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What Is Tencel Fabric?

Updated April 17, 2017

Tencel (lyocell) is a recently (as of 2010) developed artificial fibre. It is the only fibre to be invented in the last 30 years. Unlike polyester or nylon, it is made not from a completely synthetic polymer but rather from wood-based cellulose. You can find pure Tencel fabric or Tencel fabric contains other types of fibres.

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Early History of Synthetic Fiber

For most of human history, fibres for fabric have been obtained either from animals or from plants. Wool jackets and cotton shirts have been worn since prehistoric times. In the 1890s the first artificial fibre was developed. Viscose, also known as artificial silk, is a cellulose-based fibre as is rayon, which was discovered in 1924. While these fibres are considered artificial, they are not completely synthetic as they are made from natural cellulose.

The Nylon Breakthrough

The first completely synthetic fibre was nylon. Invented just before World War II, it became renown for its use in women's stockings rather than for its military uses in rope, parachutes and clothing. By 1941 polyester fibres came into existence. During the next 60 years there were many improvements based on these fibres and the fabrics that can be made from them. Dacron, terelyne and micro fibres are a few examples.

How Artificial Fibers are Made

Artificial and synthetic fibres are made through a process called extrusion. The liquid cellulose or synthetic polymer is forced through very small holes (spinnerets) into the air where the fibres are created. They can be made relatively thick or down to a very thin 4 microns.

What is Tencel?

Lyocell, commercially known as Tencel in the United States, is an artificial fibre made from wood pulp cellulose. As it is made from wood pulp harvested from tree farms, it is a renewable, environmentally friendly material. Although it is a manufactured fibre it is considered natural and as such is biodegradable. It is dissolved in a nontoxic recyclable dissolving agent.

Tencel Fabric

Fabric can either be made completely from Tencel or combined with other materials to reduce costs. Fabric made from short Tencel fibres has a feel very much like cotton. It does, however, resist wrinkling and does not shrink. Longer Tencel fibres give fabric a smooth, silky feel. These fabrics fall beautifully and can be used in elegant formal wear.

Problems with Tencel Fabric

Tencel has a low surface energy, meaning that dyes don't bind well. This can cause fading. Also, although Tencel fibres themselves are eco-friendly, some manufacturers use processes such as enzyme baths, chemical processes, and dye treatments that are in no way "green." These chemical treatments can cause allergies in people with sensitivities.

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About the Author

Les Belzer has been a professor, entrepreneur, farm owner and writer since 1968. He has written in-house articles on education, mathematics and Spanish literature. Since 1999 he has written travel articles for Escapeartist and "International Living." Belzer holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish literature from Idaho State University and a Master of Science in math from the Universidad Mayor de San Simon.

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