Tencel® is the registered trade name for a type of lyocell, a biodegradable material made from wood pulp cellulose. Fabric sold under the this brand specifically is manufactured by Lenzing AG. This material started to grow in popularity in the late 1990s and is now used in a variety of ways. Though the exact characteristics of the material depend on how it's processed, it tends to be durable and soft. Often said to be environmentally friendly, it is fully biodegradable and made from trees managed for sustained harvest.
This material is very versatile, since it can be manipulated to have a variety of textures. Early Tencel® garments were often compared to rayon in look and feel, but it is now made in a variety of textures including a silky, peach skin, or moleskin feel. Blends with other fibers such as wool, cotton or linen can produce a variety of textures. Garments made with this fabric generally drape well, resist wrinkles, and are fairly durable. Additionally, the fabric is very breathable and moisture wicking, which can make it good for those with sensitive skin.
Most garments made with this material are machine washable. If washed in cold water, they shrink slightly with the first washing, but then won’t shrink in future washes. The cloth also dries quickly, so drip-drying is an alternative to using a dryer. If other fabrics are used in a garment it may require dry cleaning, even though the Tencel® itself does not.
Tencel® is used in a variety of applications, including men's wear, sheets, and blankets. Since it's absorbent and dries quickly, it is also suitable for towels. Clothes made from this material are often recommended for traveling because they are light and keep their shape well. Tencel® is also available as fabric for sewing, as yarn for knitting or crocheting, and as fiber for spinning. Besides it use as a cloth, it is also used in making bandages, baby wipes, oil filters and carpeting for cars, as well as conveyor belts and plastic parts. In powder or fiber form, this material is used in making specialized papers, as an additive for building materials, and in making foam mattresses.
The fabric is considered a natural rather than synthetic product because it is made from plant material. To make Tencel® wood chips are mixed with a solvent to produce a wet mixture. This is then pushed through small holes to form threads. These are chemically treated, lubricated, and then combed and cut into usable lengths. The lengths of fiber are then spun into yarn and woven into cloth.
Manufacturers of the product say that the solvent used, amine oxide, is non-toxic and recycled during the production cycle. Though it is dyed with conventional dyes, which can harm the environment, less dye is needed than for a similar amount of cotton. Studies also show that processing of Tencel® requires less energy and water than that of cotton, and the trees used are usually grown without pesticides. Despite this, shipping the raw materials needed to make Tencel® throughout the world does require a lot of energy, as does the production process.