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Lyocell Fabric Guide:  What Is Tencel Lyocell, How Is It Made & Is It Sustainable?

Tencel Lyocell material guide
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Konstantina Antoniadou


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Much like Modal and Bamboo, Tencel Lyocell fabric has become the talk of the (eco) town. So much so that British Vogue joined forces with the Lenzing Group –the creators of this eco-friendly fabric– to launch a special limited-edition T-shirt that promotes sustainable design and celebrates TENCEL’s 30th anniversary last year.

Glamorous Red carpet-goers have been donning Tencel gowns for years. But do any of us know what the Tencel Lyocelll fabric is made of? Is it as stretchy as it is breathable? What about Tencel Lyocell’s sustainability? Let’s zoom in on the pros and cons of Lyocell fabric.

Guide To Tencel Lyocell Fabric: Properties, How It Is Made & Sustainability

is lyocell a good fabric?
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As more individuals make the much-needed transition from fast fashion to ethically-produced wardrobe essentials, there is an increased need for more sustainable fabric choices that would effectively lead the green-minded movement into a better, more promising future.

And Tencel Lyocell fabric seems to be creeping into every eco-responsible fashion conversation since the 1980s.

The semi-synthetic fabric that is commonly used as a substitute for cotton or silk is composed primarily of cellulose derived from wood. Yet, much like its older brother, Tencel Modal, Lyocell is far from being rigid or fiddly.

On the contrary, the eco-friendly fiber that’s used to make everything from ethical underwear, and dresses, to buttery soft sustainable cardigans, is luxuriously soft, durable, and perfect for meshing with stretchy fabrics like elastic (usually around 5%).

However, all the aforementioned benefits of Lyocell are not enough to determine the fabric’s sustainability. So read on to find answers to every single most-asked question about the properties of Lyocell.

What Is Lyocell Fabric?

Tencel Lyocell is a semi-synthetic fiber derived from processed wood pulp. The wood pulp is derived from naturally growing eucalyptus trees in a very sustainable manner.

When it comes to farming, eucalyptus trees grow quickly and require no hazardous chemicals or much water to thrive. Plus, Eucalyptus wood is sustainable thanks to the trees’ carbon sequestration. Some species grow rapidly at an annual rate of up to 16 feet per year, topping 100 feet before their sixth birthday. 

what is tencel lyocell
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Originally developed by American Enka in 1972, Lyocell burst into popularity in the latter decades of the 20th century. However, Lyocell fabric only made it beyond the pilot phase of research at American Enka before being shelved. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a British firm named Courtaulds Fibres picked up the pieces and developed Tencel, a new fabric based on Lyocell research.

Breathable and absorbent, this cotton and silk alternative is shrink-resistant and wrinkle-resistant which makes it a fantastic option for underwear, basics, and even bedding and sustainable home goods.

But how is Lyocell fabric manufactured? We hear you ask. Well, that’s the most interesting part!

How Is Lyocell Fabric Made?

The manufacturing process of the Tencel Lyocell fabric involves the use of direct solvents and spinning techniques.

  • At the beginning of the process, the manufacturer has to prepare the wood pulp by breaking it down into chips and dipping it into chemical digesters in order to soften it.
  • Then, it’s time to wash the pulp in water. Sometimes, bleach is also used for sanitary purposes.
  • Next, the pulp is dried into a sheet and rolled into spools. These sheets are later broken into squares and quickly placed in heated and pressurized vats of amino acid.
  • Next up, filtering! Once the sheets have been completely dissolved into a clear liquid, it’s filtered and pumped through spinnerets to be turned into long thin fibers.
  • Then, it’s time to wash the fabric with demineralized water.
  • As soon as they are washed, the Lyocell fabric is dried and lubricated with silicone or soap.
  • The fabric is now ready to be turned into a slew of products!

Lyocell Fabric properties

Now that you have a clear picture of how Lyocell fabric is made, let’s move on to its properties.

what is tencel lyocell
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Is Lyocell fabric stretchy?

The best thing about Tencel Lyocell is that it has a little bit of stretch (unless a brand mixes it with another material – then it can have a lot of stretch!) but it never loses its shape. When thinking about stretchy Tencel Lyocell basics like underwear or t-shirts, brands will typically use: 95% TENCEL™ Lyocell and 5% elastane.

Is Tencel Lyocell Lightweight?

Tencel is extremely lightweight, which is why many brands opt to use it for undies, dresses, and all types of basics.

What does Lyocell fabric feel like?

Given that it was originally created as a substitute for silk, it’s no surprise that Lyocell fabric is soft and feels like silky cotton when worn. In fact, it’s been said that it has almost twice the softness of cotton – pretty impressive, huh?

Does Lyocell fabric shrink?

Lyocell is very shrink resistant. When washed gently it can shrink around 3% in the first wash. But other than that, the fabric is very hard-wearing and keeps its shape and finish, even after frequent washing.

Is Tencel Lyocell absorbent?

TENCEL™ Lyocell cellulose fibers absorb moisture more efficiently than cotton. This supports the body’s natural thermal regulating mechanism, keeping your skin feeling cool and dry throughout the day and night.

Is Lyocell good for hot weather?

Incredibly light and breathable, Lyocell clothing is an excellent option for summer. Thanks to their great moisture-wicking properties, you can keep yourself cool and comfy even during the hottest of days.

Is Lyocell good for winter?

This sustainable fiber carries thermoregulating properties. Sure, it’s not as warm as wool, but it works great for layering (just like silk!).

Is Lyocell sustainable and eco-friendly?

TENCEL has a long-standing partnership with RCGD Global to promote eco-couture at the Oscars. However, it’s important to mention that not all Lyocell is made equal. Lenzing produces biodegradable and recyclable Lyocell fabric using ethically-sourced raw materials that undergo closed-loop production cycles. Compared to other cellulose textiles, Lyocell is much better for the environment.

Sustainability certifications

Tencel Lyocell comes bearing many sustainability certifications. It is a USDA-certified biobased product that is both biodegradable and compostable, according to the Belgian business Vinçotte. This means it may readily be returned to nature without creating any waste. Tencel also contributes to environmental balance by being absorbed into nature’s cycle.

Sustainably-sourced wood & closed-loop manufacturing

Tencel Lyocell and Modal fibers are both produced from wood pulp from sustainably managed sources, a renewable resource. They have earned the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) BioPreferred® designation. But let’s not forget that not all Lyocell producers are guaranteed to follow the sustainable closed-loop extraction model.

Recycled solvents

Tencel Lyocell is made using a circular production technique (closed loop). The solvents used in the breakdown process are then collected and recycled, completing the eco-friendly production cycle.

Renewable energy

Lyocell fabric also utilizes 40% less nonrenewable energy than cotton, according to research. This is critical for energy security and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. 

Furthermore, renewable energy reduces the usage of fossil fuels, which is the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Sustainable fabric guide
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Lyocell Fabric Pros And Cons

The benefits of Lyocell might be many, but that doesn’t mean that this eco-friendly textile doesn’t have disadvantages. So before you start adding buttery-soft modal goodies to your digital cart it would be best to look at both sides.

What Are The Advantages Of Lyocell Fabric?

Similar to Modal, one of the biggest pros of Lyocell fibers is that Tencel by Lenzing is both certified biodegradable and compostable. This means that even if your garments end up in landfills, they will naturally decompose within the next six to twenty-four months.

This FSC & PEFC-certified sustainable fiber is made from wood pulp using an advanced spinning process. Eucalyptus trees can store up to a whopping 15.7 tonnes of CO2 per hectare, per year, after four years of growth. By the time these trees have been around for 14 years, that number increases up to 25.3 tonnes.

What’s more, Eucalyptus is a fantastic example of a truly renewable resource. It’s created from a naturally sustainable and environmentally friendly process and doesn’t harm the ecosystem! They are also the world’s most widely planted plantation species and can gain several feet per year.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Lyocell Fabric?

Lyocell clothing is a bit pricey

Compared to viscose, bamboo, or cotton, Lyocell is slightly less affordable. Mostly because the manufacturing process requires more energy compared to processing natural fibers. Also, it’s an incredibly strong and durable fabric that will last for years and years. So ultimately, the price-per-wear is justified.

Allergic reactions

Let’s not forget that Lyocell is still a semi-synthetic fabric that requires the use of chemicals during production. For this reason alone, it may not be suitable for super-sensitive skin. It can potentially cause itching, rashes, redness, and in some extreme cases, skin blistering.

Can become non-compostable

While Lyocell itself is biodegradable and compostable, if blended with other synthetic fibers, the new fabric will not be compostable.

Lyocell fabric comparison

Tencel Lyocell Vs Tencel Modal

So what are the differences between Tencel Lyocell and Modal? While Modal and Lyocell are both made from natural materials, Lyocell fabric comes from Eucalyptus wood while Modal is created from Beechwood.

Modal and Tencel are both biodegradable which makes them very environmentally friendly.

Both fabrics feel very soft and smooth while also boasting moisture-wicking abilities. However, there are a few key differences:

  • Modal is known to be softer and smoother than Tencel lyocell
  • Lyocell fabric is less stretchy than other fabrics including Modal. However, it gets very stretchy when blended with other fibers like cotton, wool, and silk.
  • Lastly, TENCEL Lyocell might be pricier than Tencel Modal.

Lyocell Vs Cotton

Cotton is a natural fiber, while Lyocell is semi-synthetic.

Lyocell feels much softer and smoother from the first day of use while cotton feels crisp initially, and gets softer with use and washing.

Lyocell is almost always more expensive than cotton and even the most superior quality of cotton is less expensive than Lyocell.

Lyocell is very durable and long-lasting but requires special care. Cotton on the other hand is easier to care for but requires more washes than Lyocell.

Lyocell has better resistance to pilling than cotton.

Lyocell is cool and breathable and wicks away moisture. Cotton doesn’t wick away moisture even though it’s equally breathable and cool.

Lyocell is wrinkle-resistant. Cotton isn’t.

Both are eco-friendly fibers.

Lyocell Vs silk

Silk is a natural fiber, while Lyocell is semi-synthetic.

Lyocell is more moisture-wicking than silk.

Lyocell is less likely to shrink or stretch than silk.

Silk is one of the most expensive fabrics. Lyocell is still a luxurious option but it costs less to produce than silk does.

Lyocell is biodegradable, while treated silk is not. Untreated silk is completely biodegradable. Things like dye, toxic chemicals, blended fibers, and trims can hinder biodegradability.

Tencel also requires less energy to produce than silk does.

Lyocell Vs Bamboo

Tencel recycles 99% of the water used in its production. No such study exists for bamboo.

Tencel and bamboo fabrics are generally similar – soft, smooth, and strong.

Like bamboo, Lyocell will come with a higher price tag.

Lyocell requires special care while washing as it is incompatible with hot temperatures. Bamboo doesn’t require special handling.

Bamboo is prone to wrinkling while Lyocel fabric is wrinkle-resistant.

How To Wash Lyocell Clothing

how to care for tencel lyocell
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Knowing how to wash and maintain the quality of your clothes is extremely important –especially if you have a capsule wardrobe designed to last for decades.

Here are some Lyocell fabric washing instructions to keep in mind:

  • In general, Lyocell garments should be washed at a cold temperature (max. 30°C) with similar colors, using an eco-friendly detergent
  • While hand washing is the best and most secure technique, you may machine-wash your Lyocell clothing using the wool wash cycle. If your washing machine does not offer a wool cycle, you can utilize the delicate cycle.
  • Boldly colored products may bleed when wet or dry, especially when new. So make sure not to soak them!
  • For further protection, always flip your clothing inside out.
  • Avoid bleach and softeners.
  • When hand-washing Lyocell clothing, instead of wringing them, gently push the water out of them. Hang dry instead of a tumble dryer.
  • If wrinkles occur, it is advisable to steam your clothes. Alternatively, hover the iron over the clothing with the steam setting or gently push with the warm setting.
  • Don’t expose the fabric directly to heat!

That’s it! Your sustainable Lyocell fabric clothing is safe and sound. You can now freely store them in an area away from direct sunlight. Now, let’s move on to the best part: sustainable brands that use Lyocell to create stylish, eco-conscious wardrobe staples.

Which Sustainable Brands Use Tencel Lyocell Fabric?

1. Dl1961

To put it simply, DL1961 is every curvy girl’s go-to destination for quality denim in a slew of washes. The sustainable brand not only uses eco-friendly fibers to create its inclusive collections but also leads the way with innovative technologies such as Refibra™ Lyocell and solar panel energy to reduce the impact on the planet.

Price:  $$

Size Range: XXS – 3XL

Ethics: Eco-friendly production practices, sustainable materials

Location/Shipping: USA, worldwide shipping 

2. Organic Basics

Organic Basics is the mecca of affordable sustainable underwear and eco basics for every preference. They have a great variety of GOTS-certified organic cotton sets with subtle hints of TENCEL Lyocell for extra stretch.

Aside from being BSCI-compliant and a member of Sedex, the company also offers carbon-neutral shipping worldwide. Fair, ethical, and conscious clothing, what more can we ask for?

Price: $-$$

Size Range: XS-2XL

Ethics: Fair Wages, Sustainable Fabrics, Regenerative Organic Cotton Pilot Project 

Location/Shipping: Denmark, worldwide shipping

3. People Tree UK

Recognized as one of the first-ever slow fashion brands in the world, People Tree UK is always going to make it on our list of sustainable fashion roundups.

Their stunning lineup of sustainable dresses features styles made of 100% TENCEL Lyocell for every season. From stunning turtleneck fitted organic dresses and flowy v-neck dresses that are perfect for layering, to long sleeve shirt dresses, they’ve got all our sartorial needs covered.

Price Range: $$

Size: 8 – 16

Materials & Ethics: 100% certified organic cotton, 100% TENCEL™ Lyocell, fair trade factory and wages, 

Location: UK

4. AllBirds

AllBirds, the affordable sustainable fashion brand, uses’ renewable materials that minimize odor and wick moisture.

Their carbon-neutral, performance underwear is crafted from Tencel Lyocell, Recycled Nylon, and ZQ Merino Wool which makes them antibacterial and thermoregulating! What’s more, the brand is also B-certified and constantly buys offsets to minimize their impact.

Price: $-$$

Size Range:  XS – 3XL

Ethics: Sustainable And Recycled Materials, Carbon-Neutral B-Corporation, Fair Labor, Renewable Energy

Location/Shipping: USA, worldwide shipping

5. Hûha

The inclusive, body-positive, and confidence-boosting brand Hûhaa creates sustainable undies out of Tencel Lyocell And Tencel Modal.

Their “undercare” features a seam-free gusset infused with soothing minerals packed with antibacterial and odor-reducing properties. What’s more, you can find full-coverage liners as well as affordable ethical underwear packs women wear on repeat. 

Price: $

Size Range: 2XS-3XL

Ethics: Tencel™ Lyocell And Tencel™ Modal X Micro, Reward Program

Location/Shipping: Internationally

6. Groceries Apparel

Fun, uplifting, and very sustainable, Groceries Apparel is definitely one of the best Tencel lyocell clothing brands of 2023. You can opt for high-quality basics made from super soft Eucalyptus Tencel lyocell in their own factory in LA.

The 100% Tencel clothing is also dyed with plant-based vege-dyes from recycled coffee grounds, discarded peels of pomegranate fruit, and Natural indigo just to name a few – how cool is that?

Price: $-$$

Sizes: XS-XL

Ethics: Sustainable Plant-Based Fabrics, Non-Toxic Dyes, Made In The US, Fair Trade

Location/Shipping: USA

This was the full guide to Tencel lyocell fabric.

Tencel Lyocell is very sustainable and has several environmental advantages. The Eucalyptus tree regenerated wood pulp, which is neither natural nor synthetic, is processed into yarn using a non-toxic amine oxide solution and a unique spinneret nozzle to apply pressure.

Because of the circular manufacturing method, solvents are collected and recycled, making the development process incredibly eco-friendly. The regenerated cellulose fibers are not only utterly soft to the touch, but also moisture-wicking, robust, and flexible, ensuring life and, as a result, fewer purchases. 

Overall, Tencel Lyocell fabric is an excellent option for apparel, bedding, and undies. However, what makes this eco-friendly fabric shine is its ability to biodegrade in just a few weeks. If you take proper care of your Lyocell clothing, it’ll remain a wardrobe staple for years.

Looking for more awesome fabric guides? Check these out:

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