How to Wash and Care for Bamboo Clothes and Fabric

overhead shot of bamboo sheets

​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 2 hrs - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Most bamboo fabric is a type of rayon—a product made by dissolving plant fibers in chemicals, then extruding them into long fibers. The fibers are then spun into threads or yarns for weaving into fabrics for a variety of garments. For bamboo items without special care instructions, the garments can be washed in a machine set to the gentle cycle, in cold water, and dried in a dryer set to low heat. Bamboo fabric should never be washed in bleach or with fabric softener added to the water.

You will see a number of labels applied to bamboo clothing, including "bamboo rayon," "rayon from bamboo," or "100% bamboo." Bamboo rayon makes a silky smooth fabric that is popular for garments such as slashop pajamas or soft-to-the-touch bed sheets or bath towels. Always check the labels on each particular item for the manufacturer's instructions for the best care. If the garment has a structured shape, like a tailored jacket, it may require dry cleaning because the interfacings that give it crispness will lose their shape after washing. Sweaters and knitted accessories made from bamboo fibers should be hand-washed to prevent stretching.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washer or large sink for hand-washing
  • Automatic dryer, outdoor clothesline, or indoor drying rack
  • Iron or clothes steamer

Materials

  • Laundry detergent
  • Stain remover (optional)
  • Oxygen-based bleach (optional)
  • Pine oil or phenolic disinfectant (optional)

Instructions

How to Wash Bamboo Clothes and Fabrics
Detergent Regular detergent
Water Temperature Cold to warm
Washer Cycle Gentle or permanent press
Dryer Cycle Low heat or air-dry
Special Treatments Do not use chlorine bleach
Ironing Settings Low
materials for washing bamboo fabrics
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Instructions

  1. Pretreat Any Stains

    Enzyme-based stain removers or a small amount of a heavy-duty detergent like Tide or Persil are safe to use on stains on bamboo fabrics. Work a small amount into the stained area and let it work for at least 15 minutes before washing. To remove specific stains, follow the guidelines for that type of stain.

    pretreating any stains on bamboo fabric
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    Warning

    Bamboo fabrics can be weakened by chlorine bleach. To remove heavy stains or if the fabric needs to be whitened or brightened, use an oxygen-based bleach soak. If bamboo sheets and towels need to be disinfected, choose a pine oil or phenolic disinfectant.

  2. Select a Detergent

    Bamboo can be washed with your regular laundry detergent. If the garment is heavily soiled, opt for a heavy-duty detergent that contains enough enzymes to break apart the soil.

    choosing detergent
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  3. Choose the Washer Cycle and Water Temperature

    The gentle cycle is best for bamboo clothes to help the material maintain its suppleness. The normal cycle can be used for bamboo linens.

    Use cold water for lightly soiled bamboo clothing. For heavily soiled items and bamboo bed sheets and towels, select a warm water temperature in your washer and allow the clothing to presoak for at least 15 minutes in the warm water and detergent solution before washing to remove excess soil. Never use hot water for regular washing, because it can cause bamboo fabric to shrink.

    choosing a washing cycle
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
  4. Load the Washer

    To prevent pilling, always close all buttons and zippers and turn garments inside out before loading the washer.

    loading items into the washer
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  5. Select the Best Drying Option

    Clothes and linens made from woven bamboo fabrics should be air-dried flat on an indoor folding rack or hung from an outdoor clothesline for best results. Knitted bamboo sweaters and accessories should be dried flat to prevent stretching. If quicker drying is needed, use the low-heat cycle of the dryer. Remove the fabric while it's still slightly damp. High temperatures in a dryer can shrink bamboo sheets and clothing.

    line drying bamboo sheets
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  6. Iron

    Keep the iron temperatures low, as well. If ironing is necessary, use a dry iron (no steam) at a low setting. Extremely high temperatures when ironing can scorch bamboo fibers. The scorching or yellowing occurs as the fibers begin to burn. While some discoloration can be removed, burned fibers cannot be revived.

    using a cool temperature iron
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

What Is Bamboo Fabric?

Bamboo has exploded as a new source for making fabric due to how quickly it grows without the need for excessive pesticides, water, or care. Bamboo regenerates quickly and even cleans the air while it grows. As populations strive for a more sustainable lifestyle, bamboo has grown in popularity as a choice for fabrics, flooring, dishware, and even paper products like toilet paper from Reel Paper. However, most bamboo fabric is not regarded as fully "green" from an environmental view, as there are toxic chemicals used in its manufacture. It does not, however, shed microplastic fibers into the environment through washing, as do polyester and nylon clothing.

Nearly all of the bamboo grown for fabric production is found in China and Taiwan. The fabric is made from Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescens), which is actually a tropical grass. It is not the tall ornamental bamboo found in gardens or the type that pandas enjoy. The bamboo fibers are made by manipulating the grass until it separates into thin threads. These fibers are then dissolved with chemicals, and the liquid pulp is extruded into fine fibers that can be spun into thread for weaving or knitting. This is the familiar viscose rayon process, and in fact, many items labeled rayon may contain bamboo fibers.

Bamboo fabric is desirable because it is extremely soft to the touch, highly absorbent, and is said to have natural antibacterial properties to reduce perspiration odor during wear. Because bamboo fabric is soft and smooth, it is a good choice for anyone susceptible to skin irritation. The fabric's ability to absorb moisture and porous qualities make it a breathable material that also helps regulate skin temperatures. Bamboo clothes resist lint and pet fur, wrinkling, drape well over the body, and are biodegradable.

Treating Stains on Bamboo Fabric

Bamboo fabric, especially dark-colored bamboo sheets, can be prone to oil stains. The best route to removing oil stains from bamboo is to spot clean with a mild degreasing liquid dish detergent and hot water. If that does not work, try soaking the stain for a few minutes in a mixture of 1 part white vinegar and 4 parts water, then continue with your regular wash in cold water to avoid setting the stain further. To remove a blood stain from bamboo, spot clean with a tiny bit of hydrogen peroxide (first test a discreet area to see if the color bleeds or not) and wash in cold water.

Bamboo Fabric Care and Repairs

Since most bamboo fabric is a form of rayon, it may lose some of its strength and potentially tear when dripping wet. It's best to use polyester thread and a sharp needle when mending tears by hand or machine.

Storing Bamboo Clothes and Fabrics

To keep bamboo clothing in optimal condition, hang shirts in a closet to prevent wrinkling. When storing folded clothes, do not make sharp creases or overstuff drawers because that can cause fibers to break.

Bamboo fabric needs to breathe. Avoid storing bamboo sheets and linens in plastic containers that can trap mildew and cause yellowing. Also do not put bamboo linens in cardboard boxes because the acid in the boxes can transfer to the items and damage them. Store linens in a cool, dry, and dark place.

How Often to Wash Bamboo Clothes and Fabrics

It's claimed that fabric made from bamboo has antimicrobial properties, meaning it stays fresher longer and requires less washing. Provided they don't get visibly dirty or smell, you may be able to go six to eight wearings between washings.

Tips for Washing Bamboo Clothes and Fabrics

  • If hand-washing, rinse extra well to help prevent staining caused by the oxidation of cellulose that's in the build-up of leftover soap on the fabric.
  • When you bring home new bamboo towels, wash them in plain hot water right away. This tightens the weave of the towels and will greatly diminish snagging during subsequent washings.
  • If you wash and dry bamboo towels in a machine, do not add fabric softener or fabric sheets because it will negatively impact the material's absorbency and may discolor them.
  • Cotton fibers are often added to bamboo before weaving to give the fabric extra structure. You may also find Lycra or spandex as a blended fiber to add a bit of stretch. Always follow the care label instructions for these blended fabrics.

FAQ
  • Does bamboo clothing shrink when washed?

    Bamboo fibers will shrink at high temperatures, even more than cotton does. Thus, these garments should never be washed or dried at high temperatures.

  • How to you keep bamboo clothing soft?

    To keep bamboo clothing extra soft, wash by hand and air-dry rather than using a clothes dryer. If this is impractical, use a gentle washer setting and very low dryer heat to keep the fabric fibers from breaking down.

  • Can I use fabric softener on bamboo items?

    It's best not to use fabric softener on bamboo bedding sheets and other items, as it can leave a fine film that may discolor them over time.

  • Is bamboo fabric a better environmental choice?

    Yes and no. The fabric fibers themselves are a natural material, not a plastic like polyester or nylon, both of which can potentially shed microfibers into water supplies with repeated washing. But the rayon process used to make nearly all bamboo fabrics uses a variety of chemicals that are notably toxic and can contribute to groundwater pollution.

    Thus, bamboo clothing can be seen as a plasticized hybrid that is not as "green" as 100% natural fabrics, like woven cotton or wool.

  • Are there any types of bamboo fabric that are not made with the chemical rayon process?

    Yes. While most bamboo fabric is made with the so-called viscose process that involves dissolving the fibers in chemicals, there is also a closed-loop production process that does not alter the structure of the cellulose fibers. Here, the solvents used are not drained away, but reused again and again. The very best bamboo fabrics use yet another process that employs natural enzymes to treat crushed bamboo fibers, which are then spun into yarns or thread. You will need to read product descriptions carefully to find garments that are manufactured in a purely green fashion.