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Tencel vs Cotton – The Ultimate Comparison

Tencel and cotton are popular fabric materials used in making soft and durable clothing items and linen. As such making a selection between the two may be challenging unless well versed with the features, pros, and cons of both.

What is Tencel?

Tencel is a generic trademark for the fabric material lyocell which is derived from wood pulp, commonly from eucalyptus.

In making Tencel, the wood pulp is dissolved in a chemical solvent before converting it into fibers through an extrusion process. These fibers are then woven into fabric.

The popularity of Tencel stems from its environmentally friendly production process which ensures nearly all chemicals used are recycled. As such, there is minimal environmental impact from this closed-loop process.

Additionally, Tencel has several desirable properties, including softness and durability allowing use in different types of clothing and linen. It is also possible to combine Tencel with other fabric materials like cotton to enhance certain properties.

Tencel Fabric
Tencel Fabric

What is Cotton?

Cotton is a natural fiber composed mostly of cellulose and derived from the cotton plant. Cotton finds wide usage across the globe as the number one natural fiber offering desirable qualities like comfort, breathability, and durability.

The cotton fiber is spun via the use of a cotton gin into yarn which is then woven into fabric. Cotton fabric is utilized in making a vast selection of clothing items and linen. Shirts, dresses, jeans, towels, curtains, and bedding are some such items.

Cotton Fabric
Cotton Fabric

Features of Cotton vs Tencel

When evaluating Tencel and cotton fabrics, one key element of focus is their features. These features speak to the qualities of the fabric that makes them useful in their application. The following discussion puts into perspective the features of both Tencel and cotton.

Features of Tencel

  • The fibers of Tencel have a soft and smooth texture that makes it comfortable on the skin and to the touch. The softness of Tencel makes this fabric material appropriate for sensitive clothing items like undergarments.
  • Tencel fabric can naturally decompose when disposed of at the end of its useful life. This way, its environmental impact is reduced as it can be broken down into biodegradable elements.
  • Since Tencel is extracted from natural wood pulp, it offers excellent breathability owing to the fiber structure. Breathability is a quality that makes it possible for air molecules to penetrate the woven fibers This is useful when it comes to regulating body temperature ensuring comfort in different climates.
  • The ability of Tencel to absorb and release moisture is especially useful in clothing used for intensive activities such as sports. This keeps the cloth dry and the wearer comfortable.
  • The structural integrity of Tencel is such that it remains unchanged when wet or dry allowing extended use. This is evident by its ability to remain the same after multiple wears and washes an indication of its strength and durability.
  • The process of manufacturing Tencel fiber is an eco-friendly one given the raw materials utilized. The wood pulp is dissolved in chemicals in a closed-loop process, which can be recycled over again.

Features of Cotton

i. Like Tencel fabric, cotton has a soft feel that when it interacts with the skin is comfortable and not irritating. You can therefore utilize this fabric material for underclothes and beddings.

ii. The fabric structure of cotton offers breathability by allowing air passage much like with Tencel fabric. The conduction of air through the fabric makes it excellent for use in warm weather allowing the body to cool.

iii. Cotton can absorb and hold moisture which is useful in conducting away sweat on the skin surface. This feature is essential for ensuring user comfort.

iv. Cotton fabric is derived from natural fiber obtained from the cotton plant which occurs widely. It therefore requires no complex manufacturing process compared to synthetic fibers.

v. The risk of getting irritation from using cotton is generally low given its natural constitutions. Consequently, it can be utilized to make clothing for people with sensitive skin.

vi. Cotton fabric can be produced in different colors owing to cotton’s ability to effectively absorb. Dyeing cotton fabrics allows for the making of colorful clothing.

vii. As a natural fiber, cotton can naturally disintegrate during decomposition to non-harmful substances. Waste matter containing cotton is therefore not capable of causing pollution.

Comparing Disadvantages of Tencel and Cotton

Despite the mentioned advantages of Tencel and cotton these materials have a few limitations. Some of these limitations can be overcome by combining these materials with other fabric materials like polyester.

Tencel

  • Despite the soft texture, Tencel can form wrinkles and therefore require straightening through streaming or ironing.
  • Tencel is sensitive to care processes such as machine washing and drying. Very high water temperatures and drying heat can affect the fabric’s properties.
  • Since Tencel is derived from wood pulp, it is not a highly available material like cotton. Unlike cotton plants, trees take longer to mature limiting the availability of Tencel fabric material.
  • The manufacturing process of Tencel is considered sustainable, through a close process control and recycling. Nonetheless, the chemicals utilized in the process are still a cause for concern for environmentalists.
  • Tencel is a premium fabric material that costs relatively more than other fabric materials like polyester and rayon.

Cotton

  • Cotton growing poses an environmental concern owing to its high utilization of water resource. This is in addition to the rampant use of pesticides which could contaminate the soil and water.
  • Exposing cotton fabric to high heat can lead to permanent shrinkage stressing the need for adequate care.
  • While cotton can take up color easily through dyeing, repeated wash cycles and exposure to sunlight can affect the color quality.
  • Some people can develop allergic reactions to cotton owing to its natural fiber content or chemicals used in processing.

Comparing Applications of Tencel and Cotton

Tencel and cotton are highly durable and versatile fabrics that can be utilized in different ways. Choosing between Tencel or cotton typically depends on the application’s need.

Tencel

i. Several pieces of clothing are fashioned from Tencel owing to its highly desired qualities including breathability, softness, and durability. Shirts, blouses, dresses, skirts, pants, undergarments, socks, and scarves just to name a few can all be made from Tencel.

Tencel Denim Shirt
Tencel Denim Shirt

ii. When it comes to household textiles like curtains and bedding, Tencel is a fitting fabric material. Duvet covers, sheets, pillowcases, and towels can all be made from Tencel owing to their lush feel.

Tencel Duvet Covers
Tencel Duvet Covers

iii. The absorbency and soft properties of Tencel fibers allow for its use in sanitary products like wet wipes. They can also be used for baby products like liners for diapers.

Cotton

i. Cotton has been used to make clothing for thousands of years. Presently, it is used in all clothing types primarily or in combination with other fabric materials. Its qualities of breathability and softness essential for user comfort make its use as such popular.

ii. Household fabrics and linen-like beddings, towels, curtains, seat covers, and drapes can all be made from cotton. This fabric material has a smooth texture and flowy consistency.

Cotton Towels
Cotton Towels

iii. Cotton finds medical application as a dressing and to make certain types of bandages owing to its biocompatibility and absorbency. It is also utilized for the same qualities in personal care items like earbuds and sanitary towels.

iv. Many fashion accessories such as bags, caps, and hats are also fashioned from cotton. Similarly, automotive interiors can use cotton variants for their upholstery as well as furniture items like seats and sofas.

Conclusion

While Tencel is produced in a highly acclaimed and environmentally sustainable way, production of cotton is hampered by several environmental concerns. These concerns stem from cultivation to processing which dampens its actual environmental friendly use as it is a natural fiber.

Nonetheless, both Tencel and cotton possess various desirable features for use in clothing and other linen items. Depending on your application, your choice for Tencel or cotton can be limited to factors like affordability and personal preference.

More Resources:

Bamboo vs Cotton Fabric – Source: Sinosilk

What is Tencel Fabric – Source: Sleep Foundation

Silk vs Cotton – Source: Sinosilk

Silk Fabric – Source: Sinosilk

What Is Organic Cotton? – Source: Sinosilk

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