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Question from B J

Hi Debra,

Could you please tell me what it is? There are a ton of clothes made out of it this year.

Debra’s Answer

Tencel has been around for quite a while. I remember when it first came on the market in 1997. I was doing some consulting work for Esprit de Corps in San Francisco and they were looking at Tencel.

There are actually three categories of fibers:

  • natural fibers – fiber as it occurs in nature
  • regenerated cellulose fibers – cellulose from plants put through industrial process
  • synthetic fibers – industrial an-made fibers made from petroleum

Tencel is akin to rayon and modal in that they all start as natural cellulose from plants, thus their generic term is “regenerated cellulosic fibers.” Bamboo actually is another one.

The difference between “regenerated cellulosic fibers” and actual “natural fibers” (cotton, linen, silk, wool, and others) is that the natural fibers are actually fibers taken directly from the plant and spun into yarn, whereas the regenerated fibers start as plants but get turned into an industrial product before they become yarn and then fabric.

If you go to the Tencel website , you will see that they call Tencel “botanic fiber” because the raw material—word—comes from Nature. And it does. But as Tencel, the natural material is no longer in it’s natural state. The website also states that solvents are used in the process of turning wood into Tencel.

Tencel is an “eco-friendly” fabric because it saves resources and recycles it’s solvent. The wood comes from single-species tree farms.

Tencel was the first cellulose fiber to utilize nanotechnology for performance.

I personally wear natural fibers as my first choice and occasionally wear regenerated cellulose fibers as a second choice if it’s something like a scarf that I really love. But since natural fibers are widely available, I just wear natural fibers.

While there do not seem to be any known health effects from Tencel, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with MCS. Many readers have written in saying they react to Modal (that post seems to be lost).

I also don’t recommend clothing made from Tencel. There are manywebsites that sell clothing made from organic cotton plus Tencel or Modal, and I don’t list them on Debra’s List. There’s just a wholeness about natural fibers that have health benefits of their own, and I don’t want to alter that.

Here are some articles with more information on Tencel:

Tencel: Sustainable but not necessarily healthy gives a good overview about Tencel, benefits and concerns

Eco-Fiber or Fraud? Are Reyon, Modal, and Tencel Environmental Friends or Foes? puts Tencel in the context of the history of regenerated cellulose fibers.

Tencel or Lyocell ecofriendly — caution for those with MCS. Not recommended for MCS.

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