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Sunday, Jun 2021

TENCEL™ sheets are made from lyocell and modal fibers. Lyocell and modal fibers are made from regenerated cellulose pulp from wood fibers (beechwood specifically for the modal fibers).1 They are made using dissolution technology that employs chemicals which both biodegradable and have no harmful byproducts. This process also uses very little water, and the chemicals are 99% recovered to be reused. To make the fibers, wood pulp is dissolved, pushed through small holes to create thread, chemically treated, and then rinsed and spin dried. The threads can then be spun into yarn and woven into cloth for bedsheets. The process is very safe and creates stronger, softer, more breathable, and more thermally resistant sheets compared to another form of regenerated cellulose fiber: rayon.2

Rayon sheets are made from wood pulp that is dissolved using the viscose process, which employs carbon disulfide. Carbon disulfide causes skin irritation in addition to being highly flammable, and having known toxicity to humans and aquatic life.3 Only 70-75% of the carbon disulfide used in the viscose process can be reused.2 The global need for dissolving pulp increased from 3.2 to 6.06 million metric tons between 2000 and 2014.4 The Textile Exchange estimates that in 2016, rayon made up 91% of cellulosic production, only 29% of which was sustainably sourced. In comparison, they estimate that lyocell made up 6% of cellulosic production and modal made up 3%,5 and the company which makes TENCEL™ lyocell and modal fibers specifically claims to use pulp from sustainably managed tree plantations. Although rayon is natural, sleeping in rayon sheets can be uncomfortably hot and not very moisture wicking. Rayon is meant to resemble silk, and like silk, rayon must be dry cleaned lest it lose its strength. The more common materials for bedsheets are synthetic polyester and natural cotton.

Polyester is durable, lightweight, wrinkle- and stain-resistant, and quick-drying.6 However, polyester is made from petroleum and creates microplastics as it breaks down over time. Since polyester is completely synthetic, sheets made from polyester are not breathable. While polyester fibers can be recycled to create polyester fibers of equal quality to the original7 and create less of a worldwide demand for oil to create new fibers, which was estimated at 342 million barrels in 2017,8 these microplastics will continue to leach into our water and food sources. Cotton, on the other hand, is all-natural, hypoallergenic, and breathable.6 Cotton sheets are moisture-wicking and get softer with each wash, but this is because the sheets are breaking down and losing their strength. Sourcing cotton is also very hard on the environment: only 1/3 of every acre is used for textile production, and 1,400-3,400 gallons of water are needed for every pound of cotton fiber produced, which only creates about two t-shirts worth of material.7 Recycled cotton sheets are available, but recycled cotton will always create a lower quality fiber than the original.

Polyester sheets are the least expensive, and polyester-cotton blends are available to improve the quality of sheet while bringing down the price. TENCEL™ sheets are be more expensive than rayon or polyester sheets, but have a wallet-friendly price point compared to cotton. Cotton sheets can vary in price depending on the origin of the cotton and thread count. Egyptian cotton is very soft, but is more expensive compared to Pima cotton. High-quality cotton sheets are not always the highest thread count, either: sheets in the 300-400 thread count range can be both affordable and comfortable.6 Malouf has a deep-pocket sized TENCEL™ sheet for less than the price of similar sized cotton sheets, and Brooklyn Bedding sells a TENCEL™ sateen sheet at an even lower price point. Since TENCEL™ is 50% more absorbent than cotton, the moisture wicking of these sheets is even better than 100% Pima cotton or Egyptian cotton sheets.

If consumers are looking for even less expensive sheets but want to avoid the leaching of microplastics in every wash and want to opt for a sheet produced with chemicals that pose less of a danger to the environment, cotton-TENCEL™ blends are available at a price point below 100% cotton sheets but that offer a better sleep experience than a cotton-rayon or cotton-polyester blend. GhostSheets offer a 100% Supima cotton and TENCEL™ blend that improves the durability of the Supima cotton alone without compromising breathability. It might seem counterintuitive than a fabric made similarly to rayon could be so breathable, but TENCEL™ fabric is used in activewear because it is so absorbent and breathable, and there are also claims that the fabric is less susceptible to odor from bacteria. This is because TENCEL™ fabrics are hydrophilic, which draws perspiration and its odors from the skin, but the tiny fibers allow this moisture to evaporate quickly. Sheets will stay softer and stronger with TENCEL™ than with 100% cotton, and will retain their color and smoothness over a lifetime of use.

 

 

1. TENCEL™ Home. (accessed 22 Oct 2020).

2. Zhang, S.; Chen, C.; Duan, C.; Hu, H.; Li, H.; Li, J.; Liu, Y.; Ma, X.; Stavik, J.; Ni, Y., Regenerated cellulose by the lyocell process, a brief review of the process and properties. BioResources 2018, 13 (2), 4577-4592.

3. Safety Data Sheet: Carbon Disulfide; Airgas: airgas.com, 2017.

4. Chen, C.; Duan, C.; Li, J.; Liu, Y.; Ma, X.; Zheng, L.; Stavik, J.; Ni, Y., Cellulose (dissolving pulp) manufacturing processes and properties: A mini-review. BioResources 2016, 11 (2), 5553-5564.

5. Rayon (Viscose). cfda.com (accessed 22 Oct 2020).

6. Mahajan, P., Polyester vs. Cotton Sheets: Which are Better? Mattress Advisor: mattressadvisor.com, 2020.

7. Baugh, G. Polyester vs. Cotton - Which is Better for the Environment? FIBER [Online], 2008. https://www1.udel.edu/fiber/issue2/responsibility/ (accessed 22 Oct 2020).

8. Polyester. cfda.com (accessed 22 Oct 2020).

9. Sterbenz, C. I bought a plain, white button-up made of this 'luxury' fabric - and now I'm hooked Business Insider [Online], 2015.  (accessed 22 Oct 2020).

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