How is Lyocell Made?

A close-up of blue lyocell material

There’s no such thing as a lyocell plant, and the name “lyocell” doesn’t reveal much about its story. Lyocell is a type of rayon that’s becoming increasingly popular as an allegedly sustainable material. But what’s the truth about lyocell, and what goes into creating it? 

There’s no such thing as a lyocell plant, and the name “lyocell” doesn’t reveal much about its story. Lyocell is a type of rayon that’s becoming increasingly popular as an allegedly sustainable material. But what’s the truth about it and what goes into creating it? 

What is Lyocell?

Lyocell is a plant-derived fiber often used in clothing. Sounds simple enough – but what makes lyocell different from other similar materials? 

Generally, two kinds of fibers are used to create fabrics: natural and synthetic. Natural fibers include materials sourced directly from nature, such as:

  • Plants like bamboo and cotton
  • Animal materials like wool and silk

Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, come from man-made materials like nylon and polyester. 

Lyocell is made from natural fibers, specifically from wood chips. Eucalyptus, birch, and oak wood from tree farms are common sources of fibers.

What fibers a clothing item is made from can play a big role in how it feels, drapes, washes, and lasts. Thus, fiber content is also key in gauging an item’s sustainability.

Lyocell is soft like cotton or silk, yet it is a cellulose fabric like other types of rayon. It’s a uniquely strong fabric often combined with other fibers, such as cotton, to create a stronger garment.

It’s also generally more affordable than other materials. Natural fibers can be very pricey, especially when produced ethically, so an alternative like lyocell provides an option that is more accessible yet still boasts softness and durability. 

The best part? Overall, lyocell production is more sustainable than that of other cellulose fibers. In fact, when performed properly, the production process of lyocell doesn’t introduce any toxins to the environment. 

Further, the chemical used to extract lyocell, amine oxide, can be reused to create multiple batches of the product. Conversely, other cellulose-based fabrics can require more chemical processes that ultimately introduce toxins into the environment through contaminated water.

How is Lyocell Made?

To make lyocell, manufacturers first turn wood chips into pulp. Next, they dissolve this pulp using an organic solvent (amine oxide), which breaks it down into a viscous mixture. This stage is crucial: it’s what separates lyocell from viscose and other rayon materials. Unlike those, lyocell doesn’t use harmful chemicals like carbon disulfide and sodium hydroxide. 

From here, the mixture – cellulose – is filtered and spun, turning it into long fibers that can serve various purposes. Of the cellulose based fibers, this process is one of the shorter ones, requiring fewer steps and less time.

While cellulose was originally only produced in North Carolina, today, its production ranges across the globe. Now, lyocell is produced mainly in China as well as in The United States, Brazil, India, Pakistan, and sparsely across Europe. 

The production of cellulose fabrics originally arose as a more affordable alternative to silk. Silk is a natural and relatively sustainable fabric however, it is hard to produce in large quantities due to its production process; thus a market for man made silk alternatives was born.

How Does It Feel?

The feel of lyocell can depend on whether and with what it is mixed. Most folks agree that lyocell is both soft and comparable to cotton. Although similar to cotton, it is more resistant to pilling, adding to its overall durability factor.

Lyocell is often mixed with other fibers to create soft yet durable fabrics. For example, it may be easily mixed with natural fibers such as cotton, silk, or wool and synthetics such as nylon or polyester.

How to Care for Lyocell

As stated, lyocell is a durable fabric that’s less prone to pilling than others. Conveniently, it is usually machine washable, so long as you use a delicate cycle. However, washability depends on the provided care instructions on an item’s tags. 

Lyocell is often mixed with other fabrics. It’s important to consider the fabric’s makeup before washing or drying. Some fibers like wool and silk aren’t usually dryer safe so be sure to check on the fabric content before attempting to clean.

How to Wash Lyocell

When washing a garment, you should always follow the care instructions provided with the clothing item. However, here are a few tips for how to wash your lyocell clothes:

  • Use a low temperature, 30°C or less.
  • Wash with a gentle detergent and avoid harsh chemicals like bleach.
  • Wash on a gentle or delicate cycle.
  • If you are concerned that a machine cycle may be too rough, you can hand wash your item, making sure not to wring it but instead gently press out the water.

How to Iron Lyocell

One of the unique things about lyocell is that it doesn’t wrinkle easily. That means your lyocell item may require minimal ironing. Again, it’s best to adhere to the care instructions provided with your items; however, here are some things to keep in mind if you need to get wrinkles out:

  • Try using a steamer so that you don’t have to press the heat directly to the fabric.
  • If not a steamer, you can also use a steam iron over, not on, the fabric.
  • If you must use an iron pressed directly on the fabric, opt for a lower heat setting.

Can You Put It in The Dryer?

Generally, lyocell should be treated gently. A safe option when drying would be to press the water out by hand without wringing and allow the garment to hang dry. However, for best results, pay attention to the care instructions provided with the garment.

Our Take on Lyocell

We know that some natural fibers, like silk, aren’t necessarily affordable and accessible. However, we’ve found that lyocell can be a great, wallet-friendly, sustainable alternative to some more expensive textiles. It’s durable, feels soft on the skin, and can involve a minimally polluting, sustainable production process. 

Manufacturers like Lenzing have created truly eco-conscious lyocell by using a closed-loop process to create their materials. That means less harm to forests and less waste created by harvesting. Lenzing’s TENCEL branded fibers are only made from certified sourced wood that comes from responsibly managed forests.

Overall, when you shop with reputable brands you trust to source their materials ethically, you can’t go wrong with lyocell!

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