In the fabric world, Tencel is known for its "drape." It flatters the human form. The look is luxurious and refined. This newer fiber also represents a milestone in the development of environmentally sustainable textiles. Tencel is a natural, human-made fiber. It is the trade name for the generic fiber Lyocell.
Tencel has a number of different qualities that make it a worthy choice:
- Comfortable: Similar to rayon in feel, Tencel is soft, breathable, lightweight and comfortable.
- Lasting: Shrink-resistant, durable and easy to care for, Tencel is an exceptionally strong fiber, both wet and dry.
- Color Rich: Tencel was created with color in mind, because of the fibers’ high absorbency. The fabrics can be dyed to high quality standards.
- Easy to Maintain: Tencel garments are easy to pack, resist wrinkling and dry quickly. Most are machine washable, although different garment constructions may have specific cleaning requirements.
- Natural: Tencel is made from the natural cellulose found in wood pulp. The fiber is economical in its use of energy and natural resources, and is fully biodegradable.
Process and Products
Tencel is made from cellulose in wood pulp, which is harvested from tree-farmed trees. Cellulose is the natural polymer that makes up the living cells of all vegetation. The tree farms have been established on land unsuitable for food crops or grazing.
The fiber is produced via an advanced ‘closed loop’ solvent spinning process, with minimal impact on the environment and economical use of energy and water. The solvent used in the process is toxic but 99% is recovered and continually recycled.
Production plant emissions are significantly lower in comparison to many other human-made fiber operations.
The closed loop process process used to manufacture Lyocell fiber does not require bleach, which is commonly used in the production of other fabrics. Tencel/Lyocell products contain no free chlorine and are sold as “TCF – products”. The European Union awarded this process the Environmental Award 2000 in the category “technology for sustainable developments”.
It is difficult for dyes to bind to Lyocell fiber, and some manufacturers might use a variety of chemical processes, enzyme baths, and dye treatments which might, or might not, be eco-friendly. People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity should read the specific manufacturer information when purchasing garments made of Lyocell.
This versatile fiber lends itself to a broad range of men’s and women’s clothing styles, as well as to upholstery fabrics and home-fashions in sheets and towels. In blends, the natural qualities of Tencel complement those of wool, cotton, linen, silk, polyester, elastane, and nylon, and enhance their inherent properties.
Blended with wool, Tencel introduces new softness and drape; blended with cotton and linen, it increases suppleness and lustre. With stretchy fabrics, it lends a quality of softness and shape retention.
Garments made from Tencel include pants, shirts, suits, skirts and leggings. New garment applications are being introduced with advances in fiber enhancements and blends.
One of the properties of Tencel is its potential to fibrillate. Fibrillation is where the wet fiber, through abrasive action, develops micro-fibrils (or tiny fibers) on its surface (see micro photo, right top). By manipulating or controlling fibrillation, a variety of different fabric finishes may be achieved.
The surface fibers of standard Tencel are fibrillated to produce a luxurious, soft-touch fabric with a peachskin surface. This is the usual recognized quality of the fiber.
A more recently developed fiber, Tencel A100, has a non-fibrillated surface finish. (see photo, right bottom) Developed primarily for the knitwear market, A100 has a subtle surface lustre, excellent print definition and high tear and burst strength for woven and knitted fabrics. A100 also enhances laundering performance and shape retention of garments using this fiber.
Caring for Tencel Fabric
- Delicate fabrics may be hand-washed in cold water with a gentle detergent. Drip dry. Tencel will shrink about 3% with the first washing and will resist shrinking from then on.
- Machine washing, using the gentle cycle, is appropriate for many garments (read the garment care label), and drip drying is preferable to machine drying. If line dried, you can briefly toss in the dryer with a damp towel to soften the fabric.
- If you must touch up the garment with an iron, use a warm iron only. Too much direct heat may scorch the fabric.
- Dry-clean Only: Some garments have a “dry-clean only” label. This is often due to other fabrics used as finishing details or structuring elements, such as linings, in the garment. The lining, for example, may shrink more than the tencel fiber which could cause puckering if washed in water. The best course is to understand the washing requirements before purchasing the garment.