Tencel fabric is now found in the collections of leading designers and renowned retailers around the world — but do you know what it is? Read on to learn about this innovative material that’s super soft on the skin, has amazing breathability, and best of all, is sustainably produced!
What is Tencel fabric?
Austrian textile giant, Lenzing, is the creator of Tencel fabric, which is actually a branded version of a similar fiber known as lyocell. (If that feels confusing, think of it like what Band-Aids are to bandages!). Tencel is made using environmentally-responsible processes, and is highly-regarded for its natural comfort, strength, and moisture absorption.
The versatility of Tencel makes it easy to blend with other textile fibers, like cotton, polyester, wool, and silk. When Tencel combines with these other materials, it elevates their aesthetic and gives them a much richer feel overall.
How is Tencel fabric made?
Tencel’s fibers are made from sustainably-sourced wood pulp, which has been harvested from specialized tree farms. Essentially, Tencel manufacturers take this pulp and dissolve it in a chemical solvent. From there, they use a special drying process called spinning, and then the pulp is pushed through a series of small holes to form threads from these regenerated fibers. Lastly, the threads are chemically treated, spun into yarn, and woven into the fabric itself.
How does Tencel impact the environment?
Because Tencel is made from a biobased cellulose fiber, it’s been certified as compostable *and* biodegradable. What this means is, Tencel fabric has the ability to fully revert back to nature, rather than lingering in our landfills for decades (or centuries) to come.
The botanical origin of Tencel is an amazing feature that plays an important role in lowering the fashion industry’s carbon footprint.
It requires less energy
While both cotton and Tencel are made from plant materials, the manufacturing of Tencel requires significantly less energy and water than conventional cotton. Additionally, since Tencel is pure white when it’s produced, bleaching its fibers is not at all necessary. And when brands decide to add color to their Tencel, it needs much less dye than cotton typically absorbs.
It produces less waste
Tencel’s closed loop production uses recyclable, earth-friendly solvents that generate far less waste compared to other cellulose fabrics (like rayon, for example). As the Tencel fibers are chemically treated, spun into yarn, and woven into cloth, the water is recycled and the solvent is reused to form new fibers and keep waste to a minimum. In fact, this solvent-spinning process recycles water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%!
5 benefits of wearing Tencel
1. Super soft, luxe feel
The physical properties of Tencel contribute to its long-lasting comfort for even the most sensitive skin. Tencel-branded lyocell fibers have a smooth surface area, meaning the fabric is naturally soft to the touch (without any extra processing). Thanks to its gentle, luxurious feel, Tencel has become a go-to sustainable material in all types of garments.
2. Incredible breathability
Since Tencel is derived from a natural source, its cellulose fibers are structured to regulate the absorption and release of moisture. This fabric’s incredible breathability supports the body’s thermoregulation — i.e. it keeps your skin feeling cool and dry! What’s more, Tencel’s fibers have a higher water vapor uptake than cotton, meaning you’ll be more comfortable as you move and sweat throughout the day.
3. Beautiful sheen and drape
Tencel’s efficient dye uptake enables dyes to really sink into the fiber structure, which adds a beautiful sheen to this fabric. The combination of a deeper dye and a smooth surface makes Tencel’s colors appear brighter and more intense than similarly dyed cotton fabrics. And did we mention Tencel’s fibers create an easy drape that flatters every body? That’s music to our ears!
4. Adverse to bacterial growth
You already know Tencel fibers are effective at absorbing moisture, but did you realize this quality makes them adverse to bacterial growth, too? It’s true! In comparison to synthetics (and even to cotton), there’s way less moisture formed on Tencel’s surface, meaning bacteria doesn’t have a chance to grab hold and wreak havoc on your clothes.
5. Contributes to performance
Based on the benefits we just listed, you might’ve gathered that Tencel is well-suited to working out or playing sports. Both lyocell and modal fabrics are successfully used in high-performance sportswear, since they have superior moisture absorption and breathability (without compromising on the garment’s dry rate).
This all leads to improved comfort, functionality, and performance, no matter what your preferred sport or workout routine has you doing!
How to take care of Tencel
You can pretreat any potential stains with a solution that’s safe for Tencel fabrics. Focus on susceptible areas like necklines and underarms, where stubborn marks are more likely to crop up. If you spilled your coffee while you were running late last week, pretreating your Tencel garment is the best way to say goodbye to those unwanted spots!
Handwashing is the safest and most recommended method for washing Tencel, as is using a natural laundry detergent. Unlike traditional detergents, natural varieties don't contain phosphates, chlorine, and other artificial additives that can be dangerous to your health and to our planet. They’re also much gentler on your clothing, and can help extend their life cycle.
Add a capful of detergent to a sink or tub filled with cold water, and fully submerge your clothes. Then, lightly stir things up to evenly distribute the soap. Leave everything to soak for half an hour, and rinse well with cool running water until your items are no longer soapy.
If you opt to machine wash, make sure to turn your Tencel garments inside out, and place them in a mesh laundry bag (if you have one). Select the delicate cycle, and double check the water temperature is cold and the spin cycle is on low. Add your natural detergent according to the machine or your load size, and you’re all set!
Hang dry is preferred for Tencel pieces, but if you want to use your machine, choose a low or medium setting. Although Tencel is resistant to wrinkles (!!), should any appear, you can easily steam them out; if you have an iron, hover it over the item using the steam setting.
Finally, when you’re ready to store your items, knits should be folded to prevent stretching or distorting, while woven pieces (like pants) can be hung up in your closet.
Note: These are some great guidelines to follow, but when it comes to washing Tencel clothes, sheets, and so on, always follow the provided instructions. In certain cases, some Tencel fabrics might be dry clean only, so you’d definitely want to avoid soaking them in water. Others are likely fine to handwash, and some will be okay in the washing machine on a delicate setting.
Just have a thorough read of the care label before you do anything else!
Tencel fabric FAQs
Is Tencel better than cotton?
While both cotton and Tencel are made from plant materials, the manufacturing of Tencel requires significantly less energy and water than conventional cotton. Tencel is also pure white when it's produced and therefore requires less dye than cotton when adding color. Both are soft fabrics that become even silkier and smoother over time. So from a sustainability perspective, Tencel is a much better option than traditional cotton!
Is Tencel a breathable fabric?
Yes! Since Tencel is derived from a natural source, its cellulose fibers are structured to regulate the absorption and release of moisture. This keeps your skin feeling cool and dry as you move throughout the day.
What type of material is Tencel?
Tencel is a type of rayon, like viscose and modal. These cellulose fibers are all made in a similar way: by dissolving sustainably-sourced wood pulp and using a special drying process called spinning that pushes the pulp through a series of small holes to form threads. These threads are then chemically treated, spun into yarn, and woven into the fabric itself.