Tencel vs Cotton vs Bamboo: Why is Tencel Better For Babies?

Tencel vs Cotton vs Bamboo: Why is Tencel Better For Babies?

As parents, we share a common goal of providing our babies with the best, especially when it comes to clothing and bedding. Since babies, especially newborns, have thinner and less developed skin barriers than older children and adults, they are more sensitive and susceptible to discomfort, irritations, and skin-related conditions, like eczema (1). Therefore, in addition to choosing fabrics based on softness, quality, and sustainability, the choices we make play a vital role in ensuring the gentle comfort and care of our youngest children’s delicate skin. 

Without a doubt, fabrics derived from natural fibers are your best bet. However, between classic materials like cotton and emerging fabrics like bamboo and Tencel, it can be overwhelming knowing which one to choose for your baby. That’s why we’re taking a moment to dive into the properties and production of Tencel, cotton, and bamboo, empowering you to make informed choices that align with your values and priorities for your little ones.

What is Tencel? 

Tencel, a revolutionary sustainable fabric, is gaining increasing attention in the textile industry and increasing interest from parents. This cutting-edge fabric is crafted from natural wood fibers and manufactured through a sustainable process known for highly efficient resource use and minimal environmental impact. 

While Tencel sets the gold standard in sustainability, it’s far from the only reason why it’s becoming a preferred fabric over more traditional options like cotton and bamboo. What sets Tencel apart is not just its eco-friendly origins but also its remarkable softness, surpassing that of traditional fabrics like cotton and bamboo.

When it comes to sustainable baby clothing, Tencel is typically very durable and resists signs of wear, allowing clothing to be enjoyed for countless snuggles, playdates, and adventures. Such heirloom quality is perfect for passing down from one little sprout to the next. 

Additionally, Tencel clothing provides gentle comfort thanks to its superior softness, breathability, thermoregulation, and moisture-wicking properties, making it the perfect solution for sensitive or eczema-prone skin. 

What are the disadvantages of Tencel?

Tencel is made using highly sustainable and innovative technologies, leading to higher production costs compared to competing fabrics. Despite the higher price point, parents can feel confident knowing they are getting a premium product with unparalleled benefits. Notably, Tencel stands out as the best fabric for eczema, making it an optimal choice for infants with sensitive skin.

Different types of Tencel: modal vs. lyocell 

Modal and lyocell are both natural fibers originating from wood pulp, with modal sourced from beech trees and lyocell from eucalyptus trees. Despite their different wood types, modal and lyocell share many desirable qualities. Most notably, both materials are recognized for their softness and breathability, making them a comfortable yet gentler choice for sensitive skin. 

The biggest difference lies in the production process where lyocell gains an edge in sustainability. Lyocell fibers, especially TENCEL™ branded fibers, are produced using a highly innovative closed-loop process where 99.8% of the non-toxic solvent and water used during production is recovered and reused (2).  Therefore, the lyocell production process is notable for its efficient use of resources and low environmental impact.

Ultimately, both fabrics offer excellent benefits. The choice between modal and lyocell lies in individual preferences, intended use, and environmentally conscious considerations.

What is Cotton? 

Cotton, a timeless fabric, has been a staple in the clothing industry for ages and is derived from the natural fibers of cotton plants surrounding the cotton seeds. Its production process is fairly complex and not as sustainable as some newer alternatives like Tencel. The process generally involves planting, harvesting, ginning, cleaning, spinning, and weaving to create the final product. 

Depending on the weave or knot of the yarn, cotton can be used to create a tighter, more durable fabric or a more flexible option with more stretch. In either case, cotton fabric undergoes various finishing processes such as bleaching, dyeing, and sizing to achieve the desired color, texture, and strength before it is ready for use in the production of cotton-based products.

The benefits of cotton 

Cotton is loved for its soft comfort, breathability, and easy care. Due to large-scale production, conventional cotton is highly accessible at an affordable price. Additionally, cotton is highly versatile and can be woven or knitted into various textures and weights, making it suitable for a wide range of uses, including various styles of clothing. 

The drawbacks of cotton 

Despite its advantages, cotton clothing has drawbacks. It tends to wrinkle easily, requiring frequent ironing. Due to its high absorbency, cotton tends to hold onto moisture, which can may to irritation of sensitive skin if not offset by more moisture-wicking fabrics, like Tencel. Cotton can also shrink when exposed to high heat during washing or drying. Additionally, while cotton is generally considered a durable fabric, it may show signs of wear as the fibers loosen over time. 

Perhaps the most notable drawback for parents to consider lies in the production process. The production of conventional cotton often involves significant chemicals, including pesticide use, which can lead to irritation or allergic reactions to the skin. Cotton farming also requires significant land use and water consumption, raising environmental concerns.

Conventional cotton vs. organic cotton 

If you do choose clothes made with cotton, organic cotton is the better choice for your baby. Conventional cotton is grown with synthetic chemicals, while organic cotton uses natural methods, avoiding pesticides and fertilizers. Opt for options made with cotton that has been certified by organizations such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), which requires a minimum of 70% certified organic fibers, or USDA Organic, which requires at least 90% organic fibers (3). 

Overall, organic cotton is a better choice than conventional cotton as it promotes environmental sustainability, reduces health risks, and focuses on soil fertility. However, both types of cotton have drawbacks, including high water usage, soil erosion and degradation, and a significant carbon footprint in fabric production.

What is Bamboo? 

Bamboo fabric has gained popularity in recent years as a versatile textile and is most often used as viscose (also known as rayon) and lyocell. Bamboo fabric is primarily made from the cellulose extracted from natural bamboo, a self-regenerating plant.  While often regarded as an environmentally-friendly fabric, parents should know that not all bamboo is created equal.The majority of bamboo fabric on the market today, bamboo viscose or bamboo, requires extensive chemical use during processing. 

In either case, the production of bamboo fabric involves several steps. First, bamboo is harvested and broken down into cellulose through a chemical process. The resulting cellulose is then spun into fibers, which are woven or knitted into fabric using different methods leading to variations in the final product.

The benefits of bamboo  

Bamboo is known for its soft, smooth texture and minimal environmental impact compared to other fabrics. Parents appreciate bamboo’s lightweight and breathable nature, especially when it comes to clothing for warmer weather. While bamboo has natural antibacterial properties, heavy chemical use during processing may diminish the benefit of the final garment. 

Regarding sustainability and environmental impact, bamboo is recognized for being a fast-growing and renewable resource. Therefore, bamboo clothing is a more sustainable option compared to some traditional fibers. However, again, the environmental impact can vary depending on the specific manufacturing processes used. 

The drawbacks of bamboo 

Though often regarded as a soft and sustainable fabric, bamboo is not without its drawbacks. One major drawback for parents to consider is the chemicals used during production, especially for viscose bamboo. The process requires chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide to turn raw bamboo into the cellulose needed for spinning. These chemicals raise environmental concerns, as their production and disposal can contribute to pollution.

While bamboo is known for its water efficiency in growth, the manufacturing process of bamboo fabric can require substantial water usage. As with the chemicals used during production, this aspect contributes to the overall environmental impact of the fabric.

Lastly, there is a lack of standardized certification for bamboo textiles, leaving room for misleading marketing and labels on products (4). This can make it challenging for consumers, especially parents, to ensure that the bamboo fabric they purchase meets specific chemical, quality, and environmental standards. Therefore, it’s important for parents to pay close attention to labels and the integrity of a brand when seeking out sustainable and sensitive-skin-friendly clothing for their babies. 

Different types of Bamboo: viscose vs. lyocell 

Both viscose and lyocell are both types of bamboo fabric, but they differ in terms of production processes. Bamboo viscose, also known as bamboo rayon, involves a solvent-based chemical process that breaks down bamboo into cellulose before being turned into fibers. This method raises environmental concerns due to the use of chemicals and energy-intensive processes. 

On the other hand, bamboo lyocell is produced through a closed-loop process using a non-toxic organic solvent, minimizing environmental impact for a more sustainable fabric. When choosing bamboo-based products, parents should check for certifications and transparent labeling to remain informed about sustainable and ethical production practices while remaining vigilant against mislabeled products.

Tencel vs. Cotton vs. Bamboo: Which Is Better for Your Baby? 

When considering the unique needs of your baby’s delicate skin, Tencel provides optimal comfort and soothing benefits while supporting the most sustainable practices. 

Tencel vs. cotton 

Conventional cotton production can involve the use of pesticides and other chemicals, which may contribute to environmental concerns and potential skin sensitivities, especially for babies with delicate skin. Additionally, conventional cotton production practices have been criticized for their environmental impact, including water usage and soil degradation.

Parents should consider materials like Tencel (lyocell) or organic cotton if they are concerned about potential skin sensitivities and want to prioritize environmentally friendly options. However, choosing Tencel is always a safe option if you’re looking to reduce the risk of exposure to pesticides and harsh additives while aligning with more sustainable and eco-friendly values.  

Tencel vs. bamboo 

Despite both Tencel and Bamboo sharing natural origins and desirable qualities, Tencel's unique fiber structure provides superior breathability. This benefit is crucial for regulating a baby's body temperature, especially during sleep or in warmer climates. Tencel also excels in comfort, offering a consistent luxurious softness without the need for additional treatments or softeners. This, coupled with its smooth feel and silky texture, provides a gentle touch against a baby's delicate skin, outperforming the comfort of bamboo. 

Moreover, Tencel is a more sustainable option due to its closed-loop production process, minimizing environmental impact by recycling nearly all of the water and solvents used. While Bamboo is a renewable resource, the process of turning it into a fabric often requires intense chemicals and high water use.

Is Tencel as Breathable as Cotton? 

When comparing Tencel vs. cotton, Tencel is the more breathable fabric. Tencel outshines cotton in breathability due to its unique fiber structure, allowing for better air circulation and ventilation. Breathability in clothing, especially baby pajamas, is a crucial factor for infants as they are less able to regulate their body temperatures. Therefore, they are more susceptible to overheating, a known risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (5). 

Proper breathability in fabrics helps regulate their body temperature, preventing discomfort and reducing the risk of overheating. Tencel's superior breathability ensures that babies stay cool and comfortable, making it an ideal choice for their sleep safety and delicate skin. 

Is Bamboo or Tencel More Breathable?

Both bamboo and Tencel fabrics are regarded for their lightweight feel, breathability, and moisture-wicking abilities. However, Tencel fabric boasts superior moisture-wicking capabilities thanks to its unique fiber structure with hydrophilic properties, allowing for efficient and effective absorption of moisture. Additionally, Tencel’s breathability and thermoregulation help babies maintain a dry, comfortable feel while contributing to effective temperature regulation.

Is Tencel as Comfortable as Cotton?

Tencel surpasses cotton in comfort due to its exceptionally smooth and soft texture, leading many parents to opt for Tencel’s luxurious feel. Unlike cotton, which can sometimes feel slightly rougher against the skin, Tencel's smooth texture reduces friction against the skin. This minimizes irritation while offering a soothing comfort babies love. The fibers of Tencel are naturally smooth and fine, eliminating the need for added softeners, which are often used in conventional cotton production to maximize comfort. Additionally, Tencel’s effective thermoregulation and optimal moisture-wicking properties promote long-lasting comfort during adventurous play or restful sleep.  

Is Tencel Cooler than Bamboo? 

While both Tencel and Bamboo are known for their soft and lightweight feel, Tencel feels cooler to the touch and offers superior thermoregulation. This is one of the many reasons why Tencel is considered an ideal fabric for baby sleepwear and bedding, including crib sheets. Furthermore, these qualities are essential for a baby's comfort during sleep, preventing overheating and night sweats. 

Despite being cooler than bamboo, Tencel is a seasonless fabric that provides top-notch comfort throughout the year, ensuring babies stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. However, we do recommend you layer your baby to ensure optimal comfort and warmth depending on the climate. For example, a Tencel bodysuit can provide a breathable and lightweight option for warmer months, while layering footies with a baby sleep sack would provide adequate warmth in cooler climates. Whichever combination you choose, this adaptability makes Tencel a convenient and versatile choice for year-round wear. 

The Final Verdict

Tencel vs. cotton vs. bamboo: Which is better for sensitive skin? 

Compared to cotton and bamboo, Tencel stands out as a better choice for sensitive skin. Its superior hypoallergenic properties and gentle touch make it an ideal option for babies with sensitive skin, eczema, or allergies. Naturally soft Tencel fibers are less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions, providing a soothing and comfortable experience for infants day or night. 

Tencel vs. cotton vs. bamboo: Which is the more sustainable fabric? 

When compared to cotton and bamboo, Tencel comes out on top as the more sustainable fabric. Tencel is derived from sustainably managed wood pulp and produced using an eco-friendly closed-loop process. This process involves non-toxic solvents and minimizes waste while maximizing resource use, reducing the overall environmental impact.

Conventional cotton cultivation often leads to deforestation, pesticide use, and water depletion. While organic cotton is often viewed as a desirable sustainable option due to its absence of toxic chemicals, it still requires substantial land and water use to yield successful crops (6). 

Bamboo, while renewable, may involve chemical-intensive processing methods and water consumption, potentially offsetting its eco-friendly benefits. 

Tencel: The Best Fabric For Your Baby 

When it comes to comfort, care, and sustainability, Tencel lyocell stands out as the superior choice for your baby and the planet. Given its premium breathability, moisture-wicking, and thermoregulating qualities, Tencel can be blended with other sustainable fabrics, such as organic cotton, to maximize its versatility, comfort, and performance. 

Between its hypoallergenic properties, soothing softness, and gentle comfort, Tencel is the perfect fabric for pampering your baby’s delicate skin. While many parents struggle to find options that meet their standards for quality, design, comfort, and sustainability, our line TENCEL™ Lyocell playwear, sleepwear, newborn bundles, and nursery bedding allows you to check off all of the boxes.


Reference Links 

1. National Library of Medicine, Skin Physiology of the Neonate and Infant: Clinical Implications

2. Tencel™, Fiber Story  

3. Global Organic Textile Standard, Organic Fibres 

4. Federal Trade Commission, ‘Bamboo’ Fabrics 

5. American Academy of Pediatrics, How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained

6. Delate, Kathleen, Ben Heller, and Jessica Shade, Organic Cotton Production May Alleviate the Environmental Impacts of Intensive Conventional Cotton Production

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