What is lyocell and what is it used for?

When speaking about textile materials, there are thousands of options to choose from. You can choose to use either natural or synthetic fibers, stamped or plain, stretchy or rigid, among many more!

One of the best things about textile projects is that there are always innovative products to use. Through time, many new fibers have been invented, and they are constantly evolving.

Most of these new inventions become popular years after their creation, based on their characteristics, their potential uses and their manufacturing process. One of these new fabrics is lyocell. But what is lyocell exactly? Let’s find out!


What is lyocell?

Lyocell is a semisynthetic fiber used in the manufacturing of fabrics.

While natural fibers have been used for making clothes as early as Ancient Egypt or Imperial China, lyocell is one of the newest fibers created, first commercialized in 1992.

Ancient fabrics, like linen, and lyocell fabric use the same natural fiber, called cellulose.

This cellulose is extracted from hardwood trees (mainly from oak, birch, and eucalyptus trees), which is a natural source, but the fibers can’t be achieved without undergoing an industrial process that treats the fibers chemically.

This is the reason why it is semisynthetic. Natural fibers, such as silk or cotton, on the other hand, receive minor processing like boiling or spinning.

Lyocell sustainability

One of the reasons why lyocell is especially popular lately is the fact that its manufacturing process is environmentally friendly.

The making of different fabrics is usually controversial because of its processing or the materials used. For example, silk is one of the most valuable types of fabric because the process required to achieve this textile.

We can say the process is quite environmentally friendly, as it doesn’t use harsh chemicals, but silk is found in silkworm cocoons, and to extract the fibers from them, these cocoons are boiled, together with the worms inside, so they are not suitable for vegans to use.

Some others, like polyester, are highly contaminating. They are made out of synthetic polymers, i.e., plastic. These fibers’ manufacturing process creates a huge carbon footprint, and the clothes made with them are not biodegradable and will contaminate the environment for years.

eucalyptus trees

In the case of lyocell, both its manufacturing process and the outcome are environmentally friendly. The first step is extracting the cellulose out of trees.

These trees are usually planted in areas that are not suitable for other species to grow, in order not to “steal” any zone that could be covered with autochthonous species or crops. This allows sustainable plantations.

After harvesting the wood from these artificial forests, they are processed and chopped into tiny pieces, later dissolved in chemicals that allow the extraction of cellulose.

The good thing about this process is that, although manufacturers use chemical compounds, at these are non-toxic and reusable.

It is considered that 99% of the chemicals used in a single processing operation can be retrieved for future use. This means that it is not discarded into the environment, and thus, not contaminating.

Besides the sustainability of the manufacturing process, lyocell is also considered eco-friendly because it is biodegradable. As it is only made of organic fibers, it takes as long as any piece of wood to biodegrade; that is, just a few months.

This is a very short time compared to other fibers which are made of plastic components, as they can take hundreds of years to be degraded.

Keep in mind that this is only true for 100% lyocell fabrics, or those where lyocell is combined with natural fibers, not those merged with polyester or other synthetic fibers.

What is lyocell

What is lyocell fabric used for?

Lyocell is used in a huge variety of products. Most commonly, it is used as a replacement of cotton or silk in clothing, bedding and towels. It is more commonly found on active and leisurewear.

It also has some industrial uses, for example, in conveyor belts, medical clothing, and as filtration material. In clothing, it is used for silky, soft items of clothing, especially for women’s wear and underwear.

So, to summarize, it is used in:

  • Activewear
  • Underwear
  • Smooth casual clothing
  • Industrial products, like conveyor belts and filtration materials

Lyocell vs cotton: which is better?

Of course, whenever we compare two different types of fibers, it’s difficult to say if one is better than the other, as it depends on the use you are going to give them.

What we can say is that lyocell is usually used to replace cotton because it is highly breathable as cotton, but at the same time it is less likely to produce undesired odors and it has a higher absorption capacity.

Besides, it’s especially good at thermal regulation, so it’s ideal for wearing both in summer and winter, even if you are traveling from one region to another with a different climate.

It’s the perfect fabric for these thermal changes, as it feels fresh in hot weather and warm in cold weather. It is also ideal for traveling because of its lightness.

These clothes are usually not as heavy as others, so you don’t need to worry about an overweight suitcase at the airport.

lyocell fabric

Some of the things that may not be so good about lyocell are its price and the clothes production process.

Clothes which contain lyocell in their composition are usually more expensive than others. Although, as we said, there is little waste in its manufacturing process, lyocell is more expensive than other fabrics like, let’s admit it, any other sustainable product.

The other disadvantage of this fabric is how it is turned into clothing. While fiber production is sustainable and uses no toxic compounds, the fibers are later turned into clothing with, usually, the same techniques as regular fibers, which do use harsh chemicals and products that do damage the environment.

Beyond ecology, these processes can sometimes leave chemical residues on the fabric, which may cause allergic reactions in those with sensitive skin, though this is not clearly a disadvantage of lyocell in particular.

We hope you have learned everything about what is lyocell and all of the characteristics that make it special!