What is Tencel?
Everything You Need to Know About Tencel Fabric
What is Tencel?
TENCEL® is a brand name for a fiber which is also called lyocell, manufactured by the Lenzing AG company. Technically, a fabric must contain at least 30% of these proprietary fibers in order to use the name Tencel, but the term has become more commonly used than lyocell for similar products from all sources.
Whatever it's called, Tencel or lyocell is a sustainable fabric, regenerated from wood cellulose. It is similar in hand to rayon and bamboo, both regenerated fabrics. However, Tencel is one of the most environmentally friendly regenerated fabrics, for several reasons. Tencel fibers are grown sustainably.
Unlike rayon and bamboo, Tencel’s supply chain is transparent. It is obtained from eucalyptus trees that are grown on farms—no old-growth forests, genetic manipulation, irrigation, or pesticides are used. These forests and the pulp produced for Tencel have earned Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification that the products come from socially and environmentally responsible forests. The European Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification has also endorsed Tencel's farming practices as sustainable. Tencel eliminates the negative environmental impacts of traditional fiber processing, using new sustainable technologies.
Tencel has some distinct advantages over traditional fibers in terms of chemical processing, which can often be extensive and toxic. For example, Rayon manufacturing generates highly polluting air and water emissions, uses catalytic agents containing cobalt or manganese, and creates a strong, unpleasant odor.
On the other hand, the chemicals used to produce lyocell fibers are nontoxic. In addition, the cellulose or ground pulp used for Tencel is treated in what is known as a closed-loop process in which these solvents are recycled with a recovery rate of 99.5%. The tiny amount of remaining emissions is decomposed in biological purification plants. Because of the nature of the material, the processing never requires bleach. This overall method of manufacturing fabric was awarded the “European Award for the Environment” by the European Union.
TENCEL fabric carries the Oeko Tex 100 certification, an international standard developed in 1992 to certify that it contains no harmful substances. Tencel also has been awarded the European Community Eco-label flower for products and services with reduced environmental impacts.
Tencel fibers are spun into yarns and then woven into textiles that are soft, absorbent, very strong when wet or dry, resistant to wrinkles and drape well. It is often blended with natural fabrics such as hemp, cotton, and wool.
Why is Tencel so popular?
Tencel stands out mainly for its softness. In fact, we recently evaluated Drebest Bedding’s 100% Tencel lyocell sheet set and our panel of consumer testers rated it softer than any of the cotton or cotton-blended sheets it was up against in a blind comparison.
Fabric made of Tencel lyocell also has excellent drape, doesn’t wrinkle easily, and holds dye well so it makes vibrant colors. It’s also breathable and manages moisture so it helps with temperature regulation. These features make it particularly popular for clothing and bedding brands. Tencel modal is incredibly soft, so it’s most common in intimate apparel and loungewear.
Tencel also gets blended with other fibers that are more recognizable (e.g. cotton or polyester) to help give the finished product (like denim, for example) some of the unique properties and increase softness.
Is Tencel natural?
Yes and no. It has a natural origin because it’s made from wood, but the finished fiber is technically man-made so it doesn’t qualify as a natural fiber. That’s why the textiles industry refers to it as regenerated cellulose instead of “natural” or “synthetic.”
As mentioned before, Tencel fibers do have some excellent sustainability features from its production process that make it a preferred choice for brands, including the fact that it recycles water and chemicals so there’s less waste and it traces the trees to sustainably-harvested forests.
A few things to keep in mind: we’ve seen some brands that use Tencel refer to it as “eucalyptus fiber” or “tree fiber.” These fibers don't exist. Tencel fibers do come from trees – mainly beech, birch, eucalyptus, and spruce – but again, the wood pulp has been manufactured into a fiber.
Also, Tencel fibers are biodegradable and compostable; however, Good Housekeeping’s environmental consultant explains that this isn’t necessarily a best practice because any dyes and finishes from the fabric would end up in the soil along with it. Plus, from a sustainability standpoint, it’s better to find ways to re-wear, reuse, or recycle the fabrics.
Bottom line: Should I buy products with Tencel?
Yes, absolutely! Tencel fibers feel amazing, use sustainable practices, and have high-quality performance features that make it popular for both brands and consumers alike.
To find if a product is made with Tencel, check the product’s website (or labels if you’re shopping in-store); most of the time Tencel is specified. You can also browse Tencel’s website for examples of brands that use it across all categories.