involves using the same batch of amine oxide to extract multiple batches of lyocell.
Although Tencel's sustainability is there for all to see, there are still question marks over its overall impact on the environment. Remember that Tencel is a wood-based fiber. This means a lot of trees are wasted to produce more fabric. Unless the trees used in Tencel production are grown sustainably, there's a real danger that the fabric's production may affect the environment negatively.
What is Lyocell - Differences
Below are the differences between lyocell and other types of fabric:
- Lyocell Vs. Polyester - Polyester is a purely synthetic fabric that is made from petrochemicals. This is unlike lyocell which is semi-synthetic with natural compositions. Lyocell is also biodegradable and more eco-friendly than polyester.
- Lyocell Vs. Viscose - While both fabrics are plant-based fibers, nontoxic solvents are used in the production of lyocell. This is unlike viscose which is produced using sodium hydroxide. Lyocell is also more breathable and absorbent compared to viscose. This makes it the superior fabric in terms of quality.
- Lyocell Vs. Rayon - Lyocell is, in fact, a third-generation rayon fabric which means they have similar compositions. However, lyocell is a huge improvement on rayon. It is comfortable, sustainable, and generally more efficient at absorbing and releasing moisture.
- Lyocell Vs. Cotton - Cotton gained popularity for being breathable, soft, and skin-friendly. While it can be regarded as being similar in quality to lyocell, it is not quite as soft and skin-friendly. Also, cotton requires more than twice the amount of water that's needed to produce lyocell. This makes lyocell the more sustainable fabric, and in our eco-friendly books, sustainability is everything.
- Lyocell Vs. Tencel - Sure, it has been mentioned that Tencel is another name for lyocell, but we can't ignore the fact that some people still think they are different fabrics. While Lyocell is the official name for the fabric, Tencel is a brand name created by Lenzing AG, the foremost lyocell production company. Over the years, people have come to use the names interchangeably in the same way Spandex and Lycra are used.
What is Lyocell - Care Instructions
Like many other high-end fabrics, precautions are necessary when caring for your Tencel fabric. Here are the different ways to care for your fabric.
This is the recommended way of washing Tencel. Hand wash with cold water as it requires less energy, and we're in the business of saving the environment. Tencel is quite delicate, which is why handwash makes more sense. But it's also why you should only wash with a gentle detergent to avoid damaging your fabric.
It's not recommended. But if you must, be sure to set your washing machine to a gentle cycle. Also, you must never machine dry. It's not healthy for your garment neither is it healthy for the environment as it uses a lot of energy. You can simply hang it to dry.
Usually, it's better if you do not iron your Tencel garment. Remember how we mentioned that it's a delicate fabric? Using a hot iron might just be the best way to ruin your fabric, assuming that's what you're aiming for. But if you wish to preserve your fabric, try to avoid ironing. But of course, there are occasions when ironing is unavoidable. If you find yourself in such a scenario, a warm iron is good enough to straighten your rumpled fabric.
In Conclusion - What is Lyocell?
What is lyocell? In conclusion, lyocell is the breathable, sustainable, soft, and comfy cellulose fabric that is the poster fabric for sustainable fashion. Its breathable, soft, and comfortable feel against your skin makes it one of the best underwear fabrics. Many big brands are already on the lyocell train, and more are expected shortly. Organic Basics makes activewear and underwear using Tencel fabric. Patagonia, Allbirds, Hanro, Mother of Pearl, and Mango are some of the other big brands that make clothes using lyocell.
More Fabric Articles
Thanks for reading what is lyocell. Here are more fabrics to learn about:
- What is Linen?
- What is Tencel? Fabric Explanation & Guide
- What is Burlap? Definition, Uses, Types & Crafting
- What is Twill Fabric? Fibers, Uses & Projects
- What is Batik? All about Batik
- What is Tulle?
- What is Calico?
- What is Sateen?
- What is Linen?
- What is Organic Cotton?
- What is Cheesecloth?
- What is Batik?
- What is Chiffon?
- What is Corduroy?
- What is Denim?
- What is Spandex?
- What is Broadcloth?
- What is Velvet?
- What is Vinyl Fabric?
- What is Cashmere?
- What is Flannel?
- What is Modal
- What is Faux Fur?
- What is Jute?
- What is Lyocell?